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John Robb Sings PiL With Levene & Wobble
The Quietus , March 26th, 2012 13:10

Gig in Manchester this weekend

As regular readers will know, we at The Quietus are big fans of John Lydon's rejuvenated Public Image Limited, and indeed spent a very enjoyable last Monday night watching them live at the launch of Record Store Day.

But we're always also interested to know what his old sparring partners, bassist Jah Wobble and guitarist Keith Levene, are up to. As it happens, they've been up to something very interesting indeed, embarking on a tour playing Metal Box In Dub.

This weekend past, Quietus contributor, Louder Than War website founder and Gentleman of Punk Rock John Robb took up vocal duties with Levene and Wobble. We asked him some questions about the collaboration. So John, how was the first experience playing the songs out live?

John Robb: Last night I sang 'Graveyard' with them and it was great - the band locked the groove and it was hypnotic, I jammed off Keith's guitar and the trumpet and got pretty lost inside it all. It was in Hebden Bridge at the Trades Club which is a great venue - the gig was sold out and people had travelled a long way to see it. There's something magical about those two playing together that makes you lose yourself in the sound - perfect music. Shame there is not more time, I think something really special could be made out of this situation- when they are flowing you can feel so many musical ideas and words to sing over the top.

How did you get involved with Jah Wobble and Keith Levene?

JR: I've know Wobble for more than 20 years, I met him in New York at a music conference when he was getting his life back together and looking for a deal and I wrote about him. Always loved his bass playing and it was good to find a straight-talking geezer who also very smart and spiritual and a had a real depth about him and was also full of great stories from the punk rock wars, we kept in touch and I've written about him several times. I really like his projects and the way he takes his bass into so many different places and always makes it work. When I heard he was working with Levene again that was pretty exciting and somehow I ended up being involved.

How is it singing Lydon's songs? Is it a strange experience?

JR: I grew up with these songs, my brother and I used to play PiL all the time, we would play Metal Box back to back endlessly - that was the sort of teenagers we were! When I spoke to Wobble the idea was to cover the spirit of PiL and not the songs note for note - what would the point of that be? PiL is not a hit singles band but an idea. I loosely used Lydon's brilliant lyrics and free-form around them and bounce off the music. In a band like this the voice is another instrument the key is the bass and the guitar, we talk a lot about Miles Davis in the 70s when he really went out on one and that's the feeling we wanted to achieve at the gig, start playing and see what happens!

What future plans do you have together?

JR: That's up to them, they are working with another singer from a Sex Pistols covers band who does a very good version of Lydon's vocals, my approach is different and instinctive, just going with the music. There are no plans. It's just great to stand in the rehearsal room and listen to Wobble and Levene play together. Levene's guitar playing is something else - he lightly touches his guitar and amazing sounds comes out and sound different every time - a total one-off player, that rare thing, totally original and massively influential. Maybe one day U2 will pay him some royalties on the sound they robbed off him!

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