Adam Ant, Bow Wow Wow, Chiefs Of Relief - A Celebration Of Matthew Ashman - Scala, London
London guitarist Matthew Ashman first appeared on the public's radar back in 1978 when he joined cult punk rockers Adam And The Ants, playing on the seminal Dirk Wears White Sox album and touring Europe with the band. Matthew upped sticks around 18 months later with the rest of Adam's band after being pinched by Malcolm McClaren to form Bow Wow Wow with Annabella Lwin.
The group stayed together until Annabella left in 1983, with the remaining members forming Chiefs Of Relief, with Matthew taking over on lead vocals. Matthew stayed with the band through a few line up changes, releasing an album in 1988 before breaking up. Matthew returned to the music scene in the early 90s playing with Agent Provocateur but sadly died of diabetes related complications in 1995 before the band released any material.
Matthew left a lasting impression on a lot of people and was still sorely missed 15 years down the line. With this in mind musician Billy Morrison decided to try and get all of Matthew's band's in the one room to play a show celebrating his life, hosted at London's Scala. This may have been a tall order but one he managed to pull off, with tickets snapped up by music fans as soon as they went on sale.
Photographers attending shows at The Scala are never sure what to expect as sometimes the venue has a small photo pit, other times you have to squeeze in down the front with the crowd. The pit is preferable as you get to move around slightly, varying your shots but it's always a pain when you leave it after your allocated three songs as the only place to take in the rest of the show is at the back if the gig is sold out. I managed to get in to the venue early and was delighted to see the pit in place, even more so when I found out that we were allowed to shoot the whole show and could stay in the pit throughout, giving me the best seat in the house!
The evening started with a warm up slot from London rockers Slam Cartel, with the band's frontman Giles Van Lane doing a great job of getting the crowd in the mood for the rest of the evening's proceedings.
Agent Provocateur were up next for a short one song slot performing a track lead singer Cleo Torres had written with Matthew.
I must admit that I wasn't reallly au fait with the Chiefs Of Relief's material before the Scala show bar a couple of singles. I was aware that Sex Pistol Paul Cook drummed for them for a while though and he took his place behind the drum kit as the set began.
Lead vocals for the performance were taken by Billy Morrison and 3 Colours Red's Chris McCormack. I really enjoyed the band's take on rabble rousing rock with a slight glam edge, especially set opener "Freedom" and "Weekend".
I was a huge "Dirk" era Ants fan back in my youth but I didn't really notice Matthew's playing until he joined Bow Wow Wow, with "Chihuahua"'s B side "Orang-Utang" probably the moment I sat up and really listened to his work, with the track mixing The Shadows twang with the sound of a Morricone Spaghetti Western soundtrack. So it was no surprise that I was in my element when bass player Leigh Gorman and drummer David Barbarossa opened with that number, with Adam's current guitarist Will Crewdson adding the Ashman riffs while Mr Morrison played an iconic white Gretsch as, as sported by Matthew on many an occasion.
Google tells me that I last caught Bow Wow Wow live at Edinburgh Nite Club on the 13th of December 1980! I remember it fairly well as I had been to see Killing Joke at the same venue the previous night and had travelled up to Dundee to watch them there too on the 13th. The gig was cancelled due to irate city council members so I returned to Edinburgh to watch Anabella and co. For some reason I hadn't been able to catch them again during their short existance so I was more than a little excited when the rest of the band were joined by Anabella on the Scala stage as they stormed into "Louis Quatorze". The set was only a few minutes old but already it was a sensational gig for me, with renditions of "Aphrodisiac", "Go Wild in the Country" and "I Want Candy" completely bowling the crowd over. It was wonderful to hear Anabella's distinct voice live, especially as she was sounding great and she was a pretty energetic frontwoman travelling to the far ends of the stage to entice the roaring crowd during the band's final number, a blistering take on their debut single - "C30, C60, C90, Go!".
"Dirk"-era Adam And The Ants were one of three bands alongside The Clash and Crass that really mattered to me in my youth. I was too young to attend shows with Matthew playing, finally getting to see them in June 1980 on the "Ants Invasion" tour in Dundee and Edinburgh Tiffany's the same year on the "Kings Of The Wild Frontier" tour. Ever the fickle fan, my interest waned slightly the bigger the band got, with the realisation that they weren't the band for me when a Shakin' Stevens loving work colleague turned up one day wearing her new denim jacket with the band's name written in pink and white cotton wool balls glued to the back! It was sadly the final straw for me and I never really took to Adam's future material after that, although I have seen the error of my ways since mind you. That being said, my heart will always belong to the Ants of the 70s.
Adam had chosen not play his set with his ex-band mates so he took to the stage with his current line up, with an additional member in Morrissey cohort Boz Boorer on guitar, an old school friend of Matthew's. The crowd were ecstatic on his arrival, with Adam dedicating the set to "A very good friend of mine who has passed away, young Matthew Ashman". He then went on to tell us that the set was based on all the songs Matthew played on so you can imagine so how overjoyed I was hearing the news!
The set really was a "Greatest Hits' from Matthew's era and I couldn't believe I was actually hearing gritty renditions of songs like "Catholic day" (my Dirk fave!), "Cartrouble", "Zerox" and "Fall in". As this was my first time seeing Adam since he returned in a big way to the London gigging scene I was curious as to how he'd be live and am glad to report that he was full of energy, looked extremely happy to be on stage and delivered top notch vocals. Adam was also very communicative with his audience, even throwing Ants stickers from the 80s out into the crowd of adoring fans at one point in the evening. His saucy side was also on display as he played around with stripping off towards the end of the set, still able to cause a few of the front row to swoon and cheekily flirted with his female backing singers.
I'm not sure if the set was running over or if it was part of Adam's onstage shtick but he told us towards the end that he had been asked to leave the stage and they were turning the PA off. Adam was defiant to the end, declaring his punk rock spirit and wouldn't depart until he had delivered an aggressive rendition of "Physical", throwing himself into the song (as he did on many others).
The set had drawn to a close, the houselights had gone up and people were beginning to leave when Adam returned to the stage to introduce us to a woman called Carol who had been blinded by diabetes and asked if we'd listen to a few words from the lady, with Carol describing how it's been living with the condition. It was nice to see the audience stopping what they were doing to take in what Carol had to say, with nobody down the front talking over her as they were ready to leave just giving a warm applause when she finished speaking.
This was without a doubt the best gig I've attended all year and I go to a few! I'll hopefully see Adam again at some point but it would be criminal if the remaining members of Bow Wow Wow don't get together to play another show in the UK. Billy Morrison certainly deserves a pat on the back for sorting out the whole amazing event anyway.