Jah Wobble and the Invaders of the Heart at Pheonix Arts Centre, Exeter: 15 January 2021.
A new gig going year gets slowly underway with an overnight trip to Exeter to catch bassist and experimental musician Jah Wobble and his band, the Invaders of the Heart. This is my first gig for over a month with a bit of a quiet time to endure a bout of Covid, which took me out for a couple of weeks. Let’s face it, it’s a barren spell for tours anyway and the Covid Omicron variant has seen the need for cautious cancellation and isolation for some bands and roadcrew.
To be honest until a few weeks ago I hadn’t heard any of Jah Wobble’s varied music, beyond his old Public Image Ltd bass lines – he left in the early 80s after two albums – and his reworked dub version of The Metal Box album. But a chance to meet up with a couple of fellow gig goers who had a ticket spare enticed me over.
The Pheonix Arts Centre would be great facility to have on the doorstep… it’s a couple of hours drive for me unfortunately. Plenty going on in here including dance, arts workshops, cinema and regular decent smaller gigs.
The building (1911) used to be part of the University College of the South West, with Law School being the last discipline to leave in 1967.
Capacity of the gig venue is 450 with room for another 60 up in the balcony, where we are perched in the glass fronted front row. This is my third visit, the others being Spear of Destiny last year and Half Man Half Biscuit a few years earlier.
No support act this evening but a set of two halves with a break ‘to give the bar some support’ in these difficult times. A good selection of beers and a staggeringly good range of low alcohol brews… I settled for a my favourite big brewer stout: Mena Dhu, from the St Austell Brewery. It’s good little bar with an outside terrace as well – maybe not in January eh – and you don’t need to have a ticket to go in.
As you’d expect the bass sound is up front but the other band members get their moment, a keyboardist and a great guitarist to the fore at times. Jah Wobble has worked with so many different people over the years.
It’s relaxing stuff that gathers pace through the set and gets some dancing going down the front later. It’s busy enough with a bit of room and not many up in the balcony.. a few hundred all told maybe.
Jah Wobble’s real name is John Wardle. The story is that the name stuck after a drinken Sid Vicious met him for the first time and misheard the name and thought he said Jah Wobble.
Mr Wobble plays seated for some songs but is up and on walkabout to check on the band with a special place for that drum bass connection. One track illustrates that more than any with bass and drums speeding up throughout to a frenzy.
This is a bit of an experimental one on my part and a worthwhile one but where the set was gathered from remains mainly a mystery. One song was from Public Image Ltd’s Metal Box album, and my perhaps obvious highlight was Public Image itself.
Several numbers see Jah Wobble losing himself in his drums in the front right corner of the stage while the main drums are still thumping away – full on African music drum sound.
I see the band played Ronnie Scott’s recently and I can see how this mainly bass and drums led instrumental performance, with improvisation opportunities throughout, would lend itself to the jazz club approach. Bet that was a good ‘un.
An enjoyable start then to my 2022 personal tour. Something different and new to me. After an encore for an engaged audience it was back out to the less relaxed atmosphere of a cold, wet and fairly wild Exeter city centre on a Saturday night.