“The worst thing in life is a bored pop star.” Birmingham Preview talks to Jah Wobble, ahead of Hare & Hounds gig on 07/09/22

Words by Ed King

Jah Wobble and the Invaders of the Heart play the Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, on Wednesday 7 September – for more gig info an links to online tickets visit: www.skiddle.com/whats-on/Birmingham/Hare-And-Hounds/Jah-Wobble

“It’s the worst checkout… they’re lovely, they’re really friendly, but there are never any fucking bags.”

The last time Birmingham P/Review interviewed Jah Wobble was back in 2010, when he was on the road with the Nippon Dub Ensemble – a Japanese Dub inspired offering with an onstage show of Ikebana (flower arranging) for support.

Over a decade later and the renowned bass player and punk pioneer (…when you grow up playing in bands with John Lydon and Sid Vicious) is coming back to Brum with the Invaders of the Heart, the band he’s played with since the late 80’s.

But when we make the call Jah is stuck at the tail end of a supermarket on a busy sunny Sunday afternoon in London. And as he negotiates the self service dystopia, his self effacing candour is a brusque but fresh breathe of air. “I mean, how do you get attention without looking like a self centred twat.”

An Aeries, who likes to surround himself with fellow rams, you can be assured there will be no fluff in this PR exercise.

“…Even my dog Tyson was an Aries,” continues Jah, “they can often be rude, they butt up against things. But they’re not snidey, they will just break through the barrier. As long as you’re honest and direct they’re fine.”

Having to cancel the last tour due to Covid, Jah Wobble and the Invaders of the Heart are touring 19 dates across the UK – coming to the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham on Wednesday 7 September. It’s been a while since he’s been in the second city, and the current tour has focused on the more “in between” towns that often get skipped.

“I like a small room, individual kind of places,” tells Jah. “I played with my top off in Northampton, because it was packed and there was not AC. So, I got my shirt off – I said ‘sorry and please avert your eyes’, but it was really sweaty. But I like that, it’s a direct thing. There’s nowhere to hide, you can’t fake it.

“We also played two festivals last week, and that went really fantastic. Both of them were really different.

“I like making festivals like events, where you just feel what the vibe is and don’t necessarily do a normal set – you stretch it out. I had my family there for the last one and we just went off into this Chinese thing… and people seemed to like it.”

The comments littering social media agree – from a crowd often in awe of being so up, close, and personal to the co-founder of Public Image Limited and one of the holy trinity of ‘70’s punk Johns’ (alongside Lydon and Ritchie, aka Rotten and Vicious).

It’s infectious, the candour, and you get the sense a Jah Wobble gig is as much about the man as the music – for the audience at least.

But there is intellect and humble introspection behind the acerbic humour, alongside a broad musical heritage that started in punk and moved (literally) around the world, embracing new sounds, styles, and audiences from across the globe.

As Jah decrees, when we delve into his stint working for the London Underground during his drying out period (the man has been clean and sober since the mid 80’s), “I like being involved in regular life… sometimes the best thing is the steady Eddie, to just get involved in life.

“The worst thing in the world are bored pop stars.”

We talk more about his family; Jah is married to the celebrated guzheng player and harpist Zi Lan Liao, and they have four children together – two of which have followed their parent’s footsteps into music.

His also wife runs a community centre, “hoovering up the people who have fallen between the cracks of social services and the NHS. It’s quite astounding what she does, so she’s very busy with that – fighting the community centre’s corner.”

Open about his personal life, there is a palpable sense of pride in his pride. And from a man whose Wikipedia entry regales an early life of drink, drugs, fights, and flights, as Jah states about people these days, “nice goes a long way.”

The conversation jumps from topic to topic, the difficulties of selling out shows in Birmingham, to the vagaries of an Arsenal supporter, and the increasing social media and bureaucracy of life on the road.

“I had to appoint a fire marshal within the band recently… for a venue,” he sighs, “everyone wants more and more information; everyone wants access to your Facebook page. That side of it’s a pain.

“But playing on stage is a joy. We’ve got a great line up; they’re good fellas. So, I couldn’t wait to hang out with them again.”

We touch on Covid, which forced Jah to cancel his last tour but gave him the time to develop his musicianship, getting to explore chord progression and delve back through music theory.

Jah also used the pandemic to achieve his Level 3 teaching qualification, which supports a music programme he offers to engage people through recording music – tacking the increased isolation left by the Covid  lockdowns.

“I thought, let’s try and do something for society – and what’s a good thing to tackle? I thought loneliness, lonely old blokes especially would be a good kinda target. I started it up north, and it was a bit difficult.

“But I’ve got a very good mate of mine called Anthony Hopkins (not the actor, although Jah has met him and is an ‘exceedingly good bloke’) who works for Borough Council and is a big music fan, he can play a bit as well. He helped adapt this idea.

“So, we started with him and Jon Klein (Suzie and the Banshees), a really good player and a lovely guy. Another bloody Aries.

“We started that, the pandemic came, and we carried on in Zoom. I became a teacher during lockdown to help when we resumed, which we did. So that’s turning; it’s become like a club. It’s a really nice thing.”

As we segue into class systems and the world yet to come, I could continue this conversation for longer than our time allows. But the football is starting and there’s only so many words you can fit on a page (or screen).

Jah Wobble’s the current tour feels like a good opportunity to hear both the music and musings of a man who has lived though, and survived, some of the more iconic moments in popular culture.

I have a thousand thoughts to add, but I end on a simple question, to a man once prone to an outburst or two but never shy of an honest answer.

“Yes, I am happy. Really happy. I was really happy in the 30’s because I stopped drinking and drugging, and I touched on something at that time.

“Then I get into my 40’s, had kids, and it’s been more graft. It’s been nice, but graft – you’ve got family, you worry about your family. Then in my 60’s, these last few years, and it’s felt golden again as it did my 30’s.

“And now’s a good time to go out and play these places, with large catchment areas and enthusiastic people who will promote the shit out of it. Any everyone’s fucking loving it; all the punters.

“And it’s a lovely vibe, so you really push the boat out.”

Jah Wobble and the Invaders of the Heart play the Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, on Wednesday 7 September – for more gig info an links to online tickets visit: www.skiddle.com/whats-on/Birmingham/Hare-And-Hounds/Jah-Wobble

For more on Jah Wobble visit: www./jahwobble.com/

For more from the Hare and Hounds visit: www.hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk