Before the internet, or the easy and instant connectivity of social media, putting pen to paper was one of the only ways of making contact with bands. Fan mail existed as a way of reaching out to tell bands how great they were, or to tell them how crap they’d become, or even to tell them that you’d missed your last train home because you’d stayed right to the end of their set. Receiving a response could range from nothing at all, to a pre-signed printed photo, a Xerox of their latest newsletter…or even a top of the shop personal reply from the band themselves. What came back would often depend on the band, their availability, and their own position on valuing their fans.
Fan mail was sent, followed by the agonising wait for the roulette wheel of possible responses to determine what would happen next. It’s something we’ve written about before, so we were more than delighted to hear from the actual horror fiction writer Julie Travis, who in 1980, and as a 13 year old music fan, had grabbed a biro and started a new sheet of her pad, “Dear Adam Ant…”
Julie – I’d read an interview with him where he said he got around 30 letters a week and replied to all of them, so I was hopeful and probably sent an SAE. But I was very happy to see how much he sent me.
Adam and the Ants were a band with two very distinct incarnations. The first Ants were formed and fronted, by Stuart Goddard the forward thinking bass player of a band called Bazooka Joe, who decided to start his own band after seeing support band the Sex Pistols perform their first gig at St Martins School of Art, in November 1975. These were Adam and the Ants Mk.1 and were the Ants of punk venues like the Vortex club, who toyed with S&M imagery on their artwork and released the classic post punk LP Dirk Wears White Sox. The second Ants era is characterised by worldwide fame, a zillion record sales and Adam as an era defining teenage pop pin up.
At the beginning of 1980, and in the orbit of Malcolm McLaren, Adam suddenly found himself completely Ant-less after Malcolm unexpectedly recruited Ants band members Dave Barbarossa, Leigh Gorman and Matthew Ashman to form the basis of his new project BowWowWow. At this point, many people would have simply given up, but within days he’d hooked up with Marco Pirroni, and together they set about modeling a new version of the Ants. 1980 was a very interesting period for the Ants, post punk but pre-megastardom.
Julie – Yes, this was in 1980. I’d got hold of the “Car Trouble” single and “Dirk Wears White Sox” and was blown away. I was 13 and living with my family in Ruislip Manor, suburban north-west London, I bought a copy of the girls magazine “Oh Boy” at a jumble sale because it had a poster of Adam Ant in it. So I sent it to him as a laugh along with a fan letter (raving about Dirk Wears White Sox, I think). When he wrote back – he included the poster, which he’d had bit of fun with.
Can you remember what you wrote in your original letter?
Julie – I think some of it was about his own memory of having approached Marc Bolan for an autograph and Bolan being really nice about it. Hopefully the poster gave him a laugh, as it was obvious I was being ironic about sending it.
The Ants were up amongst my favourite bands of the time, the early stuff (up to parts of the Kings album) was amazing and I still regard Dirk as one of the best albums ever made. I saw them twice – once on the Kings tour, at the Lewisham Odeon in November 1980, and a year later at Drury Lane on the Prince Charming tour.
I’d only just started going to gigs – my first was The Stranglers in April 1980, so the Ants might have been my second gig. I was a big fan of The Stranglers, the Pistols, X-Ray Spex, PiL, The Jam and got into Crass in a big way.
What was the 14 year old Julie wearing to gigs?
Julie: I can’t remember, quite possibly my Zerox Ants t-shirt. My hair was dyed black and spiky, I think. Or it might have been my one inch crop. I remember getting into trouble at school for both of those!
Is there anything else you want to add about that era..?
Julie: It was quite dangerous at times – walking around London on a Saturday (mainly record shop browsing) meant bumping into gangs of football fans, mods, rockers and skinheads. And I was spat at in my local high street when I bleached my hair.
“Oh Boy” was a bit more racy than “Jackie” wasn’t it?
Julie: Ha ha! I’ll have to take your word for it. I didn’t really buy any of those magazines, I was a skateboarder and preferred the skating mags. I was also very, very ungirly so didn’t identify with the stuff they wrote about.
Did you ever correspond with any other bands?
Julie: Absolutely. I wrote several fanzines up until the mid 80s (sadly I don’t have copies of any of them) and did mostly postal interviews, so I wrote to Crass, The Mob, Blood & Roses, Charged GBH, Flowers In The Dustbin, Brigandage. Some years later I wrote to Henry Rollins a couple of times and got replies and got to know some of the bands in the London Queercore scene.
Did you ever form your own band?
Julie: Oh yes, it was all I wanted to do for quite a long time. I played guitar for a bit then settled on the bass and mostly worked with my sister (who’s just won your limerick competition!) who played drums. First band – The Light – played one gig at the local Royal British Legion and got an, ahem, interesting reaction. That band morphed into The Joy Of Living, who played a few gigs and released an ep in 1986 working with experimental punks The Apostles. I was asked to join Rubella Ballet who I’d interviewed a while before and was with them for a very, very short time before I stopped playing music.
Did you still like Adam & the Ants when they became super successful?
Julie: I loved some of the Kings album but from Prince Charming onwards I lost interest, although the Drury Lane gig was phenomenal.
Did you ever sport a white stripe across your nose?
Julie: Ha, ha, no. I was wearing zipped zebra pattern trousers and, as you can see from the pics, was into decorating shirts. It should be noted that I was a big fan of Bow Wow Wow and thought the ‘rivalry’ was a bit daft. Myself and a group of Ant fans, including my sister were once thrown out of The World’s End shop, just for having a look around.
I should add that Adam also sent a flyer for the tour and wrote out the lyrics to Red Scab for me. It was very generous and thoughtful of him.
And 40 years later?
Julie: I’m 53 now and I live in West Cornwall. I’ve been writing horror/Surrealist fiction for many years and have a fair bit published. I came out as a lesbian in 1994 and was in the Lesbian Avengers direct action group for a while, then co-founded the Queeruption Festival in 1998. A couple of years ago I co-founded Dead Unicorn Ventures with Cat Astley. We do a zine too, a physical, old school thing called Dykes Ink, which I think has a lot of the ethos and attitude of punk.
We’d like to thank Julie for getting in touch with us, and obviously we’re as chuffed as a couple of punch drunk pirates caught in the act of unplugging the jukebox that she chose to share her Adam Ant response and poster with punkgirldiaires.
More on Julie Travis the author HERE
More on Julie’s zine Dykes Ink HERE
Julie’s former band The Joy Of Living HERE