A.N.T.Z by Johna Johnson

People Often ask me what it was like following Adam & the Antz before they went Poptastic here’s a snippet of life as a soldier ant pre pop time!

ADAM & THE ANTZ – Retford Porterhouse / Birmingham Digbeth Civic Hall – 13/14/79

I was really looking forward to this tour which started on a Friday night at Retford Porterhouse The Parizians tour finished in Feb and they had only played at the Lyceum in April since then.

On the day of the gig I arranged a lift from some punks from Leeds who’s names escape me now They lived in some high rise flats in Hunslet or Beeston? It was a typical punk gaff back then. We swopped some Seditionaries clothes with each other I got a grey parachute shirt with a red sleeve of one of them I can’t remember what I swopped it for though? After a beer or two, we set off to Retford, which was a typical little village in the middle of the Lincolnshire countryside. There was a row of shops that looked like any street in any town and then a village square at the bottom of the street with a couple of pubs. So we headed down there. There wasn’t much happening so we headed back up to the gig. The venue was in the middle of the row of shops on the right-hand side. Then you went up two flights of stairs to get in. It was like a lot of clubs in towns and cities up and down the Country but it looked a little out of place in sleepy Retford. On the 1st floor was where they held the local disco where all the ‘Normal Normans’ would congregate to dance around their girlfriends’ handbags. As we walked in the venue I was quite surprised how modern it all looked. The stage was to the right as you walked in,  the bar to the left, I went around the corner to buy drinks and congregate. The dance floor was just in front of the stage. It was a decent sized venue. As soon as I walked in I saw all the familiar faces: Pete Vague, Duncan Grieg, Martin Pope, Jon Srobat, Spud, Kev Allison, Jerry Lamont and tons of others.

There were a few new faces on board from London as well (it was also the 1st time I met Dean Parko from Cleethorpes who has been a great friend ever since). It was one of these herbert’s that introduced me to the delights of glue sniffing. Money was tight so I didn’t have a lot of money for drinks and there was quite a while before the Antz came on so there I was in a toilet cubicle sniffing glue ‘a cheap punk rock off your head option’, after a while things started to get hazy then, the next minute the toilet door was kicked in and there stood a menacing bouncer before me. I was in no shape to challenge him or even speak to him, so he just grabbed hold of me then dragged me right outside, telling me I was barred! That news shucks my me back into reality, I was gutted but didn’t know what to do about it. People were coming out on my behalf to try get the bouncer to change his mind. I was pleading myself telling him I’d travelled from Bradford for this gig, that it was my favourite band. But he wouldn’t change his mind, so there I was sat on the steps of the Venue thoroughly pissed off.

Then Andy Warren the Antz bass player came out to see what I was doing outside – I told him what happened and he laughed. Then he went to have a word with the owner and the bouncer. Suddenly I was allowed back in. The bouncer said he was keeping his eye on me for the rest of the night. To say I was well behaved for the rest of the evening was an understatement, until the Antz came on, then I was down the front with everyone else as soon as the intro tape started playing Gary Glitters ‘hello I’m back again’ followed by Missa a Luba ‘Sanctus’ then Hanns Eielser’s fanfare! Adam had a new look.

Out went the Kabuki make-up, green army Mac, shirt and leather tie, and sash look, and now he had a camouflage face make-up, cowboy style shirt, leather trousers, black kilt and black sandals with white soles. The Retford gig was great, It felt so good to see the Antz again people were running around asking if I was going to Birmingham the day after? I was meant to go back to Bradford after the gig because funds were low then catch up with the tour in a couple of days but now I was like an addict needing his fix. Of course, I was going to Birmingham. I said goodbye to the lads from Leeds then stood around with all the Antz lot that were stopping overnight in the train station. As we were stood there all the locals from the Disco below piled out on to the street. They took one look then walked past. Then as they got to the bottom of the street they started on some Punk kid, who took a bad pasting. We all ran down to help then they shot off. Then the Ambulance turned up. Then everyone got some food and made their way to the train station. The waiting room was small but quite cosy. It had an old style fire blazing away, so everyone just settled down for the night until the morning when the train came.

Everyone was awake quite early and sat about chatting about what they thought of the gig the previous night, Adam’s n new look and what they thought the Birmingham gig would be like. After a while, we all got on the platform to board the train to Birmingham. I was in a precarious position, as I hardly had any money, which meant I would have to bunk the train to Birmingham. You never worried about things like that then, things always worked out. I got within two stops of Birmingham before I was caught. This was mainly due to a combination of hiding in the toilets. I was caught coming out of the toilets and told the conductor he had just checked my ticket and was going back to my seat and moved in the direction he had come from re-affirming, I think? That he had checked all the people’s tickets from that end of the train. I finally got caught when I let my guard slip, thinking I had got away with it and fell asleep. The options were paying or get nicked, so I had to go round the train tapping 10p’s! All this and without a Mohawk haircut as well! I managed to get quite a bit of money to pay the train fare and had a bit spare.

We arrived in Birmingham quite early so we hung around the Church near the Bull Ring, a famous Market in Birmingham. There were loads of Chinese tourists who came up to us and offered us money to take photos of us to show people back home. So that was more money in the coffers! We then went to walk around Brum and get something to eat. We came across this record shop that had an Italian and Portuguese copy of the Parisians single. They were hard to find for sure! I could only afford one of them, so I bought the Portuguese copy, thinking that would be the rarer, something I was to regret as I have only just found an Italian copy some 33 odd years later and it was a lot more expensive than in the shop in Birmingham! We went back to the others at the Church and decided to find a certain pub, where all the local punks went. After looking around for about an hour, we eventually found it, but it was empty. We had a drink then returned to the Civic Hall. Just in time to watch the band do their sound check. After I spoke to Mathew Ashman (RIP) and Andy Warren to make sure I was on the guest list and general chit-chat.

My mate Gary O’Connell (RIP) turned up from Bradford. He asked how I was getting home the day after, as the Antz had a day off. I said I don’t know, he said we could get some Coach tickets. So we went across the road to the Bus Station and asked how much the Coach fair would be back to Bradford the next day. We then put that money in our back pockets for safety so as not to lose it.

I was starting to think this was going to be a great night. I had made a bit of money the gig was sorted out, bought a record, had the Coach fair home and had a bit of money left for a couple of beers. I was standing outside the gig talking with Pete Vague, Tom Vague and Gary and a large group of Punks turned up across the road. Then we realised it was more Antz crew who had come up from London. We felt great, there must have been about 100 of us now. We couldn’t wait for the gig to start and people were still turning up. Boxhead from Liverpool, Paul Wanless from Middlesbrough and another lad from Boro, a lad from Leeds, who’s name I can’t remember now.

Eventually, the doors opened around 7.30. I got my name ticked off the guest list and made straight for the bar where everyone else was. I noticed that all the security were Hells Angels from Wolverhampton, which we thought was a bit strange, but we just ignored them. We all sat in the bar, it was like a private party as there where no Punks from brum there. Then this girl, I had seen at a couple of Antz gigs turned up. It also turned out she was from brum. She had turned up with another guy from Bradford. Barry Jepsom (who would later become the bass player for Southern Death Cult) She said we could stop at her house after the gig – things were just getting better. She told us that that the Skinheads had told the local brum Punks not to turn up because they were going to attack the London Antz crew, and anyone who was there was libel to get attacked if they were not Skinheads.

The Skinhead issue became the main talking point from then on. (The Antz crew were getting a bit of a reputation for being a bit handy in a fight as Antz gigs were sometimes quite violent, but the way people danced at the gigs visually looked violent to outsiders. It was like no other Punk gigs I ever went too. The Antz crew were not that bothered, however, as there had been many a scrap at gigs since they did the Parisians Tour and before at the London gigs. Punk gigs around this time were often starting to resemble football matches, without the Police to monitor the situation. Lots of people started touring around the Country following groups in fairly large numbers. Soon as you landed in another city the local hooligans would find out and mob up. Suddenly someone shouted ‘they’re here!’ We all rushed over to the window to look.

Outside, there were about 100 Skinheads walking down the middle of the main road, blocking all the traffic. They stopped outside the gig and started shouting abuse up at the Antz crew. The Ant’z crew returned the taunts. The Hells Angels wouldn’t let the skinheads in the gig, probably because they knew what was going to happen. Some of the Skinheads climbed up the drainpipes and climbed in through the windows, but were dealt with immediately.

There seemed to be a break in proceedings so we concentrated on the gig itself, thinking that because the Skinheads couldn’t get in they had gone away! We were sat in the bar then the Gary Glitter song ‘Hello, Hello I ’m Back Again’, came on and everybody started singing along. The Antz played this before every gig to let everyone know they were coming on stage. Along with Missa Luba’s ‘Sanctus’ and another track we knew as ‘the fanfare’ by Hans Eeisler.

The Antz hit the stage to the usual frenzy of delight. The atmosphere was electric. They were about to start singing their 4th song, ‘Animals and Men,’  when all of a sudden we heard this loud noise and turned around. To our amazement, there were the Skinheads! They were spread out all across the hall with arms linked, goose-stepping slowly towards us, as to box us in near the stage to make sure that no-one could get past.

Adam started the intro 1- 2 -3 -4 to start the song and I noticed that the Skinheads leader had a Man Utd shirt on? So as they charged forward, I went straight for the guy with the Man Utd shirt on (being a Leeds fan he was an obvious target) I shoved these two Millwall Skinheads (who followed the Antz and were on our side) out of the way and whacked the Man Utd fan straight in the face! To my amazement this had no effect on him at all. He didn’t see who had hit him, so I jumped back out of the way and started helping out others who were getting attacked thinking I was a bit lucky there maybe? The fighting seemed to go on for what seemed ages. Adam was on stage saying ‘I’m sick of you lot, you travel all over the Country to see us and just end up fighting!’ Then he walked off the stage. The Hells Angels were attacking the Skinheads as well so, together we managed to get the Skinheads out and own the stairs and eventually out of the venue. They locked the doors.

We went back in the gig and Adam came back on the stage and the gig was finished in peace. The Antz were great as usual. With Adam being annoyed with what had happened earlier the music seemed to reflect Adams anger. They were loud, energetic, and aggressive. With everybody on a high on adrenaline from fighting the Skinheads, everybody seemed to be dancing in a state of frenzy. They always danced like that, but even more so tonight. It was like some sort of testosterone ritual. It’s really hard to describe how people danced at Antz gigs – it’s got to be seen to be believed. The music seemed to transform people into potential ‘homicidal’ maniacs. I have seen people, who are placid in nature, turn into potential maniacs once the music starts. My mate Duncan showed some photos someone took of people dancing at an Antz show and they all looked like they were having a nervous breakdown!

To see the ants live was an unbelievable experience and no other Punk gig came close, including the Sex Pistols. The nearest atmosphere to an Antz gig was the Meteors, but then half the people at the Meteors gigs used to follow the Antz origanlly anyhow! At the end of the gig I went back stage to speak to the band. Adam was really pissed off, so I went back outside to sort our sleeping arrangements out.

I met up with Gary and Paul, then Barry came up and said that that girl from brum had changed her mind about us stopping at her house and that there had been a mix up, so we made our way outside. When we got out side there were loads of Police everywhere. We were told we would be getting a Police escort to the Train Station, as that was how most of the Antz crew had come up from London.

As the Police marched us back to the station the Skinheads tried to attack the front of the escort (It’s an old football hooligan tactic to get all the weaker ones in the middle of the escort, so you can protect the front and the back). Me, Gary, Popey and a few others went to the back of the escort as that’s the most vulnerable part of the escort, as the Police will protect the front but your more open to attack from the back, that’s if your attackers have any brains. So far the skinheads weren’t showing any. They continued to attack the front, and the Police kept them at bay. The Skinheads then split into two groups. They kept probing at the front of the escort, throwing bottles, but keeping their distance so they didn’t get nicked and to occupy the police. Eventually, the Police had enough and charged the Skinheads down the road. Leaving us with no protection. Then those Skinheads who had split off earlier from the main group, came out of hiding and attacked us. We got all the people to the front that could look after themselves and the weaker ones at the back. There were about equal numbers and after a while we managed to get the upper hand.

It’s hard to describe a ‘free for all’ as you don’t have that time to be an observer. Your just trying not to get hurt and concentrating on protecting yourself.  The only thing I can remember is Popey picked up one of those circular metal road lamps and whacked this Skinhead over the head with it, leaving him lying in the middle of the road. This had a dramatic effect on the other Skinhead’s appetite to continue the fight and they then dragged there mate to safety. The police then realised (as usual) that they had been outflanked by the Skinheads. The Police quickly herded us into a street, so as to make sure we were under their supervision again. At the end of the street, we could see that an Ambulance had arrived to attend to the injured Skinhead that had been hit earlier. Everyone started cheering! The Police went over to see what was going on, and then the Inspector then came over to where we were and addressed us all. He asked if anyone knew anything about what had happened to the Skinhead. Someone shouted out ‘I think he tripped over his big mouth!’ and everyone started laughing. Then some said ‘why don’t you ask him… in a few days when he wakes up!’ Everyone started laughing again. Apparently, he was in quite a bad way. We realised Popey could be in big trouble, so we hid him in the middle of the escort In case one of the Skinheads had seen him hit their mate and could point him out. The Skinheads had now lost their appetite for a close contact brawl but were still up for ambushing us with bricks and bottles all the way to the Station.

When we finally arrived at the Station the Police escorted everyone towards the London train. We said goodbye to everyone as they got on the train, in two minutes the train had gone. All of a sudden we were stood in Birmingham train station on our own just me, Gary, Paul and the lad from Leeds, with nowhere to go and the Skinheads were still outside the station. We went up to the Police and told them the situation, thinking they might put us up in a Police cell for the night, but they just said in no uncertain terms that they didn’t care what happened to us and that we shouldn’t have come to Birmingham anyhow. This was a standard reply by the Police to football fans that had been attacked on their patch.

With the Antz gig resembling a football match rather than a gig, we were not surprised by their attitude. We walked to the end of the platform to return into the Station and we could see that the Skinheads were still in there. We realised that if the Skinheads got hold of us we would get one hell of a beating after what had happened to their mate. I didn’t fancy our chances either of trying to walk back into the Station itself. Luckily the Skinheads thought that everyone had got on the train to London so they were not particularly looking for us. We looked around and saw a little opening at the side of the Station and we saw that there were some Taxi’s parked there. So we made a dash for it, then one of the Skinheads spotted us and they started running towards us. We just managed to get into the Taxi. We jumped in. The Taxi driver got halfway through the usual  ‘where to…?’ and we just said ‘anywhere!, just drive!’ The driver could just see all the Skinheads approaching the car and he said ‘are they after you?’ We responded ‘yes!’ So he set off as fast as he could foot right down, realising his car would get smashed to bits if they caught up to us!

We just about set off before they Skinheads got to u . We got to the end of the short road then realised that the traffic lights were on red. We looked behind us and the Skinheads had also seen that the traffic light were on red and set of in pursuit of us again. We sat there wondering what to do and praying that the traffic light would turn green. The Skinheads got to within a foot of the car then luckily the light turned green! The driver, who was as scared as us, just put his foot down and we were off again… phew! Everyone breathed out, including the driver. We drove of into the distance and we all started to relax. Our Taxi driver asked us what had happened and we told him we had been to see the Antz play. He exclaimed ‘all that trouble for a concert, what’s the world coming to?’ We all laughed! He asked us where we were going again. We said we had know where to go. He said that we can’t just drive round brum allnight which we knew deep down. We counted up all the money we had between us which came to £5. We just said we want to get out of brum centre and try find somewhere to sleep!

After a few suggestions we decided to go sleep under the Motorway Bridge. It was July so the weather was OK , and we had a duvet so it wasn’t that bad. We were just glad to have survived the night. The next day we all woke up with the early sunlight with a slight hangover and very hungry. We hadn’t eaten since the afternoon before. As we found our bearings we realised we were about 6 miles from the City Centre. We set off walking towards the Centre. We had no money left for food or a Bus fair back in to the Centre. It took us about an hour and a half to get back to the main Bus Station. We were really knackered, but relieved to get there. We sat down for a minute to get our breath back. Paul had his ticket for the coach back to Boro so he said farewell and left. The lad from Leeds had a train ticket so he departed to get his train. Me and Gary then went and queued to buy our tickets back to Bradford.

We got there and the queue was massive, eventually after what seemed a lifetime we got to the front of the queue. ‘Two tickets to Bradford please!’ Certainly! Then the women behind the till asked us for our money. We gave her our money and she said sorry but there’s not enough! We said we came and asked the price the day before. She said that the prices had gone up overnight. We could have died right there! We stood in front of her looking unwashed and dishevelled, starving and hung over. We explained what had gone on the night before and that we had slept on the Motorway all night I also said if I could have one wish it was to get home. I started to think of walking all the way back to the Motorway and hitchin’ it home, I think at that point I just wanted to die!

Gary was sat on the floor at this point in despair and I was about to join him when the women behind the till said she would pay the difference for us. I think it was about 60p each. I said ‘I will return the money as soon as I got home!’ I don’t think she believed me, but she gave me her address. I was just glad she took pity on us or was it the thought of having to drag our bodies up from the floor so she could carry on serving customers? I didn’t care, I was going home. I think it is one of the only times I can say a was glad to be going back to Bradford. When I got back to Bradford I said goodbye to Gary and I went home and had a long beautiful sleep. The next day the first thing I did was send the women the money back. At the next Antz gig, I bumped into the girl from brum that was going to put us up. She asked why we didn’t come back to her house. We told her that Barry Jepsom had told us that you had changed your mind. She was angry and said she would have a go at him when she saw him again!

© Johna Johnson a big thanks to him for letting share this on his behalf!

Johna Johnson

Johna Johnson is a writer and collector and well known face and much loved character on the UK Punk Scene. Having followed and worked with a lot of the leading bands from ‘back in the day’, he is currently working on a Compilation Book Project about his and others passion for the original Adam & The Antz (pre-pop) and is open to talks from Publishers and serious interested parties. Please feel free to get in touch using the links here below!

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