Bob Marley’s Harmony Legacy in Britain | Music | Entertainment


Bob Marley’s daughter Makeda speaks at a protest in Washington

Without microphones or amplifiers, the duo performed eight songs, including Nash’s future world hit I Can See Clearly Now and Marley’s Trenchtown Rock, to a tumultuous reception. It was one of Marley’s first appearances in Britain and followed a chance encounter at a nightclub with one of the teachers at Peckham Manor School. Afterwards, Marley, an avid footballer, enjoyed a kick in the playground with some of the pupils.

This impromptu gig with tour partner Nash came on Marley’s first trip to the UK, long before he became the iconic reggae star he is today.

Upon arrival he was virtually unknown outside of Jamaica, although he had released four albums with his band The Wailers.

During the 1970s he visited Britain on several occasions, living in various places around London – in Bloomsbury, Neasden, Bayswater and Chelsea. Some of these old houses are now commemorated with blue plaques.

Four decades after his death, the singer-songwriter’s legacy still has enormous influence in the UK.

Now a new exhibition, which opened in London this week at the Saatchi Gallery, and in the presence of his daughter Cedella, explores Marley’s musical and cultural impact on Britain and the rest of the world.

“Bob loved the UK like a second home,” says Jonathan Shank, curator of The Bob Marley One Love Experience, a show that analyzes the musician’s lifestyle, passions, influences and lasting legacy.

“He loved coming to London. I think he wrote some of his best music here. His music and his message resonate as much now as they ever have.

Bob Marley and Johnny Nash visit Peckham Manor School in March 1972 (Photo: KEITH BAUGH)

According to Chris Salewicz, author of Bob Marley: The Untold Story, his first gig with his band The Wailers was in July 1972 at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, Sussex.

Initially, he had very little impact on the British music scene, which was unsure what to think of reggae music. Then he signed with Chris Blackwell’s label, Island Records, and quickly released three albums, Catch A Fire, Burnin’ and Natty Dread.

His star rose even higher when, in 1975, blues legend Eric Clapton recorded a cover of his song I Shot The Sheriff.

In a 2020 BBC documentary titled When Bob Marley Came To Britain, British reggae artist Mykaell Riley explained how Marley’s relationship with the UK was key to his success.

“Britain established the platform from which he launched his international career,” he said. “If that didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have the Bob Marley we know today.”

It was to the UK that Marley fled in 1976 after gunmen attempted to assassinate him in the Jamaican capital, Kingston. Born and raised in this violent city, torn by social and political strife, he was reassured by the fact that the British police carried no arms.

During this period he moved into a house on Oakley Street in Chelsea and began recording his internationally acclaimed album Exodus.


Bob having fun with students in Peckham (Photo: Keith Baugh)

“He lived a very Jamaican lifestyle there, with a Jamaican cook,” says Salewicz. “One of the reasons he chose Oakley Street was because he could use the football facilities at Battersea Park, just over the River Thames.”

Marley was obsessed with football and became a huge Tottenham Hotspur fan. “He played football by day and made music by night. For him, it was a good way to be,” says Shank, whose show explores Marley’s love of sports, while celebrating his recordings, live shows and posthumous legacy.

As he became more famous during the 1970s, Marley’s influence in Britain continued to grow.

As well as helping the reggae genre become mainstream, he identified a connection between Jamaican reggae music and British punk, the latter being so popular in the late 1970s.

In the BBC documentary, Mykaell Riley sums it up perfectly: “You can see a direct relationship between the influence of Bob Marley and reggae on the music that followed in terms of British white youth.

“We have The Beat, Madness, The Specials, artists like The Police who were once punk, all reacting to reggae in their own way. It’s a key part of the multiculturalism soundtrack that still resonates today.

    Bob Marley

Bob Marley helped reggae go mainstream (Image: Getty)

It was an admiration for British punk band The Clash that inspired Marley to write his 1977 hit Punky Reggae Party.

At a time when there were racial tensions across the UK, Marley’s message of love and harmony also resonated.

The fact that he himself is of mixed race – his mother was black, his father white – may have given more impact to his message.

Salewicz explains how Marley’s former manager, Mortimer Planno, felt the singer’s mixed-race background contributed to his global success as he was able to cross national and racial boundaries.

What about Marley’s religion, Rastafarianism? Originally considered counter-cultural, even slightly sectarian, the movement legitimized itself thanks to the influence of Marley.

“There’s no question that Bob should take full credit for spreading Rastafarianism around the world, and the values ​​and messages that go with it,” Shank says. But it’s his music that has the most impact. Although it exists on many levels, there are two key themes that resonate throughout his work. Songs such as Positive Vibration, No More Trouble, Fussing And Fighting and most famously One Love call for world peace and harmony and an end to conflict.

Incendiary songs such as Burnin’ And Lootin’, Small Axe, Slave Driver, Zimbabwe, Revolution, War and Get Up, Stand Up served as rallying cries against social injustice. Marley’s background and upbringing meant he was perfectly placed to comment on this.

Raised in the poor neighborhood of Trench Town in Kingston, he spent the first 17 years of his life under British colonial rule, before Jamaica gained independence in 1962.


His daughter Cedella attended the opening of the exhibition (Picture: PA)

Shank points out how Marley’s two key themes have important messages for modern society. “I love the poise with which Bob was able to ensure his message was delivered, but he was also able to appeal to a wide group of people – and deliver it in a timeless way.”

Salewicz says the message of rebellion is clear in much of his work. “You can hear it all in a song like Slave Driver, with the lyrics, ‘Every time I hear the crack of a whip, my blood runs cold’.”

Salewicz believes that the two messages – global unity and rebellion – are equally strong. “I think they’re in tandem and it depends on the particular situation or age you’re in.”

Plagued by foot problems for much of his life, Marley was finally diagnosed with cancerous melanoma of his toe in 1977. He died of the disease in May 1981, at a Florida hospital in only 36 years old.

He had a state funeral in Jamaica and was buried near his birthplace, next to his guitar.

Salewicz sums up what he thinks, four decades later, is the singer’s most powerful legacy.

“A belief in truth, rights and justice,” he says. “And don’t listen to politicians because they’ll cheat you every time.

“And be yourself, and listen to your heart and soul, and not be mentally bullied by establishment thinking. It’s a universal message that seems to have endless appeal.

  • The Bob Marley One Love Experience is at the Saatchi Gallery in London until April 18

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