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The Wow Factor; Bow Wow Wow's bright and brash post-punk pop sounds lit up the '80s, thanks to their sparky young front woman Annabella Lwin. As the reformed group prepares to make a rare appearance in Wales, Dave Owens discovers why the singer has mixed feelings over her time in the limelight.

ANNABELLA Lwin's memory is in sharp focus. She's recounting the days when her band Bow Wow Wow burst onto the British music scene in the early '80s bringing a style, a strut and a sexiness to the charts, that would result in some brilliantly realised pop songs and equally controversial headlines.

Put together by former Sex Pistols' manager Malcolm McLaren, the music industry Svengali persuaded guitarist Matthew Ashman, bassist Leigh Gorman and drummer Dave Barbarossa of Adam and the Ants to leave the founder of the band Adam Ant and form a new group.

After a six-month-long audition for a lead singer, the band finally hired Annabella Lwin, after one of McLaren's associates discovered the then 14-year-old singing along to a Stevie Wonder song at her Saturday job at a dry-cleaning shop.

It may be 32 years since singer Lwin's life changed forever, but she recalls her first meeting with McLaren as if it were only yesterday.

"He had this shock of orange hair and he stuck his head around my mother's kitchen door," she remembers. "I know it sounds weird but I thought it was quite amusing. He looked funny to me at the age I was.

"He was a genius of a man in many respects," she adds. "It was only when you spent a little time with him that you got to know who he really was. He went out of his way to come and see me and talk to me. Which was nice.

"Apparently, he did the same thing with the three guys in the band. He had his own way of managing his artistes that was different from everyone else. He had the ideas for the songs and he was the one who suggested that we wear Vivienne Westwood's clothes.

"Obviously we now know we helped sell the clothes and we were all part of a marketing thing at the time, but then that was his forte, he was a brilliant marketing man as well."

So what did Lwin's mum make of one of the music industry's most colourful characters? "Unfortunately I couldn't ask her now as she sadly passed away in 2010," the singer says. "I do know that she was unhappy with the way I was treated because she was my mother and I was only a teenager."

Bow Wow Wow's sound was a fizzing collision of punkish yelps, pop melodies and Afro-beats.

Their image was a dazzling riot of fashion chic, courtesy of outfits provided by McLaren's girlfriend, designer Vivienne Westwood.

Cited as an influence by the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers and No Doubt, the group are currently having something of a renaissance.

Reformed with all the original band members, save for guitarist Ashman who died in 1995, the outfit will be appearing at the inaugural Rhondda Rocks music festival at The Factory in Porth this weekend.

While Bow Wow Wow's flame burnt brightly for a period in the early '80s scoring such memorable hits as Go Wild In the Country and I Want Candy, Lwin confesses it wasn't an especially happy experience.

"I have to say that part of my life was a little bit of a numbing experience in some respects, because it was endless travelling and countless days and nights of rehearsals to the point where I had to leave school because I couldn't stay awake in the classroom the next day.

"It really was like a helter skelter ride. The only thing that made sense in my mind was when I got in front of an audience who seemed to enjoy what they were hearing."

The biggest controversy that afflicted Bow Wow Wow was when a then 15-year-old Lwin was pictured naked on the front of the band's extravagantly titled album See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah. City All Over! Go Ape Crazy.

A homage to French painter Manet's - Le djeuner sur l'herbe (The luncheon on the grass) it depicted the singer naked at a picnic with her fully clothed band mates.

Thirty years on Lwin is, in the main, ambivalent about the furore it caused.

"The only thing I would have changed about all that is that I didn't tell my mother and she was extremely upset by the way it was handled at the time," recalls the 45-year-old. "Apparently the three guys from the band stormed into her kitchen and slammed the picture down on the table.

"It was the first time she had seen it and she didn't know I had done it. I feel bad that I should have just told her I was doing a photo shoot and it required me to pose nude. I should have just got Malcolm to explain the whole thing to her.

"It wasn't a decision I took lightly to do that photograph. I was quite a shy teenager which a lot of people might find surprising but I really was.

"I wasn't this over-sexual nymphette that people kept making me out to be. I don't regret learning what I learnt but I regret hurting anybody who I may have hurt at the time."

? Bow Wow Wow headline Rhondda Rocks at The Factory, Porth, tomorrow. The event kicks off tonight with a headline set by Welsh rockers Reaper In Sicily. For details, visit www.rhonddarocks.co.uk

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 3, 2012
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