Jah Wobble

English Roots Music

Songlines – Issue 22

Wobble’s take on English folk is innovative and involving.
Jah Wobble is a musician of restless enthusiasm. Since he quit Public Image Ltd, he has brought his attention and obsessive bass burbling – to bear on the molam music of Laos, Celtic poets and William Blake. He has worked on orchestral composition, and the London Underground. It was just a matter of time, then, before his sometimes menacing gaze fell on English traditional songs.

His approach is original and interesting. ‘Blacksmith’, ‘Banks of Sweet Primroses’, ‘The Unquiet Grave’ and ‘Sovay’ are narratives  songs of lost love, haunting, disguise and trial. Wobble’s concern is to render their emotional pitch while Liz Carter sings the tales. So in ‘Blacksmith’ the abandoned girl’s relentless grief is captured by the endless repetition of the bass line, and her derangement by the distressed high whistles of piper Jean-Pierre Rasle. Thus the music both expresses and develops the drama.

Particularly unsettling and effective is their version of the well known ‘Sovay’, in which a woman disguised as a man tests her lover by robbing him. He hands over all he has except the diamond ring she gave him. The next day she confesses and remarks that, had he given her the ring, she would have shot him dead. This is the first version of the song that has made me consider that the couple will not live happily ever after, that this deceit and the feelings it has raised will destroy the relationship.

Wobble’s unorthodox approach has revealed a depth of meaning in a song I’ve known and loved for years.

Julian May

The Guardian – 31st October 2003

It was surely only a matter of time before Jah Wobble put his mark on the English folk scene. For the past quarter-century he has been one of music’s great eccentrics, and since his early days with Public Image Ltd, he has matched his bass work against anything from industrial dub to eastern styles. On English Roots Music, a whole batch of sturdy, well-known songs, including Blacksmith or Byker Hill, have been given a distinctive Wobble once-over.

The current English revival is a largely acoustic affair, but Wobble takes a broader view, updating the 1960s folk-rock of Fairport Convention in much the same way that Jim Moray has done with his techno-folk. Wobble has a fine traditional singer in Liz Carter, whose cool, clear vocals are bolstered or dissected by his stirring, clonking basslines and dub effects. Add a wash of guitars from Chris Cookson and the pipes and bagpipes of Jean-Pierre Rasle, and the results veer from the thoughtful to the rough, ready and rousing.

Robin Denselow

fRoots Magazine – December 2003

For those unfamiliar with the chap, Mr Wobble is the bass-touting former Johnny Rotten cohort who resurfaced some years ago as a maverick roots champion. A colourful, slightly mysterious figure he seems to have flitted along the periphery of a multitude of scenes and styles, diving with apparent random into a variety of unlikely cultures, emerging with an album to challenge your preconceptions, and then disappearing into more uncharted territory without stopping to take his coat off. In the last decade he’s offered his own highly distinctive left-field take on China, India, Jamaica, Egypt and Ireland and now makes one of his most audacious cultural raids yet, exploring one of the more obscure European musical traditions – England. Or more precisely, the north east.

Accompanied on the journey by pipe icon Jean-Pierre Rasle, guitarist Chris Cookson and singer Liz Carter, Wobble searches out some of the classics – Cannily Cannily, Banks of The Sweet Primrose, The Blacksmith, Unquiet Grave, Sovay, All Things Are Quite Silent, Byker Hill – and compared to someof the recent sampling of this sort of stuff by the likes of Chumbawamba and Martyn Bennett, it’s almost reverential. Carter has a straightforward style totally devoid of any of the accustomed vocal techniques and her version of Byker Hill could pass as standard fare in any folk club in the land were it not for Wobble’s eccentric bass lines causing mayhem behind her, before the whole thing segues into a ghostly sitar-styled rhythm. Similarly The Blacksmith is a rudimentary telling coloured by a haunting whistle, insistent beats and mystical pipes before merging into an infectious dub. And that’s the way it tends to be…. Ballads performed in ultra-conservative fashion while all manner of rhythmic shenanigans and challenging instrumental interludes quietly assemble around them.

The reassessment of English music seems to be gaining credence and momentum at every turn and this deserves to make a telling contribution to that process, though I fear that like most of Wobble’s other work it may be viewed as a cult curiosity.

Colin Irwin

Q Magazine – December 2003

Bass demon sets course for future of English Folk
Former PiL-er and well-known dubhead Jah Wobble has released an impressive number of a albums since establishing his own label, and he has travelled a long way from the crossover sound of 1991’s Rising Above Bedlam. Nowadays, where once was Sinead O’Connor, we have the pride of Hartlepool’s folk circuit, Liz Carter. Yet Wobble’s deviance does ot always lead to inaccessibility. Underpinned by his perennial rolling basslines and flavoured by Jean-Pierre Rasle’s pipes, this set takes gloriously voiced folk standards and sets them in a compelling industrial soundscape.

Rick Glanvill

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