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.

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