FROM MU TO MILLER
A Review and Interview with Jah Wobble, The Venue, London, January 25th 2019
Wobble takes to the stage and for a moment, it’s standup;
‘The band’s too expensive’, with a mischievous glint, he explains.
And so an opening limerick comes, concerned with a rock star’s indulgence,
Before the deep colour of his God bothering bass paints the stage.
One by one, they appear, The Invaders of the Heart, like blood pulsing,
Coming in on the backbeat that now proudly strides to the front,
Across the musical plain, the bass is the lion king of the jungle,
With rhythm guitar as the ‘meerkat,’ here is the cat for sound killing,
At the root of it all, the top cunt. His bass focuses, as if we were
Adjusting the lens while we’re filming; sharper than stars, the earth rumble
Allows the rest of the band to locate across the song’s sweet terrain,
From new opening track, to known reggae, at which an older Jamaican woman
Starts dancing. Having never heard Wobble before, her joy shakes.
So, here is Wobble as host, ghosting in both sheen and intro
The cheek and charm of Max Miller, the former cockney prince
That Jah is, and has been since the start, by taking the stuttering PiL
That transformed him, from Stockhaused teenager to dub infused globalist.
That journey is felt as we move from limerick to transcendence,
From reggae mashup to Visions of You and Beyond.
Wobble takes us to God, by way of The Chain and Get Carter,
From spunk, spit and vim, straight to spirit, channelled and fused
Through each song. One hears this young band with its guiding leader
And welcomes at once the invasion of rhythm and rock, dub and funk,
The earth dances beneath with the walls and room, extra speakers,
Celebrating through volume the transformations in music that no other
Form of art can confront. The songs stop and start at a number of points
To show timing, that once defined comics in their transference of the joke.
Wobble’s music does this as he invokes the music hall in his hailing
Of all that is holy through the roguish disguise of a bloke.
He is a product of working class London who rose to a place beyond
Definition. His flow of music is a renewal of life, from the styx,
Death’s ancient stream, from which he has revived new excursions
Along with fresh tastes to savour, releasing sparked soundscapes
In the intervals marked by drumsticks. Tonight’s show is a dream
For an audience, slightly older. What looks like Lecturers with wives, girlfriends,
Are returned at once to their youth, when they boarded the train Wobble drove
Along the Experience Line far beneath us, chasing sensation,
And the sonic imprint of found truth. It’s a perfect show. You laugh, dance,
And watch, astounded at the dexterity and the power of four strings
Played by prized fingers that are grandly echoed by the band’s hands behind
From the spirit led Mu of the past,
Through the welcoming chimes of lost laughter,
Jah Wobble rings changes, as struck cowbells shimmer,
Siren calls for ascension, as each listening heart starts to rise.
David Erdos, January 27th 2019
DAVID ERDOS. That was a remarkable show, and as opposed to a greatest hits thing; a kind of micro, or even macrocosm – as it was a full two hours – for your entire career. Did it feel like that? Are you seeing all your work when you do a show like that?
JAH WOBBLE. There’s an energy there, there’s a creative energy – that just comes in..maybe that’s not an energy of mind, maybe that’s some kind of karmac formation, from some other consciousness.. you can’t really say its you. I mean, we’re not us in this life, if you know what I mean. So I do feel that, yeah and thinking back, I know I was fortunate at that time with what helped form me and what I’ve been able to carry on. The soil was very fertile. With punk and the way British society was in the seventies, it became entirely possible for me to start to do something.
DAVID ERDOS. Right, because to me it makes you and I realise you might not like the word, one of the most progressive figures..
JAH WOBBLE. Well, yeah, you know, I’ve just always kind of moved forward.
DAVID ERDOS. Yes, because you say in Memoirs of a Geezer that you were very bored with punk very early on..
JAY WOBBLE. Oh, yeah, but you see, I never thought it was anything other than boring, the music – apart from the Buzzcocks, and the Spiral Scratch EP that I really liked. The Sex Pistols were good. But there wasn’t much else. I actually thought the music as a whole was very square and old fashioned. The attitude was very brazen, revolutionary, but the music was like, very square rock n’ roll.
DAVID ERDOS. I think we’re now living in an age of non-sustainable talents, and the vital voices that we’ve lost over the last few years have not been replaced. I don’t even see how they can be. Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Harold Pinter, Heathcote Williams. I mean I should say I’m from a theatre background..
JAH WOBBLE. Oh, so you must know about Steven.. oh, what’s…?
DAVID ERDOS. Berkoff
JAH WOBBLE. Yeah.
DAVID ERDOS. Another great son of Stepney..!
JAH WOBBLE (LAUGHS)
DAVID ERDOS. Yeah, so to me these are all vital voices and in music, you’re one of the only figures I can think of that’s out there advancing the form to such an extent with two or three albums a year. And blending traditions. I mean tonight was like Max Miller meets dub with that mix of downright entertainment along with the covering of so much musical ground in terms of both scope and prowess..
JAH WOBBLE. Thanks Dave, yeah. Well I think the music hall sort of creeps in because I’m so aware of that tradition, so you kind of end up honouring that.
DAVID ERDOS. Do you see yourself as a ‘son of the east end,’ actively wanting to celebrate and represent that tradition?
JAY WOBBLE. Yeah, I think it’s kind of developed over the years. You run a band and you’ve got to put a show on. Sometimes you’ll be doing something that’s more art orientated and you realise you can’t let that east end persona get in the way and overdo it, but for this show, it’s a big show and it’s about drawing people together and I’ve seen how much people like it.
DAVID ERDOS. It brings them in, balances them..
JAH WOBBLE. Yeah.
DAVID ERDOS. To the core of you and then the comic touches you use form a great contrast with everything else. The music is able to reach out and extend through them..
JAY WOBBLE. Exactly.
DAVID ERDOS. Because, what struck me was the range of the show..from opening with a limerick (from JW’s poetry collection, Odds, Sods and Epilogues ) to the spiritual pieces like Visions of You and Take me to God. The journey is so striking. If I had to sort of distill you down to say, an old fashioned ep of 3 tracks, I’d choose my personal favourite – which I think represents that ambient, transcendant side – Alsema Dub, then to show the bass led power and ingenuity of the band and some of the past, Strut (from Wobble and Keith Levene’s Yin and Yang album) and A Very British Coup which I think is instantly one of your most important songs.
JAH WOBBLE. When we laid the backing track down a couple of years ago I said to Youth, ‘this is special.’ I mean, I do a million bass-lines, but this had that lilt to it and you know something of the punk thing, that oppositional thing..
DAVID ERDOS. And then the transcendance coupled with these hugely important statements..
JAH WOBBLE. Plus, it’s catchy. It’s like the best of Public Image. It’s a good bedrock for a pop style approach.
DAVID ERDOS. Mark Stewart’s lyric is extraordinary, this litany of corrupted and corrupting images..
JAH WOBBLE. The whole things comes across really really well and it caught something – when you think Brexit was brewing up..
DAVID ERDOS. So, do you think it’s possible, despite the fact of having a wide fanbase – though I suppose I mean this in a more general sense – to make a big statement to large groups of people anymore, because of the belligerance and ignorance that we’re now surrounded by?
JAH WOBBLE. Oh, well, you know, you’ll get attacked everywhere, and we all get trolled on social media. I mean, I happen to be a –
DAVID ERDOS. Me too.
JAH WOBBLE. I think Brexit’s fucking ridiculous.
DAVID ERDOS. Absolutely, when they have to spend ten quid for six eggs in the corner shop then they’ll realise what they think they voted for..
JAH WOBBLE. I think they’re all so fucking dim, that’s the problem. I mean there’s the privately educated and then the rest of us. I saw my generation start to get very lost in the 90s, you know, because they were old Labour. A lot of my old mates were old Labour. Proper socialists. Shop stewards. Now they’re all fucking UKIP. They don’t know where to go.
DAVID ERDOS. Or how to resist effectively.
JAH WOBBLE. Right. And they’re resentful. They don’t want to change their mind. They just want out! Why? What’s the EU done to you? Name one little thing its done to you. But you could count any number of things the British Government has done to you that has attacked or altered or ruined your way of life. And I know the EU isn’t perfect.
DAVID ERDOS. But what is?
JAH WOBBLE. It’s just fucking business. It’s like being in the Mafia and trying to leave it. And I’m sure Brexiteers would probably love that analogy..but then you’re left trying to swim in a sea of mafias, so you have to be careful; You don’t just leave a mob. You don’t ever leave easy. So, all this on so many levels is just stupid and I knew at the time this would be very hard to achieve without taking somebody’s liver out or something. There’s going to major health issues involved.
DAVID ERDOS. For the body politic..
JAH WOBBLE. Too fucking right! But with the track, even before the guitar went down and the looped drums, I could hear it. Just that the first basic mix. It’s a hit. Everyone’s saying it. And then when I heard Mark’s vocal and lyric, it just captures that zeitgeist and how it refers to certain right wing elements like that ERG group, you know..just the power of it..
DAVID ERDOS. What’s your hope for it then, in terms of its commercial life or effect?
JAH WOBBLE. Lots of people like it. But I don’t know. I mean, do you have hit singles anymore?
DAVID ERDOS. It’s dead all that, isn’t it? So I mean, are you prepared or would you even want to make the compromise to get it across to those who won’t get the chance to hear it? To me its an active call if not to revolution, then to wake the fuck up. It should be on constant rotation from lifts to the fucking One Show!
JAH WOBBLE. No, I don’t have those kind of hopes. We’d never get near that fucking shit. I feel like, you know a musician like me is like one of those Amercian death row inmates in a way: ‘you ain’t got nuthin’ coming muthafucker!’ And that’s fine. I can deal with that. I’m tough. So I can come and do these shows and we do what we have to do, but you know, with the establishment, or radio, god knows. There’s one or two good DJs on BBC Radio 6.. but in one way, this track resonates with so many people that we know we’re on the right way.
DAVID ERDOS. If not wave..
JAH WOBBLE. Especially people of a different age. I mean my son’s on it, my younger boy. He plays Chinese violin. Er-hu. And he likes it. And he’s got a record deal that stands in comparison with mine. He plays traditional Chinese stuff, but he also raps and sings and does r n’ b and hip-hop. Somebody saw him on instagram and he got a deal. Great little footballer too. He was a professional footballer for a while. He’s one of these all action figures.
DAVID ERDOS. A plate of chips off the old block..
JAH WOBBLE. He plays keyboards, does all this stuff and ofcourse to him, things are as they are. He hasn’t got a time to compare it to. So this is it. This is music. And there he is with this good record deal. And my older boy, he plays drums with me on sessions now, and he can really play. They’re both top musicians and they said, you know that’s a great mix. It captures a very real zeitgeist as there is a very British Coup going on..
DAVID ERDOS. Absolutely: threatening us as the song calls for us to mount our own…
JAH WOBBLE. Absolutely..
DAVID ERDOS. So, do you feel like you have to be a kind of elder statesman now at a time when there are none in politics..
JAH WOBBLE. I know what you mean but I don’t think you can be as everything’s just up for grabs now.
DAVID ERDOS. So, where do you think we are then in terms of opposition and how that goes on to define itself?
JAH WOBBLE. Well, you know I’m not mad on Corbyn and all that. It’s started to smack of student politics. I’m a Socialist. I stood on Picket lines. I was out there in the heat of battle in the 70s and 80s. I was out there protesting about Murdoch and us letting someone like that gain control. And so now here all his papers keep pushing us towards Brexit. But back then, I was picketing for the Print workers, even if some of them – the unions – had to be selfish at times to protect their positions.. but I was more concerned with protesting about the bad stuff that was going to happen in the future. And so it’s come to pass. Brexit is basically the end; the end days.
DAVID ERDOS. Absolutely. We’re just the lemmings now, falling off the cliff. Its just about how long it takes until we hit the water..
JAH WOBBLE. Exactly. Its the end game of forty years bullshit of freemarket economics, morally redundant attitudes, the whole ‘there is no society’ Thatcherite creed.. especially when you consider the pathetic opposition to her in the early 80s, that she was able to trample on..
DAVID ERDOS. Yeah, I think you could feel something change in people in the wake of her. It was practically old testament, as well as being an act of necromancy in which everything inside of the so called human spirit folded..
JAH WOBBLE. Yeah..
DAVID ERDOS. Do you see limited forms, as someone whose music embraces so many genres, styles and ethnicities but houses them all in that kind of embrace that dub gives, especially placing the bass as the heart of the sound right there in the foreground, as necessary? There’s no sense of constraint?
JAH WOBBLE. No. All you can ever do is reform I think and adjust your position. High truths are what matter. You have to be very careful not to invest all your hope in a song, person or movement..
DAVID ERDOS. Tell that to the Christians!
JAH WOBBLE. Exactly! You need a sense of spaciousness.
DAVID ERDOS. And that’s what’s great about you. You find a way, musically to shelter and expand those forces that reshape lines of emotion or reaction. And you avoid that issue that haunts musicians of sounding po-faced or hypocritical or naieve..
JAH WOBBLE. Well, that’s it, yeah. Brexit’s sucking everyone in and dragging them down with it. It’s a fucking titanic. Humour is the great antidote, as we all know. The Marx brothers were the greatest anarchists I think.
DAVID ERDOS. Absolutely.
JAH WOBBLE. A Very British Coup is a great song. I love it. I believe in it. But we all have to be careful because if you pin yourself to a specific movement you’re going to have a shelf life. We’re all going to die of course, but that spaciousness, that relaxation is as important as any other element.
DAVID ERDOS. Which brings me back to transcendence. My absolute favourite album of yours and you say its actually yours too in the autobiography, is Radio Axiom with Bill Laswell – with whom you’ve just done a new album – and that record is transportative in a divine way. Is there a true side to you musically, one aspect that is greater than the others?
JAH WOBBLE. Well, its like a diamond isn’t it? We’re all multi-faceted, while we search for whatever we’re looking for. We’re all part of what the Buddhists call Samsara. When you realise that the roots of Nirvana are actually in Samsara, it all opens up. If you look at it in a purified way the Samsara you’re in becomes nirvana.
DAVID ERDOS. That’s amazing.
JAH WOBBLE. It’s a crucial step. We format the world and need to take in each aspect of it as we do so. Adopt one stand only without considering the effects of the others and you’re on a shaky ground…
DAVID ERDOS. Near-vana but not on it..
JAH WOBBLE. Like Brexit! We can’t just define ourselves by conflict and be anti-Brexit. It has to be almost alchemic, malleable, just like those changings, or transference of metals.
DAVID ERDOS. Right.. and that conflict came about as the whole thing became the first time in modern British history when people actually had to declare what they thought rather than hide under the …
JAH WOBBLE. The bullshit that came out of the second world war. It’s all people my age, who didn’t live through the war..living under the illusions of England and English exceptionalism. This belief in the idea of some long failed empire..I mean you have a system of apartheid in this country, educationally, so once you have that, you’re fucked. You’ve got these public school boys, Cameron, Johnson, they’re the fucking enemy, these old Etonians – they don’t care because they’re so removed from it. Its a kind of abstract to them. So they can use it to benefit their own ambitions. I’ve known a few people like that. Coming into music I met some of these posh boys. Some of them were very nice. Angus McKinnon who worked for the NME. John Savage is a friend of mine. I’ve worked with Peter Gabriel. Brian Eno, who’s actually a pretty normal guy, you know.. his dad was a postman. But there’s these Etonians – Johnson – they’re something else. Rees-Mogg.
DAVID ERDOS. Give me the gun..
JAH WOBBLE. They’re in overdrive now. They use Brexit because its a mirror, so they try to push it further away, and stir up this panic and frenzy around it. I wonder if it’s all to do with investment money..
DAVID ERDOS. I’m sure it is. As we seal the state, the offshore needs looking after..
JAH WOBBLE. And then all the nebulous stuff that comes with it.
DAVID ERDOS. Oh, yeah. I mean, I’m what they call a bacon bagel jew, but I can already see and feel the tremours return as the far right rise rears up on cue..
JAH WOBBLE. Yeah. I remember all this in the east end, with anti-Semitism from the hard right and the hard left. I’m very disappointed by this jewish conspiracy. I thought they’d have control of it by now! And then there’s the Corbyn thing..
DAVID ERDOS. Yeah, and that’s an example of the ignorance that spreads like oily marg on a good old English crumpet, he’s not anti-jewish, he’s anti-israel. I’m anti-Israel!
JAH WOBBLE. All the denial is bullshit. It’s all still there focusing attention away.
DAVID ERDOS. So where do you see it all going now?
JAH WOBBLE. Well, they say you can predict everything but the future. I remember thinking back and hating all that stuff with Thatcher wiping the floor with Michael Foot in the 80s. Something got missed. People lost heart. I can trace it back to the heart attack and death of John Smith.
DAVID ERDOS. I’ve said the same thing many times. That marked the end of reasonable British politics for me. There would have been, even on the tritest of levels, something brilliant about having a British prime minister called John Smith!
JAH WOBBLE (LAUGHS) Yes, it all spiralled from there. Everything used to stem from constituencies around Essex but when New Labour, in making their compromises lost touch with the industrial class. It ultimately leaves an absence that creates Brexit, which is insane.
DAVID ERDOS. Its like scraping a wound. Eventually the skin gives way.
(Take up your arms, people!)
JAH WOBBLE. Pleasure, mate. Stick around.
David Erdos, January 25th 2019