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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 paying £1000 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.
McLaren knew the group needed a lead singer. Legend has it that McLaren 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. Annabella was born in Rangoon (the capitol of Burma) and had moved to England at an early age.
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.
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.
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. The album spawned Bow Wow Wow’s first U.K. top 10 hit, “Go Wild in the Country.”
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. The single from the EP, “I Want Candy,” was a top 10 hit in the U.K. However, it barely made it into the top 40 on American charts. Yet, the song remains one of the icons of ’80s pop and still receives airplay today on radio and in soundtracks, and it appears on numerous ’80s compilation CDs. 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. versions). The U.S. version included all of the music from the Last of the Mohicans, some remixed songs from See Jungle!, and new songs like “Baby, Oh No” and “El Boss Dicho.”
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 eight tracks from Your Cassette Pet and the two 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.”
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. In 1983, tensions in the group were rising. Suffering from illness and exhaustion after intense U.S. touring, they went their separate ways.
Annabella and Leigh reunited in December of 1997 for a four-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. Their “Barking Mad” tour played to packed houses 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 tour.
After a five-year hiatus, Bow Wow Wow reformed once more to help KROQ celebrate its 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 a few, at the third installment of KROQ’s Inland Invasion concert series at the Glen Helen Hyundai Pavilion, in September 2003.
After having a blast on stage in front of so many people, Bow Wow Wow decided to continue doing what they do best‚ playing killer live shows. Over the past years the band has also made numerous radio, film, and TV appearances. “I Want Candy” was also the lead song for the recent U.S. No. 1 Russell Brand movie Hop and was also the lead song for Verizon’s 2011 advertising campaign.