by Katharine Fry
The Man. The music. The legend. Bruce. No, Bob. Not Sir Bob, Jah Bob. Robert Nesta Marley and my introduction to his London through my new hero Bruce of the Rock n Roll bus tour.
We set off towards Belgravia with me as the eager beaver in the front row, all leg room and windscreen views and sidenotes with our trusted guide. Bruce begins as a dark horse. Is he with the PR? Is he the driver? No, he’s the voice of a London lost to identikit high end high streets. So many stories poured out of him as he wheeled us through London’s lanes, cutting across Kensington, Chelsea, Holland Park, Queensway and Notting Hill, he breathed life into its music legacy like a god of the road.
Too many stories to remember and repeat of London’s past. I went into a full-on nostalgia-fest for London times I had never witnessed or experienced. The BBC studio where John Peel broadcast each new treasure that came his way, now an anyman office; Jagger picking up a bit of something something for Marianne down at the Chelsea Pharmacy, now a McDonalds; small clubs and speakeasies where all the greats had had their first residencies; streets that had seen the Beatles, the Stones, the Clash, Pink Floyd, Hendrix and Bowie. I tried to imagine the turnaround of the area, from smoggy crash pads and basements where only dreaming musicians would want to live to the uber-polished townhouses where only the richest musicians could afford to. What was the energy in that area at that time that our nascent rock gods were drawn to? Through the 50 and 60s, through the slums and the gangsters, they had come to find small 4-track recording studios, they had come because their mate was in a band and crashed there and would let them share his single bed.
And of course Bruce told stories of Jah Bob, beginning with the relationship between Ska, Calypso, Reggae and the Skinheads, his time spent as a welder in the States to pay his way in the UK, coming over, crashing with a friend, playing gigs in speakeasies in trying to make connections, playing football in Battersea Park, winning against the BNP team, smoking a lot of weed, being stopped by police because he was a dread, his reasons for gravitating towards Notting Hill, the Windrush neighbourhood, the famous Mangrove restaurant, the reggae record exchanges, until finally the big breakthrough, the sold out gig at the Lyceum and the beginning of a journey bigger than a boy raised in a shack in Nine Mile could have imagined.
We went past his various homes and haunts, increasing in size and salubrity with his rise to success. The major coup of the day was infiltrating Island Records, where no water could quench his thirst judging by the depth of his tub. Last stop was the Dome where we got to see the pre-Olympic security set-up, meet the military and finally make it to Messenger, the Bob Marley exhibition at the British Music Experience featuring a zillion sexy shots and some drum kits where you can tap along to calypso beats.
So, a long journey for all players and a fascinating day, not the least because I couldn’t fathom why I was the only one who thought 5 hours on a bus without a comfort break or lunch stop was somewhat unusual.
Marley is out on DVD on the 20th of August. We watched a bit of it on the bus.