Drink, drugs, libraries and gardening… dub maestro Jah Wobble shares a few of his formative influences
A Catholic Upbringing
“Being a Catholic, you’re trained in the religious belief that there isn’t anything else. For me, I never felt that God was approachable, because it was an Old Testament God. It was a fearsome God and a judgemental God. I used to go and set the church up for the evening masses. Churches can be quite spooky, ethereal places. You see candles suddenly flickering like mad, and you think you’d seen movement in your peripheral vision.
“I used to get taken out of school to do the paupers’ funerals, where the coffin would be in the church completely on its own, and there’d be no one there to mourn. It’s quite heavy for an eight-year-old kid. I always used to imagine the top of the coffin slowly coming off, like in a zombie film, and falling in.”
Flowers Of Romance?
“When I was quite young, I had pretty bad anxiety. One of the reasons I started playing bass was because it’s meditative. It was a very powerful medium for me. I’d focus on it, I wouldn’t be afraid, and I wouldn’t have anxiety anymore. It’s a very simple thing. There are so many ways into that: painting, music, a good conversation, making a cup of tea – anything. It’s that Zen idea of when you sleep, sleep; when you walk, walk.
“I’m not a keen gardener. I’ve never done any of that shit, I’ve always been a lazy fucker, but in lockdown I’ve really got into it. It’s always, ‘I’ve got to get this done, and I should be doing that’, but you can really lose yourself in gardening, it’s great for getting away from that anxiety. We need things like that to remind us we’ve got this precious human life, and we’re very lucky. It’s precious because you’ve got leisure time. You’ve got time to breathe and to realise how impermanent everything is. And when you realise it’s impermanent, you don’t rush to get things done.”
Getting The Sack
“My sister got me a little Saturday job at our local library, but I got sacked. I would talk to the customers and I got told off for that, like I was a terrible person because I was talking too loud in a library. And then I got caught doing yoga. I’d been reading the ‘Upanishads’, a book of religious teachings still used in Hinduism, and they also had some yoga books, so I found a quiet corner and started doing some poses from one of the books. Suddenly I saw the stern face of Mr Vincent appearing over the shelves, and that was that. I loved books, but it was a bit like when I found I liked drinking – I never liked being behind a bar. I liked reading books, but I didn’t want to work in a library.
“These days I do community jam sessions with Merton Council, and one of the guys who works with me runs some of the libraries in London. He said that if I worked there now, they’d promote me. They want someone doing yoga, and they want someone who talks to the punters. It’s all completely changed.”
School’s Out Forever
“I got expelled from school, and they threatened to call the police. Years later, after I’d become known as a musician, I met one of my old teachers. He said, ‘I’ve heard all about you, do you want to come and do the prize-giving?’. I told him I couldn’t do it because I’d got expelled. I didn’t think it was right. I was terribly behaved and I did nothing but disrespect the teachers at that school. To me, that was like saying I’ve won somehow.”
Cruising For A Boozing
“I always felt like I had this hole of sorts inside. I was always looking for meaning. Of course, you initially go for the lesser lights and I looked to drink and drugs. When you take a line of strong speed, that’s your higher power. Fucking hell, suddenly you knew everything! I ended up having real issues with drugs, and with booze. Alcohol is this wonderful thing that takes all your stress and pain away. And when you mixed it with powder, it was all about losing anxiety, but retaining complete control. William Blake said, ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom’. I had to go through this shit, of doing all the crap I did and every drink I had, in order to find the truth.”
“The cornerstone for me is spiritual. As a boy you’re into football, you’re into movies, but what is that really? Even back then I was one of these people who was always asking, ‘What’s it all about? What the fuck is it all about? Why are we alive?’. You find yourself looking for some essence, some commonality in the things that you like. It comes down to this vague feeling that when you’re doing something you like, or pursuing some interest, you forget yourself. You’re in another place, and you’re not stuck in a narrow frame of mind.
“I was drawn very naturally to Eastern spirituality when I was quite young. I think it’s because there tended to be a methodology there that I could relate to, such as in Buddhism. Years ago, I’d always said that I would definitely never be a Buddhist because there wasn’t a god, and I felt like you needed some kind of federalist, central control. I came to the conclusion that the essence I was seeking wasn’t there, and it was sub-Western philosophy that helped me finally start to come to that conclusion. In Buddhism I found a methodology that was based on the fact that all phenomena relates to yourself.”
The 25th anniversary reissue of Brian Eno/Jah Wobble’s ‘Spinner’ is on All Saints