Empire Theatre, Middlesbrough
The Middlesbrough Empire has been through several incarnations since it was built in 1897. Music hall days saw luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin and Lily Langtry treading the boards. Its history includes a number of years as a Variety Theatre, severe damage sustained during the Second World War and conversion into one of the greatest conquerors of all variety acts – the bingo hall. Its current incarnation takes the form of a nightclub.
Resonating with the Empire’s fluctuating facade and far from indelible interior is one Adam Ant, who has worn the alternating happy/sad faces of variety for an equivalent period of his own lifetime. How fitting it was that the former leader of the Ants should find the Empire on his tour roster as his comeback continues to gather pace, prior to the release of a brand new album.
What a fascinating interview subject he would make. Do you think he would be interested, for Marsh Towers? Well, maybe one day...
I had never been inside the Empire before and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The venue was advertised as ‘standing only’ but I was pleased to find that a balcony area was not only available but also included a few tall wooden seats. Pulling one as close to the balcony edge as possible, I resolved not to move for the rest of the evening, thus guaranteeing a perfect central view no matter how many people squeezed in behind and around me.
I had read some reviews of recent Adam Ant shows to gauge how the evening was likely to go. One had mentioned that his mood had not been so good and he had been unwilling to come out for an encore. Others commented on the late starting time (9.30 pm) and the even later finishing time (following a performance lasting two hours). So just about anything was possible.
At 7.45 p.m. the support act - Georgie Girl and her Poussez Posse - took to the stage. Probably most accurately described as Goth (although the lines are blurry) and dressed well for the show (a dying art in itself) they played an energetic set which I enjoyed and would have liked to have heard more of. They set the scene very well for what was to follow.
At approximately 8.30 p.m., Adam Ant's band took to the stage, followed by the man himself. For some time during the first song he kept his back to the audience and the lighting was kept low to add to the mystique.
The roar from the crowd started off loud and continued to build until Mr Ant finally turned around, heralding a combined explosion of sound, light and action.
The image fuses various historical elements although it is predominantly portraying that of a British Hussar (Crimean War period) with bits of French Revolution period attire and Johnny Depp thrown in. He looks as if he is the last of the Light Brigade, having somehow survived the infamous charge and found himself catapulted back and forth through history to end up in 2012. Given the venue, we had two examples of a faded Empire experiencing a revival of fortunes.
Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter.
The classics were all in place too; Stand and Deliver, Antmusic and Prince Charming were predictably popular. Get It On was a major highlight, with Adam Ant providing an introduction about his meeting the late, great Marc Bolan and asking for his autograph and speculating about what he would have thought of today's cheap talent shows.
Dog Eat Dog
Beat My Guest
Stand And Deliver
Kings Of The Wild Frontier
Whip In My Valise
Desperate But Not Serious
Never Trust A Man (With Egg On His Face)
Goody Two Shoes
Vive Le Rock
Get It On
Physical (You're So)
The were incidents of 'unwell' people in the standing section; both were swiftly dealt with by the Empire bouncers.
Meanwhile, Georgie returned a few songs into the set and continue to reappear several times in various stages of dress and undress. She has a very good stage presence and definitely added to the energy of the show.
The evening drew to a close around 10.20 p.m. It was great to see Adam Ant back, especially after his well-documented problems.
A new tour is scheduled for later in the year. Mark a date or two in your diaries - you won't be disappointed by the show.
I'll conclude with a further selection of photos from the evening.
Thank you and goodnight!