The second to last session of the 101 course level is a double-whammy special, dealing with two of the more obscure recordings in the field of fundamental petrology, Blue Sunshine by The Glove and Dirk Wears White Sox by Adam and the Ants. Let’s begin with the former.
Everybody knows Robert Smith as the main dude from The Cure. In terms of household name recognition, he’s on par with Quentin Tarantino and Jackson Pollack. There are two main things about Robert Smith that not too many people know—other than diehard Cure fans. There are probably thousands of things but we are only concerned with two. The first thing that most people don’t know (or realize) is that he’s actually a solid guitar player beyond all those incessant single-note solos you hear on the singles (e.g. “Boys Don’t Cry”). The Cure was never really thought of as a classic “guitar band” anyway, especially in the latter years with the addition of a permanent keyboard player. And Smith himself has frequently downplayed his abilities.
I’ve never really bothered to apply myself totally. I’m not technically a good player but at least I don’t sound like anyone else. For me the idea of being a musician has nothing to do with technical ability, but I suppose you have to have a certain amount to be able to put ideas into music. I think it’s important to get past the stage of being comfortable with an instrument. You need the capacity to learn—most people tend to stay at the same level, which is boring to listen to. I don’t think I’ve ever sat on my own with a guitar just playing for enjoyment. I’d do that with the piano, which is so much more exciting for me as I’ve only just mastered the basics.
– Interview by Ro Newton, The Hit, September 1985
However, if you deconstruct the production of The Cure’s earlier work, particularly the first five albums, you’ll hear some amazing guitar work. Though he has always maintained that he is not a very good player, Smith’s prowess is evidenced by his tenure in Siouxsie and the Banshees, appearing on the 1983 live album, Nocturne, and the studio effort, Hyaena (1983). Both records contain some fantastic guitar work.
The Glove came about as a matter of coincidence. [From Wikipedia] “In October 1982, guitarist John McGeoch left Siouxsie and the Banshees due to illness, shortly before the start of an important European tour. Smith was asked to fill in and officially became a member of S&tB in November 1982. He had previously played live with the band in 1979 on their Join Hands tour when he replaced guitarist John McKay who walked out at the start of the tour. The Cure were the support band for the whole tour with Smith therefore playing two sets per night. Two months later, in January 1983, Siouxsie and drummer Budgie left England to record an album on their own as The Creatures. Meanwhile, Severin and Smith both started to work on a project called The Glove.”
Steve and I decided to make a record as some kind of art experiment. Although we had a great time making it, it was completely debilitating and aged me about ten years. I think it was due to us bringing out the worst in each other—the most excessive ideas. We spent 12 weeks in the studio but actually recorded for about five days. The rest of the time was spent having an endless party to which we invited a succession of people. It was like a station – once they got really out of it, they’d be moved on and the next batch brought in. In between all this we’d record a piece of piano or drum.
The band’s name refers to the enormous flying glove in The Beatles’ 1968 animated movie Yellow Submarine, and the album’s title refers to the 1960s schlock-horror film Blue Sunshine, in which people who took the fictional “Blue Sunshine” variety of LSD became psychotic murderers ten years later. Since Smith was contractually prohibited from singing with another band, former dancer Jeanette Landray (then-girlfriend of Severin’s bandmate Budgie) was recruited as the lead singer. Smith sings on two of the songs, “Mr. Alphabet Says” and “Perfect Murder,” and the results are astounding. Blue Sunshine sounds like a mash-up of The Human League covering Yellow Submarine in its entirety.
Now, almost nobody knows anything about this Steven Severin character unless you’re into Siouxsie and the Banshees, and even fewer have even heard of Jeanette Landray, who was something of a low-rent Toyah Wilcox knock-off. However, neither Severin nor Smith have been shy about discussing the debauchery that went on during the recording sessions. This leads us to the second thing about Smith that not many people know: that he is and/or was a heavy user of drugs and alcohol, and in the case of Blue Sunshine, booze, cocaine, and LSD.
After that period with Steve, I was physically incapable of cleaning my teeth. The whole thing was unreal—a dream—and not something I’m likely to repeat in a hurry. The last time I did acid was at Christmas. The first time I tried it was with Severin a few years ago and I was fucking devastated for a week! I think they were God pills! It was clear light-blue square gelatine tablets from America. Anyway, it was snowing and all the world was white. I suffered quite a lot.
But, no. I don’t take lot of drugs, although The Top was pretty drug-orientated, but only ‘cos it was fun. The thing is, I never change at all after taking LSD, no matter how many times I take it. It hasn’t changed or altered my perception of the world at all, which is what it does to some people. In that sense, I’ve always had a very distorted view of reality, my sense of values has always been the same. When I tripped for the first time, I realized that it was just like I was anyway. I stopped taking it in the end because I just fell sick and got a headache. It’s like drinking.
You get drunk for different reasons. You can get socially drunk or you can get drunk on your own and get very morbid and tedious. I don’t think it’s to numb the pain of living. The worst thing is when you want to do something and you can’t—that leads to bad drinking. Rut people like Dylan Thomas just drank for the pleasure of drinking. Drinking’s recreational, I think. I used to get drunk on my own a lot but I don’t anymore. To use Dylan Thomas as an example, who ended up killing himself through drink; he did it just because it’s good fun. I’m not sure if it’s the same in the latter stages of addiction. I imagine he drank for three reasons. One. because it’s good fun; two, because you become almost mythical, it’s like you become a legendary drinker which is an idea you can become addicted to; and the third reason is probably because in the latter singes of addiction, you don’t have much choice at all! I’m almost an alcoholic now. I haven’t had one night this year when I haven’t been drunk—a sad admission, I suppose.”
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that anyone born after 1990 has no idea who Adam and the Ants were. Nor would the youngsters know that Adam Ant, now 58, is in the middle of a career revival of sorts and has a new album, Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter, coming out January 21, 2013—and I for one am looking forward to hearing it. I’m not however looking forward to seeing Senor Ant parade himself in front of a million adoring fans looking like a bloated version of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean.
For the oldsters in the audience, most of you will remember Adam Ant, the solo artist, for the guilty-pleasure pop hit of 1983, “Goody Two Shoes.” Maybe, maybe a few of you actually owned one of the two original Adam and the Ants albums on CBS Records, Kings of the Wild Frontier (1980) and Prince Charming (1981). There are maybe five or six people I’ve ever met in my life who knew there was a third Adam and the Ants album called Dirk Wears White Sox, and only two people who ever loved it as much I as do. Actually, it was their first (and only) album on Do-It Records (1979), and bears very little artistic resemblance to the Burundi beat-slash-gay pirate schtick of the band’s CBS years. This is because Dirk Wears White Sox is one of those rare, strange birds that are rarely seen, and for ornithologists, the most sought-after, breath-taking creature. In terms of petrology, it’s like finding a Mason jar full of Astatine while walking along the beach.
There is a complicated and totally unnecessary back-story to how Adam and the Ants came together, and none of it is crucial to appreciating the recording. The album was made with an early lineup of Adam and the Ants, which disbanded after the album was released. Guitarist Matthew Ashman and drummer David Barbarossa went on to form Bow Wow Wow with then-Ants bassist Leigh Gorman (who had only played one gig with the Ants and was not involved in any studio recordings). Original bassist Andy Warren had departed shortly after recording the album to join former Ants guitarist Lester Square in The Monochrome Set. Many of the songs, notably “Cleopatra” and “Never Trust a Man (With Egg on his Face)”, remained a part of Adam Ant’s live repertoire throughout his career. The “Dirk” of the title refers to classic British film icon Dirk Bogarde.
Matthew Ashman may be one of the most under-rated guitar players ever; in fact, I can’t really think of anyone better deserving of the title, at least in terms of late 70s – early 80s post-punk and pop music. Dirk Wears White Sox deserves a listen if for no other reason than Ashman’s guitar work. He joined Adam and the Ants in June 1978 and stayed for a year and a half; during which time the Ants toured the U.K. twice, visited Belgium, Germany and Italy, and released the singles “Young Parisians” and “Zerox”, plus the album.
Bow Wow Wow broke up after three albums in 1983 and while Annabelle Lwin went solo, the other members formed Chiefs of Relief. Gorman and Barbarossa left (the latter replaced by former Sex Pistol Paul Cook), and the new lineup released an eponymous album on Sire Records in 1988 before breaking up. After several years away from the music industry, Ashman joined Agent Provocateur in the early 1990s, dying in 1995 shortly before the band released their album. On the fifteenth anniversary of Ashman’s death, Adam Ant topped the bill at a tribute concert for Ashman in November 2010 at the Scala in London, in a show also featuring Bow Wow Wow, Chiefs Of Relief and Agent Provocateur.
As with 99% of these bands and records, I prefer to let them and their music speak for the bulk of the descriptive imagination. However, here’s the Allmusic review of Dirk Wears White Sox.
The album finds a young Adam Ant exploring the sometimes-awkward fusion of punk, glam, and minimalist post-punk with bizarre images and disturbing tales of alienation, sex, and brutality. And while the somewhat pretentious, overly arty lyrics and inexperienced playing are a drawback, the album offers a fascinating look at the Ants’ formative years, capturing a raw energy that would be sacrificed for more polish on subsequent releases. [At the height of Antmania, Adam acquired the rights to the album, remixing it, dropping a few tracks, and adding a couple of early tracks for reissue in 1983 with a different cover for Epic. In 1995, Sony Music U.K. released a hybrid version for CD, restoring the cover art, original mixes, and the previously dropped tracks but retaining the additions and running order of the reissue. Epic chose to keep the remixed version for CD release in the U.S.]
– Chris Woodstra
In closing, the advent of unlimited free listening (and viewing) on YouTube has made it somewhat of a dodgy prospect to recommend that one should drop everything and buy these two records immediately. However, in light of the fact that both records have been remastered and re-issued with a buttload of bonus tracks and whatnot, it wouldn’t be a bad bit of advice. Fans of The Cure, Adam Ant, and post-punk music in general would be doing themselves a great disservice by not giving Blue Sunshine and Dirk Wears White Sox at the very least, a cursory listen, if for nothing other than to see and hear what old Professor Bancredi is rattling on about.