Tuesday, July 29, 2014


John Wardle. You've never heard of him, have you? However you may well be forgiven for that, as I suspect there are few, apart from his mother and various aunties, who still call him that, as he has spent most of the last 30 plus years with the somewhat more grandiose name of Jah Wobble. I appreciate that, stateside, that may still be a name less well known, but he oughtn't to be, as he is that rarity, a true enthusiast who has steadfastly ploughed his own furrow, exploring the wider frontiers of dubby bass motifs across any number of genres, and been allowed to. The only remotely similar reference would be Bill Laswell, who has been doing the same with his bass guitar across a similar time period. (Perhaps unsurprisingly they have worked together, of which more later.)

A schoolboy contemporary of both Johns, Lydon (nee Rotten) and Ritchie (aka Sid Vicious), he was an early consideration for replacing Glen Matlock in the Sex Pistols, before that particular job went to Ritchie, but he did hook up with Lydon eventually, in the first incarnation of Public Image Limited. Having been bowled over by the playing of Aston "Family Man" Barrett of Bob Marley's Wailers, reggae, and in particular, dub, was always a hefty part of his style. Indeed, he was one of the audience, apparently, at Marley's legendary Live at the Lyceum recording of 1975, along with the other hundreds of thousands who claim to have been in this small dance hall, capacity 2,100, that night.

After a clash of the usual musical differences, fuelled by substantive substance abuse issues, Wobble left P.I.L. in 1980 to start his body of solo material, coming into contact with various ex-members of Can along the way, collaborating therewith, picking up much of their freestyle experimental vibe. His first successful venture was as the bandleader of the Invaders of the Heart, which plunged the evanescent world music genre into a melting pot with dub and mystical overtones. With a central core of Wobble, Can metronome Jaki Liebeszeit on drums and current Robert Plant sidesman Justin Adams on guitar, live and studio performances were augmented by whomsoever had a broad enough palette to be involved, from pedal steel maestro B.J. Cole to the singers Sinead O'Connor, Natacha Atlas and Dolores O'Riordan. Further scuffles with drink and drugs necessitated a period away from and disillusionment with music, spending some years as a station announcer for the London Underground, where his deadpan vocal fitted the part perfectly.

1986 saw sobriety beckon and a return to music, now with a dedication encroaching on obsession, bringing his basso profundo into all and any genre previously untouched, from folk to free jazz, Chinese Chamber Music to dance/electronica. Collaborations with Bill Laswell were, unsurprisingly very, very heavy on the lower registers.

I first saw the Invaders of the Heart at Glastonbury in, I think, 1994, astonished at the prescient pulse of the band, a good decade ahead of the now routine meshing and melding of almost counter-intuitive musical paradoxities. Since then I have picked up a number of his recordings, and his discography is immense, never being disappointed if sometimes a little bemused. Somehow he has also managed to study and attain a degree in Humanities, at Birkbeck College in London, as well as write book reviews, poetry and a volume of autobiography.

Bringing him right up to date, he has recently revisited his P.I.L era work, as a duo with his erstwhile colleague therein, guitarist Keith Levene, not necessarily to Mr Lydons pleasure, he also out on the road with a similar project. And only this month he has brought out "Jah Wobble presents PJ Higgins", a vehicle to promote the eponymous Dub Colossus vocalist. I bought it last week and it is typically marvellous.

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