Why You Should Know Him
English guitarist Marco Pirroni first hit the music scene in the mid-‘70s with a brief stint in Siouxsie and the Banshees, but his real rise to stardom came in 1980 with the release of the groundbreaking album, Kings of the Wild Frontier, by Adam & the Ants.
Adam & the Ants delivered a unique style of rock music that fused elements of ‘70s glam rock with punk, pop hooks, and clever musical arrangements (two drummers, and multiple backing vocalists influenced more by tribal chants than pop songs). Ant mania stormed the UK and blasted through the US music scene on the strength of the music video for the single, “Antmusic,” featured heavily on the then-fledgling Music Television network. Success continued to grow with the smash follow-up album, Prince Charming, which featured the hit single, “Stand and Deliver.”
Pirroni co-wrote two number-one singles for Adam & the Ants and an additional four Top 10 UK hits. The albums Kings of the Wild Frontier and Prince Charming are essential listening for any fan of post-‘70s glam and alternative rock. To this day, no band has ever sounded quite like they did.
Pirroni’s tasteful guitar licks made use of fantastic tremolo work, instantly recognizable on songs like “Dog Eat Dog” and “Killer in the Home.” But success here was nothing compared to the next chapter in ant mania — Adam Ant’s solo career, in which Pirroni remained Ant’s co-songwriter. It takes less than five notes on guitar to instantly recognize the ‘80s mega-hit “Goody Two Shoes,” which further cemented Pirroni’s role as a guitar icon.
The Ant hits didn’t stop there. The writing duo created another string of hits over the next two decades and beyond, concluding with the more evolved 1995 AAA-style release, Wonderful.
Outside of his work with Adam Ant, Pirroni found time to be the principle co-writer and guitarist for another worldwide sensation, the Irish singer/songwriter Sinéad O’Connor. His performance on The Lion and the Cobra, O’Connor’s debut album, and I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, one of the most successful albums worldwide at the end of the decade further showcased the diversity of Pirroni’s sound and style.
If you grew up in the ‘80s, Pirroni’s signature guitar playing was something you couldn’t have avoided unless you completely turned off the radio and MTV.
In the early ‘80s, Pirroni was mostly associated with Gibson Les Paul Jr. guitars. According to him, when shred guitar playing became popular, these guitars just sat on store shelves, and he picked up eight or nine of them at ridiculously low prices, later having many of them finished in various wild colors that he now laughs about (anyone want to buy a hot pink LP Jr?)
But the other guitar that became iconic in photos and videos of Pirroni was the Gretsch White Falcon, a classic, semi-hollow body guitar with a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece. Also popular with players like The Cult’s Billy Duffy and The Stray Cats’ Brian Setzer (from whom Pirroni bought many of his guitars), Pirroni tended to gravitate towards guitars that most other guys weren’t playing at the time. He’s quick to point out, though, that Pete Townsend used a White Falcon on Who’s Next.
On Kings of the Wild Frontier, Pirroni played an old gold-faced Marshall master volume head and 4x12 cabinet, but having been highly influenced by the playing of Vic Flick (who played the classic surf guitar line in the James Bond movie series theme song), he later switched to Fender Twins for his sound.
All that great vibrato and tremolo in his sound? It’s all in the right-hand technique. And you thought he just used the Fender Twin’s vibrato. Ha!
Where Is He Now?
Pirroni is busier than ever. He and Ants bassist Chris Constantinou created a new band, The Wolfmen, that has a sound that combines Brit-pop with some ‘80s punk/pop vibes ala XTC, some ‘70s Bowie-era glam, and great ‘60s style vocal harmonies in 2004.
Young alternative rock musicians in the style of bands like Editors or Interpol would do well to listen to The Wolfmen’s debut, Modernity Killed Every Night, or their other release, Married to the Eiffel Tower. You can always learn something new from the masters, and Pirroni is definitely one of the alternative-rock greats.
Pirroni has since left The Wolfmen but continues to collaborate with other artists such as Sinéad O’Connor and the UK band Headcount with whom he co-wrote and produced their album “Lullabies for Dogs” in 2013.
He has been recognized as an authority on the punk movement and continues to create music and collaborate with other artists, keeping busy in 2017.