Post-punk icon Jah Wobble (aka John Wardle), ex-bassist with Public Image Limited (PiL), plays his first Edinburgh gig in 20 years at the Bongo Club this Thursday (26 April).
Since leaving PiL in 1980, Jah’s solo career has continued to surprise and entertain, producing numerous critically acclaimed albums and an eclectic mix of collaborations covering a wide range of musical genres.
An artist impossible to pin down, AAA Edinburgh’s Alan Hotchkiss caught up with Jah to talk about his varied musical journey spanning almost 40 years where he reveals his most recent artistic adventure.
Most of us were onlookers as the creative burst of energy that was post-punk swept the country. With your involvement in PiL, how did it feel being such an integral part of what was happening?
I was just very fired up to be playing bass in a band that wasn’t rock and roll. I knew I wouldn’t be constrained by the normal, bourgeois chord structures of the time – i.e. I wouldn’t have to follow a guitarist!
Collaboration seems to have been a key element in your music, with the list of artists you have worked with being as diverse as it is long ranging from the likes of Sinéad O’Connor, The Edge, Brian Eno, the Can duo Holgar Czukay and Jaki Liebeziet to jazz saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders. What draws you to a particular artist?
It really depends on the general situation. For instance, I got the opportunity to write a song (Visions Of You) for Sinead that would be used for the Rising Above Bedlam album. So I thought about her voice and was able to conjure something up that would serve her voice well.
With Pharaoh Sanders, I was working on putting the Heaven and Earth album together. Me and Bill Laswell, the producer, wanted a track that married the feel of a track like Poptones to a black American jazz sort of vibe. Obviously with a track like that a player with tremendous gravitas of Pharaoh fitted the bill to a tee. With Jaki, well, we met and our musical DNA code was a close match.
With the Edge I’d talked with Francois Kervokian, the producer of Snakecharmer. On Hold On To Your Dreams we wanted a New York loft vibe but with a strong rock(ish) guitar sensibility. The Edge fitted the bill perfectly. Plus we were both on Island Records.
Is there any artist that you would jump at the chance to work with?
I would loved to have worked with Miles Davis. Also, there were acts from Mongolia I heard that I would have liked to have worked with.
You stepped away from the mainstream record companies to set up your own label 30 Hertz Records. How important was this for your music?
It protected its integrity. I didn’t have to worry about outside influence.
After almost 40 years of making music, what keeps you motivated?
I don’t know! I still fancy the job.
Today we have the many faces of social media – how much of an advantage, or disadvantage, do you think it is to the music scene?
It’s a mixed bag. In a way it’s great that you have autonomy. You can reach your followers directly. But as we all know it’s an echo chamber. And if people are not signed up for Twitter etc they don’t know when we are touring or releasing records, because that is hardly ever in the mainstream.
Do you think it is any easier for a working class lad to make good today?
No! It’s back to being like the 1920s again. The toffs rule the roost again. The leisured class can play at being ‘artists’ for a few years. There is a system of educational apartheid in this country. Therefore there is social apartheid.
We’ve have had Jah Wobble as the post-punk icon, the music collaborator par excellence, the poet, the Radio 3 documentary maker, the author and book reviewer…any other surprises in store?
Yes! I’m painting now (not my bathroom). Got an exhibition coming up in Holland apparently. I never asked. Too shy to. I was approached. I do the visual equivalent of my early rough hewn geometrical bass lines/shapes. I have got stuff up on Instagram.
Jah Wobble & The Invaders Of The Heart, plus Lanes, The Bongo Club, 66 Cowgate, Thursday, doors 7pm, £14 advance, £16 on the door, 0131-558 8844
Interview: Alan Hotchkiss