Interesting guy. For Viceland.com Blog.
Ley Lines Of Infinity
Jah Wobble played bass with Jonny ‘Rotten’ Lydon in P.I.L. but decided to skip out on that after they made one of the best records of the post-punk era. Jah went on to have a varied solo career in which he worked with all sorts of important people like Brian Eno and Bjork but I suppose having an amazing and in demand bass style must have its downsides as he also had to work with that scary android guy with all the hats from U2 one time and ended up working on the underground in the 80’s. As in the trains underneath London as opposed to some rebel alliance dedicated to fighting the Empire. Although if there was one of those going on he’d probably make a pretty good leader. We caught up with the self styled “cockney mystic” while he was drinking a cup of tea at house in Bethnal Green.
So the new record is out on Trojan, that must be nice, from your name I guess Reggae must be a pretty big deal for you?
Of course, that was the label we all used to check for back in the punk days, one of the first records I ever bought was a Trojan compilation. To be releasing my own work on that label is very much the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition for me. They actually approached me as well which I suppose makes it even better! I have my own label 30hz that I also put stuff out on but yeah to release on Trojan is a pretty big deal.
There are some pretty crazy stories about your P.I.L. days. I once heard that you set Karl Burns from The Fall on fire during the Metal Box sessions.
That isn’t exactly true. Basically there was a lot of craziness involved in that band as you say. During those sessions we’d pretty much all moved into this big old house and someone from the management had got this Space Invaders arcade machine in. This was the 70’s you know and everyone was still crazy over them, especially Karl he loved them. There was a lot of drugs around and I think Karl was on quite a bit of Acid and he been keeping himself up for days with all this speed and well, basically he actually though that he was in the game.
Inside the game?
Yeah, he thought he was a Space Invader. Or whatever the other things are. A spaceship. Yeah, a spaceship, cos the only way we could get near him was by moving side-to-side pretending to be Space Invaders. If we just walked up to him he’d freak out. We just couldn’t get him to snap out of this reality he’d created for himself so we set off a fire in the room. We didn’t set him on fire but there was a fire.
What happened with P.I.L. why did you sack it all off?
Well I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it was a case of four emotional cripples on four different drugs. When we went out to tour in America it got particularly bad. Everyone was always on the booze and speed but when heroin and cocaine began to creep in it all became seedy and horrible. If I was to be honest the only time I enjoyed that band was when I was in the studio creating and it was just like mates making some music. None of them creeps around. Even on stage sometimes it wasn’t too enjoyable. The other major issue was the way the money was dealt with. I’m a musician; making music is how I earn my living and wasn’t seeing a penny for what I was doing. There was always a lot of drugs around but never any money. There was this sort of kitty though we had in shoebox. A whole bunch of cash, tenners the lot all stuffed in there. The day I decided to pack it in I walked straight in the room picked up the shoebox and fucked off out of there.
Yeah, I remember thinking it was a pretty funny idea at the time.
So how did you end up working the Northern Line in the 80’s, I read somewhere you used to get a little drunk and tell people stories over the PA?
That is definite bollocks. I’ll tell you straight: when I got that job on the underground I was so happy. I had been sober six months before I even started so I certainly wasn’t on the sauce and shouting at people. I was just sick to death of the whole music industry, it felt really good holding down a job and becoming a part of society again. I would still be there you know but they gave the wrong depot to work out of. They sent me to Hainault and I wanted Leytonstone. It was great though feeling like you were in the veins of the city.
You’ve always had an affinity with London do you have romantic notions about the power of the city?
Too right, it’s a magical mystical place, it makes me feel alive walking through it, down by the river, its wonderful. That was something I felt I shared with Blake, an ability to celebrate that around me. I didn’t really get Blake to begin with but a friend gave me a book of his and kept getting at me to read it and one day I was just sitting there and it was staring me in the face so I did. I couldn’t believe how great this guy was, a fellow mystic. So I did a record with his lyrics.
What does the future hold for Jah Wobble?
I just want to carry on making music with people I love working with. The music industry is a horrible poisonous place. I remember after I’d finished on the trains and want to get back in I was shopping my albums around to the labels and sitting in this record execs office with him basically telling me to fuck off. The record came out, did really well and this same horrible prick exec is sitting there back stage after a show telling me “oh John, I knew you’d do it”. That pretty much sums it up. I’m happy with where I’m going and the people I’m working with now.