We recently caught up with Johna Johnson to talk about part one of his new book about what it was like following Adam & the Antz before they went Poptastic. It is called Blood, Sweat, Leather & Tears – The Original Adam & The Ants story 1977-80 (Part One) and is out via the Old Dog Books Publishers for pre-order from their website here! Grab a copy it’s a superb tale for sure! Here’s what Johna had to say!
01. How did you get started in the world of words?
You (B from eyeplug) asked me if I fancied having a go at writing a fictional version of my time following Adam and the Ants. It had never crossed my mind before even though I have witnessed a lot of things worth reading about I guess Like the Sex Pistols at Huddersfield for example.
02. What was living in Bradford and the surrounding area like back in the day?
Bradford was quite an interesting place to live really. It was very multi-cultural. On our street alone there were lots of Eastern Europeans from Yugoslavia, Latvia, and Poland. There was one lady I always seem to remember. I’m assuming she maybe was Jewish, but she lived on her own and was always standing at her gate. She looked like she was waiting for someone to come home. If she was Jewish, then they probably weren’t coming at all maybe? On bank holidays, she would have parties for the kids in the streets. You’d get arrested for that now. There were also Asian people on our street. I was invited to an Asian friend’s house to have a curry when I was about 10, so maybe around 1970. At the bottom of the road was where the Black community lived so we would go down there and get introduced to Reggae and Calypso music and food like Jerk Chicken. Bradford City goalie, Pat Linney lived in one of the cul-de-sacs off our street. So it was normal to be around people from different cultures and it was interesting meeting people that were different from me. You learn so much and that’s why I liked it. It broadens your mind and stimulates the brain. It’s the essence of humanity with a diversity of thought and action. Imagine a world where we are all still learning and sharing new ideas.
03. Was it a struggle getting this first book published?
Writing the book was pretty easy. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. The hardest part was limiting it to a certain amount of words. The hard part was editing and checking grammar and stuff that took a long time to sort out, and when that was finished I started having health issues so that had an impact as well sadly. But we’re here now at last!
04. How did finding Punk and Adam & The Antz change your world?
I saw so many of the original Punks bands like The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, and all the millions of little Punk bands but there was no band or gig like an Antz gig. They were unique. All the Punks seemed to be different at Ants gigs, people dressed a bit differently and their gigs were unlike any other Punk gigs I went to. It was scary and exciting in equal measure. It was a bit surreal maybe. It was action-packed with violent overtones and with moments of beauty.
05. Many people will be quite shocked that a supposed ‘pop band’ had such a hardcore early start?
In 1977 people looked at you like you were an Alien, they were scared of you and people could react violently. I remember an old lady attacking me with a brolly saying: “Get back to where you came from!” I said, “But I’m from Bradford Missus, same as you!” That was despite being surrounded by the rainbow children was the first time I thought to myself. This is what it must be like to be a foreigner in this country. I started to identify with and understand a little bit better what it must be like for them! Walking around at that time could be dangerous with the Teddy boys in particular in Bradford They were our nemesis.
06. How did you deal with the general public(s) perception of the Punk movement?
The Ant’s influence certainly had a big influence on the Psychobilly scene. The Meteors in particular being as they were the first band of that ilk. When Adam went poptastic a lot of the Ants crew ended up following the Meteors when they first started. My first encounter was in 1981 at Leeds Tiffany’s I was working for John Keenan the promoter with Ian Astbury (The Cult) Barnzley (Child of a Jago among others) and a couple of other mates. It was The Cramps and The Meteors were supporting. I had just finished loading the gear on stage when all my mates from The Ants days walked through the door. I asked why they were there? They said get down the front for the Meteors it’s just like an Ants gig. I went down there when the Meteors came on and yes It was just like an Ants gig in terms of the aggressive nature of the dancing. Now everyone danced like that at Psychobilly gigs so that had an influence for sure. I’m not sure if it did musically? We all used to go round to Paul Fenech’s house in Clapham. He was a proper Rockabilly and we would take Ants tapes round and get Paul to listen to them and sometimes he would play along to them. Whatever people took round there, Paul could play along in no time at all.
07. Post-punk and beyond, what music culture has excited or interested you?
Me personally I was really upset when Punk imploded in 1979. Once all the bands ended up on Top of the Flops it was over. It had become what it was supposedly fighting against, and that impacted on the gig experience as well. It was no longer simply just Skinheads that you had to contend with, but straight people with their odd attitudes too, attending gigs. So whereas in 77/78 Punks looked after each other and wherever you went around the country the local Punk community would look after you, but from 1979 onwards everything became more regional again and people didn’t want people who weren’t from their area in their Town or City. It was like being at football matches! The Ants were the only thing keeping us going and Adam saw it coming hence “Antmusic for a future age!” He was pulling the Ants away from what was left of the Punk scene and creating his own scene. When the Ants went out and out pop that was a very upsetting period because it was all over for us. Bow Wow Wow was great and good fun, but it wasn’t The Ants or the Punk scene. I liked The Meteors as well! Also, Theatre of Hate, Southern Death Cult, The Monochrome Set, and Martian Dance, who again were all the original Ants fans anyhow – all good bands and they kept me going, but it wasn’t the same as Punk. There was no ideology or structure it was just mates and music. The Psychobilly thing was strange for me in particular because a lot of The Meteors fans were ex-Teds and myself, in particular, had a lot of trouble of them in Bradford, so it seemed uneasy suddenly having a bleached flat-top, almost like a traitor, but I suppose having a bleached flat-top still kept an element of Punk to it. All those bands I mentioned were new except The Monochrome Set who had been going since 78. When I first encountered them in Bradford and there was a strong Ants connection. Bid and Lester Square were all part of the pre-Ants outfit The B-Sides. Then, later in that decade, I got into Rave music. I didn’t like it initially around the late ’80s as the only track I liked was The Orb’s Little Fluffy Clouds! After a couple of boring early Rave’s at the Hacienda and other places, I finally got the bug around 1990/91, when I heard all the Italian House stuff. It sounded like a Punky version of Disco music to me, with high-energy vocals and techno samples and mad fast pianos. There were also a lot of similarities with Punk and its more DIY elements. People were creating their own record labels and clubs etc. It brought lots of different tribes of people to the table as well who might never have met otherwise. I suppose the one tribe it had a positive effect on was the football crowd. It chilled a lot of them out for sure. I saw Leeds(my own team) and Man United fans hugging each other and wishing their respective teams well. That would never have happened before. The first game back in Division 1 for Leeds, was Everton away. We all had tickets for the Everton seats and we’d all been out raving the night before, so the last thing we wanted was to get in any trouble. Sat next to us was a load of Evertonians who had been also out raving the night before. We were all chatting and having a laugh when one of their mates who hadn’t been raving turned up. He said: “Let’s go down there where all the Leeds fans are – it’s going kick-off!” One of his mates turned around and said: “Chill out man! Football violence is over. These lads are all Leeds!” He stormed off in the direction of the Leeds fans alone.
08. What type of other writers or books excite you?
I wasn’t really inspired by any other writers really. I was an avid reader of books in my early years but I‘ve only read factual books mainly. I loved reading about history, particularly WW2. Other subjects that I was keen on were Football, Fashion, and Music! Fanzines were a great source of inspiration in the Punk days because the mainstream media weren’t interested. It was really the only way you could find out about lots of these bands. I didn’t see the point of fictional books as such, because it’s not real and I didn’t want to waste my time with things that are not real, I would dream about stuff like other kids, but I sensed how could you dream about things if it wasn’t actually real. I was wrong of course, but at that age, that’s how I thought. I clearly remember saying to myself. Right, I’m sick of reading what other people have done. I’m going to go out there and try everything and make my own mind up about things. Which could have ended badly in some cases with that attitude. Ironically writing the Ants book I found I enjoyed writing the stories of the gigs that I didn’t attend more than my own experiences. One because I’m a great believer in telling the truth as near as you can remember; so the gigs I went to they were quite rigid in their input. It was as it happened. The gigs I didn’t attend because they were not my own stories, I just let my imagination have its way, and the stories benefited by being more flexible as a result. I was really surprised that I actually had an imagination!
09. What other types of Films and Music have inspired you?
If I spend my time doing anything it’s got to change something in me. So it’s got to make me think differently or stimulate or inspire me. I don’t waste time watching things just for the sake of watching things. I would never watch an Action film because it’s just superficial. I don’t watch Cowboy films because I’ve no interest in how America nicked someone else’s culture. I don’t watch Horror films because most of them are silly and superficial. The kind of films I like are true stories, World War 2 films for example because it’s probably the only justifiable War this Country has ever fought since the Spanish Armada tried to invade England! I like some Film Noir and in general old Black and white films! My favorite film or the film I have watched more than any other is Thunder Rock starring Michael Redgrave. It’s about a journalist who is reporting about the Nazis in Europe only to find his newspaper is editing the stories. So he leaves his job and goes on a tour of the UK telling people via his book. That falls on deaf ears. So he gets a job on a lighthouse and shuts himself away from people While on the lighthouse he finds a plaque and a logbook of a Ship that sunk outside the lighthouse of people like him who were also running away. So he created the characters in his mind and eventually that enables him to try to reintegrate himself into society.
10. As an author how do you feel about the modern world?
I don’t really like the modern world. Capitalism has made us cultureless, driven by the American more aggressive version wherein if something has no monetary value, it’s deemed worthless! I really fear for the future of the youth. We are not evolving we’re going back to a time when the elite ran the world and you couldn’t challenge them at all. People are all starting to look the same, think the same, and almost be robot-like.
11. How has your world changed since the heady days of following the ANTZ?
Well after the Ants and Punk Rock, I just carried on with music until the end of the Rave days then nothing new really appealed to me after that. The odd band here and there, but we haven’t had a new music scene since. If I had the opportunity to go back to those days I would go tomorrow and do it all again! I was never as happy as those days when everything seemed new.
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12. What do you think those that were around in those days think about this book?
The feedback for the book so far has been very positive from everyone. They all seem to be looking forward to reading it. I just hope they like it, particularly the people who followed the Ants as it’s really their story too, particularly Dunc, Popey, Jon, and some of the others who were the first Ants fans around. I really hope they like it more than anyone else.
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13. How has hi-tech and the Internet changed things for you?
Being able to do all these wonderful things at home and find out stuff we never had access to. Also with Social Media, you had access to people in the world you would never have met in your own life and you were able to buy whatever you wanted all in one place instead of having to physically go and do it! Now, however, the novelty has worn off more and more. I’m starting to see the internet as another way of controlling people and spying on what people are doing, so I have as little inter-action now as I can.
14. What projects are you planning for the future?
Now I’m at that age where I reflect on life and re-valuate what I’ve done in my life. I’m too old for pastures new and there is none anyway, so I’m trying to document the times I lived and save them for people in the future. In the hope, it is to try to inspire kids to do what we did. So I’ve been interviewing people with a view to doing a series of documentaries about Punk firstly but could lead on to other docs. The Bradford Punks doc should be the most interesting because of the diverse nature of our group compared to other places I visited regularly back then such as Middlesboro, Norwich, Burnley, even London, etc. We’ve just done an Exhibition in Bradford as well called Being Young in Bradford with 5 other mavericks of music and culture for the same reasons to inspire youth to do what we did at their age. There may be a possibility to write more books too. I was lucky enough to be involved in quite a few different music cultures so I do have a lot of stories written down in basic form just to remind me or trigger my memories, but we’ll have to see about that! Part Two of this book is the next thing to get sorted! Watch this space!
© Johna Johnson a big thanks to him for letting eyeplug.net share this on his behalf!
You can pre-order your copy of this fine book by following the link to Old Dog Books below! Just click the cover image!BUY YOUR COPY HERE!
Blood, Sweat, Leather & Tears –
The Original Adam & The Ants story
1977-80 (Part One)
By John Johnson
Everyone’s heard of chart-topping Adam and the Ants, but long before that period, there was a more subversive, stylish, futuristic punk-infused band. Little is known about what went on in this secretive clandestine world. These days people whisper about those debauched times and are curious to know the truth. Step inside these pages to find out how four cocksure northern kids from Bradford got involved with the most exciting, but the most reviled band ever. How did they cope on the streets of London? Meet characters like Simone who worked in a fetish club. She was the one ‘Ant lady’ everyone wanted to date. Who succeeded? Then, meet the ‘Ant kids’ who Loved The Ants and no one was going to stop them from following their band period. How did all these underage kids who sometimes had to come to gigs in their school uniforms get into shows? They would often find themselves in dangerous situations where rampaging Skinheads would turn up to attack them at gigs. And finally What’s it like sharing a house with Adam, Filmmaker Julien Temple, and Adam’s girlfriend at the time, Actress Amanda Donohoe.
ISBN is: 978-1-8381299-3-4BUY YOUR COPY HERE!