Student gigs could be pretty free form in the early 70s. A benefit for the cause of the week could have 20 bands in two adjacent venues running for 15 hours. You could spend all night walking between them vainly looking for something listenable. There were also the great ones. Dr John, in full Night Tripper regalia seemed to enter from another more magical world. At a time when sitting cross legged and nodding along was the norm I saw, the J. Geils Band demand that we dance and play a storming set of soul blues. My girlfriend and her mate recovered their admission picking up money spilled from carelessly abandoned clothing.
You had to expect the haphazard and the unexpected though. Syd Barrett (I think & hope it was him) stormed off stage after a row with a roadie just as he was about to start his set. Captain Beefheart and the “Clear Spot” Magic band had a P.A. the venue could not handle (Yes I have known heartbreak in my life). John Martyn took a spliff from the audience, broke a string and was too wasted to change the bloody thing !
The campus had empty halls and anyone who wanted could put a gig together. The film Society ran one on Tuesday May 8th 1973. Three movies and a band , all night, on a Tuesday , lovely, a multi-media extravaganza. The chairman of the society was a good mate. I stayed at his home in Willesdon many times. His Irish mum never let me leave without a full Irish fry up in my belly and the bus fare in my pocket. I adored the woman. Frank booked a band cheaply, they were having trouble getting bookings because they were thought to attract a skinhead following.
So I watched two movies one of which was “Quiet days In Clichy”. “ Joey and Carl fuck, suck and eat their way through Paris” (Time Out) .Refused a UK certificate but we were a private society so we could see private parts. Then I saw the band .Bob Marley and the Wailers… the bloody “Catch A Fire” Wailers. The Marley/Tosh/Livingstone Wailers walked onto a bare stage. Five of them gathered around a small man who played bongos .They invoked inspiration with the primordial “Rastaman Chant”. Audiences were open- minded in those days. The unexpected is often the best. We appreciated it respectfully. The small man who I now know as Bunny Wailer, an inspiration to me for half my life, put down the bongos and the band took up their places on stage.
Reggae had been along with Motown the youth club/disco music of my youth. I loved to dance to it. We now heard the more mature conscious reggae which has become so much part of our musical lives. I would love to tell you that I recognised “ Lively Up Yourself “ and “ Get Up Stand Up”. Six years later I saw Tosh play “ 400 years” and thought I was in heaven. The only tune I really knew was “Stir It Up”. The sound then had the wacka-wacka guitar at its core, the change to Family Man’s bass drive, key to making the music more commercial, was yet to come.
But what a band they were. The rimshots from Carlton Barrett filling the spaces in the loping rhythm. The harmonies of the three singer-bredren. The Impressions with a Trenchtown filter. At the centre a small man, woolly hat over his early dreads, leading his gang into strange new territory because of his belief in the strength of the music they were making and could make in the future.
The only link between the band and the audience was the drug of choice. Hashish for the watchers, a herbal version for the musicians. I was accompanying the most striking Scottish woman. Seriously batting above my average there. We danced to the whole set. Can you imagine these white students dancing to these new rhythms ? If you do you will not sleep well tonight. It was 3 maybe 4 a.m. and life gets little better than a beautiful dance partner and a bit of Bob. I found that out this night. Repeat of similar dosage never failed to delight.
The last movie was “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones”, the antidote to Altamont. Jagger being very careful to not summon up the Devil this time around. When we left it was morning. Spring in the air and in our step. We didn’t know we had seen a future superstar but had enjoyed a different music , a new rhythm.
Frank , the organizer, was a dude. He introduced me to London, to the films of Bunuel & to conscious reggae. All of these things have had a major influence…cheers mate.
I saw Bob Marley’s last appearance in Britain at the Crystal Palace Bowl. His reggae on steroids anthems now filled stadiums on every continent on the planet. We went to see an icon and we got one. It was a good day but I thought back to when it started and a bit of the Kingston dance hall had thrilled our lecture theatre. I think I preferred that.. JAH RASTAFARI !