Jah Wobble:
SPEX, Germany, August 17th 1981

Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens




SPEX, Germany, August 17th 1981It must have been Jah Wobble's eyes that made us putting his face on the cover of our no.1 issue in last September. Since then his poster eyes follow me, in the office, at home, when I'm with friends. It was the eyes - calm, huge, bright, shining - that stood out, when the man turned up at a pub in Cologne [1] with Holger Czukay, bassist of old Can. No doubt: it's Jah Wobble, who's in Cologne to promote his EP [2] with Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit. And we had enough time to speak more than three sentences, and while talking it turned out that Wobble is a very bright fellow: funny, with dry Cockney humour and according accent, a dyed-in-the-wool Tottenham Hotspur supporter - FA Cup winner, he boasts [3] – and a Londoner of conviction. Together we came to characterize him as an "intellectual hooligan". Initially it was the first, later the second reckless side of him that was dominating. Yes, at advanced hours I could hear him sing football chants which denounced Cup losers Manchester City as hopeless dead losses. He even sang the Londoners' signature song 'Maybe It's Because I'm A Londoner' at the top of his voice and full of conviction. Maybe we can expect a cassette release soon, 'Wobble Sings Hooligan Songs And Ditties'. Or he publishes some of his extensive repertoire of jokes. A sample: there is this man who meets a fairy. He asks: "I wanna be uptight, out of sight and in the groove!" and she turned him into a tampax. Stuff like that. On the other hand John, which is his real name, was quite serious and said he was deeply impressed by the music of Joy Division, showed well-thought opinions about the general aspects of human existence, and obviously was heavily influenced by existencialism. An advocate of the ancient but always new conflict between self-expression and impersonality, between the ego of the genius as it were and the school of thought that sees the artist just as a tool, as a medium of a bigger context. Wobble's stance is clearly anti-romance, anti-ego, he even speaks of "humility" – certainly unusual words for a musician, which he doesn't want to be anyway. The following is a synopsis of several discussions at the pub, at the restaurant and at Holger's flat. Attentive listener, as well as responsible for the occasional comment: WILFRIED RÜTTEN.

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "Where did you get your name, Jah Wobble?"

JAH WOBBLE: "I used to work with sound systems. I had some kind of mobile disco with reggae and soul music. There were always a lot of black people in the audience. Eventually they called me Jah Wobble. It's just my nickname, but I won't tell you its real meaning. Maybe I'll change it to King of New Cross."

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "But the recordings in Germany with Holger and Jaki are not your main priority, you also have a band in England, and you're doing gigs as well ..."

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah, it's called The Human Condition, that says it all in two
words, don't it?

The band is an instrumental trio so far, besides a nameless guitarist [4] there's Jim Walker, the first PIL drummer, before Martin Atkins took his position. "Me 'n' Jim" are the core of the band and define the direction: yes, maybe they will add a singer, but they don't look out for one, "if it 'appens it 'appens." They don't do gigs that often - necessarily?

JAH WOBBLE: "I'm not interested in working with stupid agencies which rush you up and down the country. When you play two times a week down the Marquee or somewhere else, you're destroying the power of your music. Playing music shouldn't turn into a job! For me playing music is some kind of ritual. It's quite like celebrating a Holy Mass to transcend everyday life." (transcendence - Jah Wobble and a new metaphysics?) "What we do is a celebration of sound, a feast, a reverie, without set songs, without routine. Sometimes I don't touch my bass for weeks. I never rehearse. In earlier times I used to feel guilty about it, but what's the use. I don't believe in the romance of self-expression. All you can do is tune in and pick it up."

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "I find it quite unusual for somebody like you, who comes from punk and played in PIL, to get into rituals."

JAH WOBBLE: "I just realized that Stockhausen or Indian tribes on the Amazon have similar thoughts as me. But I developed my thoughts about rituals without any theoretical background. At least it's different to the whole fucked up mainstream rock with its fixed roles, its show and its monkey-like attitudes. The current scene has nothing new to offer, it's basically the same as the big rock stars of the '60's: showing off and pretending to be a star. There's no sense of humility. I think they're sick."

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "How's life in London as a musician with such an attitude?"

JAH WOBBLE: "I'm not consciously a musician, but I'm consciously a Londoner. Never mind all the middle-class hippie crap about living in the country. The big cities are the real expression of our Western culture. And I'm part of it, it's part of me, this is me, you know. I am that. Most of my friends have nothing to do with music. Music's not everything. At least I didn't practice guitar in my bedroom from the age of three, and I'm not into shoptalk. I'm on my own more often than people think. Going out depresses me most of the time. Being alone with yourself can be a good thing."

WILFRIED RÜTEN: "But how was it when were in PIL? You were a band ..."

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah, but we didn't live together."

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "And they were no big shots showing off?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Well, in a way they were ... but that's just the way it is."

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "So why did you leave?"

JAH WOBBLE: "We already didn't have much to do with each other during the last six months. I think the official term is musical differences. It was
great for a time, and then it wasn't."

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "But there seemed to have been conflicts. When I showed your cover shot [5] to Jimmy Lydon in Leeds [6] he wiped his arse with it and sweared."

JAH WOBBLE: "Believe me, it's quite a tough business. Even for somebody like me, because the industry doesn't consider the music of our current band as commercial enough. I struggled along from day to day for a long time, I was completely broke. And I haven't seen a penny from Richard Branson for my work with PIL yet. [7] Just now he is buying up all the clubs in London with my money, most recently Ronnie Scott's."

He already owns The Venue and Heaven, as well as Gate Cinemas, record
companies and shops, probably soon a magazine - as vulture of 'Time Out'.

SPEX, Germany, August 17th 1981JAH WOBBLE: "But I'm doing fine right now, I can pay me rent, go to the cinema and I can even buy my friends a beer. That's a lot."

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "So no tears regarding your breakup with PIL?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Oh no, I'm glad I left. I don't have contact anymore and I'm not bitter or anything. Anyway, I have the feeling I'm being guided by somebody, leaving me no choice. Like a pawn in somebody's game."

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "So who's the player?"

JAH WOBBLE: "No idea."

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "What music do you listen to?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Mostly R&B and disco plates. I've written some tunes in that

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "But judging from your EP and your tapes I get the
impression that your music goes more into the direction of Joy Division."

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah, the really impressed me. Ian Curtis had really something to say." [8]

Now in the otherwise rather optimistic Wobble some dark thoughts regarding
suicide and the like started to emerge, he wouldn't have the courage to actually do it, but then ... I was surprised to hear that Joy Division can still evoke this fascination. At this point we came to talk about the press, Wobble found it important to point out that listening to records should never turn into a job (how true!), he told us that Angus MacKinnon joined the business editors of The Times (!) and that the NME isn't what it used to be anymore. But as Gerald [9] recently said, they are desperately poking around in the fog with long sticks to find a new trend.

JAH WOBBLE: "Don't think free speech really exists, the writers at IPC get under a lot of pressure if they try to get a bit more radical. But I wanted to tell you about the music I like: I have a big collection of disco and soul music. Me 'n' Jim listened to some old stuff recently - it was 'Money' by The O'Jays - and Jim said, even if you're in hell, listening to this makes you feel good. That's what music is all about! Our existence is grey and dull anyway. With music and films you can transcend that sometimes. Because everyday life frightens people. Even the best of us are subject to the most basic conditions of human existence, which frightens you."

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "Is there a bass culture?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Yes, the bass is something special, it's the most impressive
instrument. I play it very percussively, with the frets being like the toms."

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "Like in a ritual? The body experiences the sound directly ..."

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah, sometimes I notice that the instrument picks up some
people in the audience and moves them around as the music begins. There's a force there which I'm just channelling. But I'm not interested in personal power. I think Holger would say it's in the DNA ..."

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "I get that experience when listening to Miles Davis. The bass ..."

JAH WOBBLE: "Miles Davis! Oh yeah! When I listened to the live double album from Japan, [10] the bass could have been me. It was me! Very strange. And this Cecil McBee, it could be me. But I never had the patience to sit down and study music in an orthodox way. Five years ago I didn't even imagine I could be a musician. What I do is just percussion on strings."

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "Is virtuosity a dead end?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Jazz has this inferiority complex towards classical playing style. But it makes musicians lose the jazz. The same in rock music. Refining and polishing is very very harmful. It's a bad thing to completely know your instrument. There's no surprises left. I'm always surprised by my bass. Virtuosity is nothing more than a means to create atmospheres, which is the whole point of it, even in films. 'Stalker' for instance impressed me deeply. The really deep movies make it irrelevant whether they are set in east or west. They create suspense and a situation, and the participant transcends reality."

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "Rock 'n' roll is dead?"

JAH WOBBLE: "You shouldn't put it in such a negative way. There will always be people who enjoy live music. I'm sceptical towards the new video trend, which removes you from any direct involvement. Rock 'n' roll? It just turned into shit and I have nothing to do with it anyway. But you posed your question wrong. Music has just turned into some form of popular culture, resulting in many alterations and different styles. Just look at punk and what it turned into. Even the very first hippies were probably really cool, not these stupid cosmic idiots. They defended themselves against society with fun and humour. But then the first idiot turned up with a message. It's the same with any movement, initially there's great creative potential, threatening the establishment, but ultimately it just turns into another bloody youth culture. Most of the first-generation punks are now fucked up people, really. In a bad way! A movement is like a meteor: in the end it burns out. But I have to say one thing about punk, I'm glad I'd been around at the time. Punk had a lot of energy. But I don't believe in movements, I'm an individual. Stay true to yourself and you remain in control. Okay, it probably won't make much difference, maybe you make one good record and in ten years time somone will listen to it. Better than nothing. Sometimes I hate rock 'n' roll: the stage is all set up, you go out and you know exactly what behaviour is expected. It's such a put-up job. But with PIL it was always fun, even though we barely played live. Back then I realised the possibilities to go to extremes in certain fields, and leave out others completely. It's important to keep things as simple as possible. Me 'n' Jim, we just go on stage, play the music and go. I don't care if all the world hates, loves or ignores us, because everything we do, we do with integrity. It's like sailing a ship without having a map, it's all down to the winds and to where you come from. It's an adventure. But when you get into the horse latitudes you think it all makes no sense, and you just see idiots at your gigs. That's rock 'n' roll. Maybe I'm going to bring the band over to Germany?"

WILFRIED RÜTTEN: "No more ..."

JAH WOBBLE: "That's cool. There's enough there, innit?"


[1] Czukay's regular pub was the Café Fleur at Lindenstrasse 10 in Cologne.
[2] the 'How Much Are They?' EP was released in Germany on EMI's sublabel Welt-Rekord on 22 June 1981.
[3] Totenham Hotspur won the FA Cup in May 1981.
[4] Dave "Animal" Maltby
[5] Wobble was on the cover of the very first issue of 'SPEX' magazine in September 1980.
[6] Jimmy Lydon's band 4" Be 2" played the Futurama Festival in Leeds on 14 September 1980. Wilfried Rütten wrote a review of the festival for the October 1980 issue of 'SPEX' magazine.
[7] Robert Horsfall of Lee&Thompson sorted out Wobble's and Levene's publishing royalties in 1989.
[8] PIL and Joy Division both played the first Futurama festival in Leeds in 1979. Wobble dedicated the 'How Much Are They?' EP to Ian Curtis.
[9] Gerald Hündgen, another 'SPEX' writer and later chief editor.
[10] Miles Davis' 'Dark Magus' album was a Japan-only release in 1977. The bass player was Michael Henderson.


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