Jah Wobble – diamond geezer

November 15, 2010

I’ve always liked Jah Wobble. I thought he was the true talent in PiL – just listen to the bass in Careering or Poptones if you don’t agree. I’ve seen him live a few times over the last 30 years – mostly by accident. I saw him at a free festival in Belgium in the early 80’s (I’m embarrassed to admit I’d trekked there to see the Sisters of Mercy). I caught him  at Womad ten years later, and again as part of an On-U Soundclash with Tackhead. Everytime I was mesmerised by his deep dubby bass – a physical sound that hit you somewhere in the solar plexus- and his matter of fact stage presence.

I’ve just finished his book – Memoirs of a Geezer – which has to be one of the most honest, thoughtful and least self-aggrandising rock autobiogs I’ve read.  Yes, there are the usual tales of booze, drugs and self destruction, but the writing is raw, honest and full of self knowledge. There is no glorification of the (very) bad behaviour, or self pity either. Wobble is a man at peace with himself and his past.

He’s an iconoclast too – no reputation is unscathed. Lydon is portrayed as paranoid, scheming and putulant; Joolz Holland is quite rightly trashed and Sean Hughes (remember him) is literally slapped. Even that most sacred of cows, Brian Eno, doesn’t escape. Wobble is no respecter of reputations:

“I’m Jah Wobble, a geezer. I come from Stepney, East London; I’m one of the chaps. I’m  totally different kettle of fish and I haven’t got time for all that nonsense”

Like Wobble, I grew up in a tough working class area, so I can empathise with his struggle between keeping loyal to your working class friends and roots and the spiritual growth that comes with being a ‘seeker’. Wobble’s internal struggles saw him descend into booze and substance addiction and drove him to the edge of the abyss. Typically, it was honest work that pulled him away from the edge – a job on the London Underground helped straighten himself out.

Read this book, it’s an inspiration. But listen to his music too. There’s so much of it. He has a huge back catalogue, but a good place to start is the anthology ‘I Could Have Been a Contender”, on Trojan.  The highlight of a career of highlights is ‘Gone to Croatian” – a collaboration with Material man Bill Lasswell –  that stands alongside Coltrane’s A Love Supreme or Miles’ Shh Peaceful in the canon or great spiritual music.

Genius is a word that is thrown around far too often – but Mr Wobble, you certainly are sir. And a likeable one too. Diamond geezer.

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