In this post I am sharing press clippings and additional media related to Bob Marley and the Wailers’ performances in London during the summer of 1975.
Jamaica Gleaner May 4, 1975
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Jamaica Gleaner August 28, 1980
The following is an excerpt from Chris Salewicz’s History of Rock:
The next LP, Natty Dread, came out in early 1975. Tosh and Bunny Livingston had been at many of the sessions, but as observers rather than as participants. The new album was credited to ‘Bob Marley and the Wailers’, while the I-Threes, the female trio of Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt, had been recruited as backing vocalists. A stunning set of songs, the record spanned a wide variety of subjects —from everyday oppression in Jamaica to sweet love songs like ‘No Woman No Cry’.
It was another version of that beautiful song that was finally to break Marley in the UK charts.
On two successive July nights, the group played London’s Lyceum. The ecstatic response of the audience at the first show prompted Chris Blackwell to record the group’s second performance. Bob Marley And The Wailers Live (1975) was rush-released and hailed by critics as one of the few live recordings to truly capture an artist’s essence. It was from that record that the single ‘No Woman No Cry’ was taken, and the song quickly entered the charts to peak at Number 22.
The way was paved for Bob’s biggest success: Rastaman Vibration, released in May 1976. The album’s outstanding track was ‘War’, which set to music the words of a speech by Haile Salassie. (The previous August Selassie had died in Addis Ababa: Marley, working with Lee Perry, had rushed out a tribute single that was released only in Jamaica, entitled ‘Jah Live’) Thought not his own lyrics, the power of the words served to underpin the moral authority of Marley’s music. Rastaman Vibration was Marley’s first US Top Ten album.
In fact, it was to remain his biggest US hit.
The following review by Charles Shaar Murray was published in NME on July 26, 1975.
“HEY, MON… WHAT are all these whites doin’ here? They not here last time the Wailers play…”
What this whitey is doing is dancing. It ain’t something I do particularly often or particularly well, but if you’re listening to the Wailers standing up, you really don’t have much choice. There’s some fine dancing going on, which is just about inevitable when good dancers get together with great dance music in the world’s most resistably rococo sauna bath.
Scenario: Friday night at London’s Lyceum. Ray McVay has been given the night off and a prime clutch of Her Majesty’s Finest are hovering uneasily around the entrance waiting, just waiting, for one of these uppitty niggers in the wool hats and bebop pegged pants to start something.
Inside, a 50-50 blend of white hippies and street bruthas’n'sistas are scouting each other out and grooving on a band called Third World who are (a) a New Band (b) from King-ston Jamai-ca and (c) very good indeed.
They play alternating layers of reggae and Kooled-out U.S. funk, and got the first rise of the night out of the small but exuberant Rasta delegation in the audience with the musical question; “Do you remember the days of slavery?”
I noted with some concern that Mr. Philip Norman, reviewing the previous night’s concert in Saturday’s edition of The Times, noticed (and I paraphrase) that small groups of people were seated cross-legged on the floor having what looked like a card game while the “foetid air” was sweetened by “an odour resembling that of freshly-pressed shirts”.
Though a taste for impromptu hands of poker and laundry-ironing sessions at rock or soul concerts is still an essentially minority pursuit, it is not inconceivable that Mr. Norman had seen exactly what he described. However, on the Friday night what the seated groups of people were doing was smoking prodigious quantities of what made Kingston famous. Not a laundry press in sight.
Despite the 50-50 black/white ratio, the blacks definitely had the edge. Even though there probably hadn’t been a show since Sly that’d made them want to go to the Lyceum, and even though the white kids probably went there pretty regularly, it was still black turf, a fact which showed in everyone of those little who-shot-John confrontations about who steps back for whom.
Don’t get me wrong; it definitely wasn’t a case of anybody getting uptight. It was just that the roles were more or less implicit from the moment you got in.
Nearly every one of the records played during the intermission included a variant on the phrase “Natty Dread” in the lyrics.
The compere reminds everyone to watch their handbags as there was a bit of trouble last night.
Down front it’s real stand-on-Zanzibar shoulder-to-shoulder stuff. By some strange natural law, all the tallest people in the building seem to have made their way directly to the front, right up against the barriers. The compere asks everyone to move back a little because “some little kids are getting crushed at the front”. There is no perceptible reaction. He doesn’t repeat the message.
Even though they filtered onto the stage fairly slowly, it seems more and more as if the Wailers just exploded out from nowhere with their opening salvo, the sublime ‘Trenchtown Rock’ (an old song, I’m told, from their pre-Island days which is due to be triumphantly resurrected on their next album).
It opened the set with an incandescent burst of pure energy, at once quintessentially laid-back and vibrating with intensity, a rhythm that holds you tight while still allowing room to move. White rock lays its beat on you; the Wailers music allows you to find your own rhythm within it.
Bob Marley is small and agile, bobbing and weaving. He seems to be both abstracted and possessed, which is a logical way to be if you’ve been stoned solidly for the last 15 or 20 years.
He’s continually scratching out that loping ka-cha-ka rhythm out of his Les Paul, and the whole thing pivots around that and Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett’s bass. ‘Family Man’ is the one who keeps the wheels turning, applying Fender bass grease to all the cogs and fly-wheels, movin’ it on and rolling.
The band are solid and unified, gliding more than steamrollering, and they keep coming; never more so than on ‘Lively Up Yourself’, which was so powerful that it made the recorded version seem positively Mickey Mouse by comparison.
At the back of the hall people danced and waited for their own particular favourite Wailers song to come up. All around me, people were singing along to the beatific ‘Kinky Reggae’, and outbursts of Rasta cheers greeted the line “Burnin’ and lootin’ tonight.”
Predictably, ‘Natty Dread’ itself was the hit of the night, and whenever Marley shook his hair he got a round of applause. It’s been a very long time since anyone’s seen an audience applaud an artist’s hair, but then it’s been a very long time since hair has represented anything specific to any part of the subculture.
Nowadays any bozo can have his hair long and it doesn’t mean a damn thing, but dreadlocks are a whole different ball game. Significantly, hardly anybody in the audience had them, but there were a few who’d have locks to rival Marley’s if they worked at ‘em for a couple of years.
From the opening ‘Trenchtown Rock’ through to the finale of ‘I Shot The Sheriff’, the quality of the show was nothing less than overwhelming. Music of this intensity comes along but rarely, since there s very little music being produced in the rock field that relates to any specific living culture.
The Wailers’ music is simultaneously a genuine folk music, and as technically and lyrically sophisticated, despite its superficial simplicity, as most of the produce of their contemporaries, which qualities combine to give it both its intoxicating spirituality and its riveting funk.
It done bin said before but perhaps it needs to be said again: the Wailers are not simply the most outstanding band in reggae; but one of the premier bands of the moment. Full Stop.
And I left feeling so good that I didn’t even care when some dude tried to pick my pocket on the way out.
© Charles Shaar Murray, 1975