“Well, it’s true to say I was a ‘child’ in so many ways. I was a 14-year-old teenager, surrounded by adults I did not get along with nor trust. There were a lot of crazy things going on I did not understand, in as well as out of the band. It was one big helter-skelter ride” – Annabella in Classic Pop mag
Annabella Lwin was the 14 year old singer in the post-Pistols, Malcolm McLaren managed band, Bow Wow Wow. She was also an early adopter of the Mohican haircut; Short hair? Long hair? Why not have both? Are you going on holiday this year madam?
Legend has it that she was discovered aged 13 singing in a West Hampstead launderette by one of Malcolm’s talent scouts, as she sung along to the radio. ”It was someone who worked for Malcolm. I had a Saturday job and we would get people like Gordon Jackson [‘Upstairs, Downstairs’] and Richard Jobson from The Skids coming in. It was a really cool job for extra pocket money. Yeah, he kept coming in. So, the radio was always one and they happened to be playing a Stevie Wonder song and I guess I was singing along to his song.” McLaren had already bedazzled the musicians from the original Adam and the Ants line-up enough to leave their leader and join him on his next project – he was just looking for a singer to front them. He had already earmarked Boy George as a possibility, but Annabella was selected instead.
Courting controversy from the get go, the underage Lwin and co released their first single in 1980, “C-30 C-60 C-90 Go!” on cassette only. On one side of the tape contained pre-recorded music, the single and it’s accompanying B-Side (Sun, Sea and Piracy), and the other side was deliberately left blank. EMI apparently refused to publicise it, as they had a problem with what they saw as the band’s role in encouraging home taping. Because…killing music. They had the same problem with the lyrics,
“Off the radio I get constant flow, Hit it, pause it, record and play, Turn it, rewind and rub it away” – McLaren takes a co-writing credit on both, so fairly safe to assume that all the furore may just have been accidentally on purpose.
Obviously the blank side of the cassette was an opportunity, it was there for the hit hungry millions to tape something off the radio. It was all classic McLaren; an underage singer promoting a popular, widely practiced, but still illegal activity, with a side order of massive finger to the major labels – while all the time selling plenty of copies. Job done.
John Peel, introducing tracks from their October 1980 session, comments,
“and I know what Malcolm would like you to be doing right now…Click!”, and then knowingly leaves a Peel sized gap before the track starts.
Upon the release of their album, the succinctly titled “See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah, City All Over! Go Ape Crazy!” (1981), it wasn’t the lyrics or any invitation to piracy which caused the fuss, this time it was the cover.
The band are pictured recreating Édouard Manet’s “Le Déjeuner Sur L’herbe”, with a then fourteen year old Lwin noticeably starkers. The cover caused such outrage that it was even investigated by Scotland Yard, apparently instigated by Lwin’s own mother. The band continued to use shots from the same session on their follow-up EP “The Last of the Mohicans”, and the sleeve of the “Go Wild in the Country” single.
The following year, having learnt that this level of controversy does nothing at all to impede record sales, Lwin again appeared naked on the cover of “I Want Candy”. This time around, and due to heavy rotation on the newly launched MTV, Bow Wow Wow undertook a tour of north America, after which Lwin was fired as quickly and unceremoniously as she’d been hired.
”Yeah, tell me about it. I read it in the press! I was kicked out of the band and they never told me. I read it in the NME.”
Although the main narrative would suggest that Lwin was just one of Malcolm’s one hit puppets, the facts don’t quite add up. Malcolm might have masterminded the idea of the band and managed to tick off several items on his controversial things to do list, but it was Lwin who went on to mastermind her own career evolution. In the same way she fronted Bow Wow Wow with an attitude of defiance, she also picked herself up when the band folded, and has continued to work as a solo artist ever since.
Annabella’s website is HERE