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JAH WOBBLE 'MEMOIRS OF A GEEZER' (Serpent's Tail) - REVIEWED BY DICK PORTER

‘I’m Jah Wobble, a geezer. I come from Stepney in East London; I’m one of the chaps. I’m a totally different kettle of fish and I haven’t got time for all that nonsense.’

Wobble’s typically self deprecating description of who he is serves to illustrate the tone in which Memoirs of a Geezer recounts his tale. For an artist who has been routinely maligned, or at best caricatured, by much of the media, the writing of a memoir such as this might represent the opportunity to settle a few scores. However, in much the same way that Wobble is far more than just a geezer, his autobiography is candid without being mendacious, and suffused with the kind of humour which reveals that, although he is a serious proposition, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he feels any great need to take himself, or his life, over seriously.

Given the heavyweight nature of the personal issues that comprise a good proportion of the 330+ page book, this is no mean feat. Here is a man who has experienced divorce, alcoholism, betrayal, estrangement from his daughters and a dysfunctional relationship with his father. Whereas many writers and musicians would recount such experiences through a lachrymose haze of maudlin self pity, Wobble, as he says, has no time for all that nonsense. Which, I suppose, makes him a proper geezer. Except that most geezers don’t have anything like Wobble’s fortitude, sensitivity and general open-minded interest in the world.

Obviously, Wobble’s reputation as a destructive loose cannon isn’t founded entirely upon the media’s desire to pigeonhole him as another in a long line of musical nutters. After all, he once reacted to his tour manager being threatened at gunpoint by advising the assailant, ‘You have to shoot him, mate, you have no choice, if you don’t you will lose face, and your position as leader of the pack will be usurped.’ However, such incidents are recounted without self-aggrandizement – every weekend lost to a wild binge, or punch that shouldn’t have been thrown, is underscored by the author’s realisation and insistence that he was at fault.

Wobble is man enough to recognise and admit to his own mistakes, he is also an autodidact, and therefore willing to learn from them. Like many people who have essentially educated themselves, Wobble is keen to point out that a lack of formal qualifications does not mean that he is stupid. In truth, this is a point that doesn’t need to be made – his easy, conversational style of writing (enhanced by the unpretentious way in which he directly addresses the reader), the breadth of his knowledge and interests and glorious gift for understatement make his wit and intelligence blisteringly obvious.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Wobble does not see the punk/post-punk era as the defining period of his professional or personal life. This makes a refreshing change and further reinforces the sense that the author finds it necessary to keep moving relentlessly forward in order to survive. Sure, he makes some trenchant observations about Sid Vicious, John Lydon and punk in general, but this is all firmly placed in perspective and properly contextualised by the many other experiences he has had during his 51 years.

Anyone that grew up in post-war inner London will recognise elements of Wobble’s vivid description of the bombsites and endless corrugated iron hoardings of the era – and, perhaps not surprisingly for an individual who has added poetry to his palette of abilities – those descriptions are particularly evocative. Similarly, his recountments of the back-biting nature of band politics and industry mendacity are both illuminating and forthright. He also effectively charts the history of multiculturalism in the East End (unusually for anyone attempting to do so, from the perspective of actually having lived it).

Despite the heavyweight issues explored, there are plenty of laughs here; Wobble recounts his doomed plans to reunite the Flemish and Walloon factions in Belgium, reveals the way in which he effectively chastised the unbearable and unfunny former television ‘personality’ Sean Hughes, explains the relationship between heroin and golf, and makes a wealth of very funny, understated observations, ‘I mean, to pull a truck along by your penis is no small matter.’ As he points out, ‘humour really is the only antidote.’

It’s fair to say that they just don’t make geezers like Wobble anymore. Particularly in a music industry increasingly populated by middle-class kids who see starting a band as a career option rather than as an ends in itself. Indeed, Wobble’s passion and hunger for music is perhaps the core theme of the book – it certainly served to drive his life along the path that it has taken.

Memoirs of a Geezer is an excellent read, and well worth every penny of the cover price. It’s also far better for your eyes than staring at a computer screen.  

Reviewed by Dick Porter