A film charting the rise of Bob Marley and The Wailers to international stardom – made from footage shot in the early 1970s and lost for 30 years – is set to get its first public viewing.
It was New York, late 1972, and Esther Anderson was attending an event hosted by Island Records, when Bob Marley walked in.
“He didn’t smile but he was very handsome with strong features, he reminded me of Jimi Hendrix,” she remembers.
Bob Marley was a guest of record producer Chris Blackwell, who had recently signed his group The Wailers to Island Records. The band was on a promotional tour for The Wailers’ first album, Catch a Fire, although at that point sales were low.
Ms Anderson had just finished co-starring in A Warm December with Sidney Poitier. Due to the success of that movie, Bob Marley told her he knew about her and had been following her progress in the newspaper The Gleaner back in Jamaica.
After hearing The Wailers’ first album, Ms Anderson realised the huge potential of the group.
“I hear the lyrics I hear the sound, and I know this is an original sound and original lyrics,” she says.
The world in 1973 was a very different place – the idea of a Jamaican supergroup in the vein of The Beatles or The Rolling Stones was radical.
Bob wasn’t famous then and you see it in the pictures – he’s like an outsider”
End Quote Esther Anderson
To help with the publicity for a relaunch of the Wailers album, Ms Anderson decided to photograph and film Bob, as they travelled with Island Records’ lawyer and his girlfriend, and Jim Capaldi from Traffic, across the Caribbean.
“Bob wasn’t famous then and you see it in the pictures… he’s like an outsider, he’s not really with them,” she says.
Returning to Jamaica, she carried on filming with her Super 8 camera, taking photographs of all the members of The Wailers.
One moment captured on camera stands out for Ms Anderson.
“A human moment I call it,” she says as she points to one of her photographs showing Bob Marley helping a man fit a tyre to his car.
“The taxi broke down. Bob got out of the car. He picked up the tyre and he started to help the man change the wheel,” she says.
“Here is this guy who thought he wasn’t big enough to help a fellow human being. I just found that so amazing and so human and unaffected.”
Under the mango tree
Another of her photographs shows Bob Marley sitting under a mango tree.
“Bob used to call this his office,” says Ms Anderson, “because he said, ‘a man sitting behind a desk can con you in every kind of way.’ So, if Chris wanted a meeting with him he’d have to have it under the mango tree.”
Much of the footage was recorded at Island House, then Island Records’ office, at 56 Hope Road, Kingston, Jamaica, which is now home to the Bob Marley museum.
This would be part of a documentary to get what Ms Anderson describes as an intimate portrait of the musicians, to help The Wailers get into the mainstream. It was to be targeted at university students in the US.
“I was shooting the film to be shown in the universities because that’s how we crossed over all our artists. The students embraced the music in America first,” says Esther Anderson.
But it wasn’t easy. She had to use the money she had earned from A Warm December to fund the shoot.
“I had no budget. Chris said go ahead but I had to do it on my own. So I gathered a crew and equipment and I started to film,” says Ms Anderson.
The original Wailers, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Neville Livingston (later renamed Bunny Wailer), spent the days at Hope Road “talking about philosophy, the sufferings of the people”. Esther Anderson captured all this with her filming and photographs.
Rasta and Reggae
She encouraged Bob to meet true Rastafarians, arranging a picnic with Ras Daniel Hartman, premier Rasta painter of Jamaica and star of the 1972 film The Harder They Come.
With her camera she captured Bob Marley and Ras Daniel Hartman together. From behind the lens she recognised that the marriage between the two, Rasta and Reggae, would show the world where the music came from.
Her images reflected this realisation and have become among the most iconic portraits of Bob Marley. Her innovation was to marry Rastafarianism’s colours and lifestyle within her compositions of the band.
“The red, green and gold and all of that were my ideas,” she says. “I shot the thing and put it together and sent it over [to London].”
The images were used for the first poster of Bob Marley, T-shirts and the album cover of Catch a Fire.
Ms Anderson remembers taking the iconic picture of Bob smoking a spliff that is still used to sell his image.
“That picture was taken on a beautiful morning. I made him take his shirt off because I loved the colour of his skin. The sunlight hitting on his body reflecting back on my lens. I used Kodak Ektachrome which gives that lovely golden light.
That picture was taken on a beautiful morning. I made him take his shirt off because I loved the colour of his skin”
End Quote Esther Anderson
By March, 1973 Esther had left Jamaica to accompany and help manage The Wailers’ tours of the UK and the US. She left the film and the video tapes with Island Records for safe keeping while she toured with The Wailers in the UK and US. She says that by the time she returned, the films had “disappeared”.
The recordings were lost until 2000, when a British documentary maker turned up at her door.
Jeremy Marre had come to interview her for his own documentary, Rebel Music. It was then she realised that among the archive material he had were tapes that actually belonged to her.
Reunited with her footage, Ms Anderson is now, after 38 years, presenting her film, Bob Marley – The Making of a Legend.
Bob Marley died 30 years ago, although his music is bigger than when he was alive. As she finishes off the last-minute editing, Ms Anderson says she regrets his untimely passing despite his “prodigious legacy of work”.
And what does she think he would be doing were he still here? “He would have continued to have been writing great songs, probably breaking a lot of women’s hearts and having many babies, just the same as Charlie Chaplin,” she laughs.