To say that producer Chris Hughes was closely involved with Recording Adam & The Ants' biggest records would be a bit of an understatement — he got so involved he joined the band...
In early 1981, former post-punkers Adam & The Ants were at the forefront of Britain's New Romantic movement. With their colourfully camp appearance and brash, unique melding of New Wave, glam-laced pop and guitar-based rock with the 'Burundi Beat' produced by dual drummers, they reached their apotheosis with the million-selling 'Stand & Deliver'. Entering the UK singles chart at number one, where it remained for the next five weeks, this featured the charismatic frontman formerly known as Stuart Leslie Goddard aptly describing himself as "the dandy highwayman who you're too scared to mention, I spend my cash on looking flash and grabbing your attention”.Photo: Michael Putland/Getty Images
Having reinvented his musical persona (albeit not for the last time), Adam Ant had realised a vision that was rooted in a strong self-belief. "I remember arriving for a rehearsal way before we got signed by CBS,” says Chris Hughes, who produced and drummed on the band's two most successful albums, Kings Of The Wild Frontier (for which he received awarded Music Week's 'Producer Of The Year' award) and Prince Charming, "and Adam told me, 'Mate, in six months time you won't have to carry your drums around and set them up. There will be people who'll do that for you. Six months from now we'll be household names. We'll walk off stage into cars and straight back to the hotel. This will be a breeze.' Remarkably, he was right. Within six months, we were on Top Of The Pops. I absolutely adore him for that and I cherish the day he made his prediction.”
Having previously worked in retail for Virgin Records and drummed in New Wave band the Blitz Brothers, Hughes first entered the orbit of Adam & The Ants at the start of 1980, while doing editing work for Ian Tregoning, co-founder of the London-based indie label Do It Records, which had signed the Ants and released their post-punk debut album, 1979's Dirk Wears White Sox.
On 24th January 1980, after Adam had recruited former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren to help broaden the Ants' commercial appeal, McLaren gutted the band as a result of drummer Dave Barbarossa, bassist Leigh Gorman and guitarist Matthew Ashman telling him they were fed up having no say in group decisions. Having them back singer Annabella Lwin in a new outfit called Bow Wow Wow was akin to replacing Adam Ant and renaming his band. Yet, undaunted, Adam teamed up almost immediately with former Siouxsie & The Banshees, Models, Rema-Rema and Cowboys International guitarist Marco Pirroni, to spearhead a new Ants line-up. It was at around this time that Chris Hughes first encountered Adam Ant at the Do It Records offices, when handing Ian Tregoning the tape he'd been working on.
"When Adam walked in and saw me,” Hughes recalls, "he said, 'If you think you're any fucking good, why don't you record us now? Marco and I have a new band and we're ready to go. We want to record some stuff. Don't piss about with that old stuff. Help us now.' He was really vehement, agitated and excited. My only production experience had been a bunch of recordings with a little-known Liverpool band called Dalek I Love You. However, having drummed in bands since I was a kid, I knew what I was talking about musically when Adam and I chatted, and the truth of the matter is that he was desperate to get something recorded with his new band as soon as possible. So, within a week, we went to Rockfield, the famous residential studio in Wales, and recorded two tracks.”
Featuring future Culture Club member Jon Moss on drums, so that Chris Hughes could focus on producing, these comprised 'Kick!' and a re-recording of the Dirk Wears White Sox track 'Cartrouble Pt 2'. Titled just 'Cartrouble' and released by Do It in March 1980 as a means of fulfilling the Ants' contract, this hit number one on the UK Independent Singles chart. "Within no time at all, there was a publishing deal in place and we did some gigs,” continues Hughes, referring to the 'Ants Invasion' UK tour that featured the new band line-up of Adam Ant and Marco Pirroni, with Kevin Mooney on bass and both Hughes (performing under just his middle name, Merrick) and Terry Lee Miall on drums. "Adam had asked me if I'd help him audition some drummers, and we found Terry Lee Miall, who was great. However, when Adam saw me demonstrating what certain drummers should do, he turned to me and said, 'Ah, fuck it, why don't you do it? Why don't you become part of the band?' So, in no time at all, I suddenly found myself producing and drumming!
"I liked Adam immensely during that period. The great thing about him was he was so energetic and wanted to cover so much ground, he was very, very prepared to accept guidance in the studio. With so many other things on the go as his career took off, he responded to the organisation and common sense that I tried to offer, so it was a really good relationship. And the same applied to our live performances. I remember us playing the Empire Ballroom in Leicester Square and packing that place without a record deal. Adam already had a big following on the post-punk scene.”
It was still without the support of a label that the band's new lineup recorded 'Kings Of The Wild Frontier' in April 1980. Then, after this led to a contract with CBS, work on the album of the same name took place at Rockfield and London's Matrix Recording Studios. Topping the UK chart in January of the following year, this spawned hit singles in the form of 'Dog Eat Dog', 'Antmusic' and the title track. And it also marked a shift in musical styles from post-punk to New Wave, underpinned by the aforementioned Burundi drums.
"When I'd first met Adam, a matter of days after he'd parted ways with the previous Ants line-up, he was very, very eager to enact some of the musical ideas that he'd discussed — and probably disagreed about — with Malcolm McLaren,” Hughes says. "The tribal sounds and image relating to warriors, pirates and Native Americans obviously came from those discussions, and when Adam mentioned a French album with Burundi drums, I told him I'd had that record for quite some time. I was pretty familiar with the nature of Burundi rhythms — the carrier beat, the clicking sticks, shouting and chanting — so I basically understood what he was talking about, and I think it was a relief to him that he had someone who could actually help him make the kind of records he was interested in doing.
"I remember Adam and Marco coming over to my house and us cutting the original demo to 'Kings Of The Wild Frontier' in my bedroom. That little demo had the Burundi carrier beat overlaid by all of the clacking guitars and the shouting, and we carried that concept through 'Antmusic', 'Dog Eat Dog' and a few other tracks that were successful on the second album. Then, while that record was selling very, very well, the decision was taken to come up with a new single. And that's why 'Stand & Deliver' was done between albums. It wasn't part of the recording sessions for the Prince Charming album on which it would end up.”
Meanwhile, bassist Kevin Mooney wasn't part of the recording sessions for 'Stand & Deliver'. This was due to mounting tensions between the volatile Mooney and dictatorial Ant that boiled over during an February 1981 appearance in the Children's Royal Variety Show at the London Palladium, in front of Princess Margaret, the day before 'Stand & Deliver' was committed to tape at The Townhouse, with Alan Douglas engineering.
"Kevin came into the Children's Royal Variety Performance in, let's say, a different head space to the rest of us and did his own thing,” Hughes recalls. "He looked incredible, but his look didn't have the stamp of approval from Adam. We were all in the dressing room, waiting to go on, and Kevin turned up looking amazing — in retrospect — but Adam was shocked by his appearance and his attitude. Still, we did the show in front of the Queen and the television cameras, and at one point Kevin just went off at even more of a tangent. Well, Adam was pretty pissed off with his performance, and when we went into the studio the next day to record 'Stand & Deliver' he — or Don Murfett, who was our manager — told me, 'Oh, Kevin won't be making this session'. He'd been asked to leave.
"This meant that, at this pivotal moment, there were just the four of us playing in the studio. Adam's a great bass player — he'd played bass in the first band he joined, Bazooka Joe — so he fulfilled that role on 'Stand & Deliver'. The song had been demo'd at Gus Dudgeon's studio, The Mill, which Jimmy Page subsequently bought, but there wasn't a lot of allocated time for us to record it at The Townhouse, as everything was moving very quickly, due to the success of 'Kings Of The Wild Frontier'. That's why, instead of rehearsing 'Stand & Deliver' and playing it as a band, we built it piece by piece — which Marco, Adam and I preferred in terms of control — and the result was half pop production and half chaos.
"After I designed how the beat would go with Adam and Terry, the first thing we did was lay down a carrier beat from a [Keio Korg] Mini Pops Junior-type drum box, followed by bass and rhythm-guitar guides. After that, the four of us discussed whether the verse-bridge-chorus structure was right, whether a bit should be clipped off or another part should be extended. However, as songwriters, Adam and Marco had most of that figured out and therefore kind of knew it led to a chorus at this point. We did adjust, add and edit bits, but essentially the song was at least 80 percent arranged in terms of the block structures.
"The next thing to go down was a guide vocal, and after that there were two or three days of overdubbing some powerful guitar and a handful of my and Terry's drum tracks to build the whole thing up. I probably did a drum track first, then Terry and I did a drum track together, and that was the mainstay part that runs throughout the song. Not a loop, not samples, but eyes down and playing relentlessly. We didn't go out of time much; we just played to the drum box and guide bass part.”
"The Townhouse's Studio One was fairly long and narrow, with a raised room at the back that had a stone wall, while the control room had a Helios desk, Studer 24-track machine and Eastlake monitors. We recorded some of the drums in the main studio, while Rototom overdubs were done in the stone room. The Gretsch drum kit — which had a 1981 octagon badge — was miked with a Sennheiser MD421 on the tom toms, AKG 414 on the bigger toms, Electro-Voice RE10 on the snare, RE20 on the floor toms and bass drum, STC 4038 for overheads, AKG 451 on the hi-hat and also a Beyer M201 on toms and overheads.
"Terry and I were mates — we got on very well very quickly and never had an argument, either in the studio or on tour — and he's a fantastic hard-hitter. If I needed muscle in the recording, he was terrifically robust and a great thumper. I, on the other hand, was much lighter, and that suited us brilliantly. Working together was a breeze. In certain cases, he'd say, 'Oh mate, you do this, you know what you're doing.' When I played alone on 'That Voodoo!' [for Prince Charming], he didn't sit there grumbling, 'Fuck it, what am I doing?' He was very cool about that. He offered undying support, energy and creativity whether he was playing or not, so it was never an issue.
"We played live together in concert, and during rehearsals we'd often arrive before everyone else or stay behind and figure out how a two-part thing might work. So our relationship was absolutely perfect and we never had a problem. I never pulled the production-decision rank with Terry. We'd just have an easy conversation because we always saw eye to eye on how things should be.”
Marco Pirroni's favoured guitars were a Gibson Les Paul Junior, Les Paul TV and Gibson Firebird, each miked with a Neumann U87, and Chris Hughes describes him as "a fantastic guy. I absolutely adore him and I adore his guitar playing. He's really, really bright, knows all about the history of pop music, and a lot of his influence on the Kings Of The Wild Frontier and Prince Charming albums was the his take on '70s glam. It wasn't about going headlong into synths and OMD and all that kind of angular '80s pop; it was actually the last vestige of Marco's and Adam's understanding of the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders and, to some degree, Roxy Music, as well as early Elvis and Link Wray's 'Rumble'. While they had that kind of '70s thing going on, they were also advocating [The Stranglers'] 'No More Heroes', so there was this massive, wonderful contradiction.
"The Ants' music was still guitars and amps and racket, and they weren't cut from the same cloth as the people who got into synths.
"As a co-writer with Adam, Marco always had good ideas, and we kind of saw eye to eye and just got the work done. At the end of the day, the producer might have an overview and be good at managing and organising a session, but if the musicians are great, then they kind of know what's going on.
"When Adam and Marco came in with a new idea, a new song, they'd sit and play it to me and then we'd discuss how to record it. Their relationship had its ups and downs, and it's fairly well known that these days it's not on a good footing, but back then they were close mates and they just got on with it. For 'Stand & Deliver', I remember Adam and I watching Marco play some amazing, amazing guitar, and us looking at each other and going, 'Isn't he great?' He was standing there, absolutely in the moment, playing brilliantly. After that, we did some Rototom overdubs to build the track up.”
After the guide bass and rhythm guitar parts had been replaced — Adam Ant's Fender Telecaster being miked with a U87 microphone — his vocals were recorded last, with a combination of Neumann FET and valve U47s.
"I'd usually comp from four or five lead takes,” Hughes explains. "If you haven't got it in five, then it's probably the wrong day. The only reason I'd comp Adam's performances was to get the best, most expressive parts. He could be quite impatient, but it was the impatience that's typical of anyone who's on to something. In that moment when you're on to something, you don't want it to be so elusive that you miss it. So I think that level of impatience is very healthy. I've always loved it in artists, and I've never, ever said, 'Fucking hell, slow it all down.' That would be the kiss of death.
"The key element here is to capture it all because you have a suspicion that at least 60 or 70 percent of it is bloody amazing. Sometimes I'd tell Adam, 'Mate, let's just have another go at this little bit because it's letting the thing down. The way you burst into the first verse was stunning, but you kind of run out of steam here, so let's just patch this bit up.' It was an easy-going approach and he was fine about doing whatever it took to make something better.
"You have to remember, another reason for Adam's impatience was that he had a lot on his plate — doing magazine, TV and radio interviews while designing album covers and flying all over the place — and by the time the band split he was exhausted. We all were. He was also showing signs of the sort of fatigue that led him to be a bit less balanced. However, tension, egocentricity and over-excitement happen with any successful band, and at that time none of us could envision how things would unfortunately develop with Adam. Certainly, he was tense some of the time, as well as overworked and over-excited, but being that we were successful, it all felt good. Nobody looked at it like it was a big problem and upsetting condition. It just seemed to be par for the course. We were all over-excited and doing our bit.
"Quite often my relationship with him was hilarious. We'd be cutting a track, he'd be trying to do a vocal, and if I said, 'Adam, perhaps we can just try this bit again,' all of a sudden he could turn into Sean Connery, going 'Aye, Chris, I agree,' in Connery's voice. It was piss-funny and we'd have a great time. If he was doing a bass part and got a bit wrong, I'd say, 'We can drop in here,' and he'd be fine with that. On the road, our relationship was much more perfunctory; we'd all turn up, we'd rehearse, we'd play, we'd do great gigs, we'd do TV and we were political safe bets. Nobody tried to force their own agenda.
"Whenever an interviewer talked to us about the internal workings of the band, we were always a close family. We supported Adam, loved what he was doing, and played our part in that bubble as well as we could, whereas in the studio it was a little bit different because we were collaborating on a recording. On 'Stand & Deliver', Terry, Marco and mainly Adam did all of the backing vocals and chants, and Adam was absolutely brilliant. He had quirky harmonies that he'd kind of half worked out, and as usual they turned out to be great. He'd say, 'Just give me another track, Chris, give me another track,' whenever he had another musical idea, and although it was undisciplined, he just wanted to get it done before he'd forget it. He was incredibly creative.”
While Danny Kleinman stood in for Kevin Mooney during a 17th February '81 TV appearance on the BBC's Jim'll Fix It, former Roxy Music bassist Gary Tibbs joined Adam & the Ants as a full-time fixture on 9th March. Three days later, he then took part in the shoot for the iconic 'Stand & Deliver' video at Hatfield House, featuring Mr Ant as the 'dandy highwayman' who is rescued from the gallows by his trusty band members.
Nevertheless, as Chris Hughes points out, "During the three or four months when we recorded the Prince Charming album at AIR on [London's] Oxford Street with Ross Cullum engineering, Adam still wanted to play bass on lots of bits and pieces. He didn't let go of the reins and say, 'Take it away'. Quite rightly, he kept a tight grip on how he wanted things.
"I think Adam considered Gary to be a great bass player. We were all huge Roxy Music fans, and having heard that he had come off the road with the Roxys, was available to tour and could essentially do the time, we knew he'd be talented enough and experienced enough to slot in with the rest of us. On day one he walked in, picked up the parts and knew what he was doing, so it was a breeze in that respect. He played his part professionally like we all did, we had plenty of laughs and it was a lot of fun.”
After Adam Ant decided to disband the Ants, he recorded his first solo album, 1982's Friend Or Foe, in conjunction with Marco Pirroni and Chris Hughes, and this included his first transatlantic hit, 'Goody Two Shoes', which topped the UK chart and climbed to number 12 in the US. "I played the drums for that song on a riser in the middle of Abbey Road's Studio One,” Hughes recalls. "I did two takes from beginning to end and the second was the one that we kept. I just powered through it and the basis of 'Goody Two Shoes' was recorded very quickly: Adam on bass, Marco on guitars, me on the drum track. Then we took it to The Townhouse for the overdubs.”
Still, it is 'Stand & Deliver' that today remains Adam & The Ants' best-selling single, and this had as much to do with the band's attitude in the studio while riding the success of Kings Of The Wild Frontier as it had to do with the nature of Ant and Pirroni's composition.
"We were confident going in to make that record,” asserts Chris Hughes, who'd subsequently co-write Tears For Fears' 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World' and produce their first two albums, The Hurting and Songs From The Big Chair, in addition to working with artists ranging from Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant and Jon Bon Jovi to Wang Chung, Tori Amos, Electric Soft Parade and the Tearjerkers. He currently runs his own Helium records label, publishing company and Internet radio station.
"We knew what we were doing and we knew what we wanted,” Hughes continues. "So, it was less like 'Ooh fuck, I hope this works,' and more like 'We know how we want it to sound and that's what we're gonna get'. You can't predict if a record's going to do well, but you can predict if it'll be any good, and I definitely knew that 'Stand & Deliver' had all the right ingredients.”
Although the Prince Charming title track became Adam & The Ants' second number one in September 1981, it was a source of controversy after Rolf Harris asserted that writers Marco Pirroni and Adam Ant had ripped off his 1965 song 'War Canoe'. Harris has since claimed that he's received a sizeable out-of-court settlement and royalties thanks to a musicologist asserting that the numbers are musically identical. However, Chris Hughes remembers Ant's response when Harris first called him to complain:
"Adam had found an old Maori recording of a 'War Canoe'-type song, so he told Rolf, 'Well, mate, fair enough about 'Prince Charming' sounding like 'War Canoe', but let's have a little look at where you got that from.' As I understand it, there was a bit of a giggle on the phone and nothing else was said. That was the nature of it. I don't think it was about maliciously ripping people off.”
Not that 'Prince Charming' is the only Ants track that hints at its inspirations. Listen to 'Dog Eat Dog', the opener of Kings Of The Wild Frontier, for a similar melody to that of the John Barry/Don Black composition 'The Man With The Golden Gun', which Lulu performed as the theme to the 1974 James Bond film of the same name. Then again, check out the lyrics to 'That Voodoo!' from Prince Charming and see how lines such as 'That voodoo that you do' were inspired by 'Do do that voodoo that you do so well' in Cole Porter's 'You Do Something to Me'.
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