How Much Are They? is a dub track from Jah Wobble’s 1981 collaboration with Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit of the genius, German experimental rock group Can. It’s the lead track on the EP that resulted from this alliance, and though it’s the only one that doesn’t feature Liebezeit’s mesmeric drumming, it’s pretty spectacular. The female voice asking “How much are they?” throughout the track was one of the junkie girls who wandered into the studio during recording and asked where they were. That was her response when Wobble told them it was a microphone shop. Having caught this on tape, they decided to use it.
John Wardle was a college friend of two future Sex Pistols. It was Sid Vicious who gave him the nickname Jah Wobble – his best attempt to say his actual name while wasted – and John Lydon who offered him the chance to play bass in his first post Pistols band, Public Image Ltd. Wobble played on the first two PiL albums, including the classic Metal Box before leaving to go solo. Wobble jokes that “it’s been, commercially speaking, a long steady decline since then”.
His subsequent career has been extraordinarily eclectic; recording and performing as a solo artist, with his backing band The Invaders Of The Heart and in hundreds of collaborations, including with Brian Eno, Sinead O’Connor and Pharaoh Sanders. The link-up with Czukay and Liebezeit was the first of these and demonstrated the characteristics that he would bring to the music he’d produce for the next 25 years, no matter what genre it was in – a bass track, that’s prominent and integral without being showy or limelight-hogging.
There aren’t many genres that Jah Wobble hasn’t touched on since How Much Are They? – from dub, funk, trip hop, psychedelia, jazz, ambient and, most regularly, world music. He’s always interesting even if he does something that’s not to your tastes. But as the man says, “I’m not terribly concerned with whether or not people like my music. My music is a part of me. Saying you don’t like my music is like saying you don’t like my nose or the shape of my ear – point taken, but fuck off”.