Friday, December 30, 2005

Jah Wobble, 100 Club

Ah, Mr Wobble. Since his days as Johnny Lydon’s foil in the post-Pistols aftermath, Jah Wobble has cut a unique, diffident and always interesting figure in the world of just-successful-enough-to-keep-going musicians. With his unrepentant cockney roots, his self-taught, unconstrained musicality and his love of thudding basslines alongside warping echo he has cut a unfashionable, avant-gardeish path since he split from PiL after the seminal Metal Box LP. Widely recognised amongst those-that-know as an innovator, Wobble has survived on varieties of a fairly simple template – standard heavy sound-system bass and drums topped with, at different times, Arabic singing, tabla drumming, William Blake recitals and his own cockney ramblings. All of this, of course, long before anyone else you may have more recently heard of, (Timbaland or the Afro-Celts for example) had thought of it. His experimental attitude and individuality has drawn a host of music’s eclectics to his door, including Brian Eno, Bill Laswell, and Can’s Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebzeit. Wobble’s talent perhaps lies less in his virtuosity as in his knack for giving other musicians the space to express themselves within his parameters.

For this show Wobble is backed by the English Folk Band, who look suspiciously like his old backing band Deep Space, with a couple of new faces thrown in. So it seems that the topping du jour for his subwoofer-shaking adventures are plaintive English folk singing, some penny-whistling, a Frenchman playing apparently a party-box of oddly shaped pipes and a slightly reluctant-looking trumpeter. The Wobble rhythm section features his full, overbearing bass playing beside wah-wah, phaser and echo-drenched guitar, held together as tightly as close-stitching by the relentless, extraordinary drumming of Mark Sanders who, like all great drummers, appears to be doing the percussion work of three or four people.

For the most part things proceeded well enough, the songs varying in outlook or style but most of them eventually tending to meditative dub forays. Wobble, looking something like a lost member of Madness in cream suit and porkpie hat, sat to the side lazily fingering his bass, occasionally jumping up to direct the musicians in one direction or another. They vanished for a tea-break at one point – his words – and, on their return, built up to a nice crescendo. Then they disappeared again, before returning for an encore. Somehow, however, the second half seemed a bit short and it was too soon to ask for an encore, no matter how willing the crowd. Encores are an odd business at the best of times. I was left thinking ‘I’ve paid for the gig and now you want me to beg you to finish it’.

But finish it they did, slowing it down again, instead of aiming for another big climax. Which made me think, why stop at one, when you can have three or four, an attitude female readers may relate to. After George Clinton, of course, everyone else seems to be selling you a bit short. The other criticism, apart from a mix more suited to a casserole than a concert, was that Wobble and especially Sanders, rarely seemed to let up and allow the others to lead from the front occasionally. Especially with the delicacies of folk, it would have been nice to let the singers and players get heard a bit more.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Goodwill etc

I received my first charity Christmas present today. I missed out on the year of the goat, and my patron this year stretched as far as 100 school dinners for some African kids, courtesy of Oxfam. Although my initial reaction was disappointment at missing out on a book token, I was quick to bathe in the clear waters of self-righteousness. Only later did it dawn on me that effectively was has happened is that someone gave some money to charity and then told me about it. Far from the ingenious plan I’d been led to believe, for the recipient a charity gift seems like a bit of a double-loser. Not only do I not get a present, I don’t even get to feel good about giving my present away. Its hard to know exactly how to phrase a thank-you letter. “Dear Aunty, thanks very much for giving ten pounds to the poor.” Although, in fact, it has provided me with that most valuable gift at Christmas – an idea for what to get everyone else.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Oliver Twist

Polanski’s take on the Dickens stalwart rescues Fagin and Sykes from the music hall and returns them to the dark, stinking slums where they belong. At certain points in this tight, captivating film the pair genuinely appear to have been raised up from the depths of hell. Ben Kingsley so perfectly inhabits Fagin that it takes more than a while to remember that this is the same man who played Gandhi. A true character actor, he exposes the paucity of the talent which “graces” our screens most of the time. Of course he has the memory of Alec Guinness to contend with but of all today’s actors, probably only Kingsley could do it justice. Jamie Foreman, meanwhile, as Sykes, looking as pug-faced as his pitbull companion, provides a modern but effective take on the part and the film’s strengths are all on show when at one point he and the dog roam the countryside looking like a phantom apparition.

The beginning scenes are a little ponderous but everything comes together as soon as Oliver hits the city. Victorian London is portrayed in shabby magnificence, seemingly populated entirely by overly aged adults and thin children. The only person apparently between the ages of 15 and 60 is Sykes. The rest of the cast have a great time, laying on the cockney thicker than the mud on the London streets. But what starts out as an enjoyable romp soon veers off into darkness as the criminal screw slowly turns on Oliver.

Interesting, slightly luvvie, interview with Kingsley here.