PUBLIC IMAGE LTD’S early stuff wasn’t all about the bassline. It wasn’t 100% about Wobble’s bossy, insistent, unstoppable low-end throb. No. I believe the band had a singer, a guitarist and an occasional drummer too.
Let’s have it right though: from the outset, from the very first moment of their very first single, it was Wobble’s bass that defined, bullied, pushed and pulled PiL’s sound forward.
Don’t get me wrong. Lydon’s whiney and increasingly obtuse voice style and Levene’s insane guitar had their moments, obviously. Anyone who had a hand in First Issue or Metal Box deserves our gratitude and admiration. And, while PiL had some absolutely fantastic drummers, either Lydon or Levene, individually, would have totally dominated the sound in any other band.
But how can you compete with Wobble?
THERE are plenty of venues in Manchester that are bigger than the Band on the Wall, and there may even be a few with a higher profile – but none of them can boast the same kind of musical pedigree.
A tavern, pub and venue which, in one form or another has been entertaining successive generations of Mancunians for the best part of 200 years, singing, dancing, drinking and carousing are part of the very fabric of the Band on the Wall.
Indeed, the interior of the newly-refurbished and expanded venue, situated on Swan Street in the city centre, was for much of its life darkly lacquered with nicotine stains, spilled drinks, more than a little shoe-leather and the sweat from the brows of a thousand dancers, lovingly reapplied over the course of decades.
For some, this only enhanced the gritty authenticity of the venue. For others, attracted by a uniquely visionary and diverse live music programme, it was a case of holding your nose and tiptoeing around the Band on the Wall’s flooded nether regions. Either way, the building’s deficiencies were beginning to get in the way of the entertainment it offered and it finally closed its doors in 2005, with a promise to return bigger and better at some undefined point in the future.
Four years later, the gleaming venue is preparing to open its doors once again.
RELIGIOUS epiphanies come in all shapes and sizes, but the memory of the first time Jah Wobble heard the booming basslines of dub reggae is something that will stay with him for the rest of his life.
“The first time I heard dub was probably Burning Spear versions, early King Tubby, when I’d be at blues up Hackney,” says Wobble as we have a cup of tea in the living room of his suburban semi in Bramhall. Still every inch the East End boy about town, but one who happens to have relocated to leafy Cheshire, his bright blue eyes still gleam with the fervour of a recent convert.
“It was one of those watershed moments, it was like music from another fucking planet. Simple as that.”
“It was just fucking incredible. Y’know, it was like music of the gods, it was like music not by human beings. It’s the kind of music they should have had in ET, or Close Encounters, they should have just played fucking dub, it was like close encounters with another dimension. I’m shivering just thinking about it. It was just something else. It was physical and ethereal, all at the same time.
“It absolutely wiped me out. I just couldn’t get enough of it, it just become like an addiction, just the weight of the bass, the fascination of when you went near the speakers and you could actually see your trousers get sucked into the cones. Faaacking hell!” he drawls, lost in the moment. He comes to: “So I’d always be the nutcase right up near the bassbins.”