'80s - Bow Wow Wow (2006)
'Putting The Wow Back Into Music'
Bow Wow Wow was a 1980s New Wave band organized by Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren in 1980 whose music is described as having an "African-derived drum sound". McLaren persuaded guitarist Matthew Ashman, bassist Leigh Gorman and percussionist David Barbarossa of the original lineup of Adam & the Ants to leave Adam Ant and form a new group, fronted by teen singer Annabella Lwin.
McLaren was also going to use Boy George (later of Culture Club fame) as a second lead singer, but he was deemed to be "too wild" for the band!
McLaren discovered fourteen year old Lwin while she was working at a dry cleaners, and the group's sound was a mix of her "girlish squeal", Balinese chants, surf instrumentals, New Romantic pop melodies, and Barbarossa's Burundi ritual music influenced tom tom beats. The band's most popular hit was the New Wave staple, "I Want Candy", but their most notorious recording was "Sexy Eiffel Tower", a bold ode to masturbation, including excitedly heavy breathing and orgasmic moans.
The group released three full-length albums before disbanding in 1983. Ashman went on to form Chiefs of Relief, and in 1995 died from diabetes complications. In the '90s, Barbarossa joined Republica. Lwin and Gorman reunited to release Wild in the U.S.A. in 1998, adding guitarist Dave Calhoun and drummer Eshan Khadaroo. Bow Wow Wow still tour deep into 2006 this time with just Lwin, Gorman and now No Doubt's Adrian Young on drums.
Chatting recently with lead singer Annabella Lwin, I first asked her if it was true that the legendary producer Malcolm McLaren had indeed discovered her as a 14-year-old singing in a Northwest London (Kilburn) dry cleaners?! ”Erm, well it’s true, but it wasn’t Malcolm. It was someone who worked for Malcolm. I had a Saturday job and we would get people like Gordon Jackson ['Upstairs, Downstairs'] and Richard Jobson from The Skids coming in. It was a really cool job for extra pocket money. Yeah, he kept coming in. So, the radio was always one and they happened to be playing a Stevie Wonder song and I guess I was singing along to his song.”
Is it true that your real birth name is actually Myant Myant Aye (Burmese for “cool, cool, high”)?! ”Yes, but Burmese is a very different culture because it’s in the Far East so it’s just a translation. Our whole culture – in the Buddhist way of life - is that boys go into the monastery and little girls go and get their ears pierced. So, the boys have their heads shaved and then become monks for a period of time to learn the disciplines of that. So, I had my ears pierced and that was the name that was given to me by the Burmese priest.”
So where does the name Annabella Lwin originate? ”That’s my English name. That’s what my mother and father gave me. They put it together. My mother is English and my father is Burmese.”
It’s been claimed that Bow Wow Wow’s lyrics were simple, goofy, and non-sensical at the best of times! Do you agree with that now?! ”Absolutely! When I do the songs live today I do it the way I understand the lyrics to be now. Back in the day I didn’t have a clue – except for the songs that Malcolm wrote like ‘C30-C60-C90-Go’ and ‘Go Wild In The Country’ … because I used to go to the country a lot for my holidays! – so it’s kind of interesting that we got this collection of songs from all over the place. Because they were never all about the same old same old topics, were they?! It covers a whole myriad of stuff. So, yeah, looking at the lyrics this time around I just thought they were bloody funny in all honesty.”
Is there one truly outstanding non-sensical song from the bunch that you still sing today, perhaps?! ”Yeah, I’d say – and it’s not on this new CD unfortunately – but there’s a track I did many years ago called ‘Hello, Hello Daddy (I'll Sacrifice You)'.”
And what was the non-sensical aspect of that particular song, pray tell?! ”Er, ‘Cut the cake, eat the heart, I’ll sacrifice you. Let the wedding start’ is the way the chorus used to go! I have to say though I take absolutely no credit for the really early stuff, but obviously I wrote on the last album – ‘When The Going Gets Tough’ – as that’s when I was told that I had to start singing and not shouting! And that was the last album, unfortunately.”
So why did Bow Wow Wow only last three years from 1980-1983? ”Yeah, tell me about it. I read it in the press! I was kicked out of the band and they never told me. I read it in the NME." [New Musical Express, a UK paper] "We had just done a really long tour around the world and we were about to go to Australia ... and our lead guitarist fell of stage. The next thing I know we were meant to take a month off, but then the three guys went to do a demo for RCA and I was told by the guy - who was kind of managing us at the time – that RCA wanted to sign me as a solo artist. Which I didn’t understand. But anyway I picked up the pieces and I just continued writing and I came up with an album called ‘Fever.’ Which was written under a lot of psychological circumstances let me put it that way! I was only 17 and I was really feeling alone and isolated at that time. I was used to being in a band since I was 14 and now I had this record company telling me who to work with - and at that age I really wasn’t together, let’s put it that way. I was really glad that I managed to get the album completed. But then I decided that I didn’t want to be with anyone and that I needed a timeout. I needed time to find out who Annabella was and what I needed to do next”
So who did you discover Annabella to be? ”I discovered a new me. Somone who needed to go back to my roots. So I started looking for musicians to work with that suited me better. After a couple of years just looking and working, checking out what was happening musically, I then started recording new material. I then met a Manager, a lovely, lovely lady called Claire Russell who told me I needed to do a showcase. So I did a showcase in a rehearsal room and she got down three record labels to watch. So, that was my whole other experience of being a proper solo artist. But, I still thought I should be in a band! But, I got signed to Sony 2 in the UK and started my adventure with them. But, the album was not released and still hasn’t been released to this day, although two singles came off of it.”
Do you at least have the master or the rights to this album? ”I’m happy to report that I have all of my songs in my repertoire now. Yes, they’ve all come back to me. I was involved with a publishing company at that time with Sony and I was responsible for all my artwork and such. But there was a lot of political wrangling going on in the company at that time. It was also the same period of time when George Michael was suing the company [Sony] and so a lot of stuff happened behind the scenes. So I ended up being told that my A&R woman was fired and all of her artists dropped! So, that left me out there again.”
”What was also interesting about that situation though was that I had written a lot of songs and come to the States a lot, but I was not really understanding why when they had this great artist with great ideas and great potential that they needed to concentrate solely on their other best-selling acts; Des'ree and Jamiroquai. I had a lot of freedom with Sony and I’d like to do that again with the right label.”
So, where do you stand these days on the BWW issue? ”I’ve been a solo artist, as far as I’m concerned, ever since I got kicked out of Bow Wow Wow. So the official thing is we do shows - where there’s demand we supply – but I’m a singer/songwriter/performer and I love the freedom of that.”
So, what is your version of how the name Bow Wow Wow came about?! ”Malcolm came up with the name Bow Wow Wow. Apparently it was because we were signing with the record label RCA and they had this Nipper dog! So the first time I heard the name it was from Malcolm. He said that he was doing a pun that was derivative of that label. It was just appropriate, I guess.”
Please tell us more about the inclusion of ‘Lieutenant Lush’ (Boy George) for the one-time gig back at the very beginning! ”Well, the first time I heard that Boy George was doing that show was just a little time leading up to that. We were doing a show at The Rainbow Theatre and there was a whole idea for doing a fairground attraction on stage. So, what I remember is that he started singing this song and I was told to quickly get on stage … as they were gobbin’ at him! So, I went out there and tried to sing with George as it was the first time that he’d ever sung live with a band."
"But, it was all some idea that Malcolm had had to have other singers to come up on stage and make it more of a live, visual thing going on. And not just such a straightforward band situation. But it didn’t work out, obviously because George was actually one of the people that was a part of the Blitz kids crew back in the punk rock days. They used to dress up and look incredible – it used to take him two hours to get ready for the show at the time. I never used to put a lot of make-up on so I was in awe of watching him put his make-up on!”
The album cover art for “See Jungle!” with you as a 15 year old in the nude caused a massive uproar, but was it really such a big deal to you personally at the time? ”We had various photo sessions with Malcolm, who was extremely creative and very into art. He can’t manage a band to save his life, but he’s very artistic,” she laughs. ”So, the sessions we did for him we used to do the video shoots and then the promo shoots at the same time. But yeah, I was lying in the grass, sitting in a stream. All the clothes that he got me to wear at the time were always very Napoleononic. They were always from history. So, a lot of those shots were all based on paintings. Like the one of me lying on the grass with Matthew holding a mirror up to me as I’m lay there looking at the camera.”
How many of the album promo shots were you naked?! ”Only on the cover for the ‘Le déjeuner sur l'herbe’ album [aka See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah! City All Over, Go Ape Crazy! - ‘The Luncheon on the Grass’’] ”which was a painting by Manet."
And you were completely butt-naked, correct?! "Well, yes, I was absolutely starkers on the cover of that one! The painting was of this woman sitting amongst all these men. It was kind of one of these weird paintings that was also a picture that would obviously tell a lot as well. And the idea was this woman was sitting on the grass with nothing on and she was the only one looking at the camera. Everybody else was pretending as if she wasn’t even there – almost as if she as an angel that fell from heaven, in fact! She was only being seen by the person looking at her. It was very surreal in that respect."
"It was a beautiful album and meant to be done in good taste – and I of course had my hesitations about that because I was underage! And that was obviously what the uproar was all about because I was being accused of posing nude for other reasons. But I did it because at the time it felt to me that this would be a brilliant re-creation of this painting.”
Tell us more about your involvement with the new ‘We Are The ‘80s - Best of Bow Wow Wow’ CDs ”Well, it’s a re-release of songs that we’ve had out before and it’s a wonderful thing that they’re doing, promoting us. But, we also were hoping something else was coming out as well, but we’ll have to wait and see how that pans out. But with this new CD at least we’ll be getting out to a whole, new generation, because a lot of people are not familiar that we’ve been around that long ago with songs out. So to them we’re this kind of group that they’ve heard about through their older brothers and sisters - mothers, uncle’s aunt’s, nephew’s niece’s … and cats! – and so it’s nice that we can give these to the 14 and 15 years olds that now come to our shows.”
What was the other project that you had wished to have seen the light of day also? ”Well, basically we have a load of videos that have not seen the light of day officially. So, hopefully we’ll have that come out at some stage.”
What's next for Annabella? ”It’s now time to start a whole new era and train of thought, because there’s this word ‘has been’ that’s been thrown around about us. And I think that’s a little bit unfair and so I don’t understand that. I guess we’ll have to do a song about that,” she laughs.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
'We Are The 80's - Best of Bow Wow Wow' CD Purchase Link
Annabella also contributes the new track 'Sacred Ground' to a wonderful CD compilation entitled Of Hands And Hearts on Integrity Records. In fact a massive 49 bands from around the world contributed songs to this 2-CD set! 18 songs are previously unreleased and 8 were never released in America. All of Integrity Records proceeds are going to CARE USA.
'Of Hands And Hearts' Amazon CD Purchase Link