After 40 long years sitting in a damp basement of a rundown London hotel, a collection of long-lost Bob Marley live recordings was put up for auction last month.
The recordings are all from live Bob Marley concerts, during the years when his career was at its peak. They include tapes from the Lyceum in London (1975), the Hammersmith Odeon (1976), the Rainbow, in London (1977) and the Pavilion de Paris (1978).
Found in old cardboard boxes, the 13 severely water-damaged tapes had to be cleaned and restored. At first, they were thought to be beyond repair. However, all but one were able to be restored (2 tapes were blank).
How Bob Marley recordings ended up in a basement
Bob Marley was the king of Caribbean reggae in his heyday. Born in Jamaica, he blended reggae, ska, and rocksteady to form a unique style. At the height of his career, he became a Rastafari icon, and a well-known name throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.
But how did some valuable live recordings of his end up in a damp, old hotel basement? This particular London hotel was one in which Marley and the Wailers had stayed in the 70s while they toured Europe. According to the former road manager for reggae band Aswad, he and Marley had been drinking with the hotel’s manager one night, and Marley realized he couldn’t pay the tab. So, he gave the tapes to the hotel manager as a security deposit until he could return to pay.
However, Marley never went back to pay the tab or collect the tapes, and so they collected dust at the hotel for 40 years.
Restoring the tapes
Restoring the Caribbean legend’s recordings was not an easy task. The tapes were covered with muck and grime, thanks to the water that had flooded the basement years earlier. Sound technician specialist Martin Nichols of White House studios took on the grueling task of restoration.
“They really were in such an appalling condition they should have been binned,” Nichols told The Guardian. “But 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.”
Using the latest audio techniques, the technicians were able to convert the tapes to digital format. The tapes themselves are only meant to be played about 60 times. Once auctioned, the new owner will receive both the original tapes and a copy of the digital versions of the songs.
Besides the fact that the recordings belong to Bob Marley and the Wailers, there is another reason why they are so valuable and unique. They were made using a mobile 24-track studio vehicle loaned to Marley by the Rolling Stones. It was the only one available in the UK at the time.
The restoration process cost around 25,000 pounds. Afterward, the first people to hear the recordings described them as “spine-tingling”. Singer Louis Hoover, who examined the tapes before they were cleaned, said, “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, say, 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.”
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