The World According To Jah Wobble

"The music business has become dull," says Jah Wobble. "It's like one big heritage site. I avoid it like the plague because it's full of businessmen bores, a lot of whom are too old to try anything else. It's a dead zone."

"The music business has become dull," says Jah Wobble. "It's like one big heritage site. I avoid it like the plague because it's full of businessmen bores, a lot of whom are too old to try anything else. It's a dead zone."

So speaks a man who has spent almost four decades in the industry after having met John Lydon and Sid Vicious at London's Kingsway College in 1973. Jah Wobble (born John Wardle) found himself in the thick of it, ready to sound the punk alarm for a society beginning a steep descent towards the here and now.

During punk rock's mid-to-late '70s heyday, Wobble earned himself a wild man reputation and when Lydon asked him to join Public Image Limited (aka PiL) in 1978, Wobble's distinctive bass playing became the backbone of the band's sound.

The long Wobble haul through music has seen him work with Baaba Maal, Björk, Primal Scream, Brian Eno, Sinead O'Connor, The Edge and Chaka Demus & Pliers, while he became a well-respected session musician steeped in world music. One might surmise that what he has become is a far cry from his punk days, but it is all of a piece. Underlying the geezer image was a soul of focus and cerebration.

Stepney-born Wobble has seen the face of London change and age. It's a city of facelifts and dissipation, a city in flux whose power is on the wane. He says: "There's a precedent to what has happened to London, and it's called Manhattan. The gentrification of areas like the Lower East Side made the locals resentful of newcomers who had bought into the marketing of real estate agents who resold rundown areas as urban and edgy. This happened to East London.

"The old East End culture came from the area's industry, so it was bound to disappear. The docks were never going to survive the days of containerisation." He sighs. "It's just not my patch anymore. Where you go after that is the real challenge."

Wobble lives in Stockport now with his family. "We've been here 15 years. What I like about the north is the dry sense of humour and the down-to-earth nature of people who like to put the kettle on."

His band is also nearby. "How the hell can you make enough money as a musician to survive in London? The money isn't there, so a lot of musicians moved to provincial cities.

"Foreign investment has made London the hip city to go to, but when I go back now, as a ghost in some ways, it seems a city on the wane. At this point, the real creative people move to Berlin. And when I stay in East London, I think 'Who are all these people out on the razzle?' It's become a very British, upmarket version of Blackpool seafront with young people staggering around, holding onto lampposts and being sick. The corner shops are full of people who look like they're in Starsky & Hutch. Bethnal Green Town Hall has been turned into a 5-star hotel. You couldn't make it up! But it's best not to take it too personally."

In 2009, Serpents Tail published Wobble's autobiography Memoirs Of A Geezer, but such a moniker is too archaic a term for a man as curious as he who was also a one-time book reviewer for the Independent on Sunday. "I've always wanted to think about music, to conceptualise it, and you have to be away from the business end of things to do that."

He tells me that our "madcap, unfettered western plutocracy" is something we can't change and which will be our undoing, yet remains something we can only tackle with a sense of humour. "The world is an interesting place and artists have a lot to comment upon. But it comes down to money. You need to get a job to support yourself or, like two centuries ago, find yourself a patron.

"Music is the lowest art form," he laughs. "Even cooking is above music now. I used to feel sorry for painters and actors in rep, but now I feel sorry for musicians because theirs is a hopeless cause. When I was young we had squats to fall back on. But when Thatcher and free market economics came along, I knew it was going to get unpleasant. Today there's a lack of respect for culture and for living a life well. Life's not about whether your car has got a bloody dent in it. Life's about how you live, how you eat."

You might think he has flown the punk coop, but for a discernible vocal heat. "The music business is fake. It's a notch up from the world of porn in terms of how one can sustain psychological damage through fake closeness with people...on the business side of things, of course."

Wobble read humanities and philosophy at Birkbeck College in 1996 and is a true autodidact for which this country has long been renowned. He's got a six-CD box set due out in October called ReDux which is a retrospective of his work and, with a film role in the upcoming Power To The People on the cards alongside the writing of a novel, he's living proof of the righteousness of meritocracy.

But his eye remains on a British social landscape that has been allowed to rust in the sun by politicians content to act like absentee junkyard owners. "There's a system of educational apartheid in this country," he says finally, "which again is the product of a plutocracy. The middle classes of this country have been squeezed, and it's probably there where the revolution will begin. UKIP is just the beginning..."

Follow Jah @realjahwobble

Photograph courtesy of 30 Hertz Records & Cherry Red Records


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