The Celtic Poets
The Guardian – June 1997
The sonic universe of Jah Wobble continues to expand bewilderingly. Last year he took metaphysical soundings on The Inspiration Of William Blake, and on this debut release for his own 30 Hertz label, he uses writings by Brendan Kennelly, Shane MacGowan and Louis MacNeice as springboards for a series of Celtic-flavoured musings in sound. Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners narrates the poetry in a rainy-night-in-Dublin vein, while the musicians traverse the globe. Market Rasen seems to begin in Ireland and end up in Karachi, while London rain is a dream of the Scottish highlands. Third Heaven and Saturn sound like reggae viewed in deep space through the Hubble telescope, before Drew proclaims the transience of all things In Gone In The Wind. To sum up … I can’t.
Echo Magazine – August 1997
Wobble boots off a new label operation – no major is ever going to contain or even understand his wayward genius. As ever the Invaders line-up remains floating with participants like jazz trumpeter Harry Beckett and Shane MacGowan rubbing shoulders with the amazing Jaki Liebezeit from Can. Irish poetry perched on traditional washes and jazzy noodling straddling Wob’s deep dub-funk and even sitar-splattered Eastern ventures. It could easily fall world-music-worthily flat but Wob’s passion and personality steer it hauntingly home. The ambient-turned-space-funked Thames and beautiful Star of the East are among the best things he’s ever done. ***
MOJO – July 1997
Ex-PIL bass man fresh from trading licks with William Blake gets in touch with his inner Celt.
This could have all gone terribly wrong. You know the scenario:post punk iconoclast overreaches himself and goes arse over eclecticism. Instead, Wobble has mapped out a respectful world musicology which avoids cliched romanticism. Formulated around the strident lyrical refrains of Louis MacNeice, Brendan Kennelly and one Shane MacGowan, Wobble fuses bagpipes, trumpet, sitar and other Eastern objects into an unusually satisfying whole. The Instrumentation is in turn sonorous, incidental, understated, quietly exotic. Harry Beckett blows a fine flugel, Can percussionist Jaki Leibezeit adopts the tabla touch. And the synchronised drone of Baluji Shrivastev’s sitar and Jean-Pierre Rasle’s bagpipes underpins the whole project. The poetry is narrated in the distinctive gravelly tones of The Dubliners’ Ronnie Drew – and, in case you’re wondering, MacGowan acquits himself nobly with The Dunes, a bittersweet tale of vengeance of the Great Hunger. Save for the lyrics, the whole thing is a tad reminiscent in feel to Don Cherry and Colin Walcott’s Godona collaborations in the early ’80s. From Death Disco to this? The boy done good.
Q Magazine – July 1997
Turing his attention away from William Blake’s visionary Romanticism to the tough and earthy language of Louis MacNeice, Brendan Kennelly and Shane MacGowan, Jah Wobble uses their poems as the lyrical counterpoint to the seismic changes embarked upon on the former PIL bassist’s organic world music. Percolating outwards from the foundations of Wobble’s dub bass backbone, the music uses free-form jazz trumpets, bagpipes, sitars, synthesisers and rolling percussive backbeats to build up undulating waves of invigorating experimentation. Even the most outré of these compositions, Thames – little more than a sustained hum with subtly interpolated sound effects – achieves an addictive karmic buzz. The recitation of the poems by The Dubliners’ Ronnie Drew, meanwhile, is a lesson in gravelly immediacy. ***
Folk Root – July 1997
Ha! This should wind a few people up. Jah Wobble, who after all is not a frequent visitor to these pages, is a former bass-playing Johnny Rotten cohort who has become something of a giant at the cutting edge of rock productions. Last year he put out an album setting William Blake to music and now he’s turned his attention to the “gritty Celtic romanticism” (It sez here) of Irish poets.
But not the famous ones. Wobble focuses attention on contemporary writers like Brendan Kennelly, Louis MacNiece and even Shane MacGowan, layering their poetry with an eerily atmospheric and slightly disturbing blanket of sounds which include Indian sitar, Chinese harp, the odd burst of trumpet and drums, and – perhaps most memorably – our old friend Jean-Pierre Rasle on pipes. The arrangement accorded MacGowan’s heartbreaking story of the famine, The Dunes provides a tension that is almost unbearable.
The choice of the man with razor blades for tonsils, Ronnie Drew, as narrator, is also inspired, Drew, who was an actor when The Dubliners was still but a James Jayce title, is a grave yet human storyteller and the profundity of his delivery is an epic counterpoint to the ever-more mesmerising canvases painted by Wobble around him. The whole backdrop appears to be on the point of toppling off the edge at one point during Market Rasen amid a manic jazz jamboree of sitar and pipes until Drew’s voice suddenly rises above it to deliver London Rain with an authority that makes you sit bolt upright.
It has incredible drama and there’s such Inventiveness and vision In Wobble’s arrangements it’s impossible not to be enthralled, even if you don’t appreciate all the confusing soundscapes and musical cultures colliding around it. Initially shocking, there is a certain method to the apparent madness and a weird kind of perverted cohesion in the whirling confusion of sounds, drifting disturbingly through modern jazz to futuristic classical and ambient dance, that keeps dragging this listener at least back for more. It’s certainly light years on from the recent Grapevine Yeats tribute album.
Listen to it at your peril. But listen to it.
Wire – June 1997
A decidedly odd and potentially risky undertaking from Wobble. A concept album based on Celtic poetry? A musician could hardly imagine a more dangerous idea, clouded as it is by the spectre of clodhopping Brigadoon Oirish rusticity or the palliative sonic revisionism of Clannad. That Wobble avoids both pratfalls is quite an achievement. That’s not to say that the album doesn’t fall a bit in places, not least at the start. Folk music is often harsh, leading generations of musical nationalism to invest it with the auvergne syndrome. But Wobble is having none of that even at the risk of making the badly and spikily unadorned nature of Celtic music (of whatever derivation) seem a bit too austere for its own good. However by and large it’s plain sailing. The poems – more Brendan Behan than WB Yeats, urban hallucination rather than Gaelic mysticism – are beautifully intoned in a peat – encrusted country drawl, and Wobble often backs them up by boldly stating the pentatonic affinities between Celtic and Oriental music’s highlighted in a fondness for drone effects.
Wobble can overdo the World Music angle. On the other hand little too much relaxation also tends to cramp in when wobble takes his foot off the accelerator. At his best, though, Wobble can take on all comers, particularly with “Market Rasen “, a nimble minimalist intro with skittish muted trumpet on top and the composer’s own loose – limbed, ass-shaking bass dominating a swaggering funk mix of limpid density. Wobble can recruit Herbie Hancock’s best grooves to the incongruous setting of Celtism without batting an eyelid. It’s this rhythmic drive which, perhaps inevitably, lifts the album out of the ordinary in an overcrowded market place of multi-cultural tribal technocrats Bake Beyond. The afro-Celt sound system and the very excellent Breton group Stone Age are all very well, but few of these musicians seem to bother much with dub, funk or reggae (production techniques as well as metres), preferring more profitable dancefloor rhythms. Wobble’s willingness to take that extra step, to make the combination even more outlandish, actually enables him to make this juxtaposition sound natural and fluid.