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.
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 Burmese girl from a laundrette to be the singer. The bruised Adam got his revenge though, by phoning up the genius 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 ‘Kings Of the Wild frontier’ one of THE great pop albums and cavorted their way to superstardom.
Meanwhile Maclaren moulded Bow Wow Wow from Adam’s 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 Leigh Gorman’s mentally good bass and 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 that would cause major problems today as well as causing controversy the following year by posing Annabella nude for the cover of the band’s debut album See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah. City All Over! Go Ape Crazy.
The band’s first release was the cassette single ‘c30 c60 c90 go’ that 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 utilised the MP3 revolution couple of decades later…
Maclaren was always looking for trouble and sometimes the trouble clouded the issue and muddied the waters, the debate raged about the young singer’s overt sexuality and like the Pistols made people overlook just how great the music was. A combination of the tribal drums, bossa nova, latino rhythms, punk rock attitude and rock n roll Bow Wow Wow could turn their hand to anything.
Swerving the morality Bow Wow Wow were an amazing band, their colourful adrenalised pop burst were stunningly original and dressed in Vivienne Westwood’s 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 had that beautiful white Gretsch Falcon guitar which I once played on years later- it was somehow hanging up on the wall of Southern Studios- a little bruised and battered but looking all the better for it- the guitar is the reason that John Frusciante in the Chili peppers uses one- he’s a major fan of Ashman.
I saw Bow Wow Wow at one of their first ever gigs at Keele University, 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 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. They had the arrogance and could back it up with their music, it was a perfect pop moment.
I guess Malcolm was hoping for a Pistols style blitz and he was still toying with many of the ideas that were around the Pistols but the band broke free from his grip and went on to have bigger hits in their career and were pretty big in the USA with their biggest smash ‘I Want Candy’ which even slightly stripped down of the tribal flux that made their music so interesting was a great piece of rock n roll- Ashman’s slashing guitar on this sounds ace on this.
Constant touring tore them apart and they fell apart leaving Annabella for a stumbling solo career and her 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.
Bow Wow Wow have occasionally reformed and play the occasional tour- there is a rumour that they may be playing a major punk festival in 2010 and I’m curious to see them again.
The chapter on BowWowWow in Simon Reynolds’ ‘Rip It Up’ was by far the best thing in there with Fred Vermorel revealing the sleazy backstory of Malcolm’s motives…never thought the band were anywhere near as good once they’d got rid of him though
Hey thanks for doing that chapter on us, all I asked for back in 1987 was a review in issue 29 of Rox!!!
see, if you wait long enough you will get written about!!!
…from all us Summer Wine Guys 😉