Bow Wow Wow- we celebrate their genius

Bow Wow Wow were the amazing creation of a reeling post Pistols Malcolm Maclaren at his most machiavellian and manipulative. But if it took these kind of shenanigans to create pop music this good then maybe it was worth the effort. the band’s meltdown of tribal drums, twanging guitars, yelping vocals and amazing bass playing was full of joy de vivre and colour that makes them timeless

Asked in by Adam Ant to try and take the Ants from cult level to the mainstream Maclaren stole Adam’s band and recruited Annabella Lwin- a 14 year old girl from a laundrette to be the singer. The bruised Adam got his revenge, though, by phoning up the brilliant Marco and making his own version of the tribal pop that Maclaren had already gifted him in a listening list that he gave the charismatic frontman- the Ants went on to record ”ËœKings Of the Wild Frontier’ one of THE great pop records and cavorted their way to superstardom.

Meanwhile Maclaren moulded Bow Wow Wow from Adam’s old band. Utilising the stunning drumming skills of Dave Barbarossa he created the Burundi backbeat by speeding up the Burundi drumming that they were nicking of Malcolm’s dusty old vinyl collection. Add to this Mathew Ashman’s stunning guitar playing and you have a pop music that is adrenalised, thrilling and sexy, and the sex angle was one that Maclaren was working to the hilt- riding roughshod over public morality he got his young singer to yelp and coo the sexbeat lyrics in a way that would cause major problems today.

The band’s first single, ‘C30 C60 C90 Go!’ celebrated the rise of home taping and was aimed at pissing off the music industry- if only they had understood this then they could have understood the MP3 revolution couple of decades later.

Maclaren was always looking for trouble and sometimes the trouble clouded the issue and muddied the waters. Swerving conventional morality Bow Wow Wow were an amazing band, their colourful adrenalised pop bursts were stunningly origonal. Dressed in Vivienne Westwood’s brilliant first post punk collection of glam pirate threads they had the look, complete with the Mohawks that look great decades later. Ashman had the swagger and rock star arrogance and that beautiful white Gretsch Falcon guitar which I once played on when it was somehow hanging up on the wall of Southern Recording Studios. The guitar was a little bruised and battered but looking all the better for it and is the reason that John Frusciante once of the Chili Peppers uses one, being a major fan of Ashman.

I saw Bow Wow Wow one of their first ever gigs at Keele University in 1980. It was a crazy all night student do, people in the crowd were walking round with live animals and I was holding a furry tarantula spider in my hand as the band came on stage. Ashman had already been punched down some stairs by a student minder which added to the edginess of the show. The band were amazing- tight as fuck and with a clear vision, they also had Boy George as a dancer- he was called Lieutenant Lush at the time and was a skinny rake who danced around. They had the arrogance of youth and could back it up with their music which was brand new and perfectly executed.

It was a perfect pop moment.

I guess Malcolm was hoping for a Pistols style media shitstorm and was still toying with many of the ideas that were around the Pistols. Initially there was a brief flurry of controversy and when the band’s first full album was released on RCA (after the band had left EMI- history repeating itlelf!) with possibly one of the most bizarre titles ever to grace any album cover: “See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah! City All Over, Go Ape Crazy.” There was a storm about the 15 year old naked Annabella on the cover in a recreation of the 1863 Manet painting, “Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe” (Lunch on the Grass). The photo featured Annabella in the nude, turned away from the camera. the album itself was a quite brilliant tribal pop romp that was fresh in the middle of the new romantic meltdown.

They were out of sorts with the rest of the pop world and sometimes their attitude rubbed against the deathly dull pop mainstream. There is this brilliantly awkward interview with Annabella by BA Robertson (remember him!) from the time..

In 1982 band broke free from Malcolm grip and went on to have big and proper hits, even in the USA with their biggest smash ‘I Want Candy’ produced by Joan Jett collaborater kenny Laguna. The song, even stripped down of the tribal flux that made their music so interesting was a great piece of bubblegum rock n roll with Ashman’s slashing guitar sounding ace.

Constant touring tore them apart and with the flop of their forth and final Mike Chapman produced album flopping they fell in 1983 apart leaving Annabella for a solo career and her former droogs to play in Chiefs of Relief with Paul Cook.

Ashman sadly died in the mid nineties and if anything I dedicate this blog to him- a fucking great guitar player.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


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