Tuesday, 18 February 2014

January 1979

Bob’s yer uncle

‘Hello, Bob.’

‘Hi, Baree. Welcome to my ’ome.’

Bob Marley leads the way into the heart of 56 Hope Road, Kingston, and my heart skips a beat, strolls, and skips another beat. Back in the UK we call that atrial fibrillation − here they call it reggae. I watch his dreadlocks wriggle like a nest of funky snakes as he bounces along the corridors beneath the minatory ceiling fans that spin the heavy air into gold through seven rooms of gloom. He points out a few interesting objects of memorabilia before taking us – that’s Alan Edwards, who’s organised the whole trip and spends much of his time on the phone to the UK running Modern Publicity, Sounds journo Hugh Fielder and the NME’s Chris Salewicz − into the Tuff Gong studios, which he founded in 1970.

He plays tracks from the yet to be released album Survival and I know this is a moment I’ll carry to the crematorium.

‘Fancee a kick around in da yard?’

And that’s how I get to play football with Bob Marley. Honest. You ask Joyce and Vicky. He’s a blinding passer of the ball but his dreadlocks smack you in the face when you try to tackle him, which I think is a little unfair so I give him a sly dig in the ribs next time I try to get the ball off him. He gives me a friendly kick as he leaves me standing, minus the ball, in a cloud of dust. Fucker, in a nice way.

As a parting shot he gives us all a chunk of Lamb’s Bread, the island’s most potent ganja and his personal favourite. Mr Marley is a true gentleman and a musician touched by God.

The next day the four of us are driven to Chris Blackwell’s house for tea. Chris isn’t around but we’re given a guided tour of his beautiful colonial property, high on a hill, before lighting up the Lamb’s Bread. I’ve never smoked such dope − three puffs and I’m paralysed. I can’t get out of this unfathomably deep armchair and when I eventually do, I struggle outside to look at the sunset. Shit, I’m smoking a joint given to me by Bob Marley while standing outside Chris Blackwell’s home watching the sun go down on Jamaica. What have I done to deserve this? Maybe I did my time during those three nightmare school years. Maybe in return I get a sweet life. Maybe, just maybe, this is payback time.

We leave the house and head for a Rasta party in downtown Kingston where the smoke is thick as smog, pierced only, like luminous moths, by the flash of a green, gold and red Rasta tam worn by a Tribesman with a point to prove and a joint to roll.

After a couple of days’ lounging round the hotel pool, Island tell Alan to fly us all to New York to interview Jacob Miller, stay a few days, then return home to London. But it’s snowing in New York with temperatures below freezing. Why do I want to go there? Besides, the average Record Mirror reader won’t have a clue who Jacob Miller is anyway.

So I decline and spend the next two days in Kingston before agreeing to meet up with the others at Kennedy Airport en route to Heathrow.

I persuade my unofficial guide, Maurice, to accompany me on a cab ride around Trenchtown although he assures me we won’t find a taxi driver willing to take us to a place where white light spells danger. Sure enough, the first six we hail refuse. Lucky seven, who obviously needs the money more than the other guys, agrees but insists he won’t be held responsible if anything happens.

Maurice is not happy. He’s only nineteen and drowning in roots. ‘You sure you wanna do this?’ he asks, as we climb into the back of the cab. Why not? I walked home through Brixton on a few Saturday nights and nothing ever happened. I’ve been to Harlem in diamonds and pearls and nothing ever happened. I’ve searched for a cab in The Bowery at four a.m. and nothing ever happened. I’ve tried to shit after four lines of speed and nothing ever happened. Trenchtown? Bring it on.

‘Why not?’

The hype had hoisted images of zinc huts and chicken wire into my willing brain. Instead there’s a proliferation of redevelopment. I expect murderous stares and get curious side glances.

‘So, what do you think of Trenchtown?’ asks the driver.

‘Yeah, it’s . . .’

‘Wind your window up quick and lock the doors.’

Four guys are standing in the road forcing the cab to stop. One of them comes over and stares straight at me and, yes, it’s a murderous one.

‘Hey, man, you wanna fight me?’ he screams. ‘Come on and fight me, man. Come on and fight me now.’

I start to wind the window down with a milky, shaking hand.

‘I wouldn’t do that, man,’ warns Maurice.

Shit -- I’m getting called ‘man’ a lot. I undo the window just enough to make my terror audible ‘Er, no thanks.’

He smiles and, without looking away, says, ‘Hey, guys, he don’t wanna fight. Maybe he’ll buy some ganja. You wanna buy some ganja, man?’

‘I’d buy the ganja if I were you, man,’ prompts Maurice.

‘Yeah, man.’ My words are stumbling out. ‘I’ll buy some ganja, man. How much, man?’

‘Easy, man. Easy.’ He produces the dope wrapped in a tissue. ‘Give me ten US dollars.’

I hand over the money, the four guys walk away laughing and the cab proceeds.

‘You’re a very lucky man, man,’ says the driver.

‘Yeah, man, yeah,’ concludes Maurice.

Oh, man!

The cab goes to Tuff Gong studios. Bob’s away but there’s six or seven guys kicking a ball around the yard. Maurice recounts the tale of Trenchtown and I produce the ten-dollar deal. One guy takes the dope and starts filleting it.

‘Too many seeds. See? Not good qualatee.’

He rolls a few joints and hands me back the remainder of the deal. For the next few minutes the group puffs in silence. Not good quality? A raging storm of paranoia buffets my brain and I convince myself that everyone around me is talking in code because I can’t understand a word. I feel terribly isolated. I’m a long way from home and everybody has got it in for me. Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me. A toga-clad Kenneth Williams flits across the yard kicking a ball.

Shit, I’m fucked.

I decide to leave before I die and spend the next hour trying to lose them because I know I'm being followed by a bunch of buffalo soldiers with swords drawn in a bloodlust frenzy. I finally make it to the hotel in one piece and collapse on the bed. An hour later I wake up feeling good and craving food so I order a steak sandwich, fries and a beer from room service. I also feel mightily embarrassed. Shit, what must those guys back at the yard think of me, leaving like that? This Jamaican weed makes the dodgy London black smoke feelo like weak piss.

Thirty minutes later a knock on the door wakes me up again.

‘It’s room service with your order, Mr Cain.’ The guy looks about sixty. ‘Where shall I put it?’

‘The table will be fine.’

When I glance at the table to indicate, there’s my deal, spread out on the tissue for the whole world to see.

‘What have we here?’ he asks.

I start to wonder what Jamaican jails will be like.

‘Got any skins?’ he asks. ‘It’s quiet tonight.’

‘Er, no.’

‘No problem.’ He looks around the room and espies a brown paper bag containing an ornament I’d bought for my mum. ‘Can I use that?’

‘What -- the ornament?’

‘No, the bag.’

‘Er, sure.’

He then proceeds to perform the best room service I’ve ever had. Like an origami master he transforms the bag into a perfect − very large − joint, which he hands to me and which we polish off in no time.

Fifteen minutes later he’s dancing on my bed.

‘If you want I can get you a lot of this and you can take it back to London, no problem,’ he says, as we sit out on the balcony. It wasn’t that long ago I saw Midnight Express and a dancing bell hop who can roll joints like a magician could easily be a passport to violent beatings and rape behind Kingston bars of sodomy. So I graciously decline his very generous offer and fly home the next day, zonked but ganja-free and a little more appreciative of roots reggae.

Next: UFO in Lancaster
Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013
Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives:



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