Wobble & The English Roots Band
I wonder when Jah Wobble first set foot in the 100 Club? I'd hazard a guess it was September 20 1976, when this long-established jazz bar under Oxford Street suddenly found itself overrun by boisterous street urchins and ramshackle, cacophonous bands. That, of couse, was the date the now-legendary 100 Club Punk Festival kicked off - an incongruous event in this respectable venue, with its 1950s wood veneer decor and walls decorated with souvenir photographs of superannuated jazzers. Then, Wobble was a Sex Pistols fan and cohort of Johnny Rotten: later, he became the original bass player in John Lydon's post-Pistols band, Public Image Limited. Now, a long way beyond his stint in PiL, and with an eclectic solo career (and even a few hits) behind him, Wobble is back in his old stamping ground. The 100 Club hasn't changed much over the years: even the photos of superannuated jazzers are still on display. But this ain't no punk gig, even if a certain contingent of the crowd look like old punkers with the faded T-shirts to prove it. Tonight, we're on a different journey, and, knowing Wobble, we could end up just about anywhere.
First, we have a support band. Little Tin Lady take their name - if I'm not mistaken - from a Kinks lyric, but if that suggests they're some kind of 60s retro outfit, we're about to be set right. In fact, the band are an acoustic folkie combo. They're obviously well rehearsed, and while they might look a little nervous about being on such a famous stage (this is, apparently, their first London gig), it's clear they know their music inside out. Guitar and basslines tangle like bindweed; moments of violin sneak in like dandelion seeds on the breeze. It's a sound that conjures up warm summer afternoons at the Glastonbury festival, and I speak as one who's never actually attended that fine event. But if Little Tin Lady can bring a little bit of a Somerset summer to this Oxford Street basement, they've certainly achieved a result.
And now, the Wob. Looking like a beatnik in his beret, toting the same vintage bass he's been using since PiL days, and accompanied by a bohemian bunch of musicians who comprise the latest incarnation of his English Roots Band, Jah Wobble seems entirely at home in this jazz club. But, as his basslines begin to throb implacably out of the PA, it's clear we're in the presence of the man who put the death in disco. The other musicians step up to the mark, and lay down their own grooves. And what we get most definitely is a groove. The Jah Wobble live experience is a melting pot of rhythms and improvisation. Squalls of guitar, haunted fragments of flute, the drive of the drums, the casual interplay of two female vocalists, with occasional interjections by Wobble himself - and always, always, with those rumbling basslines underpinning everything.
The big hit, 'Visions Of You', is tossed out early, and from then on it's down into the land of the bass, where rumbling punk-funk rhythms metamorphose into unexpected folk jaunts, where gritty blues workouts mutate into interludes of almost-reggae. Much of the music seems to be made up on the spot. At frequent intervals, Wobble shouts out instructions to his band, even while they're playing, getting the musicians to drop out, or come in, or just do something different. It's a tribute to the skill of the band that this apparently haphazard method of music making results in such seamless sound. Wobble even invites the audience to participate - 'Give us a tempo!' he shouts out. With true British reserve, nobody does anything. ''Go on,' exhorts Wobble, 'Give us a tempo!' As nobody else seems willing to jump in, I start up a quickfire clap. 'I've got it!' cries Wobble, fitting a bassline to the beat. The band follow on, and before our very ears another Jah Wobble instrumental is born. I'll be putting in for royalties if you ever record that one, Wob! But now it's time for the final tune, and rather than go out on an old classic and an easy ovation, Wobble opts for another make-it-up-as-we-go-along workout. 'I want to get primal here,' he remarks, before throwing out some instructions to the sound engineer: 'Take it way down, way, way, down...down to about 60 Hertz!' Now that's a new one on me. I've heard many bands make requests of their engineers from the stage, but this is the first time I've ever heard a musician specify the particular frequency of sound he's after. But that's Jah Wobble for you. You want bass? He's the man.
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.