Last year, 13 reel-to-reel, analogue master recordings of Bob Marley’s London and Paris concerts, made between 1974 and 1978, were discovered in cardboard box files in a run-down hotel in Kensal Rise, north-west London. They had been subject to flooding; they were found covered in a sticky resin-like material and some were marked ‘DAMAGED – DO NOT PLAY’. Others were labelled ‘Damaged in centre tracks, cannot remove from spool, without further damage being caused (to both tape and machine).’
Less than a decade before his death in 1971, Marley was at the height of his powers and the concerts are still regarded as among the most memorable staged by any pop artist during that period. Yet, the basement in which the tapes were found, long since closed down, was a modest hotel where the band stayed during their European tours of the mid-1970s! They were in a truly appalling condition, and would have been lost forever if anyone had tried playing them in that condition.
This would have been a tragedy, since these were the concerts Bob Marley and The Wailers played at London’s Lyceum (1975), Hammersmith Odeon (1976) and Rainbow (1977), followed by the Pavilion de Paris (1978).
They were recorded live on the Rolling Stones’ mobile 24-track studio vehicle – the only one in the UK at the time, which was loaned out to Marley, and they were thought lost for 40 years!
In fact, the two-inch tapes from the 1970s had been thrown away, but were rescued from the rubbish by a friend of Marley fan and London businessman Joe Gatt who passed them on to him He, in turn, passed them on to his business partner and regular Ronnie Scott’s headliner Louis Hoover, who spent £25,000 having them restored. He said, “When I saw the labels and footnotes on the tapes, I could not believe my eyes, but then I saw how severely water damaged they were. There was literally plasticised gunk oozing from every inch and, in truth, saving the sound quality of the recordings, looked like it was going to be a hopeless task.”
He engaged sound technician specialist Martin Nichols of White House Studios in Weston-super-Mare for the year-long restoration: “I spent hours on hours, inch by inch, painstakingly cleaning all the gunge off until they were ready for a process called ‘baking’, to allow them to be played safely… The end result has really surprised me, because they are now in a digital format and are very high quality. It shows the original recordings were very professionally made. From the current find of 13 tapes, 10 were restored, two were blank and one was damaged beyond repair… This was without doubt, one of the most difficult projects I have ever tackled. It was a real labour of love.”
When Hoover first heard the restored recordings, he was blown away. He was at the Lyceum show, a version of which was released as the album LIVE. “We were immediately transported back in time… We were back in the Lyceum again with Bob Marley and The Wailers on stage … just for us! It made the hair on the back of our necks stand up and genuine shivers ran up our spines with joy. The experience was comparable to finding Van Gogh’s easel, paint pallet and paints in an old room somewhere, then Vincent emerges through a secret door to paint 26 of his finest masterpieces … purely for us!”
Gatt, who also attended the Lyceum show, says the lost tapes throw new light on Marley’s ability to make his audience feel part of a special musical communion. “It’s truly magical and hearing the way he engages with the crowd and the audience all responding right back is really something very special.. I was lucky to be there first time round, purely by chance, on a friend’s spare ticket. I’m even luckier to have been part of this salvation process. “For us, just saving this magnificent music is what matters most of all.”
Known in music circles as “The Lost Masters”, these recordings have had near-mythical status amongst music aficionados. The announcement of their restoration comes on the eve of what would have been the reggae icon’s 72nd birthday today (February 6th) and will lead to a rush of excitement among music fans keen to listen to the treasures they contain. It is hoped that, at some stage, they will be released in vinyl, download and CD versions.
Cast Announced For Kwame Kwei-Armah’s Play, One Love: The Bob Marley Musical find out more here.