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Jah WobbleJah Wobble's Chinese Dub
Bush Hall, London
Sunday July 6 2008

 

 

 

 

The expression 'chequered past' could have been invented to describe Jah Wobble. An original punk who ran with the Sex Pistols crew, he became a founder member of John Lydon's post-Pistols band, Public Image Limited, where his thunderous basslines underpinned the band's most innovative work.

An eclectic solo career encompassing a bewildering variety of styles and genres followed, punctuated by collaborations with pop stars and left-field experimentalists alike, interrupted only by a stint working on the London Underground. Wobble even scored an unlikely chart hit in tandem with Sinead O'Connor along the way. I don't know if this latest project contains the makings of any hits - at least, not in this universe - but in some ways it's Wobble's most intriguing musical excursion yet.

The notion that Chinese folk music would sound pretty darn good in collision with Jah Wobble's punky reggae ocean-depths basslines isn't what you might call an intuitive idea, but I'm here to tell you that the unlikely combination hangs together with unexpected brilliance. The elegant Victoriana of Bush Hall serves to add another layer of unlikelihood - this venue certainly isn't your usual rock 'n' roll hole - but in the world of Wobble, the more unlikely it gets, the better it works.

Wobble looms incongruously behind swirling dancers, his basslines pummelling the atmosphere. Performers join and leave - the stage is a constant blur of movement.

Sometimes, it's all taken down to minimal folk-isms, the plink and twang of the gruzen, the otherworldly birdcalls of the bamboo flute weaving delicately behind traditional Chinese vocals - and then Wobble swings the bassline back in and the whole thing takes off on a rumbling landslide of insistent rhythm.

Masked dancers hurl themselves at the audience in such a frenzy that, as their faces flicker through a host of changes, you could almost believe they'd just taken a sidestep through several different dimensions.

Throughout it all, and in endearing contrast to the otherworldliness of the Chinese voices and performers, Wobble's Whitechapel geezer persona is in full effect. Introducing a singer from Mongolia, he shouts over to the sound engineer, 'Make it sound like it comes from the mountains, my son!' And, somehow, notwithstanding that we're standing a mere stone's throw from the Uxbridge Road, it does.

Jah Wobble's own band is also on hand to provide a set-within-a-set of Wob classics, including 'Visions Of You', the song that gave Wobble his big hit, with Sinead O'Connor on vocals. Tonight, it becomes an Anglo-Chinese festival in itself, with some of the Chinese singers providing backing as Wobble's own gravelly, blokeish voice intones the tale of his path to enlightenment.

Again, a splendidly incongruous combination - and yet, not incongrous. Wobble has the peculiar ability to strike out in all manner of musical directions, work with people from all over the world, combine styles and genres and influences that you'd think would go together like nuclear waste and fairy cakes - and yet still come up with music that works brilliantly, and is always, unequivocally, Jah Wobble.

At the end, the entire cast of musicians and dancers line up to take a bow, and Wobble signs off with a merry cry to the audience: 'Fuck off!' Good old Wobble. He's come a long way, and he's definitely taken the scenic route. But he's still a punk!

 

Jah WobbleEssential links:

Jah Wobble:

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For more photos from this gig, find Jah Wobble by name here.

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
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