Dave Wakeling of The Beat (left) and Annabella Lwin of Bow Wow Wow - picture by Sam Wells

LIVING IN THE ’80s: The Beat And Bow Wow Wow Party Like It’s 1982 At The Roundhouse

PICTURES: Sam Wells, WORDS: Matt Catchpole

It’s a scorching Camden summer’s evening and we’re here to witness the return of the leaders of two bands whose moment in the sun stretches back more than 40 years.

Yes it was 1982 when Dave Wakeling‘s band The Beat and Bow Wow Wow, fronted by precocious Burma-born teen Annabella Lwin, were at the peak of their powers.

A time when rocketing inflation was causing a cost of living crisis and a right-wing Tory government was at war with the unions. Sound familiar?

But as fellow ’80s survivors ABC once said: “That was then and this is now”.

Could these icons of ska and tribal post-punk still be relevant all these years on?

Read on to find out:

WILD AT HEART – Annabella Lwin in full flow.

After an energetic opening blast from Clash covers outfit London Calling – it was time for a stripped down Bow Wow Wow to strut their stuff.

Backed by impressively mutton-chopped guitarist Wild Bill ‘Lightnin” Woodcock and sensational drummer John Montgomery, Lwin is a force of nature as she bounces onto the stage.

Just 14 when the band broke through, she’s clearly delighted to be back in the city where she was first discovered singing along to a radio in a West Hampstead dry cleaners.

The Burundi beats made famous by original drummer Dave Barbarossa are keenly in evidence as the band launch into c30 c60 c90 Go! – the world’s first cassette single.

Kitted out in a striped dress in Jamaican colours, her hero Bob Marley emblazoned on the front, Lwin treats us to a breathless run through her repertoire.

She reminds us her song Aphrodisiac was used on the soundtrack to the Sofia Coppola-directed 2006 film Marie Antionette and also pays tribute to original guitarist-songwriter Matthew Ashman who died aged just 35 in 1995.

With a nod to the headliners she performs a ska-ified cover of Marley’s Cheer Up and Bow Wow Wow’s hit cover of The StrangelovesI Want Candy gets a well received airing.

Smiling and shimmying back and forth, Annabella cuts a very different figure to the moody, sensual figure of her youth.

Her excellent band give a new freshness and vitality to the songs and though based in the US, she clearly retains a fondness for the capital.

“You can take the girl out of London, but not the London out of the girl!”, she declares on her first London show for seven years.

Set closer, Go Wild In The Country – a top 10 hit in 1982 – is a fittingly vibrant end to a bright and breezy set.

  • Bow Wow Wow at Camden Roundhouse,
  • Bow Wow Wow guitarist 'Lightnin' Woodcock
  • Annabella Lwin of Bow Wow
  • Bow Wow Wow guitarist 'Lightnin' Woodcock

It’s a packed house and there’s a sizeable queue for the gents’ before the main event.

A sign, as one wag points out, that this is a show for men and women (it’s a pretty even split) of a certain age.

Many of these folks in their Fred Perry polo shirts were there in the glory days when Ska’s Rude boys and girls briefly took over the charts, offering a hopeful alternative at a time of racial and economic turmoil.

There’s a marked buzz of excitement as Dave Wakeling’s signature Gibson Teardrop guitars are laid out on stage and the lights dim for the arrival of The Beat.

A beaming Wakeling knows his audience and set opener Rough Rider – a cover of the Prince Buster classic – quickly gets them moving.

JACKPOT – Dave Wakeling and toaster mc Antonee tear it up

Twist and Crawl ups the pace still further, while Hands Off She’s Mine sparks a spontaneous singalong.

There’s a poignant moment as Wakeling remembers lost compadres: toaster and co-vocalist Ranking Roger, drummer Everett Morton and saxophonist Lionel ‘Saxa’ Morton.

“All gone, but we still love them so,” Wakeling says by way of intro to I Can’t Get Used To Losing You.

There’s even a whistling solo.

“When did you last hear Sting and Bono doing their own whistling?” Wakeling asks in his prominent Brummie drawl.

It’s something of a homecoming for the singer-songwriter, who points out that The Beat’s (The English Beat in America) discs were recorded in a studio next door to tonight’s venue.

He’s the only original member in the eight-piece line-up but his well-drilled band of younger ska-colytes deliver hits like Too Nice To Talk To and Mirror in the Bathroom with polish.

That said, some of the hard-edged cynicism and political punch of songs like the anti-Thatcher anthem, Stand Down Margaret is lost in the prevailing mood of celebration.

But the audience don’t care, in fact at one point the rowdiness of the dancing even triggers a flash of concern amongst security.

The idea of this polite gathering of people in their 50s and 60s causing a riot is plainly preposterous and rightly draws a rebuke to the Roundhouse staff from Wakeling.

“Some of you lot are going to have sore knees in the morning,” he laughs as the tension quickly defuses.

Co-vocalist and toaster mc Antonee First Class is lively and confident – building up a rapport with the crowd with a call and response and routine, punctuated by chants of ‘Ruuuuuude Boyyyyzzz’.

  • Dave Wakeling of The Beat at Camden Roundhouse
  • Dave Wakeling of The Beat at Camden Roundhouse
  • Dave Wakeling of The Beat at Camden Roundhouse
  • Dave Wakeling of The Beat at Camden Roundhouse

A powerful and surprisingly gritty Two Swords – a thoughtful song about confronting fascism – leads the encore, before Wakeling shares an anecdote about meeting Smokey Robinson at a Grammy’s party.

Wakeling’s kind words to the Motown legend are rewarded with a generous hug.

“And it went on and it went on, and it got a bit awkward,” the frontman remembers,” Christopher Cross had to break us up like a referee.

“I loved Smokey and after that I think it’s fair to say Smokey loved me,” the singer jokes before breaking into The Beat’s ska-tinged version of Tears of a Clown.

A cover of the Desmond Dekker-penned Jackpot gives us a last chance to get a bit of skanking in before heading out into the heat of the night.

A shameless nostalgia-fest to be sure, but the quality of the songwriting shines on through the passing years.

  • For more about The English Beat with Dave Wakeling visit their website here
  • For more about Bow Wow Wow with Annabella Lwin head to her official site

And if you want to know what all the fuss was about in the ’80s check out the videos below.

The Beat - Mirror In The Bathroom (Top Of The Pops 1980)
Bow Wow Wow - From the Vaults /Go Wild in the Country

About the author

Full time journalist, music lover (obvs) and truly terrible guitarist. You can find Matt on twitter @matcatch

Leave a Reply