Dave Woodhall talks to Jah Wobble, bass player and very old school football supporter.
When you’re interviewing people you’re supposed to be the one asking the questions. With Jah Wobble, the first bit of interrogation came from him and luckily I managed to bluff my way around it. Well, it was about football and I do have some sort of tenuous knowledge of what neither of us would ever call the Beautiful Game.
“I used to try to to base the touring around Spurs in Europe but I’ve only been once this season. It’s all very Americanised now – celebrities following a team. I avoid football talk until I can tell if someone is an old school football fan and then you can have an intelligent conversation but there’s so many tosser Arsenal and Chelsea fans in the media. It all started with Sky, all the marketing and that bollocks.”
Which is a fair point, but after spending far more time than we should have done talking about what’s wrong with the Premier League it was time to ask about music, in particular the tour that Jah Wobble’s Invaders of the Heart have been playing, and which comes to the Robin on November 12th.
“We started touring a year ago, I put the Invaders thing back together in May 2014 for a bit of fun, we did some shows and now we’re coming to the end of another tour. The crowds have been really good, I haven’t done so much live work for thirteen or fourteen years. I had to get out and play live then to make a living but now after I’ve sold my label I want to get out and be creative.
“The band are boys I’ve put together over the past few years . I’ve recorded with them and they’re all very, very good players.”
You’re a born and bred East End boy, yet you’re now living in Stockport and firmly rooted oop North.
“That took a time. My wife’s Chinese and I wanted my sons to have Chinese culture, my father in law is based up here and really East London is bonkers now. It’s stopped being a proper area, it’s a mad pot pourri of stuff with a load of middle-class people living off herited wealth and it was getting too expensive. The traditional migration is east into Essex where a lot of people became very working–class Thatcherite and I find that sort of political view a little bit uncomfortable. I knew a lot of the Manchester bands and I was starting to work with a lot of northern musicans and crew so I suggested that we move up here.”
Will this be the start of a regular tour schedule?
“Do I want to start another label? No. I’ve got some great musicians and a cracking band, it’s all good fun and they’ve asked me if we can do a load more gigs. I thought they might be sick of me on the road, being hyperactive and playing jokes on everybody but it’s been great. I’m even looking foreard to going off on a proper tour bus again.”
Youy’ve played with a lot of highly influential and successful bands – PIL, Killing Joke and the Happy Mondays for a start. Would you have liked to been in a long-running band or are you happy to have dipped in and out of so many projects?
“I feel like I’m coming to the end. I hope I can keep this band together for a couple more years. The punters are loving it and these are the best musicians I’ve been with for a long time. I think I can take the world on with these boys”
Is there anyone you’d still like to work with?
“I’ve enjoyed working with Youth recently. I’d love to have worked with Miles Davis or Don Cherry. There must be people in the rock world as well. I’d love to work with Iggy Pop, we’d be a good fit, maybe David Sylvain. I’m sure there’s others but I haven’t got a burning desire to play with anyone.”
Certainly not Jools Holland. You were supposed to have some problem with him. What was the story there?
“He’d only been going a few months with Later and no-one really knew about it. I don’t watch much music on TV so when he asked to play with me, it seemed the most controlled atmosphere, it made Top of the Pops look anarchic and I realised it was all about them, about their brand. No disrespect to him, but I wasn’t into that and I told them I wasn’t doing it. Anyway, the fifteen year anniversary comes up and their producer Mark Cooper gave an interview where he said the only trouble they ever had was with me. Mark Cooper does a lot of the BBC music documentaries now and I suspect that’s the reason why I’m not on them.”
You and Johnny Rotten. Old mates but you fell out and you turned down the chance to play with the reformed PIL. How do you get on now?
“I think it’s got to the point where hostilities have died down again. It flares up every so often but I was with him a couple of years ago and everything was fine. He was sounding me out to join PIL and I think he assumed I was up for it, but it was all about ‘I’ll get my people to talk to your people’. His management offered me a wage that was fine if you’re in a regular job but when you’re an original member of a band that’s bringing in thousands and thousands then you should be on a percentage of that. It wasn’t just the money, I wanted to do something imaginative and shake things up, take a chance rather than just going out and touring.
“People say why didn’t you do it and I say it’s because we couldn’t jump the first hurdle, which was money. But when you knew someone back then before all this started, can you imagine your life without knowing that person? If it wasn’t for John I wouldn’t be a bass player. John’s John and he doesn’t give a fuck really, good luck to him. You don’t want to be bitching about each other when you’re in your sixties.”
On that subject, the fortieth anniversary of punk is coming up. I remember you were a bit scathing about the thirtieth, particularly in a review of (yet) a (nother) Sid Vicious book, when you talked about people making a living from the carcass of punk.
“It’s not so much the timing because an anniversary’s an anniversary but there is this little scene of writers who live off the rotting corpse of punk a bit like old soldiers living off war stories. Some of them have become spokesmen for punk but it’s no big deal. It was a great thing and it opened things up but it’s not a particularly interesting thing to regurgitate.”
Have you never been tempted to make money from it yourself? After all, you were there at the start and you know the main characters as well as anyone.
“I like the idea of making money, especially as you get older but I’ve always been crap at it, so you become an artistic person because you’re shit at making money. I was once invited to New York to talk about some project that could have earned me a load and in the end these blokes were coming out with such nonsense that I stood up and said, ‘To be honest I think you’re both a pair of wankers.’ All I had to do was sit and nod my head until the end of the meal and I’d have been rich.”
Jah Wobble’s Invaders of the Heart play the Robin 2, Bilston on Thursday 12th November. www.therobin.co.uk