This story courtesy of the BBC.
Bob Marley was an up-and-coming reggae musician, just beginning to cross over into the mainstream when on 19 June 1976 he played a headline show at Cardiff’s Ninian Park stadium.
He was touring in support of the Bob Marley And The Wailers album Rastaman Vibration, which was released earlier in the year. He was playing venues in the UK such as the Wolverhampton Civic Hall and the Hammersmith Odeon, so he was by no means the huge star he would become after the release of the Exodus album a year later.
That he was brought in to headline a potentially massive stadium show was something of a surprise. But he was not the first choice for the gig. Gig-goer Richard Jones recalls, “The gig at Ninian Park was meant to be a West Coast rock festival, with Stephen Stills [of Crosby, Stills And Nash fame] headlining.
“With about four or five weeks to go, Stephen Stills pulled out and the promoters, who weren’t well known in the area had to find a new headliner. Bob Marley was touring the country and it probably made sense to bring him in.”
The rest of the bill was Eric Burdon Band, Sutherland Brothers and Quiver, Pretty Things, Gloria Jones and Gonzales and Dirty Tricks. Jones wasn’t too impressed by the whole thing: “This came a week after The Who had sold out Swansea City football ground with The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Little Feat, so there was a huge difference between the shows. I’d say there were 4000 people at Ninian Park, which could have held 20,000 or so. Suffice to say the promoters must have suffered!
“Bob Marley hadn’t crossed over by that point, he was still fairly underground. The crowd was a young one, lots of people under 30 and a real mixture. There were lots of hippies there, some people who would later become punks… Robert Plant was there too. He used to live near Newport at the time.”
Also in the crowd was a 14 year old by the name of Leigh Bailey. “At the time I was well into T-Rex, Slade, that kind of thing. I really didn’t know Bob Marley but I went along with some friends. We sneaked out of our houses, and got completely soaked.
“Bob Marley was an amazing person to see on stage. It changed my music taste and it changed my life.” It changed Leigh’s life to such an extent that he is now the frontman of a homage band to Bob Marley, called Bob Bailey And The Jailers. They have played internationally and among their setlist are Welsh-language versions of Marley classics. He told the UKReggaeGuide website, “To be honest, I’d like to do all of his music in Welsh but I restrict it mainly to gigs I do in Wales. I like to honour Bob in this way.”
Another atendee was photographer Steve Emberton, who took the photo on this page. “I was a freelance photographer in the 1970s and would have been working for Record Mirror for this gig. I’d wanted to photograph Marley for a while so it was a good opportunity, and a good gig. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I do remember it raining!
“At the time he was breaking into the limelight and was becoming very much of interest. To be honest at the time it was very hard to sell pictures of black artists but I’m really glad I got to take those shots. It amazes me as years have gone by that Bob Marley would be one of those ‘top 10 artists you’d love to have seen’.
Ninian Park in 1976 was Bob Marley’s first Welsh gig, but it wouldn’t be his last. One of his last ever shows was at Deeside Leisure Centre in Queensferry on 12 July 1980 on the Uprising tour.
It is North Wales that has provided one of the more enduring myths around Bob Marley. It has long been thought that he had North Welsh ancestry, with his father Norval hailing from Prestatyn. But some 2004 research by Joanne Gallacher proved that some geographical confusion and Chinese whispers are to blame for it. Norval Marley was born in Jamaica to a local mother and an English father, from Surrey. He joined the British army in 1916 and believed himself to have been stationed in Wales.
However, he was actually stationed across the border, near Oswestry in Shropshire. So Bob Marley’s Welsh connections are limited, in fact, to a sparsely-attended but inspirational Cardiff gig and another one near the end of his life in Deeside.