Twelve Days of Christmas: Twelve Drummers Drumming

By Professor Matthew Worley

It was only two drummers, but it sounded like twelve. My pop music epiphany came on 16th October 1980: Adam and the Ants performed ‘Dog Eat Dog‘ on Top of the Pops, which you can watch here.

I was 9, one month off my 10th birthday and I’d never seen anything like it. Two drummers!! Two!!!! I’d not got pop savvy enough to know about the Glitter Band so this was a revelation. As was the way the beats drove the song while the bass and guitar underpinned then danced around it. And Adam, with a white stripe across his face and a Hussar jacket, yelping and singing his way through lyrics that were defiant – tribal – with an innocence shining through. I was hooked; I wanted to know more.

At school the next day my mate Chris had had a similar revelation. No-one else did: they stuck with Madness and Gary Numan. But Chris and I went on a mission to find what we could. We bought the single, then ‘Antmusic’ a month later. I asked for the Kings of the Wild Frontier album for Xmas but got given Madness’ Absolutely on cassette instead. Ok, but not what I most desired. A WH Smiths voucher helped rectify the situation and on it went. I found a cash-in but brilliant book by Fred & Judy Vermorel in Jarrolds (Norwich’s top department store) that revealed a pre-history of the Ants: punk, McLaren & Westwoods’ SEX, songs with odd names like ‘Zerox’ and ‘Never Trust a Man (With Egg on His Face)’. There were references to Nazi Germany and Futurist Manifestos. And then there was the Sex Pistols, who seemed so seditious and disruptive. I invested in a copy of Never Mind the Bollocks and was converted. Pocket money bought more punk records and the music papers. I followed the leads and through the 1980s read about those futurists, and situtionists, and dada, then J.G Ballard and anarchy.

In effect, Adam Ant was the first historian I engaged with. His songs (and his style) took from the past to reimagine the present. Listen to the songs, read the interviews, and you hear names and references to Eric Fromm, Joe Orton’s Prick Up Your Ears, Hitler’s Tabletalk, Marinetti, Allen Jones, Jordan, Dirk Bogade, the Kennedy assassination, Arapaho indians, sexual fetishism and Cleopatra. New worlds opened and new ideas were found. And now, all these years later, I’ve just written an article named after an Ants b-side (‘Whip in My Valise’), exploring the dark heart of the 1970s via Adam, the Sex Pistols and the Marquis de Sade. Who needs school when pop music can teach you so much ….

Watch Adam & The Ants – Making History (Audio) here.

Take a look at some of their record covers here.

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