He was "a little bastard" according to Adam Ant, affectionately recalling Matthew Ashman.
"He'd try to catch peanuts in his mouth and say, 'Don't believe me? Watch ...' And he was like that with everything. 'We're gonna do the single in 10 minutes, Adam. Don't believe me? Watch ...'."
Ashman played guitar in the original, pre-hysteria line-up of Adam and the Ants when only 17 years old and, later, Bow Wow Wow, before fronting his own Chiefs of Relief. He died of diabetes-related complications in 1995 and, on the 15th anniversary of his death, Ashman's two most famous bands have come together for a double bill.
The ghostly presence of another man looms almost as large. It was Malcolm McLaren who suggested that Adam incorporate Burundi drumming into spiky post-punk, and who promptly whisked his Ants from under him to use the same template in a new band, fronted controversially by a 14-year-old girl, giving the world two drum-heavy acts for the price of one. The Svengali's funeral in April brought the major players face to face, any hard feelings swept aside.
And so, to a tangible crackle of excitement, original Bow Wow Wow members Leigh Gorman and Dave Barbe, assisted by Will Crewdson (who made this happen) and Billy Idol's guitarist Billy Morrison, strike up the spaghetti western instrumental "Orang-Outang" (sic) then beat out the intro to "Louis Quatorze", whereupon Annabella Lwin herself comes bounding out for her first UK performance in more than 20 years. She's looking incredible, and could still carry off the infamous Déjeuner sur L'Herbe mock-up from the debut album sleeve.
She sounds amazing too, that exuberance carrying through into fan-favourite "Aphrodisiac" before she breaks out the hits: "Go Wild in the Country", the Sofia Coppola-endorsed Strangeloves cover "I Want Candy", and the McLaren-penned hymn to home taping "C30 C60 C90 Go!".
Adam Ant's own return to action has been eventful, to put it mildly. After mental health problems, which made headlines when he was arrested in 2002 for waving an imitation pistol in a pub, the 1980s legend has been in and out of institutions. Earlier this year, he started turning up unannounced on London club stages, popping up as a guest of the Glitter Band, and causing a scandal at a charity show in Portsmouth in an altercation with an audience of Christians.
His bipolarity brings unpredictability; you don't know what you're going to get: killer renditions of his greatest hits, bizarre rants, baffling poetry recitals, or both. Tonight, he arrives dressed as Napoleon, before removing his coat to reveal the gold brocade of the famous jacket and, under that, a Matthew Ashman T-shirt.
The owner of a drop-dead handsome jawline and in great nick for 56, he's in his element, flashing deranged grins as he tears through a set drawn entirely from the Ashman/Dirk Wears White Sox era, when the Ants were more concerned with pervy fetishes and Catholic guilt than tribal identity and the politics of pride. This means an abrasive "Zerox" and a joyous "Cartrouble", allowing everyone to shout absurd lines like "keep your feet off the upholstery, Ronnie!" at full volume. Then comes "Deutscher Girls" and, after a pile-driving "Physical (You're So ...)", he walks off whistling "Singin' in the Rain", Clockwork Orange style.
Two decades on, debate still rages over whether Primal Scream's 1991 album Screamadelica – lavishly recreated this weekend in front of 20,000 ageing ravers – was their masterpiece, or that of producer Andy Weatherall (who receives a deafening ovation for his efforts). That, and the associated question: "Bobby Gillespie – hapless but fortunate chancer or shape-shifting visionary?", is no nearer being solved. The '"bit-of-both" option doesn't make a sexy headline, but on the evidence of the preceding hits set, ranging from the dumbass Black Crowes blooze of "Jailbird" to the futuristic electro-rock of "Kowalski", that's where the smart money lies.
The Screamadelica section opens with typically clownish dancing from the lank, lanky front man for "Movin' on Up", and we're away. "C'mon let's have a party", urges Gillespie before acieed anthem "Don't Fight it Feel it" in an accent that's Mount Florida via Memphis. "Higher Than The Sun", performed in its full "dub symphony in two parts" version, possesses an splendour which even a line as clumsy as "I've glimpsed, I have tasted fantasticker places" (sic) cannot kill.
As well as sonic adventurousness, Screamadelica possessed an emotional warmth absent from most other artefacts of Baggy, evident here on the Stylistics-quoting "Damaged". Even on a freezing night, you can feel the glow.
Simon Price was named Live Music Reviews Writer of the Year in the Record of the Day Awards
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