It is really noticeable that music is at the heart of this year’s Brighton Festival, which happens in the month curator Nabihah Iqbal has released her sensational album ‘Dreamer’. She clearly has a sense of her place in the music continuum as the programme is rich with new bands of many genres – from folk to dub as well as plenty of innovators who have earned their place in the pantheon of champions. Tonight at Chalk is a night for one of these champions.
Following an excellent support set from Blurt, Jah Wobble needs no introduction as he takes to the stage. He was there at the dawn of punk and along with the recently departed Keith Levene he helped his mate John Lydon move on from the wreckage of the Sex Pistols to form Public Image Limited in 1978. The inventive spirit that encapsulates those first few PiL albums still reverberates through alternative music some 45 years later, with post punk the regular term used to describe every new guitar band going.
The band set up their own instruments before Wobble gets aboard and shouts into the mic: “Let’s just fucking start! I’m dub specialist. You are in safe hands.”
‘The Albatross’ then booms out of the speakers and we are off to a great start that quickly gets a satisfied crowd dancing before moving into ‘Memories’ and ‘Swan Lake’ as per the album.
It is with ‘Poptones’ that the night really hits its first high point. Ushered in by a speech borrowing from Shakespeare’s Richard III, the song showcases the duelling of bass and excellent guitar provided by Martin Chung and John Klein, with Wobble delivering the vocals in a very Lydon-esque style. It really is a spectacular track and Wobble’s bass tonight is as perfect as it was on the original recording.
Then the set begins to transform and mutate. Do we ever get dub? Folk, reggae and punk: yes definitely. There’s also some jazz with strings and brass on the synths that often sound distractingly fake and more like what you’d expect from a pub wedding band.
Still the set clearly drives members of the crowd into a frenzy, as if they were at Stonehenge in the early 80s watching Hawkwind, while Wobble gets increasingly jocular with band and crowd alike. The drummer seems singled out for particular ribbing, but he never seems to mind, even when the audience is asked to unleash a primal scream and tell the drummer to “f*ck off”.
Not playing from a set-list at all the band just go for it. Much of the music becomes less recognisable from the album. Was that? Is this? We definitely get ‘Socialist’ and ‘Swan Lake’ from ‘Metal Box’, as well as ‘Public Image’.
We then get the encore section, which is almost more fun. Wobble is free of the shackles of PiL expectations and ready to play for fun. And he is having so much fun the show goes way beyond curfew, and could have gone on longer.
The high point of this section is an excellent cover of the Harry J Allstars classic ‘Liquidator’ (he calls ‘Liquidiser’) that really is given a dub breakdown.
The rants continue. “The electric bass is the king of the jungle. It has no known predator and isn’t scared of any c*nt!”
The set then closes with two ‘Invaders Of The Heart’ classics: ‘Becoming More Like God’ and ‘Visions Of You’ which add an euphoric almost rave-like edge to proceedings.
It is hard not to leave smiling from ear to ear, having spent the evening in the company of such a genuine entertainer and legend.
Chalk, Sunday 7th May 2023
Words and photos by Nick McAllister