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Adam And The Ants: Inside The Court Of Prince Charming

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1981 saw Adam And The Ants becoming the biggest band in Britain. Merrick – aka drummer/producer Chris Hughes – tells Classic Pop of life inside the Ants during their rapid rise and equally sudden split… By John Earls

Adam Ant Stand & Deliver
“Adam told me ‘This is going to work. Six months from now, we’ll be household names.’ God bless him, we were on Top Of The Pops seven months later.”

After life as Merrick, half of Adam and the Ants’ dual drumming powerhouse with Terry Lee Miall, Chris Hughes instantly went on to be a hugely in-demand producer, helming records for Tears For Fears, Paul McCartney, Robert Plant and Peter Gabriel. Chris remains fond of his time behind the drumkit in the Ants, as well as getting his production break on Kings Of The Wild Frontier and Prince Charming.

Although the Ants split shortly after touring Prince Charming, by 1981 they were the biggest deal in town. Everything Adam Ant had dreamed of when turning his band from the arty punks of 1979’s Dirk Wears White Sox into proper pop stars had been achieved at an incredible speed.

If it’s hard to imagine a similar career progression now, it was just as unlikely in 1981. Even David Bowie needed a few years before and after Space Oddity to get it together.

For Chris, it was the intense bond between Adam and his writing partner/co-conspirator Marco Pirroni that propelled them onto the nation’s bedroom walls.

“Adam and Marco’s belief that the Ants would happen was very powerful and prevalent,” recalls Chris from his home studio near Bath. “They were like Mick‘n’Keith, those two. They were unbreakable and totally held up each other’s opinion. Adam and Marco were so tight you couldn’t pick either of them off, and their forward motion was unstoppable. It was ‘Yeah, I want this and I’m going to get this’ all the time.”

The unbeatable singles Stand And Deliver and Prince Charming were exactly what was needed to seal the Ants’ regal period as perfect colourful pop stars. Chris, albeit under his nickname, was cemented in 80s folklore in the chorus of Ant Rap.

“That ‘Marco, Merrick, Terry Lee…’ idea was just a joke,” laughs Chris. “It was very throwaway, something of an in-joke about the band mentality we had behind the image of Adam being the one in all the photos. It was chucked in for a laugh, typical of Adam’s humour, and it was something that we didn’t think would last beyond that week – never mind 40 years later.”

The fact people can recite the Ants’ line-up from muscle memory in seconds thanks to Ant Rap is typical of Adam’s Midas touch, an ability that developed as soon as the Ants’ pop line-up was assembled.

That came after the wreckage of the Dirk Wears White Sox band was famously stolen by short-lived Ants manager Malcolm McLaren, to form 14-year-old Annabella Lwin’s backing band in Bow Wow Wow.

Adam barely paused for breath before recruiting fellow punk face Marco as the ideal writing partner. Finding Chris was even more unlikely, as he’d had just one session as a producer before being tasked to rework existing Ants favourites Cartrouble and Kick as a single.

Chris had wanted to be a drummer for as long as he could remember. While banging a pair of drumsticks against tin cans playing along to records as a kid, he began picking out the same sonic elements a producer did, explaining: “I realised there was a lot of pop that I didn’t really like, yet the records still sounded fantastic. If you got players who were great, your record would sound a certain way, like Joe Meek’s stable of players. When I began playing drums at sessions, I was fascinated by what was going on in the control room – these guys nodding their head and talking away.”

Chris Hughes’ Ants story began when a friend asked him to help produce a session in Liverpool for early synth-poppers Dalek I Love You. Waiting to get the response from the band’s A&R back in London, Chris got chatting in reception to Ian Tregoning – head of Ants’ then-record label, Do-It. Ian asked Chris to send in a production demo.

“Three weeks later, Ian phoned to say, ‘I really didn’t like any of your tape, but I thought you were an interesting bloke,’” remembers Chris. “I was invited by Do-It to redo two Ants tracks. No budget, and I barely had any equipment.” 

Chris used his nascent editing skills to reassemble the songs and, while handing the results over at Do-It, was startled when Adam burst in. “This was the week Malcolm had stolen the Ants from Adam,” he explains. “I’m certain Malcolm thought Adam would be overawed by Malcolm’s Svengali status and would kow-tow to whatever Malcolm thought Adam Ant should do. But Adam didn’t do that. Instead, he went ‘F*** the lot of you!’ in classically Adam fashion.” 

Still livid at McLaren’s betrayal, Adam steamrollered Chris into producing new demos of the same songs. Chris says: “While I was talking to Ian about what I’d done on the new edits, Adam said to me ‘I don’t know who the fuck you think you are, but if you’re any good, why don’t you record me and Marco? If you think you’re any good, then let’s go, right now.’ That was on the Tuesday… and on the Friday we were in Rockfield Studios in Wales making Cartrouble.”

That session saw Adam double up on bass, with future Culture Club drummer Jon Moss acting as session sticksman. “I didn’t want to be the drummer as well as the producer,” insists Chris. “The burden of both playing with the Ants and trying to organise how they should sound as a producer didn’t seem feasible. 

“I needed to be in the control room as a producer, which was arguably a safer place, to organise them and understand what the band was about. I could be more helpful in there. Certainly, my relationship with Adam was established as a producer, not a drummer.”

Read more: Adam Ant – The Albums

Read more: Adam Ant interview

Fate decreed otherwise, starting with Adam’s plans for the Ants’ distinctive dual drumming sound, drawn from Burundi in East Africa. “I knew the French field recordings Adam was referring to, where he’d discovered Burundi drumming,” says Chris. “The same as Adam, I loved the way the drumsticks click up on certain beats.”

Adam, Chris and Marco held auditions in Waterloo for prospective drummers, with Chris showing auditionees how to drum Burundi-style. Terry Lee Miall was quickly accepted, but Chris recalls a surprising number of other drummers failed to grasp the idea. At the end of the auditions, Adam turned to Chris and said “Oh, f*** it, why don’t you do it?” 

The following day, Adam took Chris to a café where he outlined his vision for the Ants’ stardom, including his vow of how soon success would arrive. “I was cynical a couple of times in those early months,” admits Chris. “I thought ‘This is great, the energy talking it all up is fantastic, so let’s stick with it and not be negative.’ But I wasn’t sure, as much as I enjoyed Adam and Marco’s energy.”

The turning point arrived when the Ants played a tour in spring 1980 without having a record deal, including London shows at The Electric Ballroom and Empire Leicester Square. At a tour rehearsal for friends and family, “The room went nuts, says Chris. “I got the chills and it was so exhilarating it was exhausting.” 

An A&R from CBS Records at the following Empire show was so impressed that he went backstage after just three songs to ensure he was first in the queue to sign what Adam and the Ants had become. “Every show was just chaos,” Chris laughs. “I had more than a suspicion then that it was going to happen, and it did. Everything just happened so fast.”

With that energy starting to pay off, just how intense was Adam Ant to produce?

“The great thing about Adam is that he wasn’t demanding at all,” reasons Chris. “He was aspiring, and there’s an important difference between that and being demanding. Instead of having the attitude of ‘Get me this, stop doing that’, Adam would say ‘I’d love this song to go like this. It’d be great if we could get the beat to do that.’ That meant you could try to sound just like it. Adam had so much positivity, you went along with him.”

Chris also cites Adam’s humour as vital to Adam and the Ants’ success, noting: “A lot of people don’t see Adam’s humour, although it’s evident in a lot of his lyrics, which are wry and tongue-in-cheek – like Ant Rap. Adam is very kind-hearted too. He’s a family guy, very considered and thoughtful. I’ve witnessed a lot of shades of Adam. I’ve seen him be difficult, but only because he was stressed and tired.” 

Chris has no patience for those who try to belittle Adam because of his mental health struggles, saying: “I’ve always been on his team. So many people try to invite me to slag Adam off, saying ‘He was a mad one, wasn’t he?’ I won’t ever agree with that. The guy was an amazing artist.” 

Although Adam and Marco fell out a decade ago, Chris is just as warm towards the Ants’ guitarist, having worked with Marco’s post-Ants band The Wolfmen. “I adore Marco and we speak on the phone a lot,” he enthuses. “Marco has a good take on most things in life. You’ll always get an amazing insight from him, whether it’s about music, fashion, design or art.”

As for Terry Lee Miall, he gave up music after the Ants ended, moving to California after meeting his American girlfriend and becoming a plumber. Chris believes he was the ideal partner in the Ants’ unusual drumming set-up, saying: “Terry knew I’d be calling the shots on the drums and he was always enthusiastic, going ‘Yeah, OK!’ He was very easy to work with, always buoyant and polite. 

“We never had a cross word with Terry, and the only small issues arose on tour because he was quite anxious. We’d come off stage after a blinding gig and Terry would fret, going ‘Oh no, my drums sounded shit!’ We’d all tell him ‘They didn’t! They sounded amazing,” and Terry would then immediately be ‘Oh, right. Great!’ He’d go back to his usual enthusiasm really quickly.”

The Kings Of The Wild Frontier album stormed to No.1, with the title track and Antmusic both just missing out on becoming No.1 singles, the latter held off the top by Jealous Guy following John Lennon’s murder. Chris delights at learning of Mark Ronson’s love of his production on Dog Eat Dog, which the pop titan plays to new artists as the example of a perfect song to live up to. “I didn’t know that!” exclaims Chris. “That’s amazing!” 

The producer is more aware of Adam Ant’s insistence to Classic Pop that one reason his singles did so well is because of his insistence that they start with an intro so explosive that Radio 1 DJs wouldn’t be able to talk over them. 

“We had a conversation about how we enjoyed records that came on the radio as a call to arms,” explains Chris. “We wanted Ants songs to have that same feeling as, say, Fashion by David Bowie. They basically start by saying ‘Here we are, we’re going to be loud – check this out!’ That’s how the fanfare of Stand And Deliver came along, where you immediately want to go ‘Yes!’”

Read more: Adam Ant – Persuasion

Read more: Sigue Sigue Sputnik interview

There was no stopping Stand And Deliver and Prince Charming’s march to No.1 in the singles chart, but Adam has reservations about the accompanying album. While the enthusiasm of CBS Records’ A&R helped the Sony subsidiary sign Adam and the Ants, their brutal contract tied the band into delivering an album every year, or else another decade would be added to the band’s option. It’s no wonder that, after the whirlwind of actually succeeding as pop stars, Prince Charming is a little patchy.

“Adam is right, though we didn’t realise it at the time,” accepts Chris. “I’d also argue – and I think Adam would agree – that it’s the writing that was rushed, not the recording. I’m not suggesting Adam could have done any better under the time constraints we had, but if the writing had all been up to the calibre of the singles then Prince Charming would have been a much greater album. Once we were in the studio with the ‘record’ light on, the quality was still there.”

Having planned to be a producer happily lurking in the control room, what was it like to be part of a pin-up band? “Gruelling!” responds Chris. “It was a chaotic time. We’d be on tour in Sweden, get told we’re No.1, so we’d fly back to do Top Of The Pops and fly straight back to Spain where the tour was now meant to be.

“It took its toll and there wasn’t anyone to tell us ‘This is chaos now, but it’ll be great soon, because we can slow it down and take more time next time.’ There was a general undertone in the Ants that we had to grasp it while we can. There was a lot that happened in the Ants that I didn’t expect, and I maybe sleepwalked into it because of Adam and Marco’s drive.” 

Chris also believes the pressure hid Adam’s mental health concerns, commenting: “Adam seemed to feel OK in that chaotic world of success. If you’re in that bubble of mayhem and chaos with everyone else, no-one is aware of your own turmoil, because it’s just part of the bigger chaos.”

The end of Adam and the Ants soon resulted. Adam has since told Classic Pop he believes the band could have lasted longer if they’d had a break. Chris agrees, but points out: “Maybe we could have integrated Adam and the Ants around Adam pursuing acting and whatever else he wanted to do in addition to the band.

But managing his own career was tough enough for Adam. Managing his own career and that of the band, while we were all starting to have our own ideas, would have been really tough.”

Instead, Chris was tipped off about the band’s split after Adam took him out to lunch to say: “I’m ending the Ants, but Marco and I would like you to continue as producer.” 

Chris produced Goody Two Shoes – famously credited to Adam and the Ants – but then got invited to work with a friend’s young band in the west country, Tears For Fears. “I would have carried on producing Adam,” ponders Chris. “I knew how to make Adam’s songs work, but I was seriously into producing by then. I certainly didn’t want to be an Ant or a lived drummer anymore, it made much more sense to try to be a producer.”

Adam and Chris stay in touch via text, always chatting on Adam’s birthday. Would Chris produce Adam Ant again? “The paperwork would have to be right,” cautions Chris. “If it was, then yeah, I probably would.” Merrick and Yours Truly might just have more adventures in store. 

Check out Adam Ant’s official site

Read our feature on the making of Blondie’s Parallel Lines

 

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Top 20 80s Cover Versions

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Cover versions are sometimes bad, sometimes great. Here’s Classic Pop’s rundown of the very best cover versions of some of some of the 80s’ very best songs.

Cover versions

It’s a testament to the skyscraping songwriting achievements of the 1980s that its music is constantly being revisited by today’s artists. Since 31 December 1989, the highlights of that decade have been continually plundered by singers and bands eager to capture a little of that 80s magic. Some are by artists who lived through that special decade, while others are by those that weren’t even born back then. Here, then, is our pick of the best cover versions of 80s hits. Strap in tight…

Our countdown of the Top 20 80s cover versions

20
Sonic Youth – Into the Groove
Original: Madonna

Credited to Ciccone Youth, this improbable Madonna cover by Noo Yoik noiseniks Sonic Youth was cut from The Whitey Album, an LP built around their fascination with the Material Girl. We’ve chosen not their take on Burning Up but their version of Maddie’s 1985 smash, Into The Groove.

Staggeringly, it’s as loyal to the discordant, feedback-heavy Sonic Youth sound as it is the pop majesty of Madonna. Her opinion of this most unique of refits, however, remains sadly unknown.

19
M WardLet’s Dance
Original: David Bowie

Let’s Dance is one of David Bowie’s slickest tracks, a glorious, clear-eyed slice of party-funk that won him his biggest hit in years. M Ward’s 2007 cover version, recorded for Taika Waititi’s comedy flick Eagle Vs Shark, strips back all of that Nile Rodgers tinsel, reclaiming it as a tender folk-blues number.

It’s worth checking out the covers album Ward made in 2014 with Zooey Deschanel, Classics, under their She & Him alias, where they revisit 13 favourite songs with the help of a 20-piece orchestra.

18
Calexico – Love Will Tear Us Apart
Original: Joy Division

There have been oh-so-many cover versions of Joy Division’s signature number (including Squarepusher, José González, Fall Out Boy, Nouvelle Vague, Soul Asylum and, of course, Paul Young), but our pick comes from alt-country oddballs Calexico who recorded this Americana-inflected take in 2005.

Audaciously refashioning the central melody, it’s a rosier, sunnier version than the introspective, intense original and no worse for that. Quite what Ian Curtis would have made of it, though, is another thing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDPMWb89AK4

17
Nada Surf – If You Leave
Original: OMD

Recorded originally for John Hughes’ cult romcom Pretty In Pink, If You Leave became Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s highest-charting single in the US, where it peaked at No.4 in May 1986. When noughties teen drama The OC fashioned an episode around Hughes’ film, they reached out to alternative rock band Nada Surf to cover OMD’s iconic, movie-closing track.

Jettisoning the towering synths of the original, they give the song a lovingly indie makeover.

16
The Flaming Lips With Stardeath And White Dwarfs – Borderline
Original: Madonna

Recorded in 2009 for a Warner Bros tribute album by sonic adventurers The Flaming Lips and experimental crackpots Stardeath And White Dwarfs, this unsettling version of Madonna’s 1984 classic turns the song inside out.

A scuzzy, disorientating take, it hoovers out all the pop and reinvents the song as some kind of avant-garde noise project – a sort of sweaty, night terrors take on La Ciccone’s rainbow-hued original.

15
Alien Ant Farm – Smooth Criminal
Original: Michael Jackson

The awfully-named Alien Ant Farm have failed to make much of an impact after this, their – admittedly dope – debut single.

A guitared-up take on Jacko’s 1988 dance classic, it was certainly an MTV favourite in the early noughties (with its video depicting frontman Dryden Mitchell frolicking with a pet monkey and pastiching Jackson’s iconic crotch grab) and propelled the simple-headed frat-rockers to No.3 on the UK singles chart.

14
STRFKR – Girls Just Want To Have Fun
Original: Cyndi Lauper

It’s worth noting that Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 single was itself a cover of a song written and first recorded in 1979 by new wave muso Robert Hazard (he reportedly dashed off the track in just 15 minutes whilst in the tub). Lauper, however, took the number to soaring chart heights, creating an effervescent feminist anthem.

Three decades later, indie outfit Starfucker (politely abbreviated to STRFKR) put out this sympathetic cover, retaining the bouncy fun of Lauper’s version while dialling back the synths.

Read our Classic Album feature on Cyndi Lauper’s She So Unusual here.

13
Ian Brown – Billie Jean
Original: Michael Jackson

“You’re never going to improve on a Michael Jackson song if you cover it,” so proclaimed former Stone Rose Ian Brown, a brave man who took on not just one, but two Jacko classics at the turn of the millennium. A fully Brownified take on Jackson fave Billie Jean was released as a double A-side with his similarly idiosyncratic version of Thriller.

Eschewing Quincy Jones’ silky production for his own trademark do-it-yourself home-studio sound, Brown’s cover acquits itself nicely.

12
Johnny Cash – Personal Jesus
Original: Depeche Mode

The Man In Black’s American Recordings series threw up a plethora of bang-up covers, some blindingly obvious and some that were, for a sexagenarian country legend, rather more leftfield. It was producer Rick Rubin who suggested this sleazy, sinister cut off Depeche Mode’s Violator album for Cash’s 2002 long-player, American IV: The Man Comes Around.

Cash mined something very different for his bluesier interpretation, calling it “probably the most evangelical gospel song I ever recorded.”

Read our Classic Album feature on Depeche Mode’s Violator here.

11
Weezer – Africa
Original: Toto

In December 2017, a Twitter account was set up with the sole purpose of convincing American alt-rockers Weezer to wax a version of Toto’s MOR favourite Africa. Just to be contrary, the band first put out a cover of Toto’s Rosanna, before succumbing and releasing their irony-heavy version (they even brought in “Weird Al“ Yankovic to replace singer Rivers Cuomo in the video) of Africa in May 2018.

The song netted the band their biggest hit since 2006. Result.

10
Faith No More – I’m Easy
Original: The Commodores

We can’t imagine Faith No More are particularly happy now, 27 years down the line, that I’m Easy remains their biggest worldwide hit. Although they were most likely pissing themselves in the studio, it’s a surprisingly – no pun intended – faithful cover of the Lionel Richie-composed original.

Which is probably why their fans detested it so much, regularly flipping the band the finger when they played it live. Originally released in 1977, we’re sneaking this in on the basis of its reissue a decade later.

09
The Postal Service – Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)
Original: Phil Collins

Phil Collins’ chart-conquering power-ballad has been covered umpteen times, mostly by bands and singers who do little to put their stamp on it (we’re looking at you, Mariah Carey and Westlife).

That’s not an accusation you could ever lob at electro laptop misfits The Postal Service – they being Death Cab For Cutie vocalist Ben Gibbard and DJ Jimmy Tamborello – who delivered this appealingly angular reinterpretation for the 2004 big screen thriller Wicker Park.

08
Foo Fighters – Down in the Park
Original: Tubeway Army

The characteristically doom-laden Down In The Park was the first single to be released from Tubeway Army’s sophomore album, Replicas. Despite bombing commercially, it’s something of a goth favourite, with starry-eyed versions by Marilyn Manson and Christian Death, alongside this take by Dave Grohl and co.

Replacing the ominous synths of the original with a wall of guitar noise, it was recorded for a 1996 LP titled Songs In The Key Of X: Music From And Inspired By The X-Files.

07
Muse – Hungry Like The Wolf
Original: Duran Duran

Sometimes when a song is so faultless, it would be almost sacrilegious to perform radical surgery on it. It’s clear then that Devonian space-rockers Muse were hot and heavy for Duran Duran’s 1982 original, so where’s the harm in doing a straight, loving, well-performed cover?

The trio first aired the song during a live TV appearance in 2018, a performance so well received that, only a few months later, they released a studio recording exclusively on Spotify. Go listen. Now.

06
Paloma Faith – Never Tear Us Apart
Original: INXS

It takes a particularly fearless artist to take on the mighty, untouchable Michael Hutchence, but Paloma Faith’s gender-swapped version of the INXS classic Never Tear Us Apart, recorded for a John Lewis ad in 2012, stands almost as tall and proud as the 1988 original.

Seductive and sexy, with a cool Western guitar bridge and a powerfully soulful vocal from one of pop’s most cherished eccentrics – it’s a must-hear cover that can be found on her second studio album, Fall To Grace.

05
No Doubt – It’s My Life
Original: Talk Talk

Talk Talk’s version of It’s My Life didn’t even make the Top 30 in the States, so when Californian ska-rockers No Doubt chose the song to record in 2003, they didn’t have to deal with too many people giving them grief for vandalising a classic.

Though it misses the sulky melancholy of the original, No Doubt’s version is a pleasingly synth-soaked, club-friendly reinvention of one of Mark Hollis’ most sublime tracks. The song reached No.10 on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining on the chart for 28 weeks.

Read our Album By Album feature on Talk Talk here.

04
The Futureheads – Hounds of Love
Original: Kate Bush

There are precious few Kate Bush covers (I mean, who would even dare?) and even fewer ones that managed to prick the Top 10, with the unlikely exception being northern post-punks The Futureheads who scored a No.8 hit with this guitar-coated version of Dame Kate’s 1986 classic (which, somewhat outrageously, only managed a No.18 placing in the UK).

Despite being named Best Single Of 2005 by the NME it was, tragically for The Futureheads, their last ever Top 10 placing.

Read our Lowdown feature on Kate Bush here.

03
Hot Chip Dancing in the Dark
Original: Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen’s brand of blue-collar earnestness couldn’t be more distanced from the dorky, bedroom-dwelling, über-arch output of electro noodlers Hot Chip, so there was never any chance that their version of The Boss’ 1984 classic would sound even remotely similar.

Replacing Springsteen’s testosterone-drenched vocals with that of lady-voiced man-child Alexis Taylor, it’s a geeky reclaiming of a song that no speccy, pasty-faced dork would have gone anywhere near before.

02
The Be Good Tanyas – When Doves Cry
Original: Prince

The most ear-catching covers are often when a band from a completely different corner of the musical spectrum take on a song from a genre far away from their own. So it was when Canadian folkies The Be Good Tanyas picked Prince’s When Doves Cry for a hidden track on their 2006 album Hello Love.

The band’s no-frills, Frazey Ford-fronted cover is slower and more delicate, but still boss, a testament to the stately brilliance of the Purple One’s 1984 original.

Read our Top 10 Prince songs feature here.

01
Michael Andrews & Gary Jules – Mad World
Original: Tears For Fears

Sometimes a cover can dwarf the original so much that it’s the first version that tends to get mistaken as the reboot. So it is with Mad World, the original of which, by Tears For Fears, peaked at No.3 in the UK in 1982. But Michael Andrews and Gary Jules’ achingly melancholic, bare-bones cover, recorded for the Jake Gyllenhaal-fronted sci-fi flick Donnie Darko, became an unlikely Christmas No.1 at the end of 2003.

When Adam Lambert sang Mad World on American Idol in 2009, it wasn’t Tears For Fears’ version that he performed.

Read more: Top 20 Posthumous Releases

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The Specials: Protest Songs 1924-2012 review

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The Specials: Protest Songs 1924-2012
The Specials: Protest Songs 1924-2012 cover

Such was the excitement surrounding Terry Hall’s return to The Specials for 2019’s Encore that they swiftly reconvened in early 2020 to begin a new album. This – for obvious reasons – is not that album, and, by the time they gathered in September, with COVID’s second wave incoming, it was clear recording in the familiar fashion remained impossible.

So, suffering lockdown fatigue, but inspired by demonstrations about George Floyd’s death, they instead planned a fourth covers album. 

This time – just as the band needed something on which to focus – the songs themselves would have a focus, too. Protest Songs 1924-2012 gathers a dozen such compositions and demands fans see it more as a continuation of the band’s social politics than their musical style. 

This takes some readjustment: there’s little sign of, for instance, ska here – except, perhaps, the loose rhythms of Big Bill Broonzy’s 1938 tune Black, Brown And White – and few could have predicted Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows would appear, especially not so convincingly, nor Frank Zappa’s Trouble Every Day. The Specials, however, have always been by nature a broad church.

Of course, more obvious choices are present, especially Pop Staples’ civil rights anthem, Freedom Highway, with The Staples Singers’ gospel switched for a similarly instinctive rock‘n’roll arrangement, though often little more than voice and drums.

From the same era, Ain’t Gonna Let Segregation Turn Us Around (Don’t You Let Nobody Turn You Around) takes an African spiritual popularised on marches and speeds it up for shorter attention spans, its vocals and handclaps periodically punctuated by bursts of organ, guitar and drums, while Rod McKuen’s gritty pacifist song Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes gets a welcome revival, too.

Two tunes by Malvina ‘Little Boxes’ Reynolds are also unearthed, the loaded I Don’t Mind Failing In This World and, enhanced by banjo, I Live In A City, while this country styling is maintained for Chip ‘Wild Thing’ Taylor’s Fuck All The Perfect People, written in 2012. 

More controversial, though, is Listening Wind, Talking Heads’ tale of a terrorist defending his land from foreign exploiters, delivered here with minimal percussion and mournful horns, while an acoustic rendition of Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up rounds things off quietly. We’ve never heard The Specials like this before, but they’ve used their time wisely. 

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Check out The Specials’ website

Read more: 2Tone Records feature

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Toyah – Posh Pop review

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Toyah Posh Pop cover
Toyah Posh Pop cover

After years of copyright wrangling, the belated reissues of her early albums has finally allowed Toyah to be reassessed. So far, Sheep Farming In Barnet and The Blue Meaning have shown just how adventurous she was among punk peers. Next up will be 1981’s Anthem, the album which sent Toyah mainstream via its hits It’s A Mystery and I Want To Be Free. 

It’s Anthem which Toyah’s 13th full album most closely resembles. It appears having her early work back out has enabled Toyah to be as at peace with her music as such an untameable spirit will ever be. 

She’s made excellent questing albums since Anthem, but none have so completely reconciled her fearlessness with a simultaneous love of bloody great big pop songs. Posh Pop’s title alludes to Toyah’s husband Robert Fripp guesting on guitar, under the alias Bobby Willcox. Such knowingness aside, it’s not a bad description for such elegant material.

Resolutely not mucking about in getting to the heart of each song, Toyah and her regular producer/co-writer Simon Darlow’s music is lean, even when the sound is as belligerent as the Belinda Carlisle-meets-B-52’s Rhythm In My House or Levitate’s pulsating groove. Space Dance is gloriously daft, as catchy as R.E.M.’s Shiny Happy People. If the overall mood is celebratory, many songs have a savage bite lurking, Toyah’s punk roots showing in Kill The Rage and the sci-fi epic Take Me Home, with its message that we’re all refugees.

And then Toyah simply devastates the listener, as Barefoot On Mars is the most beautiful song she’s ever written, describing how she reconciled with her troubled mother. 

Having become one of lockdown’s breakout stars with her and Fripp’s gloriously daft Sunday Lunch videos, Toyah has embraced their ethos by making films for each song. Included on the CD+DVD format, they range from the unlikely Devo spirit of Toyah, Fripp and Darlow’s deadpan dancing in Space Dance to a moving, meditative monkey reflecting on mankind’s inequities in Monkeys. It makes Posh Pop a worthwhile video album.

The Sunday Lunch ethos infuses Toyah’s music, too: ridicule is nothing to be scared of, as Toyah’s Jubilee co-star Adam Ant once sang. Pop music is nothing to be scared of, either. As Anthem showed 40 years ago, pop doesn’t have to be disposable. Toyah has embraced that again, and brought her hard-fought wisdom into the lyrics. Magnificent. 

★★★★

Visit Toyah’s website here

Read more: Toyah interview

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