One Love The Bob Marley Musical tells part of his life story, part of his success, with hints of why he is still remembered today. The show starts with his early career and ends with the 1978 One Love Peace Concert in his native Jamaica. In true Hollywood style, he died 3 years later, in 1981, at the age of 36.
The show starts and we are in Jamaica. A a rough and ready rude boy trio are having difficulty in getting their music played on the radio. That situation is dealt with and the local DJs are more than happy to play their music, thanks to the persuasive argument of swinging baseball bats over their heads.
On stage we see the other two original Wailers, Peter Tosh, played by Jacade Simpson and Bunny Wailer played by Newtion Matthews. The role these two played in helping create the Bob Marley phenomenon and sound is never explored. Should you have any doubt of the triumvirate potency and artistry, google and study them on the Old Grey Whistle Test. It was that TV appearance more than any, that brought the Wailers into the homes and consciousness of the readers of Melody Maker, Sounds and Time Out, not forgetting the consumers of concept albums and serious rock music .
Across the country where the counter culture brigade lived, something new and different had arrived! And it needed time to be digested.The sound of the music was new to many, the look and hair styles of the fronting three Wailers had yet to grace the pages of British minds. Given the Wailers had been presented by whispering Bob Harris, on the Old Whistle Test, we knew one thing for certain, ‘doh worry, everything was gonna be alright’.
In One Love, the charters of Chris Blackwell, played by Alex Robertson, floppy and carefree (founder of Island music) and Don Taylor, Marley’s manager, Delroy Brown, (who would later take eight bullets for Bob), make their obligatory contribution. On stage, their relationship is invisible and none defined. In real life, Marley and Taylor were the Elvis and Colonel Parker of Reggae, except Elvis never had to threaten nor man-handle the Colonel for dipping into his share of the takings.
Rita Marley, played by Alexia Khadime seems to have played a greater part in Bob’s life on stage than she ever had in real life. Artistic licence can sometimes stretch credibility. The secondary political story line and roles of Norman Manley ( Adrian Irvine) and Edward Seaga, (Simeon Truby) culminating in the famous and unprecedented show of unity, solidified Marley’s reputation as “man of the people”. The attempted assassination at 56 Hope Road, Marley’s residence, in Kingston is a great reminder that Bob was indeed considered a man who could sway the people. At that point he decided to lay low in London.
We see Cindy Breakspeare, winner of the 1976 Miss Universe Beauty contest, played by Cat Simmons, re-enter his life, much to the consternation of Rita his wife. His extra marital affair is challenged but it would produce one of his most memorable love songs: Turn Your Lights Down Low, written for Breakspeare who would later become the mother of his son Damian. Rita Marley is on record of having said that she remonstrated against singing the backing vocals to the other woman’s song. Having to harmonise “I want to give you some love, I want to give you some good good loving” night after night on stage she admits, compounded the betrayal. In One Love Marley and Breakspeare sing a love duet, and the audience applaud riotously. Some cuts bleed for ever.
Self-exiled in London, he would produce two of his biggest albums, Exodus with hits including the title track, Jammin, One Love and the trouser floor burner,Turn The Lights Low, followed by Kaya’s Is this Love and Satisfy My soul, meant Marley had a second coming, but more importantly he had crossed into mainstream.
For true Marley followers, the absence of some of the people who were there at the start of Bob’s career, would be hard to swallow. Producer Lee Scratch Perry, Joe Higgs (who produced Marley’s early records and taught him how to play the guitar), Johnny Nash who took Marley on his first European tour, all seem to have vanished from this narrative. When the Wailers go separate ways, Bunny Wailer’s behind back snipping and bad talking of Bob is carried to him by Marley’s cronies and inner circle. Having not established the closeness of the two before the separation, Bunny Wailer comes across unfairly as a bad loser. The complex relationship between Marley and Bunny is an interesting physiological study in brotherhood rivalry. They were childhood friends in Nine Miles and got into music as youngsters. In Kingston’s Trench Town, the closeness and bond got tighter when Bob’s mother and Bunny’s father had a daughter, Claudette Pearle. Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer share a sister. The relationship is a complex and disentangled conundrum.
This however, is a stage musical and there is enough drama, music, and moments to hold the attention of any audience.To complete the circle, back to Mykaell Riley. He founded the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra and is senior Lecturer in Music Production at the University of Westminster. He was given the honour of an introductory article in the One Love Brochure. Of Marley, he writes “Whether we refer to him as a visionary, revolutionary or prophet, the British public has embraced him as one of the most characteristic and challenging performers of this century”.
Mitchel Brunings as Bob Marley is a revelation. He came to the attention of the public when he won the Voice of Holland in 2013. His uncanny ability to sound like Marley is a gift from above. He has the right stature and dressed in jeans, wearing Marley’s trade mark green Adidas track suit top, he becomes Marley. Watch, listen, close your eyes and Marley comes alive. Marvin Gaye said, “if God was a singer he would sound like Bob Marley”. To paraphrase Edward Sega eulogy “his voice was an omnipresent presence in an electronic world. He is part of the collective consciousness.” It has been said that Marley ranks among both the most popular and the most misunderstood figures in modern culture. Those misunderstandings are dealt with in part, in Kwame Kwei Arman’s One Love: The Bob Marley Musical. This is a show that will tour for a long while, to be discussed and analysed. Why not catch it at the Birmingham Rep! Final performance is April 15. Written by J. D. Douglas. 21.3.2017