Adam and the Ants’ 1980 album Kings of the Wild Frontier was a big success at time of release; it reached number 1 in the UK album chart and spawned three hit singles; ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’, ‘Dog Eat Dog’ and ‘Antmusic’.
Now it’s back – but not quite how you remember it; Birmingham’s Johnny Normal has been at work close beside Ants songwriter and guitarist Marco Pirroni, and 36 years since the original release, all the tracks are getting reworked.
Johnny explains how he got in touch with the Ants musician: “I contacted Marco about five years ago on LinkedIn and asked him for some advice on a recording I was working on. Marco ended up recording a few guitar sections for a couple of my songs although I never actually released them.”
The album project was initially the idea of Adam Ant himself, who liked the style of Johnny’s music.
“It was Adam Ant himself who contacted me in September 2010 and asked if I would consider recording Kings of The Wild Frontier in my own electronic style. He said he was a fan of my music and it would be interesting to see my take on his album. Of course I was gobsmacked and accepted.
“Adam was very supportive. My band (also called Johnny Normal) supported Adam for a couple of years on and off testing out the songs in front of his audiences of up to 3000 people across the UK. The reaction was amazingly positive.”
All was going well, but as the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry; Johnny’s life changed drastically in a very short space of time.
“We set about laying down the tracks in the studio to make the album, but in March 2014 this was dramatically halted when I became seriously ill and was in intensive care for most of the year.
“In March 2014 I was admitted to hospital with Influenza A (H1N1, or Swine Flu). I got Pneumonia to both lungs along with Boca virus, liver failure and kidney failure.
“I ended up in a coma, and my wife and children were told I would not survive the next two hours. Leicester’s Glenfield Hospital immediately blue-lighted me over to their Intensive Care Unit.
“The next few weeks saw me intubated, ventilated, on kidney dialysis, fed through my nose, consecutive blood transfusions, and two sessions of ECMO. I suffered two cardiac arrests, being revived by CPR and then a stroke but the incredible ECMO intensive care team never gave up, even in the darkest of hours… and without any shadow of doubt these amazing people brought me from the brink of death.”
Normal recovered, and he owes his life to the work of the team. But another factor may have affected his grip on life;
“When I was out, my wife insisted that the unfinished album was played continuously, which I am convinced helped me recover by providing a familiar link to the outside world.
“When stabilised I regained use of my limbs, regain some of the weight I had lost, fight off E.coli and VRE, rebuild muscle mass and I had to learn to walk, talk and eat again in Leamington Rehab Hospital. I am so unbelievably grateful to everyone who helped me survive this terrible 7 month ordeal.”
He recovered remarkably; but while all of this was transpiring, the world didn’t stop around him. Adam Ant left the project because to pursue his own projects; maybe he thought there would be no more project on the other end of this.
“During this time Adam remained supportive but his own music had taken an increasing upturn in renewed popularity and he had less time to give the project, finally moving away from it and needing to concentrate on his own album recording and forthcoming tours.”
But after he recovered, he wasn’t left alone; there was another ant ready to climb aboard this project. Guitarist and Lyricist on the original Kings of the Wild Frontier Marco Pirroni was only too happy to join the project.
“Following my return home from hospital, I was determined to complete the album. In 2015 I asked Marco Pirroni if he would like to be involved in my synthesized re-working of Kings of The Wild Frontier and to my surprise he said yes.”
If it wasn’t enough to be working with one member of the original Ants crew he was now working with two; for a fan of the Ants in their heyday it’s the boyhood dream.
“Marco was a hero of mine, as was Adam, since I first got into music as a boy and it was a massive honour and a boost to the project. I think Marco could appreciate that we were trying to do something different with the record.
“Even now it seems surreal that Marco is performing on one of my albums. It’s something I never would have imagined. Why would I? They say never meet your heroes, but I have to say my experiences working with Marco have done nothing to remove him from that musical pedestal.”
Doing that would be no mean feat; the original release of Kings of the Wild Frontier gleaned number 1 position in the UK album charts and three hit singles. The fans reaction is by no means guaranteed – will anything Johnny Normal releases live up to the original, or will the dyed-in-the-wool ant fans gobble up anything that’s handed their way after the wait?
“I’m sure there will be die-hard purist Ant fans who won’t get what we have done, but I hope many will appreciate that we never intended to do a copy-cat version of the original album…why would we? This is a modern interpretation of a classic and iconic album from a fan’s perspective. Do I think it will appeal to synth music fans and a proportion of Ant fans? We’ll see… we have fingers crossed. Personally I am very proud of what we have achieved.”
But Marco Pirroni is none too concerned; “Worrying about what other people think is a sure fire route to unhappiness, both personally and professionally.”
This is a download only album and the chances of hearing it live are slim to none. Johnny Normal said that they would “Almost definitely not” be touring with it.
“…Although I wouldn’t mind, I don’t think Marco has any intention of returning to performing live again. That chapter may be closed.”
Marco reiterated his stance; “The Chances of me ever playing live again are zero.”
There will be an ‘album listening party event’ in London on Friday 17th June, tickets and info from www.johnnynormal.net
The album will be released Friday 17th June