I recently profiled the Wailers four-night run at London’s Speakeasy at www.bobmarley.com.
Their fiery performances at the club, several of which didn’t start until 2:30 a.m., were a turning point for the band. As bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett explains in John Masouri’s excellent book Wailing Blues: The Story of Bob Marley’s Wailers:
“There came a point where we just knew how we were going to set it and that come when we were playing the Speakeasy. The Speakeasy was the most prestigious club in London at the time and that was our breaking point. That was when we first began to get attention from the media because they were all there that night just waiting to see what we could do.”
Bob Marley meets a 14-year old aspiring photographer named Dennis Morris during the sound check for one of these shows. Morris will eventually capture some of the most memorable images of Marley, like the one here, Morris’ first photo of Bob Marley, which was captured during the Wailers’ performance at the Speakeasy. He also shoots the cover photo for Live 1975!.
Writer Chris Salewicz describes the vibe at the Speakeasy during the Wailers’ four-night run in his book Bob Marley: The Untold Story.
“Such was the buzz created by Catch A Fire that this set of London shows was a complete sell-out. More than that, the first night at The Speakeasy turned into the hippest cultural event that London had experienced that year.
Moreover, for once this crowd waited patiently in its seats; the fact that the Wailers were so resolutely unpunctual in arriving onstage at their appointed hour seemed to be part of the attraction: this Jamaican soon-come way of thinking was deemed to be definitively cool.
When the Wailers appeared, the contrast between the affluent audience and the group, with their shuffling demeanour, could not have been more pronounced. Crammed on to the tiny stage of The Speakeasy, the group had both a humility about them and a power in their performance.
Such an approach was literally stunning. The strangely quiet, almost hushed performances of the Wailers at The Speakeasy on those nights in May 1973 were life-changing experiences. It was as though there was a spirit hovering over the group.”
Included below is the guest list from one of the Speakeasy shows. Evidently someone thought it important to make sure Sha-Na-Na made the show.
Our good friend Chris Lane of Fashion Records graciously shared with me his review of one of the performances, which appeared in Blues & Soul Magazine in 1973. It is brilliantly written and includes words from both Carlton and Aston Barrett. A truly noteworthy document.
CLICK HERE to read it.
Thanks. Really fascinating history. Must have been a privilege to be there! Regards. Thom