Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A History of Bow Wow Wow

Bow Wow Wow’s history may be short but it’s complex. Over their four album life span, Bow Wow Wow’s music ranges from simple, goofy, non-sensical tunes to complex, crisp pop masterpieces. Bow Wow Wow’s music has been described as a pastiche of Latin and African beats, 50’s rock-n-roll, and Spaghetti Western soundtracks. The band packaged all of this together with an incredible sense of humor and vigor.

With thundering African/Latin percussion and twangy, Duane Eddy guitars, Bow Wow Wow struggled to maintain a consistent image and sound through a host of record producers in their short life span. But despite the numerous people who shaped their sound from 1980-1983, a strong Bow Wow Wow identity remained intact. That unique style created a wonderful antithesis to the gloom of the London and U.S. music scene in the early 80’s. Unemployment and inflation were at record highs in both countries. As Annabella Lwin (lead singer) said in 1981: “I hate London. It’s just really horrible. I just really hate it. It’s depressing, you know. At the moment anyway, it’s depressing.”


The year is 1980 and the place is London. Adam and the Ants were moving away from their “Dirk Wears White Sox” punk days, adopting the driving rhythms of the central African Burundi tribe, the war paint of Native Americans, pirate costumes and swashbuckling antics. This change came about through the mechanisms of the ex-manager/image consultant of the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren. According to legend, after charging £1,000.00 for his advice and consultation, the Ants (Dave Barbarossa, Matthew Ashman and Leigh Gorman) fell prey to McLaren’s charm and left Adam to find other Ants. As Matthew put it: “I was an Ant. It was a horrendous experience. I’m really glad I’m out the band. McLaren came along to be our manager in the Ants and he told us to kick Adam out. So we did. Adam was writing all of the songs before McLaren came along…and Adam wasn’t very good really. Didn’t really like him really. He wasn’t very good at dancing and I thought he was a bit old. He was 25…so, we kicked him out.”

McLaren knew the group needed a lead singer. Legend has it that he discovered the 14-year-old Myant Myant Aye (Burmese for“cool, cool, high”) singing in a north London (Kilburn) dry cleaners. Actually, according to Annabella, one of McLaren’s people came in to the dry cleaners where she was working part-time after school and asked her if she wanted to audition for the band. She showed up at the audition and got the part. McLaren changed her name to Annabella Lwin (pronounced Lu-win) for English-speaking palates (Annabella was born in Rangoon, the capitol of Burma, and had migrated to England).

With Annabella’s voice, smarts and charm, she fit McLaren’s vision of a musical experience that would be part high camp and high concept, with a huge dose of adolescent sex and innocence. Bow Wow Wow was now ready to record. With Annabella Lwin (vocals), Matthew Ashman (guitar), Leigh Gorman (bass) and Dave Barbarossa (drums), the group christened themselves Bow Wow Wow. According to most accounts the name means nothing. It was rumored that they came up with their bizarre name as a homage to the trademark of the RCA label-the dog listening to the phonograph. However, Bow Wow Wow were not on RCA when they named themselves. Their first contract was with EMI. So that theory doesn’t work. When asked about the group’s name Leigh Gorman said, “a dog came up and said it to me one day.” I’ll leave that for you to interpret.

Bow Wow Wow’s first release came in the form of the world’s first-ever cassette single. In July 1980, EMI released “C30, C60, C90, Go” only on cassette in the U.K. with “Sun, Sea, and Piracy” to accompany it. The single was followed by another cassette-only, U.K.–only release, “Your Cassette Pet,” an extended cassette EP featuring eight snappy tracks. One featured vinyl single came from this EP, “W.O.R.K. (N.O. Nah No No My Daddy Don’t), which was released in March of 1981 with “C30, C60, C90, Anda” to accompany it. Though McLaren’s weak production on the EP and singles make the band sound a little cheap and undeveloped, the band’s energy and potential make up for the lack of quality recording.

Lieutenant Lush arrived on the scene. A camp follower of the group. Lush began co-fronting the group with Lwin and was booed off the stage at the Rainbow Theatre gig in 1981 and was dropped from the line-up. Lieutenant Lush changed his name to Boy George, and created Culture Club.


In 1981, McLaren, unhappy with the band’s limited success on EMI, took the gang (now sporting Mohawk hair cuts) over to RCA. The band's first full album was released on RCA 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.”

According to Matthew Ashman, the original title of the album was “Ronnie Reagan, Sue Ellen, Cassanova, Botticelli, in a time, never, never, Queen Diana, Rockefeller” (a line from T.V. Savage which includes Sue Ellen, who was the wife of J.R. on TV’s Dallas, a big hit in the U.K. and U.S. at the time of the album’s release). But, Ashman said, “That’s what we wanted the album to be called. But people at RCA just, I don’t know, they didn’t like the idea of Ronnie Reagan being on the album cover. Just his name. We weren’t slaggin’ the bloke, I don’t mind Ronnie. He’s alright.”

The album cover art caused quite a stir. For the cover of “See Jungle!,” the group decided to photograph a living recreation of the 1863 Manet painting, “Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe” (Lunch on the Grass). The photo featured Annabella in the nude, tastefully turned away from the camera. Since she was only 15 at the time. Annabella’s mother tried to stop the release of the cover. McLaren won and the cover was issued amidst controversy of child pornography. The U.S. version of the album would not feature this photo but still presented Annabella only slightly covered in a see-through white dress. The “Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe” cover would not see U.S. presses until the “Last of the Mohicans” EP in 1982.

The album spawned Bow Wow Wow’s first U.K. top 10 hit, “Go Wild in the Country.” McLaren stepped down from the producer's post for this album and hired a host of other producers. The band was slowly developing a unique style. The album received great critical reviews and was a success in the U.K.

This album was finally put onto compact disc in the early 90’s by a small British company called Great Expectations and contains a wonderful set of mixes. The U.S. version of the album was finally put onto CD by One Way Records in the summer of 1997 but lacks the extra mixes on the U.K. version.


Bow Wow Wow’s first (and only) U.S. hit would have to wait for the release of the EP, “Last of the Mohicans” in 1982. That same year, McLaren terminated his involvement with the band and went on to record his own albums. Producer Kenny Laguna, who had worked with Joan Jett, was brought in to record “I Want Candy” and to re-record and fix “Louis Quatorze” (which McLaren had originally produced using a weak mix).

The single from the EP, “I Want Candy,” was a Top 10 hit in the U.K., and made it into the Top 40 on the American charts. The song remains one of the icons of 80’s pop and still receives airplay today on radio, MTV, VH1 and in soundtracks. It also appears on numerous 80’s compilation CD’s. Somehow, looking back, that song seems to define something essential about the early 80’s. One, it marked a return to the 3 (actually 2:44) minute pop song. Two, the look of the band was just right for MTV and the “beach party” video received much-needed airplay. Three, it offered a wonderful, much-needed optimism for pop and “new wave” fans.

With the success of the single, the band needed to release a full-length album. The compilation LP “I Want Candy” was released immediately in two different forms (the U.S. and U.K. version). The U.S. version included all of the music from the “Last of the Mohicans” EP, some remixed songs from “See Jungle!” and new songs like “Baby, Oh No” and “El Boss Dicho.” This album featured a total of four producers: Kenny Laguna, Brian Tench (who later remixed Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” album), Colin Thurston (who worked with Talk Talk and Duran Duran at about the same time), and Ritchie Cordell (Joan Jett). With a mix of producers, the album itself had mixed results. This album was digitally remastered in 1993 and released in its entirety on CD by RCA (BMG).


Also in 1982, EMI wanted to cash in on the U.S. success of RCA’s “I Want Candy.” So, Harvest/Moulin Rouge/EMI released the compilation album called “12 Original Recordings.” This compilation would take the original 8 tracks from “Your Cassette Pet” and the 2 tracks from the “C30, C60, C90 Go” cassette single and add the tracks “Mile High Club” (different version w/longer spoken intro) and the extended (disco) version of W.O.R.K.” “12 Original Recordings” features songs that were produced mainly by McLaren but with others involved. This album essentially is the British “I Want Candy” LP minus several tracks.

This LP would eventually go to CD on EMI’s 1993 release, “Girl Bites Dog: Your Compact Disc pet.” Six other tracks were added to the lineup, including “Bow Wow Wow,” “Sex,” “W.O.R.K.” (single version), “Theme A,” “Cast Iron Arm,” and “C30, C60, C90, Anda” (the Spanish version of C30…”).


For their final album in 1983, the band brought in the wonderfully talented producer Mike Chapman, who had been having great success with bands like Blondie (who had just split up). The result was the band’s first album to have a clean, unified sound. However, Bow Wow Wow fans did not like this new, more mature, polished pop sound and left in droves. The album was a miserable failure. This album was finally put onto compact disc in the early 90’s by Great Expectations. The U.S. version of the album was finally put onto CD by One Way Records in the summer of 1997.

In 1983, tensions in the group were rising. Suffering from illness and exhaustion after intense US touring, they went there separate ways.


For the first time in over a decade, Annabella and Leigh reunited in December of 1997 for a 4-month tour of America. They recruited new guitar player Dave Calhoun (Vapours), as a replacement for original guitarist Matthew Ashman, who had died of complications from diabetes in 1995. They also brought along drummer Eshan K. who replaced original drummer Dave Barbarossa. Dave had prior touring commitments with the band Republica and could not join the Bow Wow Wow reunion. Dave did, however, have enough time to train Eshan with his unique style of drumming before the band left England for their American tour.

The “Barking Mad” tour played to packed houses thru April of 1998 which eventually led to the band signing a record deal with indie giant Cleopatra Records. The live CD titled Wild in The U.S.A. was captured from performances on the 97-98 “Barking Mad” tour.


After a 5-year hiatus Bow Wow Wow reformed once more to help KROQ celebrate their 25th Anniversary. The band performed alongside such luminaries as Duran Duran, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Soft Cell's Marc Almond and Interpol, to name but at few, at the third installment of KROQ's prestigious Inland Invasion concert series, held at the Glen Helen Hyundai Pavilion on Sept. 20th 2003. The 45,000+ sell-out event was KROQ's fasted selling concert ever.

Original members Leigh Gorman and Annabella Lwin were joined onstage by special guest Adrian Young from No Doubt, who took Dave Barbe's seat behind the drums (Dave had prior commitments in the UK with dance band Cicane).

After having a blast on stage in front of 30,000 + people, Bow Wow Wow decided to continue doing what they do best…playing killer live shows. Over the past 18 months the band have also made numerous radio and TV appearances (including Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Orlando Jones Show, and FUSE TV’s Daily Download), most recently recording segments for third series of VH1’s popular I Love The ‘80’s show.

Annabella Lwin

After splitting with Bow Wow Wow in 1983, Annabella continued as a solo artist on RCA records. Annabella teamed up with various songwriters and producers such as; John Robey and the team that made up "The System." In May of 1986 RCA released Annabella’s debut solo effort called “Fever.” During the next four years she spent time collaborating with other musicians which led to her forming a band called “Naked Experience.” In 1992 legendary A&R man and MD of S2 Records (part of Sony Records), Muff Winwood, signed the band on the spot after seeing just one rehearsal. Unfortunately, during this period, the band situation was not working out but S2 kept Annabella as a solo artist. She then worked with songwriters Tom Kelly, Billy Steinberg (Madonna, Divynls) and Ellen Shipley (Belinda Carlisle) in England and again in the U.S. Annabella’s first single release was “Carsex” in 1993 followed by “Do What You Do” in 1994. “Do What You Do” did well in the U.K. national charts and reached the top 10 on the Dance charts.

During the late nineties Annabella worked on a Nike commercial, recorded two singles in Germany, and, of course, reunited with Leigh Gorman for the Bow Wow Wow reunion tour in 1997. Some of her material was featured in the indie film “Desperate but not Serious,” which starred Supermodel Claudia Schiffer, Christine Taylor (Brady Bunch & The Wedding Singer movies) and Henry Rollins among others. Annabella is currently writing new material.

Leigh Roy Gorman
Co-Founder / Bass

World-class bass player, genre-busting composer and producer, and multi-million selling artist Leigh Gorman started out playing classical guitar at the age of 12. Graduating to the bass guitar two years later, he developed a unique, classically-rooted, extremely fast and funky style. Encouraged early on by Marc Bolan's road manager, who lived nearby in London's East End and gave him free-range to use all of Marc's spare equipment, Leigh was able to play virtually anything he picked up, but quickly found an affinity with stringed instruments. Aside from mastering classical, flamenco, rock and bass guitar, Leigh taught himself to play the sitar, bouzouki, mandolin, and keyboards

Leigh started doing session work at 16 and went on to join a band called 57 Men, the first incarnation of which featured Glen Gregory (who went on to form Heaven 17) on vocals. The band later became Wang Chung. While gigging around town, Leigh was spotted by Knox of The Vibrators and asked to audition for Adam and The Ants. He joined the band in November of 1979. At the instigation of their manager Malcolm McLaren, Leigh and fellow Ants Matthew Ashman and Dave Barbarrosa parted from Adam to form their own band, Bow Wow Wow. Six months later they recruited vocalist Annabella Lwin.

Bow Wow Wow's innovative Burundi/Latin/punk fusion soon made them press darlings (as did their notorious rock n' roll antics). In July 1990, Bow Wow Wow's much-documented pioneering spirit lead them to release the first ever cassette single, a ditty appropriately entitled "C30, C60, C90, Go." Its release caused a furor in the unprepared music industry and the BPI subsequently banished the single from the UK charts. In 1982, however, the group scored two UK Top Ten hits with the singles "Go Wild In The Country" and "I Want Candy." The latter also made waves on the charts stateside. The band recorded a total of three albums and toured the world extensively, headlining with Madness in Japan and trekking across America several times. But life on the road took its toll and in 1983 the exhausted band broke up.

Having mixed much of Bow Wow Wow's early material, production seemed like a natural progression for Leigh. After setting up his own studio, Leigh produced records for the likes of Voice Of The Beehive, Modern English, Fuzzbox, Funk Deluxe, Adam Ant, Silver Bullet and Soho. In a twelve-month period, Leigh notched up three #1 singles on the UK dance charts with Silver Bullet, Funk Deluxe, and Soho. In 1989, Leigh's production of Silver Bullet's "Twenty Seconds To Comply" also rose to #11 in the UK singles chart during the extremely competitive Christmas season. Leigh's run of chart success continued the following year when Soho's single "Hippychick," which Leigh produced, went Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. The single also bagged the #1 slot on both the US and UK dance charts. Leigh received a Gold Record for his work on the track, and his studio was rated as one of the Top Ten in the world by Studio Week Magazine. Leigh subsequently joined Soho and toured the US, appearing on The Arsenio Hall Show.

In the early-90s, Leigh hooked up with Malcolm McLaren again, for whom he co-wrote and produced the Paris album, featuring the voice of Catherine Deneuve. This sophisticated jazz-influenced album sold well throughout Europe, resulting in an album of Leigh's ambient dance mixes being released. The duo proceeded to collaborate on several high-profile TV commercials and two film scores. Leigh's 1992 score for the comedy Carry On Columbus broke new ground, being the first soundtrack to feature the then underground hardcore Electronica sound, and his stylish score for Catwalk escaped Oscar nomination by a hair's breadth. Meanwhile, Leigh also wrote and produced micro-operettas, soundscapes, and hip-hop & soul jams for the small screen for such prestigious clients as Coca Cola, Pepsi, Nike, Renault, and MCI. Through this film and commercial work, Leigh gained a new freedom to show his unique style, one that best illustrated his trademark talent for fusing genres.

In 1995, Leigh spent seven months producing Gary Kemp's solo album Little Bruises. It was recorded at the world-famous Abbey Road Studios in London and Windmill Studios in Dublin, and mixed at A&M in Los Angeles. The album featured a slew of world-renowned guest musicians including Sly & Robbie and Pino Palladino. After completing Kemp's Celtic influenced project, which featured elaborate orchestration, Leigh decided it was time for a change. Demonstrating his versatility, Leigh next set up a cutting-edge dance label called Bang To Rights. For the next year he worked alongside top London DJs such as Danny Rampling, Pete Heller, Malcolm Duffy and Steve Lee - all mainstays of the city's thriving club scene. During this time Leigh also did remixes for the likes of Paula Cole and Mr. President (in the summer of 1997, his remix of Mr. President's "I Give You My Heart" went Top 10 in the UK dance charts for 3 weeks).

In 1998, Leigh reformed Bow Wow Wow with Annabella and two new members. They toured America, playing 70 dates in 101 days, and released a live album called Wild In The USA. Leigh and Annabella subsequently made a guest appearance in Bill Fishman's (whose previous credits include Tapeheads, featuring the comedic talents of Tim Robbins and John Cusack) film Desperate But Not Serious. The film starred Claudia Schiffer, John Corbett, and Henry Rollins. Leigh and Annabella also recorded a new song for the movie entitled "A Thousand Tears." The tour sparked off a spate of label interest. This demand also prompted Leigh to move to America.

Missing the dance world and playing in the live arena, in March 2000, Leigh joined the popular SoCal organic/electronic rave band Electric Skychurch for some live dates. The band achieved notoriety playing sunrise sets at the infamous Full Moon Gatherings deep in the Mojave Desert, and subsequently gained a following worthy of the Grateful Dead (a band they have been compared to many times). In June 2000, Leigh and the rest of the band lugged their equipment and a generator up to a dry lakebed near Death Valley for an unforgettable moonlit live performance at Moontribe's Seven-Year Anniversary Full Moon Gathering.

After a 5-year hiatus Bow Wow Wow reformed once more to help KROQ celebrate their 25th Anniversary. The band performed alongside such luminaries as Duran Duran, The Cure, Hot Hot Heat and Interpol, to name but at few, at the third installment of KROQ's prestigious Inland Invasion concert series. Held at the Glen Helen Hyundai Pavilion on Sept. 20th 2003, it proved to be the station’s fastest selling event ever. After having a blast on stage in front of 30,000 + people, Bow Wow Wow decided to continue doing what they do best…playing killer live shows. Over the past 18 months the band have also made numerous radio and TV appearances (including Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Orlando Jones Show, and FUSE TV’s Daily Download), most recently recording segments for third series of VH1’s popular I Love The ‘80’s show.

When he’s not on the road with Bow Wow Wow, Leigh lives and works in Los Angeles producing bands (most recently Morrissey and Calahan), doing remixes (including the alternative radio remix of the Meredith Brooks/Queen Latifah duet "Lay Down") and composing music for TV and film (Wimbledon and The Tenants).

Dave Barbe Co-Founder / Drums

Dave Barbe was born in London in 1961 and grew up in the East End borough of Hackney, the eldest of six children. At fifteen he left school and worked as a messenger boy in the West End of London for two years. He bought a drum kit but soon afterwards was made redundant, remaining unemployed for two years. Then, in 1977, his life changed forever when he was approached to join a London punk rock group, Adam and the Ants. He toured Britain and Europe with the band at the height of the punk rock era and their first album, “Dirk Wears White Sox,” was a critical success. In 1980, the Ants were enticed away from Adam by Malcolm McLaren, and together with new singer Annabella Lwin and some brand new Mohican hair cuts formed Bow Wow Wow.

Goodbye David Barbe, hello Dave Barbarossa, Bow Wow Wow were an instant hit with their first record, “C30, C60, C90, Go,” scoring a series of Top Ten hits two years later with “Chihuahua,” “Go Wild In The Country” and “I Want Candy.” But four years of heavy touring, mainly in the US, took its toll. Matthew Ashman and Lee Gorman became seriously ill and Dave became disillusioned with life on the road, The final straw came when the band heard they had been ripped off to the tune of a million dollars by their New York management company. Bow Wow Wow split up.

After a few abortive efforts Dave realized he no longer had the enthusiasm to carry on in the music business. By now married with two sons, his money had run out, so he worked on and off as a laborer and cab driver. In 1990, he was divorced and moved in with Alison. At the same time he started playing drums again. He was invited by ex-Housemartin Norman Cook to join his new band Beats International, the first record going straight to number one. Dave then started to work with Matthew Ashman again, and their friendship was rekindled despite very different lifestyles, A few years later, Dave met up with Adam Ant, resulting in a reunion tour of the US. On his return to London, Dave heard of the death of Matthew Ashman. This was to have a profound effect on Dave.

In 1997, Dave joined Republica and found himself on the same old circuit; Endless hotels and airports were harder to shrug off, and life on the road became unbearable. After a particularly tough trip Dave came home to meet his second daughter who had been born while he was on stage in Stuttgart. By now he was married to Alison; they talked long and hard about the future, and Dave Barbe, author, started to write his first novel, “We Were Looking Up.” A new life led to new acquaintances and Dave found himself back on the road – this time as a writer, Along with authors Jeff Noon, Irving Welsh, Courttia Newland and others, Dave read from his work on the Arthrob/Arts Council “Defining A Nation” UK tour. He is now turning the novel into a screenplay for One World Films and is also working on two original scripts for television.

In 2002 the music industry came calling again, and Dave joined the dance band Chicane, touring the UK and Europe to support the album “Behind The Sun” which featured the chart-topping single “Don’t Give Up” which boasted (un-credited) vocals from everyone’s favorite Canadian Bryan Adams.

Dave is currently recording and playing live with the London-based 'Faith' music collective, and also plays with the brilliant, classic Brit song-based band Amber Gate. He also works with a UK ad agency, doing music for commercials, which he describes as “great fun.”

When he’s not making music, or at a football match (he’s a massive Spurs supporter, and can be seen in the stands most Saturdays with his 12-year old daughter, Anjelica, swearing his “effin’ head off”), Alison can usually find Dave in his garden shed, something no self-respecting English man can be without these days. As a leading exponent of British “shed culture,” Dave has finally found peace in the zen-ness of shed life.

Adrian Young / Drums

Adrian Young is best known as the drummer for the band No Doubt whose most recent albums have also showcased their love of new wave music. With the band, Adrian has sold 20 million records, toured the globe and earned a Grammy award. He began drumming as a teenager listening to new wave, punk and ska in the Orange County, CA music scene. In the process, he discovered Bow Wow Wow as an avid KROQ (LA) listener. His admiration grew from there and now is about to play drums with them at a show in Los Angeles. In Adrian's words "It is a dream come true to play with a band I grew up idolizing. I feel like a kid back in the sand box."

Adrian is also one of Playgirl's Sexiest Men In Music 2003.


Songfacts said...

Quite a story. Check out the Songfacts for I Want Candy. Kenny Laguna had a great idea there.

* (asterisk) said...

I once spoke to Annabella Lwin on the phone. She was living as a tenant in the flat of a guy I knew, a little while after "Carsex". She wasn't very pleasant, it must be said.