My fiancé turned to me last night and asked if I was having an existential experience. I realise what I must’ve looked like. People around me were dancing, cheering, singing and generally rocking-out, whereas I was completely still in my seat at The Opera House. Tears were running down my face and my hands covered my mouth as if in shock.
I was watching Adam Ant sing Antmusic, the second track from the Kings of the Wild Frontier album, and I couldn’t quite believe it. The real Adam Ant. In person. In front of me on stage. The real person, singing. Adam Ant. Right there in front of me. Dressed like a pirate. Dancing. Adam Ant. Like, what the fuck?
Was I having an existential experience? Was I ever.
I was eight or nine when Kings of the Wild Frontier was released. I was already a romantic at heart, but too young to appreciate the magic of that album properly. All I know is that I’d fallen in love with the most beautiful man I’d ever seen.
Struggling with my terrible memory, I’ve been trying to figure out what I may have been listening to up until then. It would have been pretty much what my brothers and sister were playing. I remember plenty of Blondie and The Pretenders. The Police. My oldest brother was into Bowie and Madness. The Specials and The Jam reverberated from more than one bedroom. I think this was about the time when my other brother was in his heavy metal stage, wearing an afghan coat and silky hair so long it got him into trouble at school. AC/DC then? Mum played lots of Abba, Johnny Mathis and Barbra Streisand. Were Manfred Mann still going in 1980? They were in our kitchen. As a household, we probably represented a vast cross-section of musical tastes in 1980’s England. I listened to the lot.
I remember that I had a portable record player for a while, a grey bulky thing, I think, and a couple of hand-me-down singles which included Crazy Horses by the Osmonds and God knows what by The Jackson 5. (My memory is horribly hazy, so it could have someone else’s record player and it may have been pink- or blue – who knows?)
Then, one ordinary Thursday night watching Top of the Pops, I saw Adam & the Ants for the first time. Little Becky found her groove. For the next couple of years, I played Prince Charming constantly, perfected the dance, and couldn’t get enough of Stand and Deliver.
All too soon Antmania died, and my love proved fickle. Greek god George Michael replaced the King of the Wild Frontier in my heart. But I still listened to the music, hummed those songs, and belted them out in the shower. I do to this day, which is why my beloved suggested we get tickets for the Adam Ant gig in Wellington.
In my twenties, I used to go to The Fanclub in Leicester, a nightclub that had an eighties theme on a Friday or Saturday night, I can’t recall which. I went with my best friend Simon and whoever was tagging along with us at the time, maybe a girlfriend of his or a boyfriend of mine. I had an annoying habit of standing in front of the DJ with my arms raised and crossed at the wrists. It was how I requested Prince Charming. Sometimes he played it, and sometimes he pretended not to see me.
When arranging the DJ for my wedding in my thirties, I made sure there was plenty of Adam & the Ants on the set list, as well as Barry Manilow’s Copacabana, lots of Wham! and Marc Almond. It was a rather camp disco when I think about it, and the marriage didn’t last. I was, however, persuaded to move to New Zealand.
My existential moment came when I realised how important the music from Kings of the Wild Frontier and Prince Charming is to me. These songs, as strange and fabulous as they are, are very much part of the soundtrack of my life and a big part of my past. Their theatricality and creativity ignited something in me at an extremely formative part of my childhood, and stayed with me when so much other music of the Eighties, including that of George Michael, fell away. I see Sia’s music doing something similar for my daughter now.
Watching Adam Ant perform Antmusic, I came to a question of my own: Had it all led to this?
Here I was: 45, a mother, a teacher, a writer; someone who has battled mental illness and won; at a point in my life where I seem to be finding myself again after being lost for so many years. Had it all led to this seat at the Opera House, watching a 62 year-old pop star dressed as a pirate, dance and sing like a man only just past his prime? Was this moment the most significant of them all? And, if so, what did it mean?
We were seriously hungry thanks to my eagerness to get to the Opera House. My long-suffering fiancé had assured me that we had plenty of time to eat, but I was adamant (unintentional pun, but I’m keeping it) that we didn’t have time to wait for the burgers we’d already paid for. He was right, as usual. We got there at 8.20 and Adam Ant started performing at 9.30. In the five years I’ve known my beloved, he’s been wrong about something on only 3 occasions. Living with someone who is right all the time is a little annoying, but I don’t think he can help it. So, anyway, please bear in mind that hunger may have been a factor in my existential experience. Plus, the fact that I’d potentially ruined a rare night-out-without-the-kids by being so adamant (sorry) had also made me a little emotional. In other words, I felt like crap. But how could I feel like that for long, when Adam Ant – like, the real Adam Ant – was right there? And he was fantastic!
I managed to peel my eyes away from Prince Charming and took a good look at the Prince Charming sitting next to me. He smiled. That’s when I got my answer.
Yes. It had all led to this seat, listening to this music, next to him.
I stood up and danced. Becky found her groove.