/ The original 1980s line-up of Bow Wow Wow: guitarist Matthew Ashman. bassist Leigh Gorman, vocalist Annabella Lwin and drummer David Barbarossa /
The last time I saw Bow Wow Wow was in 2012 at The Islington Academy and the line-up featured two of the original members: singer Annabella Lwin and bassist Leigh Gorman. Since then, Annabella and Gorman have clearly fallen-out (Bow Wow Wow was always a rancorous band) and she’s now doing her own incarnation of Bow Wow Wow in which she is the sole originator and is backed by entirely new musicians. (Her version of the band is called Annabella’s Original Bow Wow Wow. Confusingly, Gorman is continuing with his own edition. Seriously, that would be like Blondie touring without Deborah Harry or The Banshees minus Siouxsie). For all I know a lawsuit has been involved at some point between Gorman and Annabella over ownership of the name. In her between-song banter Saturday night at The Garage Annabella said something along the lines of, “If there are any of my original musicians in the crowd tonight, I hope you understand why I need to do this ...”
Much as I enjoyed Saturday night, the 2012 gig was infinitely better in musical terms. Bow Wow Wow’s best New Wave-era tunes are catchy and minimalist but deceptively complex and sophisticated with African and Latin polyrhythms and surf guitar influences. It felt like the newbies in the band were loud and powerful, but steamrolled over those nuances.
The 2012 concert really was a definitive greatest hits performance and I couldn’t complain about the track selections. Last night’s set list was weird and patchy. On plus side: essential stone-cold classics like “C30, C60, C90 Go!”, “Louis Quatorze”, “Mile High Club”, “Aphrodisiac”, “WORK”, “I Want My Baby on Mars”, “Baby Oh No”, “See Jungle (Jungle Boy).” They sounded as sexy, funny, punky and exotic as ever. On the downside: no “Uomo Sex Al Apache” (a 2012 concert highlight), “Elimination Dancing”, “Sexy Eiffel Tower”, "TV Savage" or “Chihuahua”. (To be fair, they seemingly never play “Chihuahua” live. I’d argue that song is Bow Wow Wow’s magnum opus. I suspect this is because Malcolm McLaren forced Annabella to sing lyrics like “I can’t dance / And I can’t sing / I can’t do anything ... I’m a rock’n’roll puppet in a band called Bow Wow Wow .. I’m a horrid little idiot / can’t you see ...” etc). They treated “I Want Candy” as the climactic big finale – understandably, because it was their biggest chart hit but it’s not their best song by a long shot (I bet Annabella is secretly sick to death of it).
Annabella is presumably calling the shots now and she displayed a strange lack of confidence in her own back catalogue. They padded things out with a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” (an interesting experiment to hear that given a Burundi beat / tribal make-over but hardly essential) and then she introduced a brand new song. And with the best will in the world, it wasn’t good. They really tried to sell it, with Annabella delivering it enthusiastically and grinning hard for the duration (and urging us that “it’s available on iTunes and Amazon.com”) and the bassist giving the thumbs-up (cringe!). But it was frankly mediocre, with a tired eighties slapped-bass funk sound (Pal said it sounded like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers).
The charismatic Annabella herself was on great form. At 49 she’s still gorgeous (killer cheekbones, shapely legs), still kinetic (she dances hard the whole time – she’s like a whirling dervish) and her voice is still an alluring girlish punkette coo. Why isn’t Annabella celebrated as one of the great punk frontwomen just a few notches below Siouxsie and Deborah Harry or the equal of Poly Styrene and Ari Upp? I suspect the rockist Mojo generation simply don’t rate Bow Wow Wow.
Anyway, something was clearly riling Annabella because a few times between songs she demanded, “Am I too old? Do you think I’m too old? I’ve been told I’m too old.” I’d love to know what that was about. (For what it’s worth: considering she was only 14 when she joined Bow Wow Wow, Annabella is substantially younger than most of her post-punk peers). Her stage-wear was disappointingly lacklustre: she was wearing one of her own tour merchandise t-shirts! She’d customised it (shredding it up and wearing it backwards) – but still! This is someone who used to wear head-to-toe Vivienne Westwood pirate gear! And her hair was a shiny, jet-black 100% acrylic wig. In 2012 she sported her own hair in long cornrow braids tied with ribbons. The wig was an odd touch. If Annabella was worried about her hair, she should just resurrect her trademark early eighties Mohawk: no woman ever looked more beautiful with a Mohawk than Annabella.
Similarly, the crowd was a mixed bag: it’s been a while since I’ve been to a gig where the audience was predominantly older first or second-generation punks. Life had clearly been tough on some of these people. As I hoped, some looked great in vintage Vivienne Westwood. But there was a dismaying amount of older guys wearing anoraks, dad jeans and trainers! You’re letting the side down, people!
Playing us out: classic-era Bow Wow Wow captured onstage in 1982.