Catch A Fire

Probably the best album cover in the world…

Well, it's a very pleasing affair, certainly. Pull back the top half to reveal the workings of a Zippo lighter. Such a simple, but such a clever concept. It certainly set the album apart.

£2.29 reduced from £2.99. I probably bought it quite soon after its release in 1973. Certainly not long after seeing The Wailers perform 'Concrete Jungle', the stark and slightly mysterious opening track, on The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Up until that moment, I had associated reggae with artists like Desmond Dekker and Ken Boothe. It seemed slightly sappy and not something that a serious teenager would take seriously. But this seemed... serious, and different. A front line of Bunny Wailer, the gaunt Bob Marley and the tall, lean, dangerous-looking Peter Tosh, driven by the bass lines of 'Family Man' Barrett and his brother Carlton on drums, singing about modern urban themes rather than love songs or impenetrable parables about Israelites. It was a heady and exciting mixture.

'Concrete Jungle' was in fact a re-working of an earlier song and I later learnt that many of the classic numbers from the early days of modernised Wailers – 'Slave Driver', 'Lively Up Yourself', 'Trench Town Rock' and many more – were reinterpretations of songs from an era when the group was ploughing its furrow, unknown outside their homeland of Jamaica. I dismissed them when these earlier versions were re-issued on snide compilations to cash in on Marley fever, but have subsequently gone back to discover their charm. Less polish perhaps, but more raw soul.

This was Chris Blackwell's masterful entrepreneurial idea when he discovered them and signed them to his Island label. Resurrect the golden oldies and embellish them with modern production techniques. It sure worked a treat.

'Concrete Jungle' is followed by the lazy 'Slave Driver', with its expert hand-claps and cheap organ sound, before the two Peter Tosh originals: '400 Years' and the marvellous 'Stop That Train', so redolent of the early days when the Wailers were a vocal harmony group in the vein of Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions.

If Tosh's voice is not quite that of the dangerous 'stepping razor' he would subsequently sing about, it's harsher and grittier than Marley's sweeter tones that lead on the other numbers. I would subsequently buy Tosh's solo album, Legalise It, as a 'weedy' student, primarily I think because it was the hip thing to do and I believed then, as I do now, that it should indeed be legalised.

'Meet you at your house at a quarter to hate,' Marley sings on 'Baby We've Got a Date (Rock it Baby)', which ends the first side on a lovely old-fashioned note, with the curious addition of what sounds like a pedal-steel guitar.![](upload://fA2CInocuWKDdJDRexgX93iHyb9.jpg)

Then Side 2 fires up with my two favourite tracks on the album: 'Stir It Up' (or 'Steer It Up' as Marley sings it) with its marvellous 'Family Man' bass line, its wah-wah guitars and woo-woo backing vocals; and the glorious 'Kinky Reggae'. 'I went down town to see Miss Brown/She had brown sugar all over her booga-wooga...' I've never been quite sure what that's all about, but it sounds illicit and it doesn't altogether surprise me that Marley 'just can't settle down in a kinky part of town'.

The album ends with two more Marley songs: 'No More Trouble' and 'Midnight Ravers', whose slightly haunting organ sound echoes 'Concrete Jungle' and brings things elegantly full circle. The CD reissue has two bonus tracks. 'High Tide or Low Tide' is fairly innocuous stuff, but 'All Day All Night' sits very nicely thank you in the 'Stir It Up' and 'Kinky Reggae' genre, without quite capturing those heights.

As good as it is, the album has a special place in my heart more because it led me to explore and love the rhythmic and melodic genre that would spread from a small island in the Caribbean to the UK, France, West Africa and all over the world. It took me first to toasters like the 'brothers' Roy, U- and I-; then to the deep spiritual reggae of Winston Rodney, aka Burning Spear; to the disco-infused reggae of Third World and The Royal Rasses; to the 'Cool Ruler', Gregory Isaacs; to the spacey dub sounds of King Tubby and Augustus Pablo; and above all to delicious vocal harmony groups such as The Mighty Diamonds, Culture, The Wailing Souls and The Gladiators.

It was the first and, like girlfriends, it is indelible in that respect. In truth, there are probably better Wailers/Marley albums out there. Burnin', for example, has a lot of proponents. And I really love the excitement captured on Live! (at the Lyceum, London) as a reminder of the unforgettable evening when I saw the band live in the big hall at Exeter University.

Our resident social secretary was a bit of a megalomaniacal self-publicist, but he lured the likes of Chick Corea, Hatfield & the North, Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band and John Cale to an outpost of academe in the west of England. Somehow, he persuaded Mr. Marley and crew to come down for a second concert during a flying return visit to the capital. God knows how. We didn't ask too many questions, but gave him our undying gratitude. Strangely and perhaps sadly, our benefactor didn't end up as a concert promoter.

By then, Tosh and Bunny Livingstone/Wailer had left to forge solo careers, so we had to be satisfied with the I Threes – Judy, Rita and Marcia. Not too shabby, really. I was part of a seething mass of humanity easy-skanking along to all the by-now familiar numbers on a hot summer's evening. I remember turning at one point to smile at a respectable former student who had settled in the area to found a (probably short-lived) local paper. He was dancing bare-chested with his shirt tied around his waist and a perma-smile spread across his face. We knew that we were witnessing something very special.

Having missed both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in beleaguered Belfast, it seemed the next best thing. It certainly garnered a few Brownie points, which I have been able to spend at dinner parties in the decades that followed. A distant memory now, but the vinyl microgrooves still testify to the truth. The Wailers were damn fine in their prime.

Gosh, Bruce, your tenor playing daughter played with the great Rico Rodriguez. Much respeck. The dear man has just shuffled off this mortal coil, I'm sad to say. Kids and a mortgage weigh heavily on the shoulders of anyone with artistic ambitions. Actually, anyone for that matter.

BM - I'll take your word for it - what I know about jazz could be written on the back of a microdot !

Jools Holland....Our daughter, a tenor player, played in his band for a few weeks in the late 90s, but couldn't cope with the "same notes" every gig. Good money too. She asked Rico Rodrigues and a couple of other long time members how they could play the same stuff night after night (and they were jazzers) and one of them said " 4 kids and a mortgage". She probably wish she had have stayed and she would have her mortgage paid for by now.

Never saw it, but ain't Ella Fitzgerald's version great?

....probably the most unfunny uk 'comedy' programme ever !

just sent you a 'pm' Mark

A fine romance, with no kisses
A fine romance, my friend this is
We should be like a couple of hot tomatoes
But you're as cold as yesterday's mashed potatoes


Enjoy the day out dahlins ;-)

Peter, I can't seem to work out how to invite you as a friend. I wanted to contact you about our visit to the record shop in Limoges. I've just finished the first draft of all three e-learning scripts now, so with luck and a fair head wind next week might be possible. What about you?

Hi Elaine. How did I miss your comment? Nice to hear from you - and thanks for the splendid anecdote about BM and the spliff. I wonder if that was the same Old Grey Whistle Test session that introduced me to the Wailers.

Blimey, how did I miss that? As an Exonian, then a student in Weymouth (we would take a mini-bus full), I did get to the Great Hall to see Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Graham Parker, John Martyn... and Shakin' Stevens and the Sunsets (a few times!)

A friend and I were idly chatting about famous people we'd met, when he floored me by saying that he'd shared a spliff with Bob Marley. "But I thought you'd never been to Jamaica," I countered. "Nah, Shepherd's Bush!" he replied. Apparently, BM was taking a break from recording the Old Grey Whistle Test at the Bush Theatre...

I think it's smugness which really grates.

I shall enjoy my pork chop (singular) & veg regardless...

Bon app !

With lunchtime approaching, you have just lost me any appetite. No doubt you might be in a similar state. Smarmy is almost a compliment and as to how he crawls to big names who probably prefer slugs. When he played with B. B. King back in 2007 or so I nearly cried in shame...

The sight of JH usually brings on the nasty rash...

I think it's his smarmy fizzog which incites me to want to flush him down the toilet.

He's the only 'celebrity' I would recommend live with my mother in law..

No mate, the children and dogs have one, but for Jools I am allowed to hide behind it.

Looxury, you have a sofa ?

i've only a few palettes and newspaper to sit on...

talk about the idle rich !

...and when he sings I hide behind the sofa. UGH!

Can't stand Jools Holland !!!

Don't know why, he just makes me cringe every time I see him..

Gents, my fave reggae album of all time is from the trombonist Rico Rodriugez "Man from Warieka". Sorry to say he has been unwell of late having missed some big band gigs with Jools Holland, I wish him well believe him to be approaching his eighties now; a true master blaster, babylon rasta. Highly reccomend you Utube him, fabulous sound. Link added

Gaul, as in stones (never 'ad 'em and I know it's two ells). Nope, specialised in stuff like street children and child labour, children in war (first visit to Ethiopia was that), various abuses and exploitations although I started looking at migration of youth and took it from there and then the world was my rather grubby whelk (oysters are for posh people...). Over 40 countries under my feet at one time or another over the last pushing half century - don't ask me which because I don't actually remember some of them at all. However, since I have done nigh on zero tourism, like 18 years of Peru back and forth and never got near Machu Picchu, seen the pyramids out of a plane window when descending into Cairo, etc...

I've done very little work in Europe, so yer Gauls. Well they are related to Gaels but my lot come from the east of Scotland so I suppose I should at least gen up on Norsefolk!

I see, I see, I see. Had'nae realised that you were an anthropowhatsit. That explains rather a lot! You must be an expert on the tribes of Gaul.