Exclusive Bob Bailey and the Jailers Interview
Bob Bailey and the Jailers is a unique “homage” band honouring the music of the King of Reggae, Bob Marley and is complemented by some of the best musicians in the reggae business today. On behalf of UK Reggae Guide, Dawn would like to thank Lee (lead singer) for giving up his time to be interviewed recently.
Firstly, Lee, what was your inspiration behind the concept of Bob Bailey and the Jailers?
BBJ: Well, the idea actually came to me about 25 years ago, when Bob left us, but it didn’t seem to be the right time, although I was certain that I would do it. The idea was put on the back burner, until about 2 years ago, when I said to (my friend) Senouci that we should do this homage to Bob Marley. It was only intended to be a one off idea. I suppose the inspiration behind it all came from the man himself. Bob was a conscious man, he didn’t shove anything down your throat, he merely put the suggestion there, and it was up to you to take it or leave it. Yeah, my inspiration was the man – Bob Marley.
Who chose the name Bob Bailey and the Jailers?
BBJ: I have been called Bob for quite a while. We obviously wanted something close to Bob Marley and the Wailers, but I didn’t particularly want it to be Bob Bailey and the Jailers, but, at the time our backing singers were sisters, and they worked for the prison service, so we referred to them as “the jailers” and that’s how we became Bob Bailey and the Jailers. We thought that was ok because we were only thinking of doing a one-off homage show, but people began approaching us to do more, and then the name stuck.
We don’t like the word “tribute” – it sounds like a one-off idea. How would you describe your band ?
BBJ: We’re not a tribute band, we are a “homage” band, paying homage to him and his music. People expect us to be a tribute band, and it’s been said that we don’t sound like Bob Marley and the Wailers, some say we don’t look like them, others have said that on a certain song, Bob Marley would have had a different expression on his face, etc etc. The thing is, whatever Bob Marley did came from his heart, it wasn’t choreographed, it wasn’t planned, it was pure inspiration and a feeling from within. It’s the same with us, we feel the vibes from the music, and it will show in my mannerisms, my expressions, my movements. I may not jump up and down as much as Bob did. It’s because at that time, singing that song, maybe I don’t feel like jumping up and down. Therefore, what I’m saying is, we’re not trying to replicate Bob Marley, we are simply a bunch of conscious people, paying homage to a great man, a conscious man, and whatever we do is genuine, it comes from our own hearts, not from watching re-runs of live performances by Bob Marley.
How did you go about finding the members of the band ?
BBJ: Well, I already knew a lot of session singers and musicians from gigs I had played as a young man. Drumtan (Anthony Ward) has been a friend of mine for years, and he knew people who would come on board. I remember the time we were looking for a guitarist, and Drumtan was talking on the ‘phone calling this guy Chris. It turned out to be Chris Issachar, someone I had known years ago but had unfortunately lost contact with. So, we linked up and a few other friends came along, and now you have the band !
Who are the current members of the band ?
BBJ: Theres Steve Wright Marley, (Steve Wright, but known as Marley for ever !), there’s Chris Issachar, Drumtan (Anthony) Ward, and Senouci, Chunky on keyboards (he plays with Johnny Osbourne ) Darren (he plays with Black Uhuru, the Rasites, the Abyssinians) Adrian on keys, there’s Tawanda who plays keyboards for us sometimes (keyboards, Misty in Roots) and there’s Nobby and Lyn as backing vocals. The Marshall sisters were the first backing vocalists we had. To be honest, we have a load of good people who wanted to come on board and who have helped us out from time to time. In effect, we have a pool of people we can call on.
How long has the band been playing together, and is the current line-up the original members ?
BBJ: The band has been playing for two years now, and we have had new people join along the way. That’s not to say that others have left, but as I said before, we now have a pool of people to call on, should one or two people be unable to make a gig. We tend to work together well, because we all trust each other. An example is that most reggae musicians don’t accept cheques in payment for their work, but I pay my people by cheque and they’re happy to accept it, because they know I come good on my word. We’re a close knit band.
There is more than one Bob Marley “tribute/homage” band. What do you believe your band has that makes it so special ?
BBJ: It’s because all of us in the band feel that we really are paying proper respect and homage to a great man. We are not a tribute band. I see tribute bands who almost perform as a cabaret act, we’re not a cabaret band, I can’t “act” I just feel the vibes from inside me, like the rest of the band. We don’t just get up and sing his music, we actually feel his music inside us, and what he stood for, and feel the respect the man had for and from the people around him.
I’ll give you an example of how deeply I feel about doing this right – we were playing this gig once, and the backing singers were a little late arriving. When they did turn up, they came straight onto the stage ready to start. For some reason, the feeling I normally get as we are about to start our session wasn’t there. I couldn’t understand why. I had to walk off stage. Drumtan followed and asked me what the hell was wrong, people were waiting for us. I really didn’t know what was wrong. I looked at the stage, and it hit me, the backing vocalists were in short skirts ! You would never have seen the I Threes in mini skirts and so they had to change into something more applicable. Once they had, we were fine. But it has to be just right.
My own personal hero was, and always will be, Bob Marley. I am a little older than you though, so who was your hero when you were a young man ?
BBJ: T Rex. Slade. My dad used to play all his blue beat music, and I had to fight to get the stereo so that I could play my music. When Bob Marley came along, things changed. The older people went to church on Sunday and came home and played their blue beat and ska, but when I wanted to put Bob Marley on and play his music it was, like “you can’t use my record player for that !” So, at first, it was arguments when I wanted to play T. Rex and Slade, then even Bob’s righteous music caused arguments ! . It was Catch A Fire I think that started me off on Bob’s music.
I have to say that your version of No Woman No Cry in Welsh was breathtaking !
BBJ: To be honest, I’d like to do all of his music in Welsh but I restrict it mainly to gigs I do in Wales. I like to honour Bob in this way. Did you know that his first appearance in Wales was at the Ninian Park Stadium in Cardiff ? That was a massive day – we all sneaked out of our bedroom windows, it was raining, we all got soaked, but man, that was a day to remember !
Have you and the band managed to sing the whole of Bob’s repertoire of music since its existence ? And if not, why ?
BBJ: No, we haven’t. There is so much of his music, and because the members of the band live across the United Kingdom, we can’t rehearse, so I have to let them know which way I want the set to go, they have to listen to the tunes, and then we’re all in Drumtan’s good hands. It seems to work for us that way, because when we have rehearsed in the past, we try and make changes to certain tracks, or try and do too much, so we are better doing a kind of “impromptu” set, and everything comes naturally !
Have you ever performed outside of the United Kingdom ?
BBJ: As yet, we haven’t, but over the next few months we will be going to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Goa. We’re all looking forward to that, not only because I’ve never been to those countries, but because we are honoured to be able to take Bob’s music to the people there.
As a band which exists solely to pay homage to Bob Marley, I shouldn’t think you ever record any material of your own, or can you see yourself breaking away from the homage side of the music, and becoming Leroy and ….?
BBJ: I do my own stuff sometimes. I play a classical style of piano – I do a classical Bob Marley or Don Carlos set, or sometimes the Mighty Diamonds. Even ragtime.
As a homage band, yours is the best I’ve seen. Have you ever had any feedback from any of the Marley family ?
BBJ: Yes, definitely. I was in the West Indies recently, and Julian and Kymani Marley know Nobby and Lyn, our backing singers, through having worked with them, and they both said they appreciated what the band was doing in honouring their father. It was a real boost.
Talking about the backing singers, why do you only have two ?
BBJ: We do have 3, but one of them hasn’t been well recently. Last week (at the Coal Exchange) the other singer couldn’t get down to Cardiff, so we had to play with just 2. Obviously its at its best with the 3 of them though.
You’re heavily involved in Roots Rock Cymru/Cymru Ddu. Is that a personal thing, or do other band members have much input ?
BBJ: There are other band members involved, but I started it because I am a black Welsh speaker. There’s lots of people in the area receiving massive grants to put events on, yet the Butetown Carnival has been taken off us, and we were left with nothing. Ok, there are steel bands being brought over and fancy costumes being paraded around, but there is more to black music than a steel band. What about reggae music ? Instead of paying big money to bring these people over, why not use the immense talent of the world class international players already on their doorstep ? So we have had to do Cymru Ddu to get something of our own going.
What are your aims within Roots Rock Cymru ?
BBJ: To continue putting something back into the community. We are more multi-cultural now than ever, and its not just the music side of things, there’s arts and crafts too. A lot of black people speak Welsh now. We don’t particularly want to stand up and be counted, we just want people to know we are there. Cardiff has one of the oldest black communities in the world, but now that its been realised that the docks is a piece of prime land, once again we are being pushed out, forced out of where our roots have been planted, into the four corners of the nation, and its not something that should be taken lying down.
And what are your aims with Bob Bailey and the Jailers ?
BBJ: Well, we’ve all been grateful for what we’ve been able to do so far. If there are only another three shows left for us, we’ll be happy with that. If there are another thousand shows for us, same thing, we’re happy. We want to keep going as long as the people want to hear us. We don’t really see any money from the shows, but we get our rewards in other ways, honouring Bob Marley.
Bob Marley was a Rastaman, and one of the physical signs of this was his dreadlocks. You too have dreadlocks. Is this to give a realistic visual of Bob Marley, or do you too follow the Rastafari way of life ?
BBJ: Well, I am a rasta, but there are many different kinds of rastafari. You have the orthodox rastafari, the twelve tribes, and so on. This is my third set of lions mane, the last set hit the floor. I deal with my faith in my own way. I have made my covenant with the Almighty. I have been disillusioned in the past by the way some things went, and even Bob himself was said to have gone in a different direction shortly before he passed, but whether I have locks or not, I have always been rasta at heart.
Finally, I have a message from iDread – he said that he has seen Bob Marley live and now he has seen Bob Bailey live. He thinks you’re doing a brilliant job of keeping Bob Marley’s message alive and to carry on spreading the word wherever and whenever you can. Is there anything you would like to add that maybe we haven’t covered ?
BBJ: Yeah, there is. I want people to know that we are not gimmicky, we don’t earn big money from this, we actually suffer to do this, we don’t drive BMW’s or Merc’s. I just want people to know that we love what we’re doing and we hope that they appreciate what we do in the name of Bob Marley.
Jah, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judaa.