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'80s - Bow Wow Wow (Leigh Gorman)

'Still Barkin' Mad!'

Bow Wow Wow was a 1980s New Wave band organized by Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren in 1980 whose music is described as having an "African-derived drum sound". McLaren persuaded guitarist Matthew Ashman, bassist Leigh Gorman and percussionist David Barbarossa of the original lineup of Adam & the Ants to leave Adam Ant and form a new group, fronted by teen singer Annabella Lwin.

McLaren was also going to use Boy George (later of Culture Club fame) as a second lead singer, but he was deemed to be "too wild" for the band!

McLaren discovered fourteen year old Lwin while she was working at a dry cleaners, and the group's sound was a mix of her "girlish squeal", Balinese chants, surf instrumentals, New Romantic pop melodies, and Barbarossa's Burundi ritual music influenced tom tom beats. The band's most popular hit was the New Wave staple, "I Want Candy", but their most notorious recording was "Sexy Eiffel Tower", a bold ode to masturbation, including excitedly heavy breathing and orgasmic moans.

The group released three full-length albums before Lwin quit to pursue a solo career in 1983.

Ashman went on to form Chiefs of Relief, and in 1995 died from diabetes complications. In the '90s, Barbarossa joined Republica. Lwin and Gorman reunited to release Wild in the U.S.A. in 1998, adding guitarist Dave Calhoun and drummer Eshan Khadaroo. Bow Wow Wow still tour deep into 2006 this time with just Lwin, Gorman and now No Doubt's Adrian Young on drums.

Chatting recently with original bassist Leigh Gorman, I first asked if it was indeed true that early on in his personal discovery of musical instruments that Marc Bolan's road manager gave him carte blanche to use all of Marc's spare equipment?! ”Yes, that’s absolutely right. I come from a place called Fellow’s Court in Hackney Road in London - which is a rough place - and in that estate at that time there was only a few of us at the same age. So, we used to hang out together and so to impress the girls we’d put on cassette tapes of Roxy Music saying, ‘here look at us. This is our band!’ And the girls kinda didn’t really believe it, but then they were asking to see us play. And it turned out that one of the kids lived close to where the tour manager for Marc Bolan lived in a flat. And, of course, Marc Bolan was huge back then and we’d always see all this equipment going in and out. So, one day he walks past and tells the guy that we’ve got a band and want to play. So the guy tells us about Marc’s spare gear and tells us to come along and borrow it for a day. And the guy had a video recorder - something that we’d obviously never seen before - and that blew our minds when he played us these tapes of Marc.”

”So, we set it up in my front room and we just started bashing and flailing away and because I was the youngest and the smallest I was given the bass. It was this big red plastic thing and I just had no idea what to do, but I kind of worked it out - whilst everybody else was still flailing around! So all the neighbors called the police ‘cause of the noise and so we had to pack it all up and take it back! Then we went to the church hall the next week and did the same thing and of course we were still just making this racket!”

”And then I got headhunted by another band from another estate and they were in the Tower Hamlets and this guy came around and wanted to know if I’d be their bass player. So, I joined this band who were all younger than me - and they were all geniuses! He also taught me the basics of how to play and they had songs written, but we also did covers of ‘Smoke On The Water’ and stuff and started playing at the local youth club. And I then found out I could play even better and so at 15 I became singer as well - and then started a fan club for us!”

Any stories of minor success with that band, perhaps? ”Well, we went on to play and get more competant and by the time we were all 15 we were playing local gigs. We went in for a Melody Maker band competition and we came second to Landscape. And the judges said that they couldn’t give us the first prize because we were just too young!”

Tell us more about the band 57 Men, which included Glen Gregory (Heaven 17) on vocals AND which later became Wang Chung! ”Yeah, that happened when I was just 17 and we were just rehearsing next door to them. Jack and Nick had a band called The Interlectuals - which was like a post-punk band - and had kinda split up at that point and were next door to us. They came in one day and said that they had to get these kids - us - in their band! So, they got me in, brought in Glen Gregory as a singer and we all got on great and had a great time. And then we started gigging around London and we actually thought we were going to get a deal, but Jack and Nick were writing all the songs and weren’t ready, I guess. I wasn’t satisfied musically either, but we had a party for a year before Jack decided to pull the plug and that was it, the band was over.”

”But that was when I was spotted and Adam Ant was told about me. And so, as he needed a bass player, that was how I got the phone call. I was in the band for about four months - it’s all kinda vague as we never really had a name back then. So, after that I was out there searching for someone to play with and came across Annabella. So, I started gigging with Annabella and we still didn’t have a name for a long while!”

So, just where did the name Bow Wow Wow actually originate? ”It came from when we were writing this mad music. The one thing about Malcolm McLaren was that he was a great catalyst for opening your mind; opening up your imagination. So, he asked us to just sing whatever came into our heads. So, we started singing ‘Doggy, Doggy, Doggy, Doogy ...’ and so he said, ‘what sound does a dog make?’ and we all shouted back ‘Bow Wow Wow Wow Wow!’ For a while there we were called the Jazz Babies, The Wild Man Club ... and so Malcolm said, ‘why don’t you just call yourself Bow Wow Wow?’ And we all really liked it as it was mad!”

In 1982, and at the height of your fame you scored two UK Top Ten hits with ‘Go Wild In The Country" and "I Want Candy," so why did the band break up just a year later and just three years into the groups creation?! Did a lack of work ethic creep in? ”No, because the work ethic was probably too strong! Our work ethic projected itself into our touring and so when we were in the period where we were making our money - in retrospect we probably should have gone back into the studio and done more recording - but we got the chance to tour and get money directly into our bank accounts. And so we worked so hard and were basically on the road nonstop for a year and a half. And our shows were very energetic and we put everything into them and so something just went. Matthew got diabetes, we liked the girls, and we toured hard and so that wore us all out.”

”At one stage we even had all our equipment stolen. Then on the first date of a 50 date tour in New York, Matthew fell off the stage - 23 feet onto concrete ... ‘cause he was going blind with the diabetes. He fractured his arm, but he still came back on and did the encore, but then the next morning his arm had become like a balloon. So, while Matthew was in hospital I was sick with Mono and while we were out of the picture all the vultures had come in and took everything! So, we didn’t just fade away, we imploded, got sick and we pushed ourselves a little too hard because we weren’t being careful.”

How did Matthew pass? ”Well, Matthew died in ‘95 of complications due to his diabetes. On his birthday. Pretty shocking. He was such a resiliant guy also. He was the type of guy that was tough, a hunky looking dude but then he just fell ill.”

Did you ever let the fame of that time period get to you? ”We never really felt THAT famous. I mean, sure we had some moments, but most of the time we were just working. We were in our own little bubble. Just working, dedicated to our music.”

Bow Wow Wow reformed again in 1998 and then again in 2000 - the latest incarnation with yourself, Annabella and now Adrian Young on drums (from No Doubt). So, will there be new Bow Wow Wow recordings sometime soon, perhaps? ”I suppose this is more of a touring band as we still have the original drummer. It’s just for practical reasons - as he lives in England with his family - that he just can’t keep coming out to play all the gigs that we now do. He’s fine about that and we do everything with this permission anyway. And we just did a new recording of a cover of ‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’ by The Smiths for the tribute album. But hopefully we will record more new stuff later on, yeah.”

Tell us more about your involvement with the new ‘We Are The ‘80s - Best of Bow Wow Wow’ CDs ”Well, we don’t have a lot of control over these type of CDs. But, this particular one they tried to involve us and wanted our information on the jacket, on the tracks that they picked. Where most of the time these fly-by-night companies license the tracks and put it out anywhere and we don’t see a penny of it!”

Please tell us a bit more about the following rare songs on this 14-track CD:
’Cowboy’ - ”That was a song that Malcolm had an idea for the lyric and we kinda come up with the music - but then it turned out that the idea for the lyric Malcolm had taken from somebody else! We actually recorded that song three or four times.”

’W.O.R.K. (N.O. Nah No No My Daddy Don’t)’ - ”That was about my dad and his work ethic - I was a little bit political back then - and it was one of those things that me and Malcolm used to talk about. And so one day we decided to make a rap out of it,” he laughs. ”And the thing is my dad did actually have a job at that time, but what I was trying to do was get a hook and break it down into its letters rythmically.”

Finally, have you spoken to Malcolm McLaren recently? ”I had lunch with him about a year ago and we were talking about the people who did the show The Producers on Broadway were talking to him about making the Paris album into a Broadway show. How they were going to do that, I don’t know. But that’s what we were talking about.”

Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk