The band featuring ex-‘Public Image Ltd’ Jah Wobble & Keith Levene, with Johnny Rotter & drummer Marc Layton Benett, performing the best of their hugely influential albums
‘Metal Box’ & ‘First edition’- in Dub.!
Hhhmmm. I’ve seen MOST of my musical heroes, now. And in some fairly IMPRESSIVE venues. The The at the Royal Albert Hall in 1990. The Velvet Underground at the Edinburgh Playhouse in 1993. Bruce Springsteen at Wembley Stadium in 1988. I COULD go on. Tonight, it’s the original P.i.L.— IN A VILLAGE HALL! IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE! Hhhmmm. Actually, Laugharne in Carmarthenshire, South Wales, is a STUNNINGLY beautiful place. And “Jah Wobble, Keith Levene and friends play Metal Box in Dub” are only TWO members of the original P.i.L. But who cares? The favoured haunt of Dylan Thomas seems to be the most magnificent arena that this tired, old veteran has ever been to.
This is a SERIOUS comment in case anyone was wondering. Suitably loaded with both cask and bottled real ale, I step into the Hall to pay homage to my heroes of yesteryear. Jah Wobble AND Keith Levene! Together again! On tour for the first time since 1980! And most intriguingly of all, they’ve roped in a mysterious singer, Nathan Maverick, who’s gonna be the focal point of the whole enterprise. This could be a bag of shit or a revelation. I’m uncertain of which at this stage—. A set-list of old school reggae and ska numbers get us into the mood before M.B.i.D. take to the stage. First Wobble, then Levene, then the drummer and then— the fucking GIMP ??? What the fuck is this? A masked bummer appears before us and they launch themselves into “Theme.” WOW !!! This is UNBELIEVABLE !!! I’m in ecstasy. Wobble sits down to play that famous, rumbling bass as he leads his troops into action. Levene looks nervous and uncertain but the guitar-playing is as fresh as the day when we first heard that UNIQUE, U2-shaping sound. The drummer is as tight as a crab’s arse. But that singer! Jesus. It’s frightening- if he was a couple of stone heavier, I’d SWEAR it was “him” underneath that mask. AND WHY IS HE WEARING A FUCKING MASK, ANYWAY?
Next up, we have “Annalisa”. The crowd is going mental and I’m transfixed. All the memories of my student days are wrapped-up inside this music. It means a LOT to hear it live and played by the men who wrote it. AND STILL MR. MAVERICK KEEPS HIS FACE HIDDEN BEHIND THAT GIMP MASK! What on earth is he trying to say to us? Finally, our man behind the mask is revealed as the band begins “Poptones” and “Metal Box” commences in earnest. He’s not a bad-looking chap, actually ( I’M not gay! But my boyfriend is). The guys are locked into their groove, now. Classic songs such as “Swan Lake?/Death Disco” and the first single “Public Image” are presented for our delectation. One MINOR complaint, though. I’d have liked the “ello! ‘ello! ‘ello!” bit before they played “Public Image—.” However, it doesn’t detract. I am a bit of a train-spotter after all! “Memories” is served up to us, next. Quite apt as it’s all about nostalgia for most of the people here.
At this point, I’ve GOT to mention the trumpeter, Sean Colby. His free-form playing adds that X-factor to proceedings and it’s an INSPIRED addition to the established sound. Probably Wobble’s idea and I can’t FAULT the man. Keep him on-board, I say. At the end of “Memories”, they carry on with what sounds at first like an improvised extension of the song. Soon, it becomes clear that we have a NEW song on our hands, “Understanding.” Nathan is outstanding with its delivery. It sounds fresh, commercial AND familiar all at the same time. A kind of dub-reggae piece with “pop” style lyrics. Bodes very well for the future, guys. Get on with it in the studio, okay? Finally, our evening draws to a close with “No Birds” and the band leaves the stage for the first time. Thunderous applause hastens their almost immediate return with an instrumental “Graveyard/Another” ( and, thankfully, not a sniff of John Robb! ) (( Only joking, John. )) I feel drunk all over again and I haven’t touched a drop since the gig started. Nathan rejoins the party for “Careering” and we all know that there will be only LIMITED time left with the guys, now.
They go off and come back on again. Just time to tell you about how my man deals with an over-enthusiastic song-request. Expertly. “It ain’t a jukebox.” We’re left with a SUBLIME version of “Albatross” and I get one of my all-time FAVOURITE P.i.L moments as a sign-off gesture, the “Only The Lonely” refrain from the album. Ha ha ha ha ha !!! Superb ( anti-) climax. I never saw the original line-up of Public Image Limited in 1979 (cos I was, er, nine) but I’ve watched many, many videos of them and I know the music intimately. “Metal Box In Dub” are as close as you’re ever gonna get to that original sound and original ethos. They are unpredictable on stage. They play with a joy and passion that transmits to their audience; indeed, it’s a labour of love if nothing else. Wobble looks on at the proceedings like some sort of kindly Uncle.
Levene will get his shit together very soon and find his best form. And Marc Leyton Bennett, the drummer, and Sean Colby are INSPIRATIONAL additions to the organised chaos. But for me, it’s the singer who binds all of these elements together. He’s the perfect choice and I predict a bright and lucrative future for everyone concerned (as long as they don’t all start falling out again). Loved the gig. Loved the place. Loved the venue. Loved the lady in the ticket office. Can I come back, please? Or I’ll catch you in Northallerton. Goodnight, my Champions of post-punk music. It’s been emotional.