John Joseph Wardle (born11 August 1958), known by the stage name Jah Wobble, is an English bass guitarist, singer, poet and composer. He became known to a wider audience as the original bass player in Public Image Ltd (PiL) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but left the band after two albums. Following his departure from PiL, he went on to a successful solo career, continuing to the present. Wobble has four children: two daughters, actress Hayley Angel Wardle and Natalie Wardle from his first marriage, and two sons with his second wife, the Chinese-born guzheng player and harpist Zi Lan Liao. In 2009, he published his autobiography, Memoirs of a Geezer. In 2012, he reunited with fellow PiL guitarist Keith Levene for Metal Box In Dub and the album Yin & Yang. Since 2013 he has been one of the featured pundits on Sunday morning's The Virtual Jukebox segment of BBC Radio 5 Live's Up All Night with Dotun Adebayo.
He was born in Stepney, London, His father, Harry Eugene Wardle, was a tea clerk with the East India Company and worked later in life as a postman, while his mother, Kathleen Bridget (née Fitzgibbon), was a school and County Hall secretary. Wobble grew up with his family in Whitechapel's Clichy Estate in London’s East End, and is a long-time friend of John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) whom he had met in the 1970s along with John Simon Ritchie (later known as Sid Vicious) at London's Kingsway College (now Westminster Kingsway College). Along with John Gray they were known as "The Four Johns". Jah Wobble acquired his stage name through the drunken, mumbled version of Wardle's name by Sid Vicious, which Wobble kept because "people would never forget it". According to Rotten's autobiography, Wobble was once on the short list of replacements for original Pistols bassist Glen Matlock.
Public Image Ltd (PiL)
Wobble started his musical career with John Lydon's post-Sex Pistols group Public Image Ltd (PiL). His bass playing drew heavily on dub, which has remained an important feature of his music. In his early life and career, by his own admission, Wardle was given to occasional bouts of aggression, brought on in part by an often harsh upbringing in London's East End and exacerbated by heavy drinking and drug use. He has stated that the first Public Image Ltd album was recorded so quickly due in part to the bassist's altercations with a sound engineer and men at a nearby pub. He has, however, dismissed claims accusing him of extreme malice, such as setting fire to the former drummer for The Fall, Karl Burns, while Burns was session drumming for PiL.
Wobble co-wrote and contributed bass and drums to PiL's second album Metal Box, which was released in 1979. However, he grew increasingly frustrated by the lacklustre creative atmosphere in the band, which he felt stifled his artistic ambitions and PiL's creative potential. Besides differences in artistic vision, further conflicts were brought on in part by heavy drug and alcohol abuse in the band. Wobble then went on to recording and releasing his debut album The Legend Lives on - Jah Wobble in Betrayal, and found himself accused by other PiL members of having made unauthorised use of material from Metal Box for the making of Betrayal. Wobble then left PiL in late 1980.
Wobble also released at least one single in the "PiL years"... His 1978 "Dreadlock don't deal in wedlock" in which he recites Lear's Owl and the Pussycat and finishes with the immortal line, 'love and marriage is like ice cream and cabbage... dreadlock don't deal in wedlock." This was a convincing spoof reggae number.
Early post-PiL years
Soon after leaving PiL, Wobble started his solo career by forming The Human Condition with guitarist Dave "Animal" Maltby and PiL's original drummer, Jim Walker. The Human Condition toured the UK, Europe, and US in 1981, and made two cassette-only releases of their live shows (Live at the Collegiate Theatre and Live in Europe). The post-PiL years saw Wobble also collaborating with Can members Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit on Czukay's solo projects (notably On the Way to the Peak of Normal and Rome Remains Rome) and Full Circle (released in 1984).
Jah Wobble's Invaders of the Heart was formed in 1983, a group with a fluid line-up that included pedal steel guitarist B.J. Cole and percussionist Neville Murray. Wardle also appeared on the LP Snake Charmer billed as a co-leader alongside guitarist The Edge of U2, Czukay, Liebezeit, and producer François Kevorkian.
His critical stance towards the commercialisation of the music industry, compounded by heavy drinking and drunken brawls, led to his abandoning music for a short period in the mid-1980s. He then did a variety of day jobs, whilst continuing to perform and record his music in what spare time he had. These jobs included a long stretch with the London Underground. In an oft-quoted tale it is related that he once, at Tower Hill Underground Station via the public address system, regaled commuters with the deadpan announcement, "I used to be somebody. I repeat, I used to be somebody."
By 1986, Wobble was clean and sober, and due to the repeated prompting of his friend and former band mate, percussionist Neville Murray, Wobble returned to music professionally. Armed with a live recording of a concert he had made with a new line up of musicians during a European tour in 1988, Wobble travelled to New York City's New Music Seminar in 1989 to get back into the music industry. Wobble was able to secure an eleventh-hour record deal with a small European record label. The live album, Without Judgement, recorded in the Netherlands was released in November 1989 and successfully revived Wobble's career.
Early 1990s to present
Following on from the success of Without Judgement in 1990 and Rising Above Bedlam in 1991, Wobble has since collaborated with a wide variety of musicians. His explorations into world music predated much of the genre's popularity. Jah Wobble's 1994 album Take Me To God was influenced by world music genres and contributions from a variety of artists of diverse cultural backgrounds, including Baaba Maal, Dolores O'Riordan, and Chaka Demus, and was a critical and commercial success. His music has spanned a number of genres, including ambient music and dance music, and in 2003, reworkings of traditional English folk songs. Though he has released recordings since the early 1980s, Wobble has been quite prolific from the mid-1990s to the present. He now runs his own label, 30 Hertz Records, and tours regularly throughout the UK and Europe with his current band, Jah Wobble & The English Roots Band.
A collaboration with his wife, the Chinese-born guzheng player Zi Lan Liao, was entitled Chinese Dub. He also performed at the 2008 Rhythm Festival.
Besides his work as a musician and composer, Jah Wobble also writes occasional book reviews for The Independent. He studied part-time for four years at Birkbeck, University of London, graduating in 2000 with an upper second-class honours degree in the humanities. His autobiography, entitled Memoirs of a Geezer: Music, Life, Mayhem (Serpent's Tail books, London), was released in September 2009.
Jah Wobble and the Chinese Dub Orchestra won the 'Cross-Cultural Collaboration' category, for their album Chinese Dub, in the inaugural Songlines Music Awards, announced on 1 May 2009, which were the new 'world music' awards organised by the UK based magazine, Songlines.
In September 2009, John Lydon reformed PiL for a series of concerts in late 2009. Despite Lydon's invitation to join, Jah Wobble did not feature in the line-up, since he considered the wages offered insufficient and disagreed with the choice of venues.
At an impromptu appearance at the Musicport Festival in Bridlington Spa on 24 October 2010, where they were joined by vocalist Johnny Rotter of the Sex Pistols Experience, Wobble renewed his association with former PiL guitarist Keith Levene.
In 2011, Wobble collaborated with Julie Campbell, alias Warp Records artist LoneLady in a project called Psychic Life. The eponymous debut album Psychic Life was inspired by disco, post-punk and psychogeography, and released by Cherry Red Records on 14 November 2011. Keith Levene contributed to three tracks on the album. A digital-only EP, Psychic Life, fronted by the song "Tightrope", was released in October 2011.
In early 2012, after some planned Japan gigs were cancelled because of visa issues, Wobble and Levene played various UK clubs as Metal Box in Dub. The visa issues were resolved and they played Fuji Rock festival in July 2012. This was followed by the release of a four-song, eponymous EP. An album entitled Yin & Yang was released in November 2012.
Wobble has also recently collaborated with the British ambient group Marconi Union, the results of which were released as an album called Anomic on 30 Hertz records in June 2013. In October 2013 30 Hertz Records released 'Odds & Sods & Epilogues' an illustrated book/CD of Jah Wobbles poetry.
List of collaborators
- Jah Wobble (2009). Memoirs of a Geezer: The Autobiography of Jah Wobble— Music, Life, Mayhem. London, UK: Serpent's Tail. ISBN 978-1-84668-712-9.
- discography at Discogs
- discography at Discogs
- statistics, tagging and previews at Last.FM
- statistics, tagging and previews at Last.FM
- at Last.FM