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Jah Wobble: ‘When I was much younger I drank like an Irishman’

Writing Dark Luminosity, his memoir, has been more cathartic for the London-Irish musician than he expected it to be

John Wardle, the original bass player for Public Image Ltd and the man whose name a pre-Sex Pistols Sid Vicious drunkenly slurred as “Jah Wobble”, is taking it easy before a gig at Whelan’s, the Dublin music venue. “People would never forget it,” he writes of his accidental renaming in Dark Luminosity, his newly expanded memoir.

Wardle, who has released 10 albums over the past six years, all on his own label, is 66 in August; he looks his age, but he is chipper in the way that many men of a similar vintage are not. His eyes shine with concentration, and he talks with the assurance of the intellectually engaged. One reason for this is that he has been teetotal for decades, he says.

“Without wishing to stereotype, when I was much younger I drank like an Irishman,” he says. “I know what that might sound like, but when I was first attending AA meetings, in the 1980s, it was all Irish and Scottish. That was the era back then, but that’s all gone for me now. I still go to the meetings a lot. That’s why I’m here – as in, alive.”

The updated version of Dark Luminosity, which originally appeared in 2009, arrives with an extended summary of Wardle’s time since then as a musical adventurer, father and settled family man. The narrative of his life, he says, is crucial to him. “It’s redemptive and all that, you know? You validate it, and sometimes it requires self-justification, but, yeah, I admit I’ve had an odd life. I’ve been doing this a long time, but that weird hiatus just before showtime is still such a weird, great, twilight world. To still be living in that world is amazing. As much as anything, I’ve just persevered with it.”


Dark Luminosity delves deeply and very honestly into Wardle’s London-Irish background. His father’s family made their way to England from Schull, in Co Cork; his mother’s family were from Durrus, just across the Mizen Peninsula. Brexit “kickstarted me into getting an Irish passport and citizenship”, he says, although he was known long before that for collaborating with Irish musicians and singers, notably Ronnie Drew (on the 1997 album The Celtic Poets), Sinéad O’Connor, the Edge, Peadar Ó Riada, Dolores O’Riordan and Cathal Coughlan.

All I know is that, for someone who is somewhat OCD, music is a very calm place to go into. So I reside in that, and music emerges

“If you’re not careful,” Wardle says, “the whole expat-Irish thing is something of a cliche. I always avoided that and would actually play up against it, but I was always very aware of the deep resonance the Irish connection has for me. The older I get, the more I’m aware of what it is to be Irish, to have that Irish heart and that Irish immediacy. The Irish airs just resonate with me, you know, that and the rhythms of the bodhrán.”

Writing the book was more cathartic than he expected it to be. “It reopened a lot of old feelings and wounds, which is not entirely healthy, because it’s not always good looking back,” he says, “but the self-therapy can be very beneficial.”

A case in point is his exploration of his teenage years, when he had zero ambition and was simply “a typical working-class kid looking at English public schoolboys like The Clash’s Joe Strummer strategising about wearing this kind of jacket, those kinds of trousers, getting this type of manager, and sort of charting out some level of success”.

Wardle and his teenage friends, who included John Lydon (who became Johnny Rotten) and John Beverley (who became Sid Vicious) were “just happy-go-lucky idiots who thought that punk was about fun, having a few beers and enjoying the craic. Yes, we were interested in life, and in our own way thought quite deeply about things, but there was no cold, ruthless plotting of career paths. I never had anything like a career path – in fact I looked down my nose at plotting a career. When you’re 17 or 18, that’s the last thing you should do, anyway.”

And so began decades of what Wardle, shrugging his shoulders, describes as just “following music”. “The older I get, the more I realise that what happens in your life is a nexus of stuff that’s happening all the time,” he says. “You happen to be in a certain position, you might bring a certain attitude to it, an awareness, and you graft at it in a particular way. I kept working and kept coming back to it repeatedly, so persistence helped.”

He wonders where all the music comes from. “There can be no explanation of certain things, and you have to accept that. All I know is that, for someone who is somewhat OCD, music is a very calm place to go into. So I reside in that, and music emerges. I’ve made a living and I talk a lot about what I do, but the actual essence of it is that I haven’t got a f**king clue about it.”

You never know what’s coming around the corner. Truth is, I really like my life. I don’t have any huge ambitions

Writing about the past 15 years has been enlightening, Wardle says. It’s a time during when he has moved to the north of England and become more content with life than ever, blending domesticity (“the hard graft of being a dad and a husband doesn’t come naturally, but I think I made a reasonably good fist of it”) with creativity (“where I’ve really become an artist, happy to be locked away on my own making music for days on end, painting, and walking up in the hills around where we live”).

He has, he says, arrived at a point where “I can run a band and no longer have to try and run with the hare and the hounds. Seriously, I was a tosser for years – you think you can be an anarchist in your own time, causing chaos, but there are only so many times you can do that.”

Perhaps calmness is as much a form of energy as anger is. Between making music, taking the kids to football academies and boxing lessons, selling his visual art, and playing footgolf with other dads, life feels a bit smoother, he says. “That said, you never know what’s coming around the corner. Truth is, I really like my life. I don’t have any huge ambitions, and I’m not dying to make lots of money. I’m not rich, particularly, but I feel like I’ve got enough.”

The expanded edition of Dark Luminosity: Memoirs of a Geezer, by Jah Wobble, is published by Faber & Faber on Thursday, March 7th