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The man behind his public image

When Public Image Limited play this year's Electric Picnic in Stradbally they will, of course, have the compelling presence of John Lydon at centre stage but one vital member of the original band will be missing: bass player Jah Wobble.

It was his rumbling, lower-end riff which opened the band's debut single Public Image before Keith Levene's guitars came cascading into the mix and Lydon burst through with his first grand post-Pistols declaration of intent.

Wobble was typical of many who availed of the opportunity which presented itself in the mid-'70s whereby people who loved music but never felt they could ever be "musicians" somehow stumbled into picking up an instrument when the punk ethos got up and running. Now one of the most distinctive practitioners of his instrument, Jah Wobble (or John Wardle as he was christened, his stage name coming courtesy of a drunk and slurring Sid Vicious) was an East London reggae fanatic and sometime football hooligan who happened to be mates with John Lydon and saw what happened with the Pistols at close hand before being asked to join PiL in the spring of 1978.

In Memoirs of a Geezer Wobble takes us through his early days and tells how he could scarcely believe that within two years of picking up the bass he was steeped in recording something as original and influential as the art-rock extravaganza that was PiL's second album, Metal Box.

It's an honest and frequently very funny book which displays the true mark of a good raconteur in that he's never afraid to make himself the butt of jokes.

When it comes to rock biographies it's a good rule of thumb that if the band or artist is interesting, chances are their story will be, too. John Lydon gave us the wonderful No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, which was as scathingly witty as the man himself while Mark E Smith's Renegade was hilarious and far more entertaining than any record that The Fall made since Totally Wired back in 1980.

For jaw-dropping stories and tales of dumb and downright despicable behaviour, three books stand out. Most people may regard The Beach Boys as smiley-faced purveyors of summertime fun but in Heroes and Villains Steven Gaines brought us a story of dysfunctional families, drugs, insanity, mass murderers, insane jealousies and catastrophic business decisions. It's a masterpiece.

For Olympic-level debauchery and unfettered rock piggery on a gargantuan scale, Hammer of the Gods, the Led Zeppelin biog, set the bar high but even that was bettered by The Dirt, in which the depraved antics of atrocious poodle metallers Motley Crue were laid bare. You'll feel soiled after wading through that one. Enjoy.

Memoirs of a Geezer by Jah Wobble is published by Serpent's Tail, price E17.15


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