There are plenty of books about London and the punk scene of the 1970’s. Refreshingly, in this autobiography, John Wardle (named Jah Wobble by a drunken Sid Vicious) doesn’t spend hundreds of pages covering that territory. “I was bored witless by most of the bands on the punk scene,” he says. This statement is not too surprising if you are familiar with the diverse musical forays and collaborations of this bass maestro.
So, there is only one chapter on punk and a couple on his time in Public Image Ltd, including insight into the making of the Metal Box album and the band’s internal conflicts. Having read John Lydon’s Anger is an Energy just last year, I can’t help but compare. Both are Londoners of Irish stock and neither suffers fools gladly. It’s safe to assume they don’t send each other Christmas cards. But in his MOAG, Wobble comes across as the less resentful of the two. He appears more willing to put grudges aside, to acknowledge a dispute and then move on with few hard feelings. Interestingly, he reckons Lydon has more in common with Malcolm McLaren than he’d like to think.
Wobble is no shrinking violet, of course. You wonder at times what he might be brushing under the carpet. When he does let rip some of his targets are surprising – the comedian Sean Hughes for example, who he met on an episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
A down-to-earth Cockney humour has helped carry Wobble through his darkest times, which led to him giving up drink and drugs way back in the 80’s. One of the book’s funniest moments is when he describes another East End geezer called Shrew. “Even when things were going well, he “Shrew” would be disappointed… I once said to Shrew, “Have you ever considered topping yourself? “Yes,” he said, “But I know they would all be down the pub gloating, saying, oh well it was always on the cards… well, I ain’t gonna give them the pleasure.”
Memoirs of a Geezer wonderfully describes life and changes in East London over the last 50 years or so. It is also informative about Wobble’s music and varied career (including temporarily giving up the profession to work on the London Underground). Thankfully, for his fans, he soon returned and has released a vast output of music, much of which is well worth checking out. There’s a section near the end of this memoir called The Thorny Issue of Race. It sounds like uncomfortable reading and may well be for some. I find some of JW’s thoughts and comments surprising given his multi-cultural track record and upbringing. But, as ever, Wobble calls it as he sees it.