Solo career (1982–85)
After the split, Ant went solo, taking his song writing partner Pirroni with him. Merrick also briefly stayed aboard as drummer/producer for the UK edition of the first solo single “Goody Two Shoes” and demos for the upcoming Friend or Foe album before moving on to other production work, while Miall and Tibbs’ contracts were left to expire. The Friend or Foe album, released in late 1982, proved to be Ant’s greatest American chart success and included the hit single Goody Two Shoes which made it to No. 1 in the UK and Australia, and No. 12 in the U.S. Other hits from that album included the title song (which made No. 9 on the UK chart) and “Desperate But Not Serious”. “Goody Two Shoes” first charted in the UK in spring 1982, reaching no.1 that summer, but its US peak did not come until 1983 when it reached No. 12 on the Billboard Top 100.
With the old Ants all gone except Pirroni, and even he unwilling to perform live any more for the time being, Ant recruited a new band for touring, consisting of new dual drummers Bogdan Wiczling (ex-Fingerprintz) and Barry Watts (ex-Q-Tips), plus guitarist Cha Burns (also ex-Fingerprintz), bassist Chris Constantinou and the former Q-Tips brass section of trumpeter Tony Hughes and twin saxophonists Stewart van Blandamer and Steve Farr. Wiczling had already served as session drummer for the Friend or Foe album and had even re-recorded the drum part for Goody Two Shoes to fit the album sound – it was this reworked version of the song that achieved US success. The album sessions had also featured session brass players Jeff Daly and Martin Drover.
This new band made its debut at London’s Astoria Theatre on 1 October 1982(the day after Tibbs and Miall’s contracts ran out) and played a further five UK provincial tour dates on 1–6 November 1982 before heading off to the USA for the start of a US tour in New York on 8 November. The New York concert was the first of 26 club-level US tour dates running up to the 16 December 1982 concert in Hollywood California. These concerts were intended as a warm-up for a more intensive 1983 US tour of over 60 dates, scheduled to run until May 1983. However, on the nineteenth tour date on 20 February 1983 in Cleveland, Ohio, disaster struck when Ant suffered an injured knee onstage (a relapse of a previous injury suffered while filming Jubilee in 1977), forcing the postponement and/or cancellation of dates throughout February and March while he recuperated. Ant eventually returned to action when he appeared as a guest performer on the NBC television network’s Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever special filmed on 25 March 1983 in Pasadena, California (and aired in May that year), performing Where Did Our Love Go, during which he was joined onstage by Diana Ross. The following evening in Palm Desert, he resumed the US tour, which was finally completed on 18 May 1983 at the Bronco Bowl in Dallas, Texas.
During his recuperation from the knee injury, Ant had stayed in New York and Los Angeles and worked with Pirroni on writing new material. The fruits of this and a further writing session with Pirroni in Paris in late May/early June formed the basis of Ant’s second solo album Strip. The album was recorded at Polar Studios in Stockholm in the late summer of 1983 with Phil Collins as both drummer and producer on both the title track and planned single Puss ‘N Boots, with Richard James Burgess adopting the same roles for the non-single album tracks. The single “Puss ‘N Boots” reached No. 5 on the UK charts, but the BBC banned both the video and the song for the follow-up single “Strip.” Despite a vocal cameo performance from former ABBA member Anni-Frid Lyngstad, “Strip” only managed to peak at No. 41 before being withdrawn by CBS while the parent album barely scraped the UK Top 20. However, the Strip single fared quite well in America, only narrowly missing out on a US Top 40 hit single. To promote the album, which reached No. 65 on the Billboard Top 200 albums, in early 1984 Ant undertook another extensive US tour, some 60 dates in length, starting on 27 January 1984 at the Atlanta Civic Centre inAtlanta in Georgia and lasting until 27 April 1984 at the Irvine Meadow Amphitheatre in Laguna Hills, California. Although UK television performances of Puss N’Boots and Strip had featured a quartet of Ant, Pirroni, Wiczling and Constantinou, the US tour featured the same seven-piece backing band as the previous album’s tour, except for Steve King in place of Stewart Van Blandamer on saxophone.The tour shows were also notable for featuring a recreation by Ant of the Chinese Water Torture Cell escapology stunt originally performed by Harry Houdini. In preparation for this, in keeping with the album title, Ant undressed onstage down to a pair of boxer shorts.
Around this time, Ant received an endorsement contract from Honda to promote their new line of motor scooters, where he appeared with model and fellow alternative musician Grace Jones. In the commercial, he is persuaded by Jones to try the new scooter. Ant, who had never driven anything in his life, hesitates before finally submitting. Ant got a driver’s license a short time after the commercials began airing. He made his second movie appearance during this time, in the science fiction thrillerNomads starring Pierce Brosnan, eventually released in 1986.
With promotion on the Strip album complete, Ant reduced his band to the quartet of himself, Pirroni (now out of retirement again), Wiczling and Constantinou. The latter two adopted the stagenames Count Wiczling and Chris De Niro respectively and were upgraded from live backing musicians to being full-time band members, featured on record sleeves, logos and even in song lyrics. Ant formally unveiled his new four-piece band, all clad in a leather motorcycle gang image, at the 1984 Montreux Pop Festival, where they gave a mimed performance of Dog Eat Dog, Goody Two Shoes and the Strip track Navel To Neck. Shortly thereafter, the new band began work with veteran producer Tony Visconti on Ant’s third solo album, Vive Le Rock. Initial sessions in the summer of 1984 yielded the single Apollo 9, a UK No. 13 hit in September 1984; however the remainder of the album was not recorded until January–March 1985.That summer, Ant secured a spot at the Live Aidconcert – the first live performance of the “Ant/Marco/Wiczling/De Niro” band – but was asked to cut his set to one song, for which he chose his new single, the Vive le Rock title track The single, however stalled at No. 50 in the UK, in part due to a pressing error with many copies featuring the A-side track on both sides.
A year after the top 15 hit success of Apollo 9, the parent album Vive Le Rock was released in September 1985, to mixed reviews. As part of the promotion, the band performed a live TV session for Channel 4 music show Bliss hosted by Muriel Gray. Several songs were recorded, although only two – Miss Thing from the new album and Killer In The Home from Kings Of The Wild Frontier – were actually transmitted. Following a warm up date in Puerto Banús, Spain on 23 August 1985, a seventeen date UK Vive Le Rock tour was scheduled to start in Southampton on 10 September 1985, however due to insurance problems relating to the stage set (which included a particularly rickety bridge) and/or poor ticket sales, this was reduced to three dates – 25 September 1985 in London, 27 September in Birmingham and 28 September in Manchester.The tour fared better in North America with 34 US and Canadian shows from 11 October 1985 in Santa Cruz, California until 14 December 1985 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Ant decided to pause his career in music at the end of 1985 to focus on his acting career. The Fort Lauderdale show was Ant’s last full-length concert until February 1993. Indeed, between December 1982 and February 1995, Ant’s only public live concerts outside North America were the four aforementioned UK/Spanish shows, Live Aid, a 1987 fanclub party performance,and a September 1994 EMI corporate event in Brighton. He severed ties with CBS in late 1986, following the release of the Hits audio/VHS compilation.
Acting career (1986–89)
As the 1980s wore on, Ant’s attention turned toward acting, especially television and movie roles. He spent three months in England on stage starring in Joe Orton‘s Entertaining Mr. Sloane. In 1993 he played the lead in the Steven Berkoff play Greek, which was directed by Bruce Payne. He also appeared on American television shows, notably The Equalizer, Sledge Hammer!, Tales from the Crypt and Northern Exposure. He began taking roles in films such as Nomads, Sunset Heat, Love Bitesand Slam Dance. He moved to Hollywood and appeared in a wide range of productions and shows, producing a musical about rock ‘n’ roll legends Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran‘s days on tour in England Be Bop A Lula, with a set designed by L.A. artist Michael Pearce.