I have to say from the outset that I have never been a great fan of reggae: with me, a little goes an extremely long way. Nevertheless, I recognise its importance in music, and the two tracks featured in my post today are the ONLY two that were ever voted for in the Festive Fifty, therefore they deserve a post on their own!
My first exposure to this particular genre came in my university years, when my dorm supervisor introduced me to Whisky Macs, Mozart and Mikey Dread: World War Three was full of lovely music and for a while I fell under its spell, but rejected it for the more powerful influence of Wagner. I had, however, heard Robert ‘Bob’ Nesta Marley in the form of his chart singles, particularly Jamming, Could You Be Loved and Is This Love. However, for many, Marley is represented by Vincent Ford’s anthemic track from Natty Dread: this (1976 FF #32) became a hit single in a live version (the full 7 minute version is included here) recorded one magical night at the Lyceum Ballroom in July 1975. The pungent live atmosphere fairly crackles out of the speakers, and the audience, aside from knowing all the words, add to the warm, earthy atmosphere so much you can almost see them swaying.
Bob Marley & The Wailers, No Woman No Cry
Marley himself obstinately refused surgery for cancer, leading to a premature death in 1981.
The Natural-ites were the duo of Ossie Gad and Percy McLeod: Gad wrote the lyrics to Picture On The Wall (1983 FF #10), which became popular in reggae circles after JP and Janice Long featured them in sessions. The album followed two years later, when the pair were augmented by a bevy of session musicians that became known as the Realistics. A considerable amount of information on the band is provided here.
Natural-ites & The Realistics, Picture On The Wall
It is surprising to me that more reggae never made it to the Festive Fifty, since Peel played it constantly, but some clue as to this phenomenon may be gleaned from the man himself:
Since completing this year’s chart I have spent some time staring deeply into it in the hope that at least a handful of the secrets of the universe will thereby be unlocked. What sort of trousers will we be wearing in 1987? Does anyone seriously believe that Arsenal will win the championship? [In fact, much to John’s chagrin, Arsenal won the Football League cup that year, beating Liverpool 2-1!] These are typical of the questions I have been asking. There is, though, only one realistic forecast I can make from this prolonged study, and that is that those listeners who write me grumpy letters chiding me for tainting, as they see it, otherwise perfectly good programmes with reggae, hip-hop and African music, will write again in triumph. Where, they will want to know, are the Half Pints, the Dj Cheeses, the Bhundu Boys? And they will take the non-appearance of reggae and the rest in what is becoming a conservative and nostalgic chart as all the proof that is needed that no one wants to hear these things. [John Peel, from (possibly) an Observer article, 1986]
Was he right? I hope to discuss this at length some other time, but at this time it seems to me that what he said indicates the first flowering of discontent with the FF and the feeling that maybe he had created a monster of which he no longer had control.
Bob Marley, Legend