The rare picture of Johnny Nash and Bob Marley performing an acoustic set together was taken at Peckham Manor School in London in 1972. It first saw the light of day late last year when it was published in The Southwark News, a small local paper in London. As surprising as it may seem now, Marley was not the star attraction that day. Instead he was the guitarist accompanying Johnny Nash, who was promoting the tune ‘Stir it Up’, which Marley had written for him and that was then percolating in the U.K. pop charts.
The school’s art teacher Keith Baugh helped to arrange the show and captured the performance on camera, including the photos below where Marley and Nash joined pupils on the school playground. Nash and Marley were both living in the same London flat at the time and working together in the studio to write songs for Nash's soon to be chart topping album 'I Can See Clearly Now'. According to Baugh, the songs they played included 'Stir it Up', 'Reggae on Broadway' and 'I Can See Clearly'.
According to the interview Baugh did with the newspaper the performance was quite impromptu:
"My friend was working with CBS doing promotion work and it was his role to promote Johnny Nash’s single. We were all out in a club called the Bag of Nails in Soho when I ended up meeting both Johnny Nash and Bob Marley. During that conversation they were bemoaning the fact they couldn’t get their single in the top 40 as they could not get any national radio airplay. I suggested as a bit of a promotion they should come down and play to the kids at our school, and a few days later they came down and played two 45 minute sets."The musical partnership between Johnny Nash and Bob Marley is one of the more fascinating and overlooked in the history of reggae music. Though by no means an artistic innovator on par with reggae contemporaries like Marley, Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker or Jimmy Cliff, Nash was a musical pioneer and proved a pivotal force behind the mainstream acceptance of reggae music and in promoting Marley and The Wailers.
Nash was a Texas-born singer/songwriter who had some success as a soul singer. Nash's introduction to reggae came in 1965 when his ballad 'Let's Move and Groove Together' reached the U.S. R&B Top Five and also became a major hit in Jamaica. During a promotional tour of the island (then in the grips of a rocksteady frenzy), he booked studio time at Federal Studios, where backed by Byron Lee And The Dragonaires he recorded and released 'Hold Me Tight', a song that became an international hit, achieving Top 5 success in the UK as well as a return to the Jamaican chart.
Nash returned to recording in Jamaica at Harry J.'s studio where he met Bob Marley. That meeting would prove fateful for both men. Marley, then struggling to launch The Wailers, was working as a songwriter to earn a living and he wrote Nash's next hit, "Stir It Up", which peaked at number 13 on the UK chart. With that success a songwriting partnership and friendship was hatched. Nash and Marley moved to London with Nash's manager where they continued to write and record together. Indeed, Marley played on Nash's chart topper 'I Can See Clearly Now' which also included members of the Average White Band!
Below is a rare video clip of Nash performing 'Stir It Up' on a television show and a great rocksteady version of 'Hold Me Tight':