Raiding Bob Marley’s back catalogue without their fallen leader, Shaun Ponsonby catches the reggae legends at the height of their powers. 

First of all, a word for the marketing department.

The shows were advertised as a performance of LegendMarley’s Greatest Hits album that has become the biggest selling reggae album in history.

In truth, however, this didn’t come to pass.

The first clue was when they opened with Positive Vibration – a song that didn’t feature on Legend, before seguing into Buffalo Soldier, which appeared about halfway through the record.

Further to that, there were several glaring omissions from the set list altogether; Stir It Up, Waiting In Vain, Satisfy My Soul, Redemption Song.

No doubt The Wailers would play most of the songs from Legend regardless of whether it was advertised, so it feels a little naughty to be promoted on the basis of playing the whole album without actually doing so.

In the end, though, that is a tiny niggle, and once the confusion dies to down you don’t really notice.

The first time I saw The Wailers, they were pretty good, but that’s about it. Back then, the only person who could really call himself a true Wailer was bass player Aston “Family Man” Barrett.

Since then, they have had several line-up changes. More former members have returned to the fold, including Junior Marvin, who joined the band for the iconic Exodus album, and Tyrone Downie who joined Marley for Rastaman Vibration and was often musical director of the band.

Aside from the added weight of historical importance, the current line-up feels fatter. Unlike before, vocals are now pretty equally shared between four members, plus two female backing vocalists taking the place of the I-Threes. This gives the band a feeling of community and togetherness that is vital for reggae.

It is hard to go wrong with this catalogue of songs – which is undoubtedly the very catalogue through which most people are introduced to reggae.  But equally it is easy to come across as merely competent. The Wailers in 2018 absolutely succeed at all points.

To underline the vitality of the band, there was one moment that could have felt a little redundant had it been played differently. Long-time guitarist Donald Kingsley stepped forward to perform a reggae version of Johnny B. Goode. It so easily could have come across as sub-UB40 tedium.

But, the groove of the band, and Kingsley’s own blistering guitar solo, elevated it to absurd heights.

By the time the closing Exodus came around, there was no doubt that Marley’s legacy is safe in the hands of the modern Wailers.

Support came from two bands. The first was Manchester’s Jeremiah Ferrari, who have been around for a while now, and this isn’t their first time supporting The Wailers. I’ve always been in two minds about them. Although they are pretty solid musically, there is something grating about a Manchester band singing with a Jamaican accent.

Much better were Common Kings.  Coming out of Orange County, California, the hybrid of reggae, soul, hard rock and rap was the kind of cultural mesh that proved irresistible for the majority of the crowd, who sang along and danced to songs that they probably didn’t know. Definitely ones to watch.

Pictures courtesy of Brian Sayle