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Interview: Delroy Washington on Bob Marley

Interview: Delroy Washington on Bob Marley

Interview: Delroy Washington on Bob Marley

By on - Photos by Felix Foueillis - 3 comments

"The band that we know as The Wailers effectively started in England"


When the long-awaited Marley movie was released this year many UK insiders wondered "Where was Delroy Washington?"

Delroy, the London-based Jamaican roots reggae artist and community activist responsible for albums like I Sus (1976) and Rasta (1977) was a close friend and confidant of Bob when they were living in North West London in the early seventies.

Now, following his involvement in the commemorative blue plaque for Dennis Brown at the singer's Harlseden home, Delroy is helping unveil a similar plaque for Bob at his former dwelling 15 The Circle, in Neasden on Saturday 8th September.

In this exclusive extract from his feature-length forth-coming interview with Angus Taylor for United Reggae, Delroy shares his memories of meeting Bob for the first time in 1971.

Delroy Washington

"I was moving with the guitarist Ranny Bop. I was shacking up with Pat Kelly and Ranny Bop on Yewfield Road down Willesden, Roundwood Park side. I was forever getting thrown out of my house because I used to stay out too late and stuff. My family didn't want me to be a musician because as far as they were concerned I had a better education than that.

One day I heard Pat and Ranny Bop saying " Bob Marley deh yah yunno". It was like a big thing. Bob wasn't someone who had had the big hit records but Bob kind of had this aura about him. The way people talked about Bob, they had some kind of respect for him and the Wailers.

I was always going up to Trojan Records anyway because I kind of got in there with Pioneers and Bob Andy and everybody and they had signed me up to a little deal with B&C Records. So I had access and I used to go up there and talk to the receptionist girls because they used to have some nice receptionists!

Bob wasn't someone who had had the big hit records but Bob kind of had this aura about him

So I went up to Trojan Records in Neasden Lane this day and I saw this brethren and he looked proper golden. I said "Bob Marley, isn't it?" He said "You know me? Where you know me from?" I said I'd seen him on his records. He said "Bwoy, you cyaan see me pon record here. You must know me from records from yard". I said "Yeah yeah star". So the man stood up and I started to shake his hand and it was like electricity or magnetism. Bob would always say later that I was talking for a long time and holding his hand like you would hold a girl's! Bob was a joker who would make some jokes!

I don't want to make anything up and make it sound more fantastic than it was but Bob looked golden. Bob did not look like everybody else that I saw. Bob looked different. He wasn't dressy dressy like the Pioneers - because Pioneers were always changing their clothes three times a day! - Bob looked the part. He looked serious.

That day, he was with Danny Sims. Danny must have gone off somewhere and Bob said "You know where can get some Iley?" I said "Iley?" so he said "Ganja yunno?". I knew a brethren just round the corner here. I was shocked because the man took out these little paper things they used to sell them in - a pound draw we used to call it. Most people didn't even buy a pound draw. Bob said "How much do you sell one of them for?" The guy said "A pound". Bob said "A pound fi dat? How much of them you have?" The man said how many he had and Bob said "How much you gone sell me the whole of that for?" and the bredda said something like 100 pounds. Bob said "I cyaan pay hundred pound fi that my friend. If I told a man in Jamaica I paid that kind of money for weed them think say I'm an idiot". But then Bob took out a big roll of money from his pocket. I'd never seen anybody with that much money. He just took out a couple of £50 notes and said "Gwaan hold that" and took the whole of it from him. I'd never seen somebody buy so much weed in one go in my life! I thought "The man's got some money man - but he don't look it!" Bob was always kind of cool. He always looked ordinary.

I said to Bob "We cyaan walk around with so much weed. Suppose police stop we?" Bob said "Police no go stop me man". So we went up to Pama Records after we bought the weed. When we went into the shop everybody was shocked saying "Bob Marley?" Bob was like magic - there was a congregation round the shop! So the brethren in the shop started playing some Bob Marley music and Bob said "Me never know my music can release in England. A who put out the music? Me never give my blooclaat records for anybody to put them bumboclaat out inna England with my music!" That got his back up.

Johnny Nash was like a god because Johnny Nash was on television - and back then anybody who was on television was big business

Then I remember him saying "You know your way about England, my youth?" So we ended up taking a taxi to Goodge Street side, Ridgemount Gardens which was where Johnny Nash lived. People say that was where Bob first lived but Bob just stayed there. I went into the house and there was Johnny Nash! Now for me, Johnny Nash was like a god because Johnny Nash was on television - and back then anybody who was on television was big business. Johnny Nash was not just an ordinary singer. Johnny Nash was the best singer that I had heard singing reggae music. I mean, Desmond Dekker was good and I liked all the other man but, Johnny Nash for me, the music he was doing was top of the range.

Bob introduced me to him saying "Johnny - Delroy this". I had already met Danny Sims. Then Bob took out the weed and said "Bwoy, weed dear inna England yunno". Now Johnny liked a smoke but Johnny didn't smoke weed with cigarettes in - he was an ital smoker. Bob liked to put a little bit of cigarette in his weed to keep the thing burning. So we were sitting down having some juice in this nice house with really big rooms and proper things - it was a like a penthouse - and I thought "This is kind of strange! Johnny Nash in the house, just being  cool - no airs, no graces, just cool". So Johnny asked me about myself and I said I was a singer trying to make it in the business. He said "Maybe we can do something".

Delroy WashingtonThe thing I noticed about them was they looked clean. Like I said, Bob looked golden. Johnny Nash and Danny Sims looked like some different kind of black people! You could almost see through their skin. They were totally on a vegetarian tip. This was the first time I'd come into this thing of people being health conscious. Johnny Nash, Danny Sims, Bob Marley - they did not eat junk food.

They asked if I smoked weed and I said "Yeah" - trying to blag it! I'd had one encounter with some hash before - that was it. Bob gave said "Roll a spliff" but I couldn't even roll it properly. So Bob rolled up the spliff for me and then I heard them singing something to me. I thought "This is like heaven - the two of them singing together". Then, all I know is I took a puff of this weed and the next morning I woke up! I woke up and Bob Marley was laughing at me saying "Bwoy, you think you smoke weed?" Johnny said "Man went out like a light!" So that was my first experience with weed.

That morning I got recruited to be part of the team. Johnny was asking if I knew musicians and I said "You ever hear about the Cimarons? They my bredren" so me and Bob went to look for them. Now it was Gichie that founded the group but Franklyn was always like the boss and they lived in Queens Park so we went and checked them out. When Franklyn saw Bob Marley it was like Christmas! Bob was like "Can they do a gig?" We were like "Them know all Bob Marley songs back to front!" So they got the gig! So I became part of the thing and Johnny used to whack me a few pounds here and there. It was like having a job that wasn't like a job! It was fun! So Johnny started asking me if I wrote and I said yes so he said "Sing me some songs". I sang some and he said "We'll sign you up to the company". So I got signed to JAD just like that.

I took a puff of this weed and the next morning I woke up!

By now Johnny had moved from Ridgemount Gardens to a place called Cromarty Villas on Queensborough Terrace in Bayswater which became their office as well. There were loads of girls round Bayswater and Johnny Nash was a girls guy! Johnny Nash had girls coming from everywhere to see him - white girls, black girls, Swedish girls, all kind of girls. Some of the prettiest women you've ever seen. Before that Bob and me had written Kinky Reggae 'round Ridgemount Gardens as well as a couple of other songs like Midnight Ravers that were going to come out on Catch A Fire. But Johnny Nash was doing Bob Marley songs - round that time Stir It Up had become a hit and they were working on Guava Jelly. So it was good times with me, Johnny and Bob moving round like a team - I was showing them London and taking them around. I didn't have a car but we used taxis so no problem! Or we'd just jump on the train because they were like that. It wasn't some big thing for Johnny Nash in his ten gallon hat and Bob just walking around town.

Around this time a guy called Brent Clark, who was Johnny Nash's road manager, got the house in Neasden for the Wailers. I had talked Bob into going back to Jamaica to get Peter and Bunny and the Upsetters but he couldn't get all the Upsetters because Reggie was sick and Glen Adams said he was going to go and try his luck in America. So it was only Familyman and Carlie that came over. The band that we know as The Wailers effectively started in England. The rehearsals used to take place in Kingston in Surrey.

Bob had already done some gigs with the Cimarons - the Bristol Bamboo club was the first place he played as a solo act. He upstaged Johnny Nash which was really strange when it happened. Everywhere he went it happened until I think Danny Sims got a bit irked about the whole thing and there was a problem brewing in the camp. I don't think it was really Johnny that was causing it but it was obvious that Johnny was being upstaged. It wasn't that Johnny wasn't a good singer but people had been waiting to hear Bob sing since forever. Bob Marley and the Wailing Wailers were a group that was coming from back in the ska days and they were a group that was consistent right from that time until right then. Bob was a very casual dresser, but when he went on stage he was like lightning. He was very charismatic and like the dervish. I don't know where Bob got that dancing style from but what he was doing looked totally and utterly different from everybody else and just captivated people.

Bob was a very casual dresser, but when he went on stage he was like lightning

A lot of that stuff isn't actually written because a lot of people don't know that Bob started at CBS because everything seems to start at Island Records. Bob started having hits long before Eric Clapton did I Shot The Sheriff - with due respect to Clapton and Chris Blackwell. Stir It Up had been a hit long time before I Shot The Sheriff and so had Guava Jelly. He did a major amount of songs with Johnny Nash that were big sellers. So I think we need to set the record straight where that is concerned because a lot of the time we don't hear a lot about Johnny Nash. Had it not been for Johnny then Bob might not have come to England at the time he did.

Delroy WashingtonWe had some  adventures at that house to be quite honest! There was a brother staying at the house called Chicory who was saying he was going to be sending for some weed from Jamaica because weed was too expensive. And there was a day when Bob, Familyman, Carlie and myself went off to Brixton to pick up some clothes and stuff. When we came back the Chinese people next door told us that police came and taken everybody away. Chicory had got the weed and the police had dressed up as postmen, brought the weed to the house, asked for Mr Chicory, he answered and that was it! Took them away to Harlesden Police station and locked them up! Bob had to come and bail everybody out!

I was helping Bob to write some of the stuff. Bob thought that I spoke good English. At one point I said to Bob at the house in Neasden that if his songs sounded a bit more English people might take to them more. So Bob said "You can become my co-writer then". My thing with Bob was that when he used to sing his songs in Jamaican dialect I used to change up the words. It wasn't a big job really. At least I didn't think it was. Then there were some songs that I wrote with Bob like So Jah Say on the Natty Dread album - you can hear me singing on that - although I never got any credits for certain things. I didn't know that you should credits on a record when you did something. I wasn't necessarily looking for credits - it was just fun being around Bob and doing stuff with Bob Marley. Because like I would say to people - Bob was my hero. I never looked at it like it was such a big job.

Bob used to sing his songs in Jamaican dialect and I used to change up the words

As regards the Marley film I would have gladly taken part in it had Kevin MacDonald's people not offered me what amounts to less than peanuts. They told me that they only had 150 pounds to offer me and you can quote me on that. They would have been better off asking me to do it for free - rather than insulting my integrity.

From my perspective the film is ok to a point. Obviously you can't do everything in two to three hours but a lot of things are missing. I think the film is ok. It's watchable. But there could be so much more to it which is why maybe there is scope for another Bob Marley film. There's a kind of soul that is missing from it. What Bob Marley aspired to as Rastafari. Why did Bob Marley see Haile Selassie as God? How did that come across in the film? What made Bob Marley the man that he was was what he believed. You have to tell the story of Rastafari to really sell Bob Marley and where he's coming from to the world."

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Read comments (3)

Posted by beve sinclair on 09.05.2012
Interesting interview.

Posted by marco on 09.05.2012
Very good interview, a reminder for discussions.
Delroy claims to have co-written So Jah Seh, Kinky Reggae and Midnight Ravers. Esther Anderson claims to have co-written I Shot The Sheriff, Earl Lindo maybe wrote Redemption Song, Tarta wrote No Woman No Cry etc etc....if we should pay attention to what they are saying Bob never wrote a song by himself!

Posted by cigarshaped on 07.04.2017
We met our man Delroy in Harlesden High Street a week ago. If only I had known that the start of London Reggae took place in my town just at the time I was leaving Willesden High School. What a cool dude and so concerned for the next generation and their need for hope. Music may be an answer, and what better person to make it happen, right where Reggae started in UK.

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