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Jah Wobble

Jah Wobble is one of the genuine musical polymaths to emerge from the post-punk era as a virtuoso bassist, composer, producer, journalist, poet, and author. Musically, his dub-heavy style weds reggae, jazz, funk, punk, and numerous global folk traditions (including Celtic and Asian music), and he has influenced an entire generation of players. Though he emerged as the bassist in Public Image Ltd., he left after two albums to pursue an idiosyncratic musical path that began with The Legend Lives On in 1980. 1982's Snake Charmer was cut in collaboration with Can's Holger Czukay and U2's the Edge. Disillusioned with the music business and suffering from alcoholism, Wobble left music for a few years in the 1980s. After regaining sobriety, he scored a success with 1991's Rising Above Bedlam, cut with his group Invaders of the Heart; it was nominated for a Mercury Prize. After 1997's experimental dub offerings Heaven & Earth and The Inspiration of William Blake in 1998, Wobble formed 30 Hertz Records. He issued a string of acclaimed albums in several genres including Invaders of the Heart's The Celtic Poets and Molam Dub. Wobble put the outfit to bed in 2003 and followed with a string of solo and collaborative discs, but resurrected the group for 2016's Everything Is No Thing. In 2019, they recorded with guest Bill Laswell on Realm of Spells, while in 2021, Wobble's Metal Box [Rebuilt in Dub] revisited the hugely influential 1979 album from PiL, with dub reinterpretations of eight of its songs. The creatively restless and prolific Wobble issued three albums in 2023 – a song-oriented post-punk set, A Brief History of Now; a set of musical sketches he wrote while riding public transportation, The Bus Routes of South London; and an atmospheric and impressionistic instrumental effort, Thames Symphony. Born John Joseph Wardle in London's Stepney district, Jah Wobble was a longtime friend of Sex Pistols singer Johnny Rotten, who he met when they attended the same school. After the Pistols broke up in 1978, Rotten reclaimed his birth name, John Lydon, and formed Public Image Ltd., with Wobble as their bass player. After the group's first two albums (1978's Public Image: First Issue and 1979's Metal Box), Wobble had a falling out with Lydon and guitarist Keith Levene, and he departed for a solo career, with his solo debut, 1980's The Legend Lives On, featuring two tracks fashioned from Metal Box outtakes. Among Wobble's first post-PiL projects was a collaborative album with Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit of Can, 1981's Full Circle; Wobble and Czukay would also record a project with U2 guitarist the Edge, 1983's Snake Charmer. In 1982, Wobble founded the group Invaders of the Heart with keyboard player Ollie Marland and guitarist Justin Adams; the name came from a track on Wobble's 1983 independent release Jah Wobble's Bedroom Album, taken from tapes recorded at his flat. (The material would later appear on the collection The Early Years.) As the band struggled to cohere, Wobble and Marland issued a pair of duo albums, 1985's Neon Moon and 1986's Tradewinds. These projects were created while Wobble was struggling with alcoholism, and as paying gigs dried up, he worked during the day as a custodian with the London Underground and a cab driver. As Wobble set drinking aside while he completed the 1987 album Psalms, he began exploring world music, especially the music of North Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. He assembled a new edition of Invaders of the Heart with Adams, keyboardist David Harrow, and drummer Michel Schoots. In 1990, Jah Wobble's Invaders of the Heart released their debut album, Without Judgement, that mixed adventurous pop, dub-influenced sonic manipulation, and international instrumental styles. IOTH's second album, 1991's Rising Above Bedlam, released by Oval Records, included guest vocals from Sinead O'Connor, and the same year Wobble guested on Primal Scream's 1991 LP Screamadelica. 1994's Take Me To God was once again laden with collaborative tracks, featuring appearances from Dolores O'Riordan of the Cranberries, Gavin Friday of the Virgin Prunes, Jaki Liebezeit of Can, and Senegalese vocalist Baaba Maal. The album was a commercial success in the U.K., topping out at No. 13 on the British album charts, and in 1995 Wobble teamed with Brian Eno to record 1995's Spinner, followed in 1996 by The Inspiration of William Blake, a musical adaptation of the great poet's work. In 1997 Wobble formed his own label, 30 Hertz, to release Jah Wobble Presents the Light Programme. Umbra Sumus appeared the following year. In 1999, he released Deep Space, which featured appearances from Bill Laswell and Jaki Liebezeit. Wobble continued to be prolific in the 21st Century, starting with Full Moon Over the Shopping Mall, an Invaders of the Heart project issued in the spring of 2000, followed by Molam Dub the following September. Passage to Hades, recorded with improvisational sax player Evan Parker, appeared in spring 2001. In 2002, Wobble began a series of interconnected (sometimes short-lived) collaborative groups to execute specifically minded projects. First, Jah Wobble and Temple of Sound, featuring Natasha Atlas, Nina Miranda, and Shahin Badar, released Shout at the Devil. That same year, Solaris: Live in Concert reunited Wobble with Laswell and Liebezeit, along with pianist Harold Budd and cornetist Graham Haynes. Reed and woodwind master Clive Bell and trumpeter Harry Beckett assisted Wobble with Fly, an exercise in nocturnal club jazz, brought out later that year. In 2003, Wobble assembled a new edition of Deep Space, which featured original members turntable artist Philip Jeck and drummer Mark Sanders, as well as bagpipers Clive Bell and Jean-Pierre Rasle, guitarist Chris Cookson, and singer Cat Von Trapp, to record and release the full-length Five Beats. Bell, Rasle, and Cookson would continue to play with Wobble throughout the decade in various ensembles, as evidenced by 2003's ambitious English Roots Music (credited to Invaders of the Heart, with Liz Carter on vocals). He also cut the soundtrack to Karim Dridi's 2003 film Fureur for EastWest. Wobble and pedal steel legend B.J. Cole, with Bell, Cookson, and Beckett, cut the spectral jazz-dub recording Elevator Music, Vol. 1A in 2004. Later that year, Trojan Records honored Wobble with a career-spanning three-disc retrospective, I Could Have Been a Contender. The dub effort MU, created with composer and multi-instrumentalist Mark Angelo, was issued by Trojan in 2005. In 2006 there were two Wobble offerings: the completely solo Alpha-One Three (titled for his nickname from his days as a cab driver), which appeared in July, and Jah Wobble & the English Roots Band, issued in November. This latter album was recorded live in one take in the studio to reflect the fearsome live energy of their concert performances. Trojan Records issued another of Wobble's wild takes on dub with Heart & Soul in 2007, a recording incorporating Gregorian plainsong, Appalachian folk, and gospel into the mix, creating a past-future effect. The wildest was yet to come, as Wobble brought dub to the East by employing Chris Cookson, Mark Sanders, and Clive Bell alongside a group of Chinese traditional musicians to create the inimitable and provocative Chinese Dub in 2008. Car Ad Music, with Cookson, Bell, Beckett, and percussionist Neville Murray, was issued in 2009, and the (mostly) solo Welcome to My World arrived in 2010. Also in 2010, Wobble moved his dub fusion toward Japan with The Japanese Dub, recorded with the Nippon Dub Ensemble (Joji Hirota and Keiko Kitamura), with Clive Bell and Robin Thompson guesting. Wobble was no less prolific in 2011, recording a pair of radically different albums. The first, 7, issued on Pressure Sounds, was recorded by his Modern Jazz Ensemble as a tribute to some of his jazz heroes -- among them Miles Davis, Donald Byrd, Weather Report, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The personnel includes Cookson and Bell, and also Marc Layton-Bennett (drums), George King (keyboards), Sean Corby (trumpet and flügelhorn), and Shri Sriram (tablas and bowed bass). The second offering of the year was a collaboration with guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and celebrated post-punk revivalist Julie Campbell titled Psychic Life, which was issued on Cherry Red in November. The following year, Wobble and PiL guitarist Keith Levene reunited for Yin & Yang, an exercise in deep dread dub and post-psychedelia. Two more collaborations were on tap for 2013: Kingdom of Fitzrovia with bassist Bill Sharpe was an experiment in electric jazz-EDM fusion, while Anomic with Marconi Union was an ambient dub offering. A year later, Sonar Kollectiv issued Inspiration, billed as "Jah Wobble Presents PJ Higgins." The set was co-produced by the bassist and showcased the singer in a variety of settings from soul and reggae to jazz and blues. In 2015, Cherry Red issued the massive anthology Redux: Anthology 1978-2015. Containing five themed discs and one of covers, it was painstakingly and exhaustively annotated by the artist. Not resting on his laurels, Wobble undertook a PledgeMusic campaign later in 2015 to fund his next recording. He worked with producer and Killing Joke bassist Youth in Dub Trees, a fusion group that wed dub with world and electronic music. Their Celtic Vedic album was issued in May. It was the first of three projects the pair would produce together that year. Wobble's crowd-funded jazz album Everything Is No Thing was issued in August, and was the first release on Jah Wobble Records. In addition to Youth as producer, it featured guests Tony Allen, Nik Turner, and Alabama 3 vocalist Aurora Dawn. Their third collaboration was a double-disc compilation simply titled In Dub, released in September. During an international tour, Wobble and Invaders of the Heart played not only the new material, but reworked pieces from several eras of his four-decade career. In early 2017 he decided to revisit them again, this time in a recording studio, for the album The Usual Suspects. Wobble's octet cut not only PiL's iconic "Public Image," but also redid such identity-laden tunes as "Visions of You" (with Aurora Dawn on vocals), "Becoming More Like God," "Foderstompf," a live version of "Poptones," and cinema themes he'd peppered his sets with for years, including "Midnight Cowboy," "Get Carter," and more. The 25-track double-length set was issued in the early summer. In 2018, Wobble issued three albums. The first, Dream World, was recorded in his home studio and inspired by filmmaker Francois Truffaut, as well as the bassist's own memories of London, Brighton, and Manchester. The nine primarily instrumental compositions encompassed funk, classical, jazz, reggae, and electronic sounds. Maghrebi Jazz was recorded in collaboration with the Moroccan-born, London-based trio Momo (Music of Moroccan Origin) who created their own blend of traditional Moroccan music with techno, trance, garage, and breakbeat sounds. The Butterfly Effect, by contrast, offered a renewed take on post-punk. Wobble kept up his prolific pace in 2019 when he reconvened Invaders of the Heart with featured guest Bill Laswell for Realm of Spells. The following year he teamed with Youth for Acid Punk Dub Apocalypse, and issued Nocturne in the City (Ambient Jazz Grooves) and End of Lockdown Dub solo. He also collaborated with a host of Chinese musicians on Guanyin. The following year, Wobble released Metal Box [Rebuilt in Dub]. Revisiting the classic second album from PiL, he completely reinvented eight of the album's songs (and two from the band's self-titled debut offering) with sophisticated dub interpretations. The ceaselessly prolific Wobble issued three albums in 2023. A Brief History of Now was a set of post-punk numbers Wobble wrote and performed with guitarist Jon Klein, who had worked with Specimen and Siouxsie & The Banshees. The Bus Routes of South London was an unusual project, featuring musical sketches he wrote on a tablet computer during his trips on public transportation, sometimes including interactions with other passengers. And Thames Symphony collected ambitious pieces inspired by walking along the banks of the River Thames. He also sat in with the all-star progressive rock and jazz ensemble the Fusion Syndicate for their third album, 2023's Beautiful Horizon.
© Steve Huey & Thom Jurek & Mark Deming /TiVo


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