Jah Wobble thudded into the public consciousness in a flurry of violence. He reportedly pulled a knife on NME's Nick Kent while Sid Vicious chain-whipped him, and was part of the mêlée when the Sex Pistols threatened Bob Harris's life. Without abandoning his bouts of drunken wildness, his friendship with John Lydon then bore more lasting fruit, as his bass powered the first two PiL albums, massive landmarks that helped add dub spaciousness to punk's serrated edge.
Wobble's Damascene conversion from his alcoholic self-destruction (and just plain destruction) came in the bowels of the London Underground, where he worked in the late 1980s, getting himself straight. Resurfacing in the 1990s with the loose collective Invaders of the Heart, he has tethered music from around the world to his relentless bass; part of a spiritual and sonic quest unguessable from his early mayhem, but still informed by its dark, worldly lessons.
To launch a triple-CD retrospective, I Could Have Been a Contender, Wobble has assembled guests from all sides of this strangely central career. With Wobble himself sitting back on his chair, gently rocking like some venerable bluesman, English folk singer Liz Carter is first in the spotlight. The point of Wobble's music is made straight from the start, as Eastern drumming, electric explosions, Arabic bagpipes, deep dub reverb and his own jazzy bass build easily on Carter's English roots: everything is mixed, but nothing debased, a musical lesson in multi-ethnic utopia.
Wobble takes the mic himself for his biggest hit, the confessional "Visions of You", claiming in a croaking voice to be "no longer drenched in shame". But his role here is as open-hearted catalyst, not star. With the expansive, slow-building dub structure of each song, and the potential for this Hoxton club's crowd to drift to the bar, Wobble injects bursts of purpose. Just as I'm drifting off myself, he stalks across the stage to smash things into focus, as the band speed into pell-mell rock'n'roll, and Wobble mouths a silent roar. This climax then gives space for veteran trumpeter Harry Beckett to solo soulfully, as if on a lost Miles Davis dub album.
Seconds later, Beckett is riding hard blasts of some kind of post-punk Arabic blaxploitation funk. Even the arrival of Laos's cowbell-clinking Molam Lao Group swiftly hardens into stereotype-shattering aggression, as the female singer's voice ricochets off the walls. "Completely dub the thing up, mate," Wobble exhorts the sound-man. "It's only music. It's not precious - it's not china." Instantly, the bass doubles to chest-whacking volume, as ex-Clash DJ Scratchy adds some reggae toasting. At the end, Wobble is left with his drummer, tapping out a tribal beat, the root of everything he's done. He has battered some barriers, again.Reuse content