This The Wailers Article was written by Jack Press, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Hazel Webster. Header image by Eva Rinaldi
Legend. Legend. Legend. What comes to your mind at the mention of that word? It could be anything, right? John Lennon, Martin Luther King…or Bob Marley? Those are the names mentioned tonight but only one is honoured, only one is given the exceptionally beautiful salute – and that’s Mr Marley.
The O2 Academy Birmingham’s main room is half-full, the bars stacked to the rafters, and the unusual yet never-ending flow of nostalgic ganja wafting heavily under your nostrils. The audience tonight is young and old, black and white, working class and upper class. On stage, Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett leads his new-look Wailers through a tour-de-force of all things Bob Marley & The Wailers.
In all honesty, the very first impression of The Wailers is a group of Rastafarian has-beens reliving their youth as they work their way through an unknown instrumental. It’s a bit of a shame – nothing much of a light show or stage presence leaves it all feeling a little dry like your mouth in a desert. Fortunately, frontman Dwayne ‘Danglin’ Anglin arrives on stage, with backing vocalist Cegee Victory hot on his heels to the tones of ‘Is This Love’ – and from that moment, this audience is together in ‘One Love’.
Tonight’s set list is a front-to-back play-through of the legendary ‘Legends’ compilation – the ultimate Bob Marley for dummies guidebook. Danglin may not be Marley, but he channels the spirit of him acting as a vessel to a time gone by. Whether it’s a fist-pumping, justice-bringing ‘Buffalo Soldier’, a guitar-solo masterclass ‘Jammin’’, or a crowd-engulfing ‘Three Little Birds’ – The Wailers are on form note for note, word for word, sound for sound.
The unique selling point that keeps The Wailers selling gigs is the single fact that it’s a karaoke session for one and all – a congregation of fans dancing, singing, and filling themselves with positive vibrations. Unfortunately, if it wasn’t for the charmingly charismatic Danglin leading the pack with his powerful speeches, crowd-warping instructions, and viciously vicarious vocal performances, this would feel a little more bingo hall than dance hall – The Academy is a place of youth and these men don’t seem so into it these days.
Aston Barrett sits contently in his chair, plucking away politely at his bass, a shy nod and wave when he is honoured throughout the set – it’s as if he doesn’t want to be where he is, as if he is done with another run-through of the songs he’s heard a thousand times. It’s these miniature moments that untangle the rope of brilliance that holds this gig together – they trip you up on the way out.
Whether or not the credibility of the man on the bass is affecting you, you can’t deny the innocently beautiful ‘Redemption Song’ – a moment where the world stops still and sings a song, a song of freedom. Opening their encore with this anthem, the stage is looking bare, with the absence of Family Man who has seemingly disappeared off of the face of the earth. Closing with ‘Simmer Down’ and ‘Punky Reggae Party’ – the celebration of Rastafari reggae that changed a generation is closed once more until the next time these legends grace the stage again.