Wednesday, June 17, 2015

When Kenilworth's Chesford Grange Hotel played host to Bob Marley - Pete Clemons

The newest from Pete Clemons in the Coventry Telegraph, looking at Johnny Nash and Bob Marley.

When Kenilworth's Chesford Grange Hotel played host to Bob Marley
Pete Clemons From Coventry Telegraph

Bob Marley performing in 1973

My recent article which touched on the musical history of Warwick University seemed to stir up much debate and excitement over the fact that The Wailers , complete with Bob Marley , played the student union venue as part of the UK tour which supported the release of their second Island Records release, the ‘Burnin’ album, during 1973.

Well, while researching for that particular article, I came across information that led me to discover that Bob Marley had in fact visited this area almost 18 months earlier during 1972.

Johnny Nash is a singer/songwriter who was born in Texas and will be long remembered for hits such as ‘There are More Questions than Answers’, ‘Hold Me Tight’, ‘Tears on my Pillow’ and, ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. He also had a hit during 1972 with a song composed some years earlier by Bob Marley called ‘Stir it Up’. That song could also be found on the ‘I Can See clearly Now’ album along with some other Bob Marley tunes.

Johnny Nash

Earlier in his life Johnny Nash had gained moderate success as a soul and ballad singer. However, success with a 1965 US hit titled ‘Let’s Move and Groove Together’ was also picked up by, and became very popular in Jamaica. And this, in turn, resulted in a promotional tour of the island. That tour lead to Johnny becoming increasingly influenced by the reggae sound that Jamaica is famed for and would eventually filter through to the wider world. Slightly later in that same decade Johnny would cross paths with Bob Marley who would sign up to the same record label that Johnny was involved with at that time.

After working in Sweden during the early part of the 1970s Johnny Nash and Bob Marley then found themselves reunited in North London. And towards the end of 1972, while still living in London a deal was struck up with Island records founder Chris Blackwell which saw Bob Marley and the Wailers signing up to the label.

From then on, and for that particular band, the rest as they say is history. The decision to sign up for Island Records would ultimately bring the music of Bob Marley and the Wailers huge success and international stardom. Bob’s legacy continues to live and grow to this very day.

Going back slightly in time though from the time when Bob Marley and Johnny Nash found themselves together again it appears that during 1971 Johnny, along with his manager Danny Sims, were living together in a London flat along with another Texan – the re-knowned keyboard player John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick. Danny Sims was, of course, the guy credited as the first non-Jamaican to recognise and promote the talents of The Wailers.

Early 1972 saw the trio move on to another North London flat where they were joined by Bob Marley. As well as recording with Johnny, Bob, as I understand, was looking for a new record deal and I presume that he was hoping that Johnny could in some way give him greater exposure. In fact Danny Sims arranged for Marley to sign for CBS records where a single titled ‘Reggae on Broadway’ was released in June of that year. Ultimately though, the deal was an unsuccessful one, as CBS Records did not put much effort into promoting the record.

Beginning in March 1972 Bob then embarked on a 17-date tour of the UK with singer Johnny Nash as a member of his backing group. And incredibly that tour called in at the Chesford Grange Hotel .

The Chesford Grange Hotel was, of course, once famed for its elegant dinner dances in the company of guest artists like Matt Monroe and Petula Clark. But then, sometime later, found itself on the ‘chicken in the basket’ cabaret circuit that existed from the mid 1970s and through the 1980s.

But this particular gig took place inbetween those periods when the Chesford also boasted a downstairs nightclub that, during its lifetime, went under the names of 1812, Blaises, Kinetic and Stables. This was at a time when the UK music scene had moved away from the beat bands and had become more experimental. Soul and R ‘n’ B music was also popular as was the folk rock scene. And somehow, at a live level, all these genres seemed to share venues and clubs.

The gig itself was billed as The Johnny Nash Show with The Sons of the Jungle and it was toured between March and May of 1972. I can find very little on The Sons of the Jungle but to the best of my knowledge and after much research I am fairly certain that in addition to Bob Marley the band also included John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, George Lee, Eddie Quansa, Richard Bailey and Anthony ‘Rebop’ Kwaku Baah.

Immediately after the Johnny Nash tour John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick joined rock band Free and with them immediately went on a tour of Japan supporting Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Bundrick would go on to carve a phenomenal career as a session player as well as recording with some of the biggest bands around.

Later on during 1972 The Johnny Nash Show tour resumed and the remainder of the Wailers, namely Peter Tosh (guitar), Bunny Livingston (percussion) and Aston Barrett (bass) arrived in London and they also provided support alongside The Sons of the Jungle.

After the tour ended The Wailers broke ranks with Johnny Nash’s manager. But with no real money being made they were effectively stranded in London. It was then that the band turned up at Island records. Chris Blackwell was already well aware of the band’s talents. So Blackwell gave the band enough money to buy out their CBS contract, fly home and begin writing and recording their first album for the Island label ‘Catch a Fire’.

Throughout the rest of the 1970s and very early 1980s Bob Marley and the Wailers would make several more visits to the region such as Birmingham and Wolverhampton. But I fondly remember two extraordinary and memorable visits to Stafford Bingley Hall in 1978 and 1980 in support of the Kaya and Uprising albums respectively – thanks goes to an old friend, Ted, for getting me on that bus.

1 comment:

  1. I also saw the Nice & the Moody Blues at chessford grange back in the early seventies.