I Am The Son Of The Lightning, You Cannot Move I At All. (Peter Tosh)

At around 9 p.m. on December 3rd 1978 an already groovy day was about to get go-go . A lazy Sunday afternoon with good food, good friends & similar dope (lots of Lebanese hash around in 78/79, they had a war to finance) had been a more than pleasant overture to the evening’s main event. I was dancing in the stalls of the Manchester Apollo, with my best gal by my side, grinning like a shot fox (ee-yew !). Peter Tosh, the star of the night’s show, had opened his set with the double whammy of  “400 Years” & “Stepping Razor”. A thought occurred that if the day was to end right here, right now then it had been a fine time. 30 minutes later Tosh graced us with a run of “African”, “Burial” & “Equal Rights”. The night had gone into orbit…sent to outer space to find another race. “Them want I, them want I, Com’a them funeral”…Oh yeah !


Peter Tosh, the tall one in the Wailers was also the natural musician of the trio. He taught & inspired the others to play, The man who tutored Bob Marley in the guitar. The young band of brothers’ progress from wailin’ rude boys to Rasta natural mystics was not always easy. Bob left for the USA, Bunny did a stretch at the Richmond Farm Prison but these guys were on a mission from Jah, driven to improve & succeed, the sum of their three characters being greater than the parts. Their ambition for recognition outside of Jamaica meant that deals had to be made with Babylon, the music was changed by commercial pressure not artistic progress. Bunny was the first to go, reluctant to leave Jamaica &, like Peter, who did not hang around much longer, confused just how his group had become Bob’s backing band. Man, I am lucky to have seen that “Catch A Fire” tour. That is a lot of talent on one stage.

In 1976 we were blessed with “Blackheart Man” by Bunny, Bob’s “Rastaman Vibration” & Peter’s debut LP “Legalize It”. Pick one, go on, just one. Can’t be done, no point anyway, those are 3 terrific records. Tosh’s title track is an international anthem for the international herb.While he is regarded as the most directly militant of the Trenchtown trinity this record is no polemic. Tosh often expressed his anger &  dread about colonialism & injustice but the last track he recorded with his group, “One Foundation”, is a melodic call for birds of a feather to come together. “Legalize It” collects similarly straightforward, steadfast songs. “Igziabeher” & “Ketchy Shuby” capture the sacred & profane of Jamaican life, “Brand New Second Hand” sounds like a hit record & “Why Must I Cry” is as good as this…

“Legalize It” is a conscious, infectious work of art, guaranteed to cheer. Next year’s “Equal Rights” is 8 tracks of serious, glorious business, guaranteed to stir. Peter saved his version of “Get Up Stand Up”, recorded by all three Wailers, for this set. When he picked which side he was on the man assertively & eloquently let you know the score. The band played 4 of these tracks that night, any 4 from 8 would have been the thing. This is “African”.

Peter had an  international reputation, ambitions for this muscular, tough music. His band, Word,Sound & Power, picked from the studios of Jamaica, were absolutely up to the job. Drummer Sly Dunbar & bassist Robbie Shakespeare had played with the Upsetters round at Lee Perry’s yard, Black Ark. They were with the Revolutionaries over at Channel One while over at Bunny Lee’s studio they were with the Aggrovaters. (I’m not sure how the Roots Radics coped without them). They were reggae legends before they toured with Tosh, they were ready to be heard, ready for the love they deserved. Mikey “Mao” Chung knew what a reggae rhythm guitarist did & knew how important it was to the sound…a master. Skully Simms & Sticky Thompson would have got the job because of their appreciable nicknames though they were crackerjack percussionists. I’m not the biggest fan of extended guitar solos in what is primarily a rhythmic music (I strictly Roots) but this was Reggae Rock, looking for an audience big enough to fill a stadium. Al Anderson was the lead guitarist of choice for both Peter Tosh & Bob Marley at this time.

We got to see a world class band give a world class show that night. It’s ridiculous how many accomplished musicians emerged in Jamaica at this time. Peter Tosh had 2 classic LPs, his new release, “Bush Doctor”, was on Rolling Stones Records. He strutted around the front of the stage like it was his time, like the star he was. Man, he was nobody’s sideman but we knew this anyway. I’ve been to some memorable reggae concerts which turned into outstanding parties but seeing these artists at the top of their game could not be better. We stepped out into the night & the world seemed a better place.

You saw the same people at these Manchester reggae gigs. That very young kid with the stoned, supercilious smile & the ginger dreadlocks always seemed to be a bit of a prick. I guess we owe the world an apology because he grew up to be the lead singer of Simply Red & we did nothing to stop that terrible Hucknall happening…sorry.

Wisdom Is Found In The Simplest Of Places (Blackheart Man Bunny Wailer)

I was on a train from Manchester to Birmingham, an old school “Strangers On A Train” train with compartments for 6 people. The other young guy in there  didn’t speak but our quiet journey was interrupted at Stoke when we were joined by 3 black kids, a Rasta (it was a fashion at the time) and his younger acolytes. They immediately got down to it and began to build a couple of spliffs. I was not going to miss an opportunity to smoke up the collie with the bredren so put my hand in the way and intercepted the joint as it was passed across. A little presumptive on my part maybe. I had better produce some credentials and sharpish. From my bag I took out an LP that, at the time, went everywhere with me. Any problem with this cheeky white bwoy was solved.

“Blackheart Man” is the first LP Bunny Wailer released after leaving the Wailers. The story of the three Wailers is told in Colin Grant’s fine book “I and I: The Natural Mystics”. As in Lloyd Bradley’s earlier history of reggae “Bass Culture” the social and political development of Jamaica is inevitably entwined with the music. The story of these young men, as close as brothers, is a fascinating one. They presented a united front against tribulation because they shared a belief in and a passion about the music they created. When the wider world came calling  there were differences about how to deal with Babylon. Bunny decided to stay in Jamaica then Peter Tosh left the group which had become Bob Marley and the Wailers. Spurred, I’m sure, by the desire to prove they could each stand alone each man delivered an LP which marked the point that reggae music had to be considered around the world not just in Jamaica and the UK.

This title song “Blackheart Man” tells of the fable warning children to “tikya” of strangers making a parallel with the ostracism of Rastafari by Jamaican society. Bunny’s lyricism, his calm, almost understated, declaration of his own beliefs makes it a powerful, convincing and uplifting work. The guy on the train handed my LP to his younger mates, “This”, he said, “tis a spiritual ting”, and he was right.

Bunny had provided harmonies and percussion in the Wailers. It is the attention paid to these flourishes which make the music on “Blackheart Man” more mellifluous than the anthems of Bob Marley (which are sweet enough). While no less an advocate of Rasta and opponent of oppression than his militant, proselytizing confederates, lyrically he concerned himself with a revolution of the spirit as much as of worldly things. Three of the 10 songs are concerned with the possibility of an ideal way of living. A fresh take on the gospel classic “This Train” closes the LP. “Dreamland” is a reverie on a Rasta African homeland and this track “Fig Tree” is a similar reflection on finding a paradise on earth. Now I’m a cynical man firmly anchored in the material world but songs as open and as fresh as this will make me think. I am not the first to make the point but there is a touch of William Blake, of the romantic visionary, about Jah Bunny.

“Fig Tree” contains the lyric “every man is a man and every mickle mek a muckle”. For years I admired this integration of Jamaican patois into the song. I was watching the great 1962 film “Billy Liar”, set in West Yorkshire, and was surprised to hear that very same phrase used. Say what !…this Scottish/Northern English saying was first recorded in the writings of George Washington in 1793 ! And I thought it was a Trenchtown thing y’knaa.

Bunny Wailer continues to make music and has made other great LPs but “Blackheart Man” is, in his own opinion, the most complete realisation of his musical and lyrical concerns. It is one of the great LPs, not just in reggae. My own admiration for him as a man and musician has endured for a long time now and will continue to do so. Listening to “Fighting Against Conviction” with it’s positive vibrations despite the struggles of life, with it’s sinuous Wailers’ groove and harmonies from brother Peter Tosh, makes a point more succinctly than I could ever hope to.

So, our conversation on the train was cut short as we entered the outskirts of Birmingham. We said our goodbyes as the boys were riding the rails and left to jump from the train before it reached New Street station. The compartment was filled with a lovely fug of marijuana smoke and I smiled to myself at the welcome and unexpected turn the journey had taken. Now I would have to get my stoned butt into shape to negotiate a crowded Friday night commuter crowd…oh shit. I took a few deep breaths and tried to centre my chakras, or whatever was necessary for me to put one foot in front of the other, when I was asked about the Bunny Wailer record. What the f…? There had been someone else in the compartment all the time. He had pulled his newspaper around his head and made himself invisible as soon as the others had joined us. He had done a good job too…I had forgotten about him. I was polite and answered his query but come on. There was a smoke to be shared, some good talk about life and music with some strangers and he had chosen to hide. That is not the way to live. As Bunny sings in “Reincarnated Souls”, “he who has eyes to see, let him look yonder”. Peace.

 

 

Kinky reggae believe it, Kinky reggae now.

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 !