“What’s the point of seeing The Wailers when they only have one original member? It’s like going to see The Beatles and finding only Ringo.”
An undoubtedly relevant question, although The Wailers are hardly unique in this regard. If you were to scan the music listings at present you could easily delete The Wailers and insert 10CC, The Beat, From The Jam and a number of others. Nostalgia is big business, and it certainly brought a large and appreciative crowd to Indigo at the O2 Arena, London last night. The instigator of the debate, by the way, was leaning against the bar awaiting the arrival of the band on stage, dressed in a Bob Marley t-shirt which he’d just purchased from the merchandise stand. The irony seemed rather lost on him.
He could have taken the argument a step further, if he’d had a mind, and pointed out that The Wailers actually had none of their original members. It may be veering wildly towards pedantry, but the original trio of Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer parted company in 1974 before they had actually made a commercial breakthrough; the hits- and arguably the best songs- only coming when Marley had been joined by Aston “Family Man’ Barrett and his brother Carlton.
Aston, the bass player and only surviving member of that trio, has been keeping The Wailers wailing since Marley’s sad demise in 1981, at first with the help of drummer Carlton but then, when the latter was tragically murdered in 1987, with the assistance of a succession of new musicians. It has not been a particularly smooth ride; he has three times unsuccessfully sued the Marley estate for songwriting royalties which he believed should have been attributed to him and three times had his claims thrown out, the last apparently costing him around two million pounds in costs. It’s no wonder that even at 66 he shows no sign of retiring; though the clothing requirements of his (alleged) 52 children probably also help to keep him motivated.
This was the last night of their current tour, and to some extent it showed. Much of the band, “Family Man” included, looked rather exhausted. They didn’t bound onto the stage fifteen minutes late, they shuffled. But however they were feeling, it didn’t affect the intensity of their rhythm, and they had the luxury of two significantly more youthful vocalists to take the strain. Those vocalists, along with an exceptional lead guitarist, provided the energy that their colleagues may have lacked, and the meld worked rather well.
Filling in for Marley is an impossible task. Dwayne Anglin was the fall guy. Vocally, he rose to the task beautifully through hit after hit, ably supported by backing vocalist and Rita Marley stand-in Cegee Victory. The only problem, if there was one, was the lack of engagement between the front man and the audience. Marley created and sang works of both intelligence and beauty, and had he been with us today would undoubtedly have been able to speak to his audience about that process and his inspiration. Anglin, devoid of that history, was reduced to repeatedly asking the audience whether they wanted to hear some “Rasta Music,” giving praise to a higher authority, and asking the ladies in the audience to make a noise. It got rather tiresome after a while, and detracted from the strength of his overall performance. On Redemption Song, when he strapped on an acoustic guitar, stopped being ‘Ramblin Anglin’ and simply let his vocals do the talking, the effect was quite magical.
In reality, however, only one thing mattered. This tour was designed to celebrate 30 years since the posthumous release of ‘Legend;’ and whilst a tour to celebrate a Greatest Hits album may seem a little peculiar the benefit is obvious. The band ran through the album in order. The audience knew every word and sang, jumped, waved and danced along from start to finish, through Could You Be Loved, Three Little Birds, One Love and Jamming amongst others. A few even lit some ceremonial ganja in tribute- so much for the smoking ban. Nobody was worried about the line up; the quality of the songs and their emotional connection was all that was important.
In a recent interview, Barrett and Anglin mentioned their responsibility for Marley’s legacy. The truth of the matter, however, is that this legacy would continue with or without them. That they treat it respectfully cannot be doubted; they play well and the entertainment value of an evening in their company cannot be faulted. But whether The Wailers still existed or not, songs of that quality would always have remained in our consciousness. There is only one Marley, and no matter how many times his backing band reinvent themselves, his work will remain both important and vibrant.
Finally, a word about the support act, By The Rivers. They performed with great energy and enthusiasm- and not a little skill; winning over a rather partisan audience with a set full of strong, infectious songs. They will only get better with experience. Perhaps another aspect of Marley’s legacy is that young musicians like these are still being inspired by his work more than thirty years after his death.
Published on in Random Ramblings.