If you can get past the Back To The Future livery emblazoned all over the front of the Adelphi Theatre – and the fact that you have seen that show, reviewed it, and got the 1.6 scale collectible DeLorean – then you find yourself plonked in front of the Back To The Future set part-covered by a simple backdrop with the legend Legend: The Music of Bob Marley inscribed upon it in front of which are a drum kit, mikes, foldback monitors, Marshall PA’s and carefully positioned guitars ready for action: being observant your intuition tells you that this is a full-blown concert.
Yes. It’s bootleg Marley. Or ersatz Marley. Or sham Marley. Or mock Marley: name your poison. But, indeed, Bob, the Legend, is with us no more. So here we have the tribute act. It’s a kind of Forward To The Back catalogue. And as tribute acts go it’s a jolly fine one.
The set is nicely lit and incorporates the said Back To The Future lightbox arches and as we sit, waiting, agog, smoke drifts onto the stage. My guest opines, wisely, that the band, the tribute band, are going full Tonto backstage and doing a proper alleged Marley tribute, spliffing away the final minutes before their entrance. Its only an opinion, of course. (She’s a musician).
I’m sitting behind a bloke whose T-shirt is emblazoned with the familiar repeated cannabis plant motif on the back. I can’t see his front. But I’m OK with this Marley fan man’s moving marijuana ad ‘cos I’ve been to Oregon. And I’m off to Amsterdam next month.
Then, just a couple of minutes late, the band saunters onto stage with that familiar Jamaican lilting gait which I presume is born of excessive consumption of – exotic fruits like pineapple and mango.
And with that distinctly recognisable triple-click rat-a-tat on a snare-less snare the music is under way.
Seminal works like Exodus spring easily from this well-practised band; compulsive reggae beats and driving rhythms deliver pulsating versions of One Love and Is This Love. It’s a great sound and the audience love it: the cannabis shirt guy and companions are admonished by the usher for standing and dancing. What are they on one wonders? The front row of the circle is the answer, the dopes, in danger of toppling over onto the bangers and bongers (allegedly) below in the stalls. Later they go into the side aisle to throw a few reggae-inspired shadowy shapes.
The band is a fine collection of musicians: on lead guitar Alphonso Renford shows am extraordinary versatility and the reggae riffs are accompanied by some superb solo breaks. On keyboards Vincent Graham keeps the tones gently throbbing whilst in the rhythm section Ramond Grant’s bass guitar provides that all important driving reggae pulse assisted, obviously, by some eclectic drumming by David Clamp with his tom-toms, high hats and bongos (did I really say that?). And Elaine Rose and Eleanor Ajani, mimicking the Wailers, bop along with understated cool as they croon their soothing backing vocals. Taking centre stage, though, is Michael Phillips, the frontman, who is our latter-day Bob Marley: with his distinctive Marleyesque threads he has all the moves, he has all the swagger, and he hits all the right notes: Phillips is not Bob of course but he does his damnedest to reincarnate the legend before our very eyes and ears. And he gets the joint really rocking.
As the gig digs deeper into the Marley psyche with songs like I shot The Sheriff, Buffalo Soldier and, of course, Get Up Stand Up then the smoke intensifies, drifting off the stage into the auditorium. Or is it the other way round? The band are clearly totally wrapped up in their powerful music with no time for any slight whiff of ganja or a sneaky bong like – allegedly – Bob used to partake of in concerts. So is it emanating from the audience one is likely to ask? Maybe. Or maybe not. One thing is clear through the thickening smog: this may not actually be Bob but it is pretty damn close to Bob and it is very much his music. And if you like music – and reggae in particular as this audience clearly did – then it is wonderful entertainment.
“To neither beg nor we won’t bow” – from Marley’s song Jammin’ – is a lyric that kind of sums up his whole musical philosophy, I believe – as well as being a rather neat spliff infinitive.
Review by Peter Yates
When you think reggae, there is only one name that comes to mind. The legend that was Bob Marley.
Legend – The Music of Bob Marley is an unforgettable evening celebrating this musical icon in one fantastic stage show extravaganza. Combining his superb, distinctive vocals with flawless musicianship, a supremely talented cast recreate the timeless hits Could You Be Loved, Is This Love, One Love, No Woman No Cry, Three Little Birds, Jammin’, Buffalo Soldier, Stir It Up, Get Up Stand Up, Exodus, Waiting in Vain, Satisfy My Soul, Iron Lion Zion, I Shot the Sheriff and many more reggae classics.
It is a two-hour spectacular, showcasing the magic of Marley. It captures the charisma and culture of an icon gone too soon.
This is a tribute show and is no way affiliated with any original artists/estates/management companies or similar shows.
Lead Vocal ( Michael Phillips)
Backing Vocals ( Elaine Rose)
Backing Vocals ( Eleanor Ajani )
Keys ( Vincent Graham)
Bass ( Ramond Grant)
Lead guitar ( Alphonso Renford )
Drums ( David Clamp)
Engineer Stephen Morrison
Produced by Entertainers
Legend – The Music of Bob Marley
Adelphi Theatre, London
19 Sep 2023