Heroes Wobble But They Don't Fall Down
Context is everything. It cant be said often enough. This is why the appearance of In The Beginning There Was Rhythm on Soul Jazz records is so important. Seeing this collection of daring pop music alongside the Studio One compilations, the New Orleans funk sets, the Philly Soul collection, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and ESG seems right.
Whether he takes an interest in such things or not, I would like to think Paul Morley would be delighted at this twist of fate. He did, after all, try hard to create a new context in the early '80s for groups like Cabaret Voltaire and 23 Skidoo, with great enthusiastic pieces for the pop press. For example, in The Face he cast Cabaret Voltaire's Red Mecca as a modern pop record of its time as say The Temptations' Cloud Nine was of its.
So, it will be interesting to see what ramifications this compilation has. Will it be a one-off curio, or the start of serious attempts to document a very important and very cool period in pop.
I am sure there are those of us busy compiling subsequent volumes. My current version has as a centrepiece Jah Wobble's 'Nocturnal', from perhaps a little later in the day, but perfectly capturing that unique adventurous punk / funk / electronic / club / disco late night blues party feel. Mmmm.
Like Joy Division, PiL are conspicuous by their absence from the Soul Jazz set. As there is little excuse for not knowing their work, so their absence is understandable. As imposing as the shadow of these groups may cast over the musical landscape, it is dangerous to take their work for granted.
We may have our special PiL moments, for example, whether it be the menace of Metal Box (or Second Edition) or the memory of the groups' extraordinary performance of 'Public Image' on Top Of The Pops.
The funny thing is that, while I can make a very strong case for Flowers of Romance being PiL's finest work, most people preserve a special soft spot for Jah Wobble as the romantic heart of the outfit. Twenty years on, Wobble still seems a mysterious maverick. We may have trouble keeping up with his collaborations, but mere mention of his name prompts approving nods still.
So what of his music, the sounds beyond the bass slinging legend? Well, there's appropriately a new double CD out on 30 Hertz called Jah Wobble The Early Years, which collects (post-Virgin) early singles and the bedroom album. I recommend it highly for anyone interested in what became of Wobble after leaving PiL, and anyone who has pricked up their ears at the sorts of sounds on In The Beginning There Was Rhythm.
Besides some very beautiful and moving pop music, some of the song titles reflect what's happening here: 'Hill In Korea', 'Desert Song', 'Heart of the Jungle', 'Romany Trail', 'Voodoo East', 'Trade Winds'. Without making this sound like an Andy Kershaw radio show or a Martin Denny exercise in exotica, it should be celebrated that Wobble's work here reflects a hunger or thirst to expand horizons and experiment, as corny as that may sound. It's a mood that is captured in the sleevenotes of Raincoats' reissues too, where they refer to listening to everything from Michael Nyman and Gavin Bryars to African rhythms, Chic, Cajun and funk, reggae, Abdullah Ibrahim and all sports of other ethnic sounds as they put together Odyshape and Moving. Now, perhaps you can understand the sense of disappointment when I come across the new fundamentalists still speaking of the Stones and the Smiths, the Stooges and the Pistols.
So, anyone enticed by In The Beginning There Was Rhythm is recommended to invest in a copy of Jah Wobble The Early Years. I suspect, however, they may at first be a little surprised that the recordings at times seem little more than blueprints or under exposed snaps. Ultimately, that's the beauty of these recordings, and why they stand up to constant replaying. Like, I guess, a great artist's formative sketches being of more interest than a formally finished framed work.
Anyone, looking for a sound closer to the big PiL way of doing things would be better off tracking down a copy of the 1980 Virgin set The Legend Lives On - Jah Wobble in 'Betrayal'. Here's where the big bass, rumbling, dubbed up sound briefly survives. The feel is more familiar, covering wonderfully land covered also by Adrian Sherwood and the On-U collectives. It is a completely essential record and fans of Metal Box will approve heartily, but the less obvious, and sometimes altogether stranger delights of The Bedroom Album and singles like 'Nocturnal' now seem so much more compelling.
So, if I don my Michael Foot stylee elder statesman duffel and wave my knarled stick and hector for a while, I'd say that the musical youth should let the Soul Jazz compilation be a starting point. And while buying the entire Throbbing Gristle is not necessary (although the related Chris and Cosey Essential Collection is just that), there are plenty of other dance delights out there to explore in the punk pool. But let's not forget the pop...
© Kevin Pearce 2002