sat 28/05/2016

Bow Wow Wow, Islington Academy | New music reviews, news & interviews

Bow Wow Wow, Islington Academy

Re-formed punk band sound like a vital musical force rather than just a nostalgia trip

Annabella Lwin: back in the Bow Wow Wow saddle again© Imelda Michalcyzk

It’s hard to think of any other records as exuberantly hedonistic as the handful of singles this London band rattled off at the beginning of the 1980s. Yes, they were accompanied by the then necessary punk sneer which said, This is all strictly ironic. But the music couldn’t lie. The music really did want you to go wild in the country, even if naughty Annabella Lwin just wanted to sneak off for a fag. Or was naughty Annabella just an illusion too? The 40something Lwin who skipped and twirled onto the Islington Academy stage last night certainly had as much energy as the 14- to 18-year-old Malcolm McLaren would have had you believe he hatched from an egg. But did Lwin finally put to rest any lingering suspicions that she was just another pop puppet?

When she asked the aging audience, “Are you sweating out there, London? I can see lots of shiny heads, but…”, and then didn't finish the sentence, I imagined Uncle Malcolm would have been proud of the laugh it got. If Lwin wasn’t her own woman back when he first plucked her from a dry-cleaning shop, she certainly was here. McLaren would have been impressed by the rest of the band too. The other core original member, Leigh Gorman, is still a fast and solid bass player who does a lot more than just provide a hefty bottom-end. And Will Crewdson both looked and played the punk part, his guitar hanging Simonon-low and his quiff sculpted Simonon-high.

At times it felt not so much like a concert as a call to arms, or an advancing earthquake

But arguably the most important part of the band’s original signature sound was the drummer. So have they found someone to fill Dave Barbarossa shoes? For this was the man who helped create the African Burundi-inspired rhythms that much of the band’s material was built around. Yes, fortunately Sean Winchester kicks kick-drum. What a pleasure it is to hear a rock drummer giving the snare a rest for once, and just laying into those toms. Those Burundi-derived rhythms are like a perpetual drum roll, creating the illusion of acceleration, pushing each song towards a crescendo before it's barely begun. At times it felt not so much like a concert as a call to arms, or an advancing earthquake.

A lesser performer than Lwin could have been swamped by a such a sonic storm. But instead she thrived on it, as if the 30 years since they last toured were a just a matter of months. At one point when she dedicated a song to the late Poly Styrene (“God bless her soul”), I thought of this great tradition of forthright, individualistic female performers who shouted, chanted, screamed and occasionally sang their way into our affections by refusing to have the right hairstyle or wear the right dress, thus alienating a mainstream music industry that neither understood or approved of them. Today, artists such as MIA and Tune-Yards may keep this flag flying, but it’s always going to be more of a thrill to see one of the originals back in the saddle.

Did Annabella Lwin finally put to rest any lingering suspicions that she was just another pop puppet?



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