Bob Marley and the Wailers Catch a Fire Review

Album. Released 1973.  

BBC Review

Without Catch A Fire Bob Marley would never have become a figurehead and no one...

Chris Jones 2008

Already big names in their native Jamaica, it took until this 1973 release for Marley and Co. to finally go global. This was due, in no small part, to the intervention of the man once dubbed a 'vampire' by Lee Perry (the former Wailers producer) – Chris Blackwell. It was the label boss (who’d made his initial fortune importing Jamaican hits to these shores) who recognised that, while Marley, Tosh etc. had song writing and performing skills in abundance, they needed to be put through the equivalent of a 'rock' blender to make them palatable to UK ears.

Thus, when the tapes were handed to Blackwell he saw to it that the keyboards of John 'Rabbit' Bundrick and guitar of Wayne Perkins bolstered the righteous skank of Catch A Fire. And it worked… Perkins’ steel combined with Bundrick's washes (and a whole host of contemporary studio filters) to flesh out the originals perfectly. From this point on Marley would be the hippest name to drop in reggae.

But of course, without the original diamonds in the rough, Blackwell and Island couldn't have succeeded. This was still very much still a group effort at this point. Peter Tosh's contributions (400 Years and Stop The Train), both sung by him, show how he was easily the match of Marley, making his solo career an inevitability. What’s more, the band, propelled by the airtight rhythm section of the Barrett brothers, could turn their hand to both slinky love songs (Stir It Up) and politically charged diatribes (Concrete Jungle) with ease.

Reggae, up until this point, was a niche genre, bought in the UK by ex-pat West Indians (and the occasional skinhead); it was even less widespread in the States. Catch A Fire changed all that. Without it Bob Marley would never have become a figurehead and no one outside of the Caribbean would have heard of Bunny Wailer or Peter Tosh either. For this alone Chris Blackwell should be canonised.

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