Some people are fortunate enough to earn one honorary Blue Plaque in recognition of their life’s work. Such is the legendary status of Bob Marley and The Wailers, Bob Marley received not just one, but two Blue Plaques in the space of just 4 days last week. Following the well publicised Blue Plaque ceremony on 1st October 2019 at 42 Oakley Street, Chelsea, where Bob Marley lived in 1977, on 4th October 2019, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer received a second Blue heritage Plaque to commemorate the recording of ‘Exodus’ and ‘Burnin’ and further enhance their legendary status thanks to their immense contribution to musical history.
Prior to the Nubian Jak Community Trust plaque unveiling, a massive audience of almost 300 people packed into Basing Street, Ladbroke Grove, London W11 to hear fantastic live music and a libation from Niles Hailstones and Alexander D Great, who sang ‘Get up Stand Up’ and ‘No Woman No Cry’ respectively. These were superb, uplifting performances and both artists got the crowd involved in singing along. This helped create a wonderful atmosphere for the occasion.
There were a number of speeches from local dignitaries including the Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea, Cllr Will Pascall, Emma Dent Coad MP for Kensington, plus legendary music producer Trevor Horn. Cllr Pascall said, “It was an honour to celebrate the most successful reggae band in history.”
It’s worth recalling that the legend all started when Neville Livingstone aka Bunny Wailer invited his step brother Robert Marley and close friend Peter Tosh to form a band called The Wailing Wailers. They would become the most important band in the history of reggae music. The main reason for this was that it was 1963 and the music genre of reggae had yet to be invented.
Bob Marley and The Wailers remixed and finished their album’s ‘Catch a Fire’ (1973) and Exodus (1977) inside the SARM /Island Record studios and Bob Marley even lived in an apartment above the studio in 1977 whilst recording Exodus. Exodus was later voted Time magazine ‘Best Album of the 20th Century.’
Many famous records were recorded there including Queen’s ‘News of the World’ which featured the world famous ‘We are the Champions.’ The record breaking hit single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ by Band Aid was recorded at Island Studios in November 1984.
One of the most memorable moments of the ceremony was hearing from Solomon “Sonny” Graham. He introduced himself as Bob Marley’s former mentor and Youth Club Leader at Operation Friendship youth club in Jamaica. Graham was the President of the club. “In a way I rescued Bob and gave him the confidence to believe he was a singer and could make a career from using his voice.” He emphasised that Bob Marley wasn’t a bad or troubled child but the mentor role he adopted filled the void left when one of Marley’s parents left to work in the USA. Graham said it was common for one parent to go abroad to earn a living and send money “back home” to the family. Graham also financed the recording of Marley’s first record. It was a pleasure to hear from someone who knew Marley so well. It felt like you were listening in on history. Although it would have benefited from being a tighter speech that more closely focused on the relevant points he wanted to get across, you could hear a pin drop in the crowd as he spoke such was the attention everyone was paying to his words. That said, he was a gentleman of a certain age with a lot to say and the organisers Kwaku and Nubian Jak had a little trouble getting Graham to wrap up his talk so they could get to the unveiling on time … before sunrise even!
The evening climaxed with the unveiling of the Blue heritage plaque by renowned producer and owner of SARM West studios Trevor Horn who said “I am very pleased to see a Blue plaque going up on the side of the old SARM West Studios. So much great music was made in the building while it was open for over 50 years as a recording studio. This plaque commemorates my late wife Jill Sinclair who was a long time supporter of the local Jamaican company. She would be happy to see the community being recognised for the music culture brought to the local area.”
It was lovely to hear such an illustrious figure as Trevor Horn talking about re the history of his Island Studios and for instance how it used to be frequented by those he referred to as somewhat shady characters and thus, to him, it looked a little out of place to see someone of the stature of the late George Michael entering the building to record his music. His smash hit debut solo album ‘Faith’ was largely recorded there and in Denmark.
Anthony Wall, Director of BBC documentary ‘Arena: Exodus 30 Years On’, was not able to attend but sent a message of support saying: “The Wailers are honorary Londoners, they changed the world and their legacy has massively enriched our city. It’s so right that they’re to be celebrated with this plaque and truly apt that it should be at Basing Street, home to so much great music from Island Records.”
Co-organiser Kwaku of BritishBlackMusic.com/Black Music Congress (BBM/BMC), said: “Although the genius of reggae started in Jamaica, I’m glad that we are recognising the London site where the Wailers’ first albums for Island Records were enhanced and mixed, and also the contribution of the British record company that made the Wailers, and Bob Marley in particular, world superstars.
It’s not just a Jamaican story but very much a British story thanks to Chris Blackwell of Islands Records having the confidence to give the band money and tell them to go to Jamaica and record the Burnin and Exodus albums. The world had never heard anything like this. Island Records financed their breakthrough albums leading to them gaining international fame. Both were remixed and finished at SARM.”
Co-organiser Dr Jak Beula CEO of the Nubian Jak Community Trust, said: “In October 2006, with the support of Rita Marley and the Mayor of London, we unveiled the first blue plaque to Bob Marley in Europe. At the time I said about Nubian Jak that “this could be the second trumpet”. 47 plaques later, 2 statues, a board game series with app, and a new groundbreaking documentary in the offing… it still might be!”
Out of more than 900 blue plaques across London, only 4% are dedicated to black and Asian individuals. This is now the 4th to Bob Marley and The Wailers in London. The three others are at Flat 34 Ridgmount Gardens, central London, the place where he first stayed in London; a house he stayed at in The Circle, Neasden, North West London and 42 Oakley Street, Chelsea.
Following the unveiling, many attendees partied the night away at the after party at the nearby Mau Mau Bar on Portobello Road where organisers and hosts Nubian Jak and Kwaku played songs from Exodus and Burnin Fire. So many were packed in the venue it was somewhat overcrowded and a far bigger hall or venue would have been more fitting such as the nearby Tabernacle. It was overall though a fitting finale and musical tribute to Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, for without their creative, original and groundbreaking music this memorable evening would not have been possible.
© Tiemo Talk of the Town
Photographs courtesy of Thabo Jaiyesimi
- No Woman No Cry sung by Alexander D Great on Basing Street, London W11 4th October 2019 – Courtesy of Sandy Loewenthal
- History of Sarm Music Village – Sarm Music Village
- ‘Exodus’: Behind The Bob Marley Classic That Still Inspires Movements – By David Sinclair for Udiscovermusic.com
- Marley The Movie Stirs it Up – Tiemo review – 31st May 2012
- Yardie The Movie – Tiemo review – 3rd September 2018
- Operation Friendship – Jamaica
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