It’s hard to keep up with Jah Wobble, the artist formerly known as John Wardle, who revolutionised bass playing on the first two albums by Public Image Limited. Since then, apart from a stint working on London Underground in the mid-1980s, Wobble pretty much hasn’t stopped, releasing a phenomenally prolific array of albums that take in a dazzlingly diverse set of styles.
On the back of Wobble’s current tour with the latest edition of his Invaders from the Heart ensemble, who play dates in Edinburgh and Glasgow this weekend, the now 61-year-old east Londoner is about to release two very different albums. The first, Acid Punk Dub Apocalypse, is a collaboration with Killing Joke bassist turned producer, Youth. The second, Ocean Blue Waves, was recorded with the Invaders from the Heart.
Wobble has also just released the tellingly named single, A Very British Coup, with a post-punk supergroup featuring his former comrades in PiL, guitarist Keith Levene and drummer Richard Dudanski, plus Pop Group vocalist Mark Stewart and the ubiquitous Youth at the helm. Then there are the forthcoming live dates playing with The Orb, and his love of painting, with many of his canvases of high rises seen in several exhibitions.
Wobble isn’t interested in talking about any of that, however. Back in his London manor for a few days away from his Stockport home, he would much rather natter on about Tuned In, the project he’s been doing with Merton Council for the last year. A couple of days a week, Wobble leads a series of sessions at local libraries, where older people from the neighbourhood can learn an instrument and exercise while meeting new people.
“My idea,” says Wobble, “was to get lots of lonely people sitting up in their tower blocks, who are really socially isolated, and get them out doing something. The punk generation are getting older now, and I just thought, if I want to do some good before I go – not that I’m intending going anywhere just yet – but to do something good – not like some nineteenth century philanthropist – then I should do it now.
“Basically, you look at your life, and you ask yourself, have I been selfish, and in the game I’m in you can get very self-centred, and the more self-centred you are, the worse it gets, where on the other hand, the more concerned for others you are, the better you feel.”
Wobble has been working with Merton’s head of library services, Anthony Hopkins – “Not that one, although I did meet the other one once.”
This Anthony Hopkins was awarded a British Empire Medal for services to libraries, so Wobble is in good company.
“He’s a good South London lad,” he says. “I go down on a Monday, and go in and jam with them all. And I love libraries. I got sacked from a job in the library when I was fifteen for doing yoga and talking to the customers. A lot of old Jewish guys used to come in and argue, and I loved it. They’d get stuck in, and have completely diametrical views, and then go away again as friends. There were the Tankies as well, who were supporters of Stalin. But after thirty-three years without a drink, if I’m in a library now, all I want to do is read. These places are important. It’s all about people.”
This last phrase could apply to everything Wobble has done, from his early stint with PiL on the band’s First Edition and Metal Box albums, through collaborations with a who’s who of avant-rock luminaries. These include early forays with bass player Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Leibzeit, both of German iconoclasts Can, through to working with numerous world music luminaries as well as the likes of American bassist Bill Laswell and ambient pianist Harold Budd.
Much of this is touched on in Memoirs of a Geezer: Music, Life, Mayhem, Wobble’s free-wheeling autobiography published in 2009. The book also takes in his early life growing up in Stepney, his battle with the bottle and eventual acceptance of himself en route to happiness with his musician wife Zi Lan Liao and what he calls his current purple creative patch.
Audiences got a hint of Wobble’s state of bliss when he brought the Invaders of the Heart to Edinburgh’s Bongo Club a couple of years ago for what was in part a greatest hits set of sorts. This drew from material from his time with PiL and 1990s world music hits with Sinead O’Connor mixed and matched with new material and a couple of film soundtrack covers.
This approach was previewed on Wobble’s 2017 The Usual Suspects album. Live, it is
emboldened even more by Wobble’s quasi music hall mix of patter and shaggy dog stories. This time out promises something similar, but with material from Ocean Blue Waves and the tellingly named Acid Punk Dub Apocalypse woven in. The latter record features appearances from dancehall star Hollie Cook, Alex Paterson of The Orb and writer and doyen of post-punk London Vivien Goldman, as well as younger artists including Rhiannon, Lara Smiles and Aurora Dawn. All of which sums up Wobble’s restlessness as much as his current blessed state.
“I’m a guy who likes to mooch about,” he says. “I’m a moocher, but you’ve got to be sensible. These days for me it’s a bit of meditation, a bit of pilates, a bit of yoga, and that’s it. There’s some mad crazy stuff going on in the world just now, and you have to carry on through all that and not be taken in by some of the stuff that’s being said. Every night I’ve got to do my best and give a good show, and you’ve got to be generous. It’s important to be like that and give something back.”
Jah Wobble & The Invaders of the Heart appear at La Belle Angele, Edinburgh tomorrow, and The Garage G2 - The Attic, Glasgow, tomorrow. Acid Punk Dub Apocalypse by Youth Meets Jah Wobble is released on Youth Sounds/Cadiz Music on February 28. Ocean Blue Waves by Jah Wobble & The Invaders of the Heart is released on March 27.
The Herald, February 6th 2020