The late 1970’s and into the early 1980’s Britain saw a remarkable rise in the range of fluid, innovative bass players inhabiting their music scene. Several ideas exist to explain the phenomenon; some say the rise of Northern Soul in the early 70s influenced an entire generation in their formative years to see the instrument as a vital shaper to song construction, while also providing a view of how another culture (black America) saw the instrument (funky and soulful and as much a lead instrument as the guitar). For others it was a similar idea, with Jamaican dub and rasta culture being supplanted for Northern Soul. Inner cities of Britain had large Jamaican communities where dub and rasta emanated daily, filling anyone within earshot with deep, shaking grooves. Then, there is the homegrown influence: everyone’s lovable Beatle, Paul McCartney, had made the instrument seem as cool and worthwhile as any other (here the Who’s John Entwistle probably deserves a nod as well). Whatever the reason you believe (and in reality it’s probably a combination of all of these), the punk movement and the post-movement was packed with deep sounds, from Medium Medium to Gang of Four, the Au Pairs to Joy Division and the Slits, to Delta 5, the Jam and the Clash, (and on and on) the bass guitar stamped the era as much as any singular sound, perhaps in retrospect changing the preconceived notion that the time was embedded with throbbing bass as much as yelping, howling anger.
With that being said then, it’s all the more respectful to cite Jah Wobble as perhaps the most conceptually gifted player in the whole bunch. His innovative work drove Jon Lydon’s immediate post-Sex Pistols band Public Image Limited (PiL) to the point that when he left their immediate follow up (Flowers of Romance) admitted to him being irreplaceable—it’s a record without a single bass part in any of the songs. From their he knocked around, did a lot of session work and formed makeshift bands around his experimental leanings. One such band, Jah Wobble’s Invaders of the Heart, has been his most contributed to project, returning to it whenever a creative spark came to him (which based on his catalogue seems very often). ‘Visions of You’ was on 1992’s Rising Above Bedlam (then it was also included on Sinéad O’Connor’s 2005 Collaborations compilation) and paired Wobble’s fluid bass line with the in vogue dance stylings of the era. The idea to put O’Connor’s serene cry over it all marked it as an instant classic; not only is it one to get up and dance to, but it’s a pop track of remarkable beauty, a perfect synthesis of Wobble and O’Connor’s religious aspirations in the short form.
It seems weird to pick the song from the 90’s to highlight his career, but in effect I’m trying to show how his career is more than just PiL; it’s been remarkably consistent (and always forward looking) for almost 40 years now. I’m not sure there is another bass player in pop that can come close to claiming that. Enjoy.