Jah Wobble?...who or what the Hell is Jah Wobble?

Posted by Bo Ellegaard on November 23, 2020 0 Comments

Well, please give the man the credit he deserves!
After reading his autobiography "Memoirs Of A Geezer" it is easy to respect Jah Wobble as he invites you into his strange world of music.

If I may pick up on the subject of Public Image Limited/PIL and "This is PIL" from the blog "Free CD with this issue" Jah Wobble(nee John Wardle) was the bass player of the original Public Image Limited- the brainchild of Johnny Rotten (nee John Lydon) who set out to bury the punk legend of The Sex Pistols back in 1978 after their short, chaotic and scandalous stint in the music business and indeed in public.

After the final flogging of this today generally accepted great rock band of the first summer of punk the singer Johnny Rotten had had enough and decided to part company from manager Malcolm McLaren, who went on to manage Bow Wow Wow (remember them?). Johnny Rotten got rid of his rediculous nickname and became John Lydon as he was known to his mother. Then he started looking for musicians who could play the new music that was inside his head?

Before punk there was Hawkwind´s out-there space rock to listen to but also Krautrock and Captain Beefheart´s different kind of blues had fascinated a young Mr. Lydon in the early 70´s London´s Eastend. This unconventional music would be the inspiration for his new outfit.
What was in the making was a deconstruction of rock ´n´ roll as we then knew it so to speak!

Guitarist Keith Levine fresh from helping out The Clash was recruited  and a drummer, Jim Walker was found by advertising in the music press -later on Martin Atkins took over and then John Lydon remembered an old friend, John Wardle, who had been practicing his bass playing at home solely on an amateur basis for his own pleasure.
He passed the audition and was found ok for this new band that was searching for a different sound and also a whole new concept for a rock band reflected in its name. Set up as if they were a company of sorts. The music press didn´t quite get it wheather it was just a band or also a company and the first album by the band/company was called "First Issue" and could be mistaken for a magazine or paper or whatever...

But back to John Wardle. By the way, lest we forget Sid Vicious it was in fact him in a drunken slurr that named John Wardle "Jah Wobble" and the name has stuck ever since...

Jah Wobble had from the start of his career and even before been fascinated by the deep notes he heard on the bass. And he loved reggae music. As you may know the important part of the reggae rhythm is the guitar on the "and"-beats between the 4/4 beats which equally important rests on a repeated bass pattern.
Jah Wobble also fancied what is called "dub" on records of certain reggae artists where an echo continues a piece of melody, a bass line or a beat for ever...

The vast number of  immigrants from the West Indies to England in the 70´s led to a whole new music scene in London and the big towns around England. (This was also seen some years later in the aftermath of punk with UB40 and then ska suddenly invaded the charts with The Specials, The Selecter and Madness)
Bands like Steel Pulse and Aswad were British pioneers and the legendary Bob Marley concert at the Lyceum in London 1975 witnessed on the "Live" album helped to gain interest of reggae music in England.

Jah Wobble had the amateurs enthusiasm, was keen to learn as he went along and had a few unconventional ideas of his own as to what his instrument should bring to PIL´s sound.

This was only present on the first two PIL albums the before mentioned "First Issue" and the Metal Box/Second Edition from 1979/80 as Jah Wobble moved on to play on others albums as well as forming his own bands and solo projects later on.

The Metal Box was three 12" maxis put in a ....you guessed it, metal box, in fact a 16mm film cannister embossed with the brand PIL. This is today considered a masterpiece of post punk and the holy grail for the keen kollektor limited(!) to 60.000 and hard to find these days.
A record cover is often graded regarding creasing, scuffs and other ravages of time here a warning is more appropriate as to which grade of corrosion of the box!!!


Jah Wobble in a case of megalomania, I think, now found that it was time for a solo album. He recorded (and nicked from PIL?) tracks to fill an albums worth of sheer joy (title song) and utter nonsense (a deconstruction of "Blueberry Hill"). The title "...the legend lives on Jah Wobble in Betrayal" says it all!!
On the basis of this album Jah Wobble was either thrown out of PIL or he quitted himself because of the heroin abuse of Keith Levine, alcohol problems within the band and dictatorship of John Lydon. Take your pick!
The album sounded insane in 1980 but heard today it makes perfect sense destilling the various kinds of music spawn by punk in the early years of post-punk add to this a fair amount of dub, bass and also his singing!

Jah Wobble now had the luck to be the man you would call if you needed a deep bass sound. U2´s The Edge and Can´s Holger Czukay used him for the Snake Charmer project as well as Czukay´z other solo projects- among these "On The Way To The Peak Of Normal".
thinking problems caused him to pause his involvement in music getting a dayjob at London Underground to pay the rent. Well known is his legendary announcement over the speakers at Tower Hill Station: "I used to be somebody, I repeat, I used to be somebody" at his musically all time low!!!

On his first solo album "Betrayal" he asks on the back, "Will Jah Wobble ever grow up?" and to this question you must answer today, "Yes!"
He has surely come of age!
Jah Wobble has been a teetotal for many years now and this has helped his musical output considerably! He has had a few bands over the years, Invaders Of The Heart was early World music and also The Chinese Dub Orchestra together with his wife. Recordings with Material´s Bill Laswell and also Sinead O´Connor.
These days he is running his own label "30 Hertz Records" taking care of business himself. He also gives bass clinics and has opinions on other things than music. He speaks in a wonderful Cocney which can be heard on Youtube:


and from his bass tutorial DVD:


Further recommended reading: "Memoirs of a Geezer", The Autobiography of Jah Wobble, Serpents Tail Books, ISBN 978-1846687204


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