For anyone out there who doesn’t know who Matthew Ashman was, born in Mill Hill, North London in 1960, Matthew found punk rock fame in 1978 when he joined Adam and the Ants’ second line up. Their album ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ topped the newly established Independent Charts and in 1980, with Matthew on guitar, Leigh Gorman on bass and Dave Barborossa on drums, Adam was teetering on the brink of charming the mainstream when then manager, Malcolm McClaren, managed to entice all three band members to a new and promised land. Enter Bow Wow Wow. Fronted by 15 year old Annabella Lwin, apparently ‘discovered in a launderette’, the band were given the full McClaren/Westwood treatment. As Adam and new band went on to Stand and Deliver, Bow Wow Wow continued to cause controversy amongst the record labels with risqué titles and suggestive photo shoots until parting company in 1983. Matthew, Leigh and Dave, joined by Duncan Greig on keyboards, went on to form Chiefs of Relief, fronted by Matthew on guitar and vocals, later joined by ex Sex Pistol Paul Cook on drums. Matthew also worked as a session guitarist and took up his own project in the late 1990’s, Agent Provocateur. Matthew Ashman died on November 21st 1995 after being rushed to hospital following complications related to diabetes, he was only 35.
This Sunday, November 21st 2010 saw a celebration of his life at London’s Scala with sets from Agent Provocateur, Chiefs of Relief, Bow Wow Wow and Adam and the Ants. Thankfully, I managed to get a last minute ticket to this already sold out event, the brainchild of actor and musician Billy Morrison.
I was lucky enough to see Adam and the Ants in the early days and remained a fan to the point of having my photo in Jackie magazine as an ‘Ant Person’ a la ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’. I think I lost it after that. I never got to see Bow Wow Wow but did see Chiefs of Relief many times, including supporting Big Audio Dynamite. There just wasn’t much about for me in the 80’s. The raw energy of punk gigs seemed to have vanished and everyone was looking for the new kick. OK, so I didn’t follow the ‘Chiefs’ to China and Rome, but I did make London, Raleigh and Croydon. With best mate Dix and her boyfriend who roadied for them, I remember hanging about, saying hi to Paul Cook and thinking this was heaven. The Chiefs of Relief set on Sunday bought all those memories pouring back and I really could have cried. Indeed, I did feel like Matthew had to be in the building and maybe even Malcolm. Billy Morrison easily took on Matthew’s role as front man. I sang at the top of my voice, safe in the fact that the band were so loud no one could hear me, and flung my arms about passionately to ‘Weekend’, ‘Chiefs of Relief’ and a song Billy described as a favourite of Matthew’s ‘Walkabout,’.
Next up Bow Wow Wow with what seemed a particularly short set, only six songs I hear. Still, we downed our ale and went ‘Wild in the Country’, screamed ‘I Want Candy’ and gyrated to ‘C30, C60, C90 Gooooo’.
Having interviewed Adam Ant back in April, just weeks before he was sectioned, it was exhilarating to see him looking so good and so on form once again. Sticking to the old numbers to which Matthew would have contributed, the crowd got what they wanted and sang approval in unison. ‘Car Trouble’, ‘Day I met God’, ‘Xerox’, ‘Lady’, ‘Deutscher Girls’…they were all in there and Adam was on to a winner, breaking into a little smile now and again as if he knew it. The addition of Boz Boorer on guitar added to an incredible, energy fuelled night with amazing performances, where old faces warmed to see each other and we thanked the universe for the likes of Matthew Ashman and the ‘Freedom to Rock’. In fact, we still haven’t stopped saying how great it was!
Matthew Ashman, singer, songwriter, guitarist RIP 3rd November 1960- 21st November 1995.Review by Lorraine