Smart, Thoughtful, arrogant , self-deprecating, opinionated, awkward, funny, class obsessed, open minded and a bit of a yob John 'Jah Wobble' Wardle is/has been all of the above as well as being one of the most consistently interesting and adventurous musicians to appear in the last forty years. One of the famous triumvirate of John's to surface during punk - along with John 'Johnny Rotten' Lydon and John 'Sid Vicious' Beverly - Wobble would go on to become one of the few non-Jamaican bass guitarists to ever actually fully grasp how to 'play' dub bass (as opposed to just copy it) and then go on to confidently play with some of the world's finest musicians, which is all the more remarkable given that he could barely play a note just prior to the formation of Public Image Ltd. (in fact he didn't even own an amp). In short we're big fans of the man's extensively eclectic output here and that output is neatly rounded up on the superb new Redux - Anthology 1 978-2015 6xCD box set, 92 tracks taking in spoken word, ambient, dub, jazz, Asian and Middle Eastern music, soundtracks and more. Of course in typical contrary Wobble fashion my first question about us both growing up on the mean streets of the East End of London (a standard journalistic ploy to try to get the interviewee to identify with you) goes totally awry and is met with a mild ticking off and subsequent geography and history lesson about what 'the East End of London' actually is…
Jah Wobble: “No offence but Walthamstow/Hackney (apart from its most south easterly tip), is not really the East End proper. The East End, as I would understand it is the area bounded by the Thames in the south, The City of London to the west, The River Lee in the East and Hackney Road and the northern perimeter of Vicky [Victoria] Park to the north. I grew up right in the middle of the East End on the Stepney/Whitechapel border. Basically all of Tower Hamlets (LBTH looked great on a council donkey jacket in the 70's) is in the East End. Really we are talking E1, E2 and E14.
I suppose it was, relatively speaking, quite tough, but at the time you obviously don't have anything to compare it with, so 'tough' is just the natural way of things. It's simply your reality, 'how things are'. Compared to the reality of being an orphaned African kid infested with liver flukes, slowly dying, it was probably a cakewalk. London is of course a collection, not only of villages, but also as you go further in, of 'manors'. Every manor has its own character. The East End I grew up in leant towards extreme views politically speaking. Earlier in the century you'd had Peter the Painter, and don't tell me the geezer never existed (after escaping the Sidney Street Siege in 1911 (see below), Peter Piaktow became an anti-hero in London's East End but some question whether or not he actually existed), and all that carry on down at Sidney St with the old Etonian Churchill, going way over the top (the Siege of Sidney Street in 1911 was the day two Latvian anarchists held out in an East End tenement for seven hours against more than 200 armed police and a detachment of soldiers). People still described themselves as anarchists and 'tankies' and all that. Mosley had been routed at Cable St, (The Battle of Cable Street, 1936, was a clash between the Police, overseeing a march by members of the
British Union of Fascists led by Oswald Mosley, and various anti-fascist demonstrators, including local Jewish, socialist, anarchist, Irish and communist groups) but where you get one extreme you always get the other. It's natural; dock leaves will always be found near nettles etc. Yin and yang and all that. The very second that comes immediately after high noon heralds darkest night.”
Of course you will get a differing view from avowed East End residents in Newham, Islington and yes Hackney but we're not here to debate London Manors (interesting though it may be) we're here to find out where he believes his madly eclectic musical taste sprang from, home perhaps?
Jah Wobble: “My old man liked classical music, mainly of the stern German variety, he was especially partial to a bit of the old Ludvig Van [Beethoven]. He was an 8th Army veteran, a Desert Rat, El Alamein and all that, he had tinnitus from all the deafeningly loud bangs and booms one encounters in war zones, so he would have to listen at high volume. It's a beautiful image really. Young British bloke who had entered into mortal combat with his young German counterparts, eventually found solace in the Germanic Age of Enlightenment soundtrack. Egalitarianism, global brotherhood, sisterhood and all that caper. Love peace and equanimity to all. Instead as we moved into the 20th century we ended up with Munch's Scream, six little piano pieces and mechanised death. I mean stroll on. Where did it all go wrong?"
My mum was partial to the Dubliners, (ironic because she favoured Cork more). It was musically speaking a heady brew. I developed a taste for both Ludvig Van and the Dubliners. Possibly my proudest moment was when I worked with Ronnie Drew.
Total Music: One of your, if not your first ever, bass lines becomes the bedrock of ‘Public Image’ an all time post-punk classic, how the hell did that feel then, indeed does it feel now?
Jah Wobble: “It reaffirms my belief in Suzuki's maxim, 'In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's there are few'. Hopefully I'm still a beginner.”
Total Music: You and the other two John’s were pretty volatile individuals how did that work?
Jah Wobble: “I think we are back to Yin and Yang. But never forget... It's the quiet ones you have to look out for.”
Total Music: Is there anything from that era you really regret doing?
Jah Wobble: "Ha! Probably about 57% of what I did. Possibly more...”
Total Music: You have done as much to derail your own career as exterior forces (booze, lamping people recording very, very un-commercial music), true or false?
Jah Wobble: "True, but somehow I lurch on....”
Total Music: Your parents started you off but where does your fascination/interest in so many other different, often not easily accessible, music styles come from?
Jah Wobble: "It started by listening to what was around me and then records moving onto short wave radio My 'sound consciousness' was very developed I think from the beginning. I'm the musical version of a 'foodie'. In fact I'm a bit of a foodie as well. Hearing/tasting new combinations and flavours is exciting, sometimes mind blowing. That's not to say that sometimes you just want the safety of the familiar. But although my sound consciousness is highly developed, it has to be said that I am totally lacking in common sense and I'm a poor judge of character.”
Total Music: You have worked with some genuine musical legends (Eno, Bill Laswell, Holgar Czukay, Jaki Liebezeit etc.) what’s your favourite memories from these collaborations?
Jah Wobble: "One that stands out is Jaki and Holger having a big argument in the Can studio one day. They started out in English, out of respect to me. I remember Holger saying to me 'beware of Jaki, although he has short hair he is a hippy", they then had a few more sharp exchanges in English, before moving on into proper Teutonic Sturm und Drang stuff. I was overjoyed. Within ten minutes the argument was forgotten and we moved on. I realised that it was 'normal' for them”
Total Music: You have never seemed to have much interest in ‘rock’ music but the new tracks and ‘Let’s Go Psycho’ are definitely ‘rock’ (albeit psychedelic/garage), are you getting a late fondness for rock?
Jah Wobble: "Yes recently I've got a bit fed up with dub, ambient jazzy, worldy stuff. It's entirely possible it's a late stage mid life crisis.”
Total Music: You must be very happy with the tracks recorded with Julie Campbell (on the album Psychic Life) as they occupy more space than any other material on the new box-set?
Jah Wobble: "Yes I really enjoyed that album. It felt super creative in the way albums such as 'Without Judgment ' and 'Take Me To God' felt. Julie was fun to work with. She is very bright and not without a sense of humour.”
Total Music: You have historically used great vocalists like Julie, Sinead O'Connor, and Natasha Atlas were you not initially comfortable/confident with your own vocals?
Jah Wobble: "The reason that I worked with the above is for one reason; they are great singers. Re me I have definitely got more and more comfortable with my own vocals over the years. I yam what I yam and all that. It's so adolescent to get uptight over how you sound or look. But I only sing on stuff that's got my own idiosyncratic thing happening.”
Total Music: Much of the final disc (the odd jazzy cut aside) sounds exactly like the sort of thing that would come out of a studio in Jamaica in the ‘70s, was this the vibe you were going for and is there a nod to what the young Mr Wardle would have been watching as a kid?
Jah Wobble: "Yes very much so. It's very sixties/seventies. Although it's the last disc it could be the first, because really it heralded the music I would go on to make.”
Total Music: Having read both yours and John Lydon’s books you both seem to waver between major affection and intense irritation with each other, is there any chance at all we might ever see the original PiL line-up live, especially as you and Keith seem to be ok together now (it would be so great to hear Metal Box live)?
Jah Wobble: "No I don't think that a reunion is very likely. But we shouldn't be too dismayed by that, it's not the end of the world. Funny enough earlier today, for the first time in ages, I listened to 'Fodderstomf'. That's just me and John looning about all the way through the track, ad libbing, taking the piss. It's like a little picture of the two of us back at a certain place and time. It's pretty innocent. I have to admit that when, I heard it again, I felt a strong wave of affection towards him. I RESERVE THE RIGHT TO WITHHOLD THAT AFFECTION AT ANY TIME THAT I SEE FIT. Anyway, there we were making a record with NO FEAR. Sending the whole thing up. Priceless."
Redux - Anthology 1978-2015 is available now on Cherry Red/30 Hertz Records and you can find loads more about Mr W at