Where? – The Horseshoe Tavern – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
When? – 24th of October 2018
Why? – Part of two North American one-off shows
Jah Wobble – Bass, Percussion, Vocals
The Invaders of the Heart:
Martin Chung – Guitar
George King – Keyboards
Marc Layton-Bennett – Drums
During my recent trip to Canada I was lucky enough to see both Public Image Ltd. AND The Invaders of the Heart perform live. Earlier in the week we attended the PiL show at Lee’s Palace, Toronto (click HERE to read our review) and now it was time to see one of the original founding members of PiL – bassist and notorious “geezer” Jah Wobble. He was in Toronto to satiate the fans’ desire for him to play in Canada (he’d not done so for donkey’s years apparently) and to promote new album Dream World.
Earlier that day Wobble had rather ominously pleaded to his social media followers for a “line” of an Ovation Magnum bass guitar for the show. We were a little worried at this point and were left wondering – What’s happened to his bass? Has anybody come forward to save the day? Will the show be cancelled? We decided to calm our nerves by breaking into the bag of cannabis kindly donated to us by PiL’s road crew earlier in the week. A few hours passed and doors would now be open. After a few drinks at home we made the 5 minute walk across Queen and Spadina from our flat to the venue, tightly clutching our copy of Metal Box and a tote bag of Wobble records – as we knew there was a likely chance of meeting him given the small size of the venue. When we arrived at the venue, the floor was still empty so we secured a spot at the front of the stage underneath Wobble’s cocktail drums. The first thing we noticed was the instruments – tuned and ready for the band – but no Ovation Magnum in sight – just a bog-standard Fender P-Bass.
We’re knocking back some local pale ale while we wait for Wobble and the Invaders to come on. While we’re waiting I’ll introduce you to the band. Most readers of this blog will of course know Jah Wobble – seminal dub bassist, world music composer and an original member and founder of PiL. Although his time in PiL was actually very brief, the 2 studio albums he featured on are considered the pinnacle of their entire discography. Since leaving PiL in 1980, he has released many studio albums and collaborated with a plethora of musicians from pop-stars such as Sinead O’Connor, rock icons such as U2’s The Edge, respected producers such as Brian Eno & Bill Laswell and an endless list of world artists injecting eclecticism and ethnic variety across a vast back-catalogue of indefatigable work. Then there’s the new-look Invaders who featured most recently on albums such as ‘The Usual Suspects‘ and ‘Everything is No Thing‘ (click for reviews). On guitar is youthful-looking virtuoso Martin Chung (click here – he’s on WordPress!). On keyboards is pianist and composer George King (click here to visit his site!). Last but not least – in charge of beats – Marc Layton-Bennett (click here for more information!).
This is where it starts to get a bit hazy. We feel like he came on around 9:15 but we can’t be exact. The band walks on stage and there’s a big cheer when Wobble appears sporting a smart brown suit-jacket and trilby combo. He manages to keep the crowd engaged as he talks for around 5 minutes. He shames drummer Marc for almost failing to travel with the band after forgetting to sort his ETA out – something I can very much relate to as I myself only found out what an ETA was a few days before I came over to Toronto from Leeds. Wobble officiates the gig by performing a handshake with guitarist Martin Chung in the style of a business agreement! Wobble then talks the audience through the taster menu – “We’re going to start with a track from PiL’s Metal Box album – but we’re gonna do it in a ‘drum & bass’ style to make it more ‘contemporary’. Then we’re going to go into middle of the road (but done in an extremely classy way) cocktail jazz of John Barry – Classic! Then we’ll go into a sort of electric Miles period and then we’ll go into dub… [audience cheers] – and that’s just for starters – that’s the taster menu!”. After talking for so long and building it up, the crowd are taken by surprise when Wobble suddenly starts playing Socialist out of nowhere – a somewhat hilarious anti-climax and most likely intended as such. As soon as he plays the first note, the audio on our phone is destroyed and we stop recording. This is probably the loudest bass I have ever heard in my life.
Wobble likes to start each show like a business transaction as seen below in the publicity handshake between himself and Chungy.
We’re right next to Wobble’s amp and instantly people start to move away from the area to avoid their eardrums blowing out. Suddenly my partner dives into her bag to retrieve some noise-cancelling earplugs. Unfortunately there’s only two, leaving me precariously at risk of permanent fat-bass induced hearing loss. The band steadily make their way through three or four tracks – including John Barry’s theme from Midnight Cowboy and Roy Budd’s theme from Get Carter. We can’t be more than 15 minutes in and Wobble is seemingly overheating under the lights as he strips down to a wife-beater for the rest of the show. We believe Wobble’s bass actually got pushed down by the sound guy at some point during these first songs. He introduces the next song – “this is the Liquidizer[sic]” – it’s a cover of the Harry J All Stars 1969 hit The Liquidator (also previously released by former PiL band-mate Keith Levene on his 1989 LP ‘Violent Opposition‘).
George – “Gorgeous” George King on keyboards does a great job on this one. Halfway through the song and it’s easy to forget who you’re there to see as guitarist Martin Chung momentarily steals the show and the hearts of the guitarists in the crowd such as myself. His virtuoso solo was technically brilliant and deviated from the song so much that eventually when they returned to the Liquidator riff it felt more like a reprise as we’d forgotten we were still listening to The Liquidator. The vibrations from the bass actually caused one of the monitors to slowly shift and fall off the stage halfway into the song – that’s how loud it was!
It was around this time in the evening that the band performed a track from 1991’s ‘Rising Above Bedlam’ – Everyman’s an Island – and marked round 1 for Wobble’s new sparring partner – A pair of cowbells! His “cowbell solo” seemed to go on indefinitely, and he needed a little breather between the next song.
Below is a clip of Jah Wobble performing a cowbell solo during Everyman’s An Island.
We’re really not sure of the ordering of the set, but we believe 90s Invaders hit ‘Visions of You’ came next. We really weren’t sure how it was going to sound but Sinead’s parts were covered by some playback (possibly the re-recorded vocals by Holly Macve from the recent Usual Suspects album) – and it sounded great! For the record, we believe this to be Wobble’s finest bassline, ever EVER! Click here to watch an unbelievable performance featuring Sinead, live on The Word back in 1991. Straight after Visions of You came another 90s Invaders hit – ‘Becoming More Like God‘ from 1994’s ‘Take Me To God‘ album. This is another one of my favourites, and as confusing as the line “impossibly funicular” is – the melody of it is gorgeous! At this point I’d like to praise the drumming of Marc Layton-Bennett, who is actually obscured completely from our view the entire show because of Wobble’s positioning on stage – but this only heightens our senses to his sharp beat! I think I’m right in saying they played fan favourite ‘How Much Are They?’ during this section of set – an early Wobble song featured on the collaborative album ‘Full Circle‘ featuring Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit of krautrock band Can. Suddenly, another perilously positioned monitor falls from the stage as a result of the bass vibrations – we’re starting to worry about the roof blowing off!
The crowd suddenly become very excited as Wobble introduces ‘Poptones’ – The much loved Metal Box cornerstone and as Jah Wobble himself once said “The jewel in PiL’s crown”. This was one of the first songs I learnt to play on bass and I studied a lot of clips of Wobble playing it, most notably when PiL played on the Old Grey Whistle Test back in ’80 (watch it here)
It’s during this song that I closely observe both Wobble and Chungy. Wobble still plays Poptones as he did back in 1980 and the descending octave (that apparently took Wobble months to work out back when he was still a novice) is simple but so effective! Chungy looks to be playing everything right but isn’t very audible during this song due to distortion so I’ll have to check out ‘Usual Suspects’ again to hear how he’s approaching this one! The original guitarist Keith Levene was known (from my observation at least) for playing his notes against open B and Es which is what gave his playing that orchestral/shrapnel sound.
The highlight of the set for me was when the band played satirical album closer ‘Fodderstompf’ from PiL’s ‘First Issue‘ LP. As soon as George King started tinkering on the piano I instantly recognized it to be the strange chain like sound at the start of Fodderstompf. Wobble sounds exactly as he did back in 1978 as he petulantly screams “We only wanted to be looooooooooooooooved”. The crowd find it hilarious and it turns into a contest of who can scream it the most annoyingly! Anyway, speaking of chains, somewhere around this point in the set the band covered Fleetwood Mac’s song ‘The Chain‘, a song associated with racing cars over here in the UK due to a long-standing ad campaign that finds the song to be thematically appropriate for Formula 1 montages. This is the only song of the night I’d rather forget. They actually made a really good job of it but I’ve just never been very fond of this song OR Fleetwood Mac.
The final song before the encore is Public Image’s first ever single – the eponymous ‘Public Image‘. We’re kinda mixed on this one. Yes, it’s one of Wobble’s most recognised basslines but we fail to see how Wobble can relate to the lyrics – lyrics written by John Lydon about his days in the Sex Pistols and the media attention he received. Perhaps this is a song best left as an instrumental piece in Wobble’s set, as I believe Martin Chung can do a good enough job with Keith Levene’s guitar line to keep the song afloat.
The band exit the stage to cheers and applause. The clapping continues for a few minutes and the band return on stage for one final song – Invaders of the Heart’s ‘So Many Years’ from the 1989 LP ‘Without Judgement‘. The audience applauds one last time and the band take a bow while Wobble thanks everybody for coming!
|1.||Socialist (From PiL’s Metal Box album)|
|2.||Midnight Cowboy Theme|
|6.||Everyman’s an Island
|7.||Visions of You|
|8.||Becoming More Like God|
|9.||How Much Are They?
|10.||Poptones (From PiL’s Metal Box album)|
|11.||Fodderstompf (From PiL’s First Issue album)|
|13.||Public Image (From PiL’s Metal Box album)
|14.||So Many Years|
|*We’re not sure how accurate this setlist is as we can’t remember and Jah Wobble doesn’t use setlists. We’re positive these are all the songs, but we can’t remember the order. If you were there and would like to contribute to this setlist please comment below. Thankyou.|
Post-Show: Meeting Wobble
Before leaving the stage Wobble promised to come to the side and meet people after he’d gotten changed. He warned us that although he’s very confident on stage, off the stage he comes across as a complete weirdo! This was comforting to hear as we’re socially awkward weirdos ourselves. After about 15 minutes had passed he came out from the back and stood behind a table near his merchandise stand. Quite a few people were buying the Dream World album on vinyl from the merch stand and getting him to sign that. We waited back for a little while and let the crowd thin out. It was now our chance to get in on the action. We approached him together and said something like “Hi you were really good tonight” – which seems a little generic but we were kinda “wobbly” legged (if you’ll pardon the pun) from being stood in front of one of our long time heroes. He signed my partner’s stuff first – a CD copy of the expanded re-issue of First Issue on Light In The Attic Records, and the inner booklet of Wobble’s 1995 album ‘Heaven and Earth‘. It was now my time. I always get caught up in the moment and just roll with it, so I just handed him my Metal Box assuming he had my partner’s fine-tip sharpie pen to hand – However, for some inexplicable reason he had a MASSIVE paint marker. We did a bit of research prior to the show and were aware that Wobble’s signature can be rather abstract but my heart sank when I saw how big he’d committed to doing it. “Oh my god he’s going to scrawl over Johnny Rotten’s signature“. He handed it back and I said “thanks so much“. He was looking down at my hand curiously until I realised I was also holding a 7” copy of Visions of You. “Oh yeah there’s this too“. I thought he’d adjust his signature for the smaller surface area of a 7” single but no – he just scribbled over the image with the most obnoxious signature you’ve ever seen! We put the records into our tote bag and to the back of our minds for now. As I’m doing it he points out my shirt. “Oh nice retro England shirt“. I said “oh thanks“. I usually get too shy but I thought no I’ll try have some banter with him as it might be my only chance. I said “Well I’m from England actually, I’m from Leeds”. He said “Oh right yeah the band’s from up north as it happens“. I responded by saying “well yeah I could tell they were northerners on account of them being good“. It took him a moment but then I think he realised my joke. I find it hilarious that we’re both so far from home but there’s still room for northern vs southern banter. He actually seemed very shy and overwhelmed which is surprising as he always comes across as a larger than life character – but then again he did confess he’s a weirdo off-stage! Nonetheless I found it quite humbling. I felt like we were taking his time up as there were other people around us so we asked him for a photograph and then shook his hand and everything and then that was that. It’s a shame really because I’d like to have a beer with the guy and talk without the pressure! There’s a lot that I wanted to tell him.
When we got home we looked at each other nervously as we were about to take our records out of the bag and discover whether he’d destroyed our Metal Box or not – “WHO handed him that fat marker pen?” we joked simultaneously. Of course, we only really care about owning something he has held and marked, but we did see the funny side of it! As you can see below, it actually looks pretty good – albeit people keep telling us it overshadows Johnny Rotten’s autograph! We also came into the possession of his drumsticks (though we can’t remember how).
You’d think he’d have some spatial awareness when it came to the smaller paraphernalia such as 7″s and CD sleeves but no. He signed my copy of Visions of You just as big but compressed it smaller – which I find hilarious but maybe that’s just me!
In summary, we thoroughly enjoyed the evening. The band were fantastic, the venue was great, the ale was nice and we came home with a bag full of goodies – but of course, the highlight was getting to meet Mr Wobble in person!
For those of you who haven’t heard it yet, check out his latest album Dream World (which features the same Invaders of the Heart that performed on the night). You can purchase the album following the link below. Thanks for reading!