Lawrence Conway, writing for South London, speaks to the author of a new book on Bob Marley, I &I: he Natural Mystics by Colin Grant.
PREVIOUSLY unseen footage of Bob Marley was screened ahead of readings from a new book about the reggae superstar and the Wailers and Jamaican culture. The event at Brixton Library in Brixton Oval followed the 66th anniversary of the singer’s birth on February 6, 1945. The book, I & I: The Natural Mystics, was written by Colin Grant, 49, from Brighton, who works as a BBC radio science producer. His biography of the original Wailers – Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston – also looks at Jamaican culture, history, politics, religion and the author’s own trips to the island.
Mr Grant, who previously wrote a book about Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey, said: “The launch is being held in Brixton as I know there is a lot of interest in Marley and The Wailers in Brixton. “It took three years to write the book, but as my parents are Jamaican I had been thinking about it for a long time.
“Bunny Wailer [Livingston], the last surviving member, proved to be difficult to track down. It took six or seven attempts and about two years.
“But he’s still touring and I managed to catch up with him ahead of a gig he played at Brixton Academy in October last year.”
The book’s story begins in 1990, after Tosh’s and Marley’s deaths, recalling Bunny Livingston’s appearance at the Sting festival in Jamaica. With more lyrically aggressive artists such as Shabba Ranks superseding The Wailers, it seemed Livingston’s time, musically, had passed.
Mr Grant said: “The crowd jeer his old-school reggae and he is eventually bottled off stage. It really stung him and he became quite reclusive.
“The book then travels into the past to the late 1950s and early 1960s when this trio first started. I chart their evolution as musicians, in part by the way their look changed over time.
“They start off as Brylcreemed, two-tone suit-wearing, rhythm and blues crooners who adored Curtis Mayfield.
“In the course of 10 years they become these dreadlocked combat-gear-wearing Rastafarian reggae stars.
“That’s quite a transformation. “Especially considering they got their first break in a Jamaican equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent – a stage variety show which offered the winners a gig on the radio.” As well as following the trio’s evolution as The Wailers the book also charts Jamaica’s changing society as the country moved on from British colonial rule and established its own independent cultural identity.
The event featured Mr Grant’s insights, readings and presentation, as well as an appearance by Jamaican-born actress and former model Esther Anderson. Ms Anderson, 66, who had a relationship and worked closely with Marley in the 70s, still speaks fondly of the singer, who died in May, 1981.
A clip from a documentary she is helping to make, called The Making of a Legend, was shown at the library.
The exclusive scenes, shot 38 years ago, are being used in the film about Marley’s first two solo albums and where his music came from.
Ms Anderson, who now lives in west London, said: “We started making the film just before Christmas after showing the BFI some of the clips.
“They are the first video clips ever shot of Bob Marley and some of The Wailers, long before he had dreads and when he looked liked Jimi Hendrix.
“He was quite an innocent, very kind and helpful person. He used to be a welder and was good at fixing things.
“He was very close with his male friends. I think because he never had a father he felt the brotherhood of men very strongly.
“We built a house together in Jamaica in 1974, which is also in the film, and some of the footage are the only shots of Peter Tosh and Bob Marley spending relaxed time together.
“To me they were definitely close friends, despite what other people may say.
“They were like reggae’s Lennon and McCartney.”
I & I: The Natural Mystics by Colin Grant was published on January 27.
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