Something of a family reunion at Swindon’s Vic last night, then, if as Adam Ant chanted, we are the family, the dandy highwayman so sick of easy fashion was rekindled by the utter brilliance of Ant Trouble, and left me hanging on a debate of the true worth of the tribute act….
Putting a two-part question to both your good self and my own deliberations this morning, what do you want from a tribute act? To be entertained, sure, but this is no different from an originals or covers band.
Nostalgia obviously plays the highest percentage, the want for an act to replicate a bygone band you idolised, or still do. Which raises the second part of the question, is sounding like more important than looking like the act they’re attributing?
Likely it’s a combination of these, a delicate balance. Though whilst I’ve caught some amazing tribute acts, my top three being a Blondie one, a Slade one and a Bob Marley & The Wailers, I could nitpick an issue with them all. Welsh Adam and the Ants tribute Ant Trouble sold-out Swindon’s Vic last night; something I was bursting with anticipation to witness firsthand. I return a million miles or so away from any shred of disappointment; it was highly entertaining, finding it impossible to nitpick any similar issue. By order of the equation surely puts Ant Trouble top of my list.
For nostalgic value, too, it ticked all boxes. But to understand why takes a backstory. For Bob Marley, I’ve been a lifelong fan, but not until heady art college days did I idolise. Slade was a smidgen before my time. But Adam and the Ants was bang on my childhood, a band though I’d loved to have seen perform live, was too young for gigs, and by the age I would’ve been the time and notion was lost.
To scare his younger sibling, my brother would put on undoubtedly the most bizarre of my Dad’s 7″ records. It was called “Burundi Black,” a 1971 single, whereby French composer Michel Bernholc overdubbed crashing piano to a recording of chants and drumming by the Ingoma people of Burundi. It still scares the willies out me today, truth be told!!
Whatever the quarrel between Malcom McLaren and Stuart Goddard (Adam Ant,) McLaren stole many original band members of Adam and the Ants to form Bow Wow Wow, but left Stuart a compilation tape with Burundi Black on. Both bands were inspired to create this Burundi beat, so that when my brother came home with Kings of the Wild Frontier, though I’d reached the grand old age of eight and wasn’t scared of anything now, I was left intrigued if slightly concerned by the sound of this previous album, as it was 1981 and I was hooked on the pop sound of Stand & Deliver.
It taught me pop stars weren’t just dropped into chart positions from outer space, they had a history, and grew to love Kings of the Wild Frontier. If the punk movement despised Adam Ant for selling out, I was blissfully as unware as the connection to Burundi Black; it was none of my business. I just loved this band, without reasoning why, for away from the angered social commentary, the disparaged realism of the punk movement I was too young to comprehend, Adam and the Ants exploited the fantastical, the carefree, enthusing any influences they cared to, from military jackets to new romantic frilly shirts, of Bauhaus, pirates, native Americans to Dick Turpin, to create this miss-mash, playful hero of nobility, and I idolised him.
Though through time that notion was lost in the plethora of ever-changing genres of pop, his attraction in uniqueness copied if never replicated, only to be bought crashing back to me like a wallop in the face, in a glorious show of retrospective precision, that’s key to why it topped my list; Ant Trouble may be the best tribute I’ve bore witness to so far, but my nostalgia not wholly the reasoning.
As for the Blondie tribute, it was perfection, though this Edinburgh lass maintained a corny Californian accent even when chatting backstage! Ant Trouble humorously allowed themselves to break the illusion, on stage, joking with extenuating accents, “we’re not really Adam and the Ants, just some Welsh nutters!” This was the honesty which deflected the pretence with an otherwise glam and showy band, it announced this was replicated, a homage rather attempting to maintain the false illusion it was the real McCoy.
My final niggly with other tributes is the fault of Father Time. Many are impersonating from their own youth, usually making them only slightly younger than the act they’re attributing. This can make the illusion awkward, and lack the zest of youth. Whereas Ant Trouble are of the same age Adam and the Ants were at their peak, bursting with the same energy, and their almighty display of enthusiasm and vigour was the icing on the cake.
They really gave it a 110%, through their skill of replicating and general performance, to the final part of my deliberations, both looking and sounding akin. Their fulfilled repertoire covering the earlier punk era to the pop peak and beyond to Adam’s solo career, and enthusing the effect with costumes, props, quality notation to the kinesiology, plus audience participation and banter. These skilful musicians could’ve produced an electrifying show if they were a Perry Como tribute!
What remained punk of Adam and the Ants was the three-minute hero, thus allowing Ant Trouble to cram a staggering thirty-two plus songs into this unique set. From Car Trouble and others from the debut album Dirk Wears White Sox, through to practically covering the entire Kings of the Wild Frontier album, and onto the pop hits Prince Charming, Stand and Deliver, et al, to later solo singles like Apollo 9, Ant Trouble delivered them all along with Ant Rap, but not by standing, oh no, they used the stage as if acrobats! The bassist of particular enthusiasm, jumping or rolling on the floor, throwing his guitar in the air, and climbing atop the speaker. Frontman Mitchell Tennant (who’s surname coincidently contains the word ant!) was equal to this showmanship, and the whole band’s interaction was exceptional, breathing life back into the discography of the pop hero of a lost era.
And that is precisely what I believe everyone wants from a tribute act. You come away from this show exhilarated, within a euphoric bubble of retrospection, but I could flatter all day, like Morpheus said to Neo of the Matrix: Unfortunately, no one can be told how good Ant Trouble are, you have to see it for yourself!
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