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Jah Wobble

The Black Prince, Northampton

1st September 2022

Along with Killing Joke’s Youth, Jah Wobble forever changed the face of alternative rock with his bombastic bass playing. His contributions to the first two Public Image Ltd albums opened up the endless possibilities of post-punk, and popular music would never be the same again. However, his solo career has been equally influential and tonight’s set at The Black Prince touches base at all points along a lengthy and varied vocation.

With no support band, there’s not too long to wait for Jah Wobble but, nevertheless, an air of expectation hangs heavy as the assembled throng await his appearance. The stage, bathed in green, gold and red lights, looks very enticing, and when Jah finally appears, it’s to a chorus of raucous cheers. Along with his band The Invaders Of The Heart he delivers a funky groove that’s textured with swirling keys and sounds like the theme tune to some ‘70s cop show. Jah initially surprises me by appearing (minus bass) and playing a set of upright drums, but it doesn’t take long until he straps on a bass to deliver a filling-loosening version of PiL’s ‘Socialist’ (from 1979s Metal Box).

Reggae (and particularly dub) was a big influence on Jah, and he revisits his roots with an uptempo cover of Harry J Allstars’ ‘The Liquidator’. It’s a high-octane version on which Jah puts his own inimitable stamp, his bass is heavy and stomps like an elephant in the room, yet it’s also lithe and dexterous, and he switches rhythms deftly, turning each song he performs into a malleable ball of clay, which he shapes in his own image. He’s one of those rarefied bassists who has a signature sound, and the opening bars of ‘Public Image’ could only be his. Adding vocals, Jah initiates a huge sing-along, and in an already steamy venue, the temperature is raised a few degrees, then he flips the song on its head for a dub version and, two sides of the same coin, they work very well together.

There’s an almost jazz sensibility to Jah’s set as the band go off on crazy tangents, yet it’s also controlled; they know their destination, but they could arrive by any route. An instrumental, haunting version of ‘Poptones’ (as if the original wasn’t haunting enough) is strangely infectious and has all but the infirm and frail grooving. Like Hasidic kids rocking the Wailing Wall, the whole venue bobs along with Jah’s hypnotic basslines and, even after a two-hour set, Jah Wobble And The Invaders Of The Heart drain their energy reserves to ensure that no one leaves disappointed.

Words: Peter Dennis

Photo: David Jackson

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