Category Archives: General Musing

The Bow Wow Wow Crush

I have to admit something here – I had a massive crush on Bow Wow Wow’s lead singer, Annabella Lwin, in 1982. And, I was not alone in this. Way back then when this band came to my attention, I learned of the very young Anglo-Burmese singer and her surf-punk-meets Burundi-beat band. I thought it was her band and I thought she was intoxicating. As I discovered our age difference – she was a youthful teenager and me in my 20’s, my short lived crush turned into a life long appreciation of this unique artist, a fondness for her, the best female 80’s performer I’ve ever seen. Period.

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If you were alive in the day, and of age, you would recall the biggest hit this band had, a cover of the song “I Want Candy,” with it’s accompanying video showing Annabella and band Mathew Ashman (guitars), Leigh Gorman (bass), and David Barbarossa (Barbe) (drums) on the beach dancing, playing and mugging for the cameras. There was a feckless joy about this ragtag group, and some seriously bad-ass musicianship and singing. Ashman was a powerhouse on guitars – one of the best users of the tremolo arm, the Chuck Berry pluck, the Dick Dale surfer slide – his work graced every one of the band’s songs, impossible to ignore. The rhythm section, featuring Gorman on bass was unbelievably adept at using bass for melody, but also for percussion and aggressive energy in support of his drummer. The drummer Dave “Barbe” is simply unmatched in the rock world. He has an uncanny ability to calmly lay down a jungle beat, even on a small kit, one that kept perfect time, but also swung a bit, one that drilled it’s way into your hips and kept you moving.

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Annabella is playing as Bow Wow Wow in Long Island July 13, 2018!

All this stellar musicianship, the swing, the tribal beats, kept Annabella moving, as she became the hands-down best dancer in the business, one possessing the sweetest voice, an instrument that could go hard and high if she wanted, but was best in her light and airy range. Just another moment on Annabella’s dancing and it’s supremacy – she could swivel her hips, pogo up into the air, and most importantly, she perfected a sort of tribal dance, or native dance that was almost like watching an American Indian woman around our collective fire. I believe it was simply her own invention, and it was how she moved, but it was spectacular to have such a dancer front the type of music Bow Wow Wow played, a music that could whip a crowd into a frenzy of raw, “off the rails” celebration.

My own appreciation aside, Bow Wow Wow did not achieve the level of widespread success I would have expected in their short time together, though before the plug was pulled by the boys in the band, they were building an impressive following, and the music was quickly maturing after cutting ties with manager Malcolm McLaren. The story has been told many times but let’s recap- Malcolm McLaren is either a genius or a louse AdamAnt2017_KOTWF_72dpidepending on your perspective. While running a sex shop filled with fetish clothing, Malcolm became a society guy and tastemaker. His level of involvement in each band differed but he is credited with being an influencer, supporter or manager of Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, and the Sex Pistols to name a few.  Malcolm was told that a 13 year old girl, singing her heart out in a local dry cleaners, was worth meeting, so he did, and he ended up recruiting her to front his 3 piece band of guys who he had influenced to separate from Adam Ant prior to his own breakthrough recording, Kings of the Wild Frontier.

Annabella joined the band and became the lead singer of Bow Wow Wow. Malcolm stirred the pot, and after many singles and an initial album, the exhaustingly titled, See Jungle, See Jungle, Go Join Your Gang Yeah, City All Over Go Ape Crazy, the band left his management, released a second, superior album When the Going Gets Tough… The Tough Get Going, after which they gigged, mugged for the television cameras, and then disbanded.

When the Going…was a revelation. Having established their sound, one that was alternately raw “Chihuahua” and refined, “Fools Rush In” during the first year or so, and releasing many singles and a debut album, the band did something amazing. They sat down, wrote, and recorded what for this patron is one of the greatest albums of all time. Cracking opener Aphrodisiac” mines the same turf as the prior year’s somewhat naughty and breathless “Sexy Eiffel Towers,” but now it seems Annabella’s in charge of the narrative, “Take an Aphrodisiac, don’t do nothing just relax have a heart heart heart heart heart attack, take an aph-ro—-disiac.” A trifle yes, but listen to Annabella with Dave, Matt, Leigh make it something so much more.

AnnabellaLwin_BWW_WhenCoverEarly in the album, the song that should have been promoted better and a hit, ‘Do You Wanna Hold Me?’ (answer is of course ‘yes’ said thousands of fans) is one of their best pop bits. But the example of things to come, or that should have come, are “Man Mountain” and “Love Me.” This pair of slower songs showed the band could calm down, could actually nail a ballad, and could stir the soul after a few dances and a break. “Man Mountain” written by Ashman, is a personal favorite, and became a number 1 hit in the former Yugoslavia!:

He’s my man, he’s my man mountain, he’s my lover and hero to me
He’s my man, he’s my man mountain, Lord, delivers his soul unto me, Lord
Delivers his soul onto me, Lord, delivers his soul unto me
He don’t eat, he don’t sleep, he don’t even wash his feet
He don’t eat, he don’t sleep, he don’t even wash his feet

He’s my man, he’s my man mountain, he’s my lover and hero to me
Oh I love him, my man mountain, Lord, delivers his soul unto me, Lord
Delivers his soul onto me, Lord, delivers his soul unto me

He don’t lie, and I don’t know why
He told me he loved me and that made me cry
He don’t lie, and I don’t know why
He told me he loved me and that made me cry

He’s my man, he’s my man mountain, he’s my lover and hero to me
Oh I love him, my man mountain, Lord, delivers his soul unto me, Lord
Delivers his soul onto me, Lord, delivers his soul unto me

Delivers his soul onto me, Lord, delivers his soul unto me

Note the uses of repetition, as parts of Annabella’s soft lead vocals are almost breathy chants, gently plaintive pearls of love – it’s a beautiful bit of writing and performance. Leigh makes perfect use of a fretless bass here, while Ashman pulls at the acoustic guitar strings beautifully. “Love Me” follows and somehow matches the last though it’s one that challenges Annabella’s upper range, and is adorned by echo-washed lead guitar that would show anyone in one track why Ashman is missed. Dave Barbe just inhabits these pieces – he is as talented on soft numbers as he is on louder more aggressive tracks. This exploration of the more feminine side of the band makes clear where Bow Wow Wow could have travelled, and how they could have snared a much larger audience.

Alas, that was not to be. The boys in the band were restless, and thought they could be a there piece band, without the pesky Lwin on the payroll. It was a disastrous choice, as they went on to obscurity with a band called Chiefs of Relief. Bow Wow Wow reunited many times with various members coming and going, and guitarist Ashman sadly died before the nineties came to a close.

A drummers break: Just to ensure respect for the incredible sound Barbe captured on drums, here is a bit on Burundi: The story of “Burundi Black” and the origin of the “Burundi Beat” and the associated controversy is told in the following excerpt from a 1981 New York Times article by Robert Palmer:

The original source of this tribal rhythm is a recording of 25 drummers, made in a village in the east African nation of Burundi by a team of French anthropologists. The recording was included in an album, Musique du Burundi, issued by the French Ocora label in 1968. It is impressively kinetic, but the rhythm patterns are not as complex as most African drumming; they are a relatively easy mark for pop pirates in search of plunder. During the early 1970s, a British pop musician named Mike Steiphenson grafted an arrangement for guitars and keyboards onto the original recording from Burundi, and the result was Burundi Black, an album that sold more than 125,000 copies and made the British best-seller charts… Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, and several other bands have notched up an impressive string of British hits using the Burundi beat as a rhythmic foundation.

Lest anyone come to the conclusion that the band were “pop pirates” of any sort, all music has references and this is just one that Barbe used to incredible, exhausting effect on Bow Wow Wow records – his influences were diverse, and he molded them into something all his own, playing it all while occasionally, calmly chewing gum. There never has been and never will be again a drummer like Dave Barbe in my estimation.

I talked to Annabella Lwin and Dave Barbe about their short-lived band, the legacy and their thoughts now, so many years after the event. In the day they were confident, full of “piss and vinegar” as we say, ready to take on the world. Today they are, and probably were before, gentle, kind, humble people who are seemingly thankful for being remembered so fondly.  I asked them both similar questions in preparation for their next book Dancin’ In Fog City (1977-1989) in which Bow Wow Wow will feature, particularly their 1983 coda, “When The Going Gets Tough….”

These interviews will be part of next week’s post…stay tuned!

Greatest Concerts of the 1970’s

Greatest Concerts Cover_144dpiAs part of its 50th anniversary year, Rolling Stone magazine’s May 4th “special issue” included a lengthy article on The 50 Greatest Concerts of the Last 50 Years. I’ve been avoiding some of the “top N” lists that constantly flood social media, being so many are seemingly dreamed up by guys in their basement fishing for “click bait,” and some deemed dangerous to our privacy. But this article from the venerable rock magazine is entertaining and informative, well worth seeking out.

Over the years I’ve disagreed many times with critic’s music choices in Rolling Stone; they are so often focused on artists from the 1960’s and so frequently biased towards more commercial acts, weighted towards those hailing from the U.S. But the coverage is in depth, and the political analysis suits my beliefs nicely. I’ve been a long time subscriber.

The list of top 50 concerts in part drew my attention as I’ve recently released a book on the greatest concerts of the 70s entitled Rockin’ the City of Angels which features 36 acts from that decade, nearly all of whom played in my home town of Los Angeles, California. Was curious to see where our lists would match, and where they would diverge, and if that would be predictable for Rolling Stone. Due to the article covering 5 decades, there were 18 shows specifically from the 70s to consider.

Not surprising RS focused primarily on the type of bands that have nearly always appealed to their writing staff, six of which, in bold, matched mine, including:

The Who (Leeds, February 14, 1970)
Neil Young and Crazy Horse (Fillmore East March, 1970)
Elton John (Troubador, August 25-30, 1970)
Aretha Franklin (Fillmore West, March 5-7, 1971)
B.B. King (Cook County Jail, September 10, 1970)
The Allman Brothers (Fillmore East, March 11-13, 1971)
The Band (December 28-31, 1971)
The Rolling Stones (North America Tour, 1972)
David Bowie (World Tour 1972-73)
Van Morrison (North American Tour, 1973)
Patti Smith Group & Television (CBGB 1975)
Bob Marley (The Lyceum Theater, July 17-18, 1975)
Bob Dylan (Rolling Thunder Review, 1975-76)
Grateful Dead (North American Tour, 1977)
The Ramones (European Tour, 1977)
The Eagles (U.S. Tour 1977-1978)
The Clash (North American Tour, 1979)
Pink Floyd (The Wall Tour, 1980-81)

A 30% hit rate wasn’t a complete miss! In fact, as my own selection filtered out American R&B and the burgeoning punk movement (saved for future books), I match on about half of these artists. In addition, Van Morrison and Bob Marley are both artists I would have covered had editorial considerations not limited the book’s length!

A few particulars:

The Who Live at Leeds is indeed legendary as noted in RS, and it kicks off the first chapter in my book, as the Tommy album, the now expanded Live at Leeds recordings, and the film Live at the Isle of Wight rate highly in my collection.

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Photo @ Neal Preston

Elton John’s record-breaking shows at Dodger Stadium in 1975 are featured in my book, but I can absolutely back the argument that his first, intimate shows at the Troubadour launched him in the City of Angels, and make sense as the focus of the RS list.

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David Bowie’s seminal concerts during his Ziggy Stardust period in 1972-73 absolutely rate highly, and the movie taken from this tour is the primary official release of this artist on film during the decade. I struggled with the choice between this tour, and the 1976 shows in support of my favorite Station to Station. While Ziggy meant everything particularly to my friends in Hollywood and downtown, back in my suburban valley, I was more attuned to Station’s lush, disco-infused wares. The performances on that tour were striking – as one writer put it, Bowie appeared as a “hollow man who sang songs of romance with an agonized intensity… ice masquerading as fire.”

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Ultimately these lists are a difficult undertaking – always there are forgotten favorites, and when it comes to musical art, how does one define “greatest” – it’s largely subjective, yet occasionally we labor to piece them together and support our conclusions.

If I were pressed to make a similar list of the 18 “greatest” concerts of the 1970s, as experienced my original home town of Los Angeles, understanding that all of the other 18 I cover in Rockin’ the City of Angels rate in my book, the list below would be my conclusion:

The Who – Tommy tour Anaheim Stadium June 14, 1970
The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street tour L.A. Forum, 1972
Jethro Tull – A Passion Play tour L.A. Forum July 20–22, 1973
Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Brain Salad Surgery tour California Jam April 6, 1974
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black tour – Shrine Auditorium June 19, 1974
Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour Shrine Auditorium January 24, 1975
Cat Stevens – Majikat tour L.A. Forum, February 2, 1976
David Bowie – Station to Station tour L.A. Forum February 8, 9 & 11, 1976
Ambrosia – Somewhere I Never Travelled tour – Santa Monica Civic 1976
Paul McCartney & Wings – Wings Over the World tour L.A. Forum June 21, 1976
Queen – News of the World tour L.A. Forum December 22, 1977
Led Zeppelin – Presence tour L.A. Forum June 23, 1977
Yes – Relayer Tour – Anaheim Stadium – July 17, 1976
Supertramp – Even in the Quietest Moments tour L.A. Forum April 28, 1977
Heart – Little Queen tour Universal Amphitheater July 17, 1977
Kansas – Point of Know Return tour Long Beach Arena December 31, 1977
ELO – Out of the Blue tour Anaheim Stadium, August 26,1978
Fleetwood Mac – Tusk tour L.A. Forum December 4–6, 1979
Pink Floyd – The Wall tour LA Memorial Sports Arena February 7–13, 1980

Caveats – not many – I trimmed out the bands such as Happy The Man, Kate Bush and Camel who did not make it to L.A. for their greatest tours (in the case of Ms. Bush, never forever!). Also gone were some of the more progressive acts, such as Gentle Giant, Frank Zappa, PFM, U.K., Dixie Dregs, which were amazing live, but did not garner a wider audience during the period of my focus. Even with the edits, I cheated and listed 19 bands.

Given the more mainstream focus of RS, I still would have expected the staff to cover a few more bands that make my top choices, such as Yes, Queen and Jethro Tull who I personally witness delivering the most spectacular live concerts of the decade. Having said that, I’ve come to predict the view of this magazine and their favorites over the years, which to be fair has in fact grown to include artists they would have skipped in the past. The article is a fun read, full of quotes from those who were there, and it may prompt you to reflect on your past concert experiences, and maybe grab a seat at an upcoming show, to again bask in the glow of stage lights.

 

First Taste

my dad
my dad

I have been a dedicated fan of music from the time I was three years old. I still have a copy of the Beatles record, “Rubber Soul” that I played repeatedly as a child, sneaking into my sister’s room to use the record player. At that early age I became a complete Anglophile. Ten years later, I was spinning anything out of Britain from the progressive rock acts of the time, including Jethro Tull, Yes, and so on – top ten 70’s list here. The “new wave” movement hit in the late 70’s and early 80’s and I was then again hooked on all types of creative bands such as Depeche Mode, Cocteau Twins, and others that mixed fashion, electronics and lots of attitude – top ten 80’s list here. My horizons expanded a bit from the 90’s on. For me, women saved the 90’s between Tori, Fiona, Natalie and other similar artists – top ten 90’s list here. The new millennium has my ever expanding collection taking up lots of disk space with music as rich and varied as any that has come before. Through each of these decades, I have played music, collected music, and attended live performances as frequently as possible. I would define myself as a music “aficionado”.

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Me, in 2015

Since 2013, I’ve been a columnist for Gonzo Weekly magazine in Britain covering primarily progressive, alternative and other forms of artistic rock. I also own and operate Diego Spade Productions and am working on my first book about the theatricality and artistry of progressive and classical rock music.  Additionally I teach and am on advisory councils related to my prior career in information sciences.  Hope you enjoy these posts, and please do comment to let me know.  Doug