How We Met: Jim McCarthy & Jah Wobble

'You meet a lot of sanctimonious people in recovery. But we'd genuinely both been to the edge'


Jim McCarthy, 52, is a comic-book artist and author. He worked on 2000 AD for 10 years and has published graphic biographies of Eminem, Kurt Cobain, Tupac Shakur and the Sex Pistols. He lives in Sussex

We almost met before we actually did. I used to play a lot of drums as a kid back in the late 1970s, and I saw an advert that John Lydon put in the Melody Maker for a drummer for Public Image Ltd. I was getting very excited about going up to audition and I would have met John [Wardle, Jah Wobble's real name] then, but on the day of the audition it got cancelled. I was gutted.

So John and I didn't actually meet until 1986, in very different circumstances. We were both going through a lot of trouble with alcohol and drugs, and we hit rock-bottom at about the same time. We met in a self-help recovery group in London. I immediately felt a kinship with him, because he was so serious, as serious about his recovery as he was about his music. Getting well and getting off substances was his only objective. And it was mine too. But he seemed quite well-balanced, considering, and we were really into a lot of the same music. So we started hanging out quite a bit. I was living in Deptford and he would come over to my council flat.

He ended up being the subject of my first published piece, which was in the same year. It was a feature called "Jah Wobble Invades This Space". At the time he was quite a tough character, well-known for punching people's lights out, so we took a picture of him cuddling this ridiculous teddy in a clown's outfit.

Now he's turned up again in my new book, which is a graphic biography of the Sex Pistols. He's on the first page, along with John Lydon, John Ritchie [Sid Vicious] – all the Johns. He was very helpful, sorting the myths and the bullshit from the truth about that era. I think he's a really important artist. He's still doing new things, he's not just rehashing the same old stuff. He's invented his own musical universe and stayed true to it. I'd say he's like our English Miles Davis.

We've both been clean and sober for 23 years. We have kind of an eternal friendship. He's one of those people you could not see for 10 years and then when you next do it's as if it's only been a day. We talk on the phone for hours sometimes, and last year I had a particularly tough head-trip and called him up, and he understood. With some people in recovery, you can't really talk openly about everything. With John you can. He knows the dark sides of his character, but also the light.

Jah Wobble, 50, was the original bassist in Public Image Ltd, which formed when the Sex Pistols fragmented. He has since collaborated with musicians including Brian Eno, Massive Attack and Sinead O'Connor. He lives in Cheshire with his daughter and his wife, the guzheng player Zi Lan Liao

You meet a lot of people in recovery who you think, "OK, I take your word for it that you were a drug addict, an alcoholic, but you don't look like one to me." Well, that wasn't how it was with Jim. We both knew we'd come pretty close to the edge. We absolutely went down the road of excess and, as [William] Blake says, that hopefully leads to the palace of wisdom.

There were all these people there who'd become sanctimonious and bland; they'd wail about wrestling with their anger. Deptford Jim, as I knew him then, retained this tremendous appetite for experiencing life. He wasn't afraid to fail. When I was talking about writing my autobiography, he would say, "Go on, why are you still talking about it? Just write it!"

I was very happy around that time but I needed to get out of the music scene for a bit – and I needed money – so I worked for London Underground for a few months. I loved driving a Tube. Once I got on the PA system during rush hour and said: "I used to be somebody. I repeat, I used to be somebody."

We lost touch for a bit, but we got to know each other again six or seven years ago. These days we talk about American DVD boxsets. I used to say, "I don't watch television. I read books and go to the pictures, thank you very much." But he turned me on to The Wire, Six Feet Under, all of those. I don't tend to like talking about my taste, but I find I can with him.

And he rubs off like that on everyone. We went to this gaff I know in the East End a while back; it's run by this gorgeous, voluptuous woman that all the sad old geezers just die for. And Jim noticed she was reading this music biography and wandered over and started talking to her about it. He brought her over and I ended up not getting a word in all lunch. At the end she told me, "Your mate's really nice". He has a kind of childlike enthusiasm. I think that's part of what people like about him. He's easy to talk to.

I hope he thinks the same about me. He's one of two or three people, when the chips are down, who I'll talk to. With him, I don't have to pretend I'm something I'm not. That's nice.

Jah Wobble plays Bush Hall, London W12, tonight; tickets from 08700 600 100. See 30hertzrecords.com for further tour details.

Jim McCarthy's 'Sex Pistols: The Graphic Novel' is out now, published by Omnibus

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests