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.