June 18, 2024

Jah Wobble – Live in Leeds – “generous spirit and warm humour”

Live at The Wardrobe, Leeds 24th November 2023

You never know quite what you’re going to get from Jah Wobble. The man has done tours themed around dubbed up versions of Japanese music, Chinese music, dark ambient sounds, jazz and post-punk – the repertoire is broad. Lately he’s been a bit more predictable, using his tightly drilled band to play an eclectic mix of Jazz, World Music and Reggae but recent success with a reworking of Public Image’s Metal Box and a post-punk-themed album have inspired some changes. “There’s no setlist tonight”, says John (John Wardle = Jah Wobble; thanks to a drunk Sid Vicious for the renaming), “we’ll see where we go”. There are certain paths Wobble likes to wander down and he revisits plenty of favourites but his band is always ready to turn fast into a new idea. He didn’t do any of the instant composing I’ve seen him do but he played loosely with his ideas.

There was plenty of Metal Box material but reinvented, some jazz, some reggae and a playful sense of humour. The further the evening went on, the better and warmer it got. From a slightly tired looking man, grumbling about his bass strap and about being sixty-five; playing the bass rapidly turned him into a witty ball of charm. Even when he was doing his trope about the bass being the apex predator of the jungle and the guitar being the meerkat, a twinkle in the eye and a few side-turns in the ideas kept it fresh. This is a man who can mumble about Nietzsche, read a Shakespearean speech over music, while reminiscing about Stepney in a broad Sarf Lahndan accent, scattering it with expletives. Enormously self-aware, he improvises a dialogue between two imaginary fans, one moaning about him playing drums as well as bass, the other gushing about what a talented percussionist he is. Oh and did I mention the bass? Rumbling deep, often simple but always solid and leading a tight band.

John plays this band like an instrument; delightfully jazzy keys, superb drums from long-time co-worker Marc Layton-Bennett and busy guitar from Martin Chung. They are ready for the changes – sudden freezes, stop/starts, intoning lyrics instead of singing, changes of pace, etc. “One, two / one two three four”, says Wobble and the band is off again in a new direction, indicated by some body language or musical clue. Things get reworked – old PIL tracks get read, presented as a speech, played slow or at triple speed, turned slinky or harsh. ‘How Much Are They’ goes all eastern.

Having had two of his sons and his wife open for him with Chinese and Mongolian tunes, it is lovely to see them set up and join in at the end. As they take a few minutes, Wobble starts a quiz; “can anyone guess which person on stage has stolen a car?” (George King plays cheesy quiz keyboards) “It’s not me”, says John, twinkling, “I’ve been a passenger but never stolen a car”. His wife gives him two furiously amused fingers as he grasses her up. And that is not even as smile-inducing as the Chinese-flavoured version of Augustus Pablo’s ‘East Of The River Nile’ that follows.

Wobble is, and remains, a British legend. A fellow traveller of the scene around the Pistols, yet ploughing a unique and wobbly furrow in the decades since, a gig is always a delightful experience, illuminated by his generous spirit and warm humour; particularly tonight, where the three opening tracks see him journey from tired man to playful ball of wit and energy.

You can read some of our other Jah Wobble interviews and reviews below:

See our interview here:

an album review here:

Jah Wobble – ‘A Brief History Of Now’ – “vibrantly vibrating, echoey drummed, psycho-driving chorus, dry and darkly worded songs”

another album review here:

Jah WobbleMetal Box – Rebuilt in Dub

or yet another album review here;

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