Sunday, November 3, 2013

Jamaica World Music Festival in November 1982 features The Clash, The English Beat, Squeeze, Joe Jackson, Peter Tosh, B-52's, Black Uhuru and more!

Thirty plus years ago this month, the Jamaica World Music Festival kicked off what could arguably be called one of the most diverse and engaging line-up of ska, reggae, new wave and rock band and artists from the 70's and 80's to ever grace the stage together including The Clash, The English Beat, Joe Jackson, B-52's Squeeze, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Black Uhuru, Toots & The Maytals along with the Grateful Dead, the Beach Boys, Rick James and many others.

Held at the Bob Marley Performing Center in Montego Bay (which according to those who attended was nothing more than an immense gravel parking lot with a stage at one end) over the Thanksgiving weekend of 1982, the festival was a commercial success that drew thousands of American reggae, rock and new wave fans, who travelled down to the tourist spot with peak audiences hitting nearly 50,000 for performances by Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight.

Despite the financial success, the festival never became the annual event it was hoped it would be, but luckily, most of the performances has become available online.  I've done my best to collect all of the ska, reggae and new wave performances, along with anecdotes on several of the performers. Hat tip to Dubwise Garage for posting all the sets.

The Clash were one of key festival draws and made a selection from their songs that contained their most specific Jamaican influences.  The band played on the second night of the festival and due to poor planning on the sets the bill ran into the wee hours of the night with the band hitting the stage around 4 am local time.  According to The Ballad of Joe Strummer by Chris Salewicz, the band's manager Bernie Rhodes said the band would pull out unless they were immediately given $200,000. The late start seemed to have muted the audience somewhat as Strummer implores the crowd to get with it on a number occasions with Strummer quipping "In these colder climes we have to play faster" and "If you don't like us I've got the Grateful Dead waiting in the wings and I'm going to bring them on. So you'd better shape up--now!"

Unfortunately, when Squeeze played the World Music Festival in Montego Bay on November 27, 1982,  the end was near for the band. Their album, Sweets From A Stanger, released earlier that year, was not well received and considered a disappointing follow up to 1981’s East Side Story. Even the popularity of the single Black Coffee in Bed couldn’t save the album or the group. The negative reaction to the record, coupled with the stress of touring and tensions between band members led to the breakup of the band in 1983, though Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford would continue to work together. Their performance at the festival is one of their last shows before the band came to an end, at least until they reformed in 1985!

The English Beat

Peter Tosh

Joe Jackson


Toots & The Maytals


Black Uhuru


Luis Burke said...

Hey Marco.
Thanks for recalling some lovely memories. I was lucky to go two of the 3 day Fest.(2nd and 3rd).
Had a Blast!!!!!

Luis Burke said...

Hey Marco.
Thanks for recalling some lovely memories. I was lucky to go two of the 3 day Fest.(2nd and 3rd).
Had a Blast!!!!!

Luis Burke.

Steve said...

Excellent recap of this event. One point of argument is whether it was a financial success. Held during the Thanksgiving holiday, most flights were already booked with general vacationers, making it hard for Americans, and probably others, to get there for the concert. Tickets were US$100 or $100 Jamaican dollars (for locals only to make it affordable). From what I recall, they lost a lot of money on this one. Still historic though for its eclectic line-up. The Dead, Aretha, the Beach Boys, Yellow man and Skeeter Davis... Epic!

I was there mostly on holiday but also connected as the NYC PR firm I worked for handled the Jamaica Tourist Board and organized the press conference for the event there with Peter Tosh and Bob Weir. That gave me tickets. Having a good friend whose booking agency repped many of the bands there gave me backstage credentials. That gave Rick James the chance to hit on my girlfriend and Mike Love's girlfriend the chance to lacerate everyone in the backstage seating area with her 5 feet of tightly braided hair as she swung it around like a cat o' nine tails.

Best in show: Gladys Knight, Joe Jackson, Black Uhuru, The Clash, the jerk chicken chased by a Red Stripe.

Phill LoFaso said...

That show was a life-changing event for me when just a lad of 23. Of course, being in an altered state for all of it my memories are shaky. So hearing the live shows brings it all back. That loud whistle during the dead show is me! Thanks for posting this. I'm really enjoying listening to it again.

Huntington, NY

Anonymous said...

I was so lucky to attend this event. Thanks for posting and for the memories!

mckenzy said...

I was there. Lived in Monterey CA at the time. My brother lived in LA. We went together. As soon as we heard it announced, we bought a package that included airfare from LA, 10 days in Mo Bay hotel and concert tickets for like $600 each. What a deal. As soon as we got off the plane, the security guard at our hotel offered some excellent ganja. The smartest move I made was taking one of those playmate coolers which were not sold in Jamaica. Dozens of people asked to buy it from me. We had a kitchen in our room so everyday I went to the market and bought fresh fruit and rum. I'd make elaborate rum punches with ice and stuff the cooler. We'd make our way to front of the stage each day & night and ask the Euro hippies who camped out there if they'd like something cold to drink? Hahaha, that gave us front row advantage. Everybody was parched and tired but they were not going to give up their campsites in front of the stage! The cooler was sturdy enough that it made an excellent seat to sit on when I got tired after many hours of partying and watching the performers.

The Clash were fantastic. They were the only band that refused to be filmed... for a movie that never saw the light of day. I guess many hours of great performances are sitting in a vault somewhere.. but not the Clash. Was happy to find CDs years ago. But no videos.
Wish they did more of these but Barry Fey never got it together. I hear there were lots of lawsuits and lots of money lost.
Great memories!

Clay said...

The concert started every night a little before sunset, 7:00PM, lasted thru the night and ended each morning a little after sunrise. It was a not quite finished man made gravel peninsula in the Montego Bay/Freeport harbor, Gravel mostly the size of medium and large boulders, not pea gravel. I went with deadheads and we were there a few days before and a few days after. We only slept an hour or two those three days of the concert, snorkeled, went to Negril, walked around Montego Bay, ate great food, drank Red Stripe Beer and smoked all day and all night. Didnt see Yellowman or the Beach Boys. Two things I will always remember, the opening of the festival which dedicated the site to Bob Marley with Rita Marley and kids, Prime Minister Manley and other Jamaica govt officials (Minister of Security, especially) all on the stage. Manley finished the dedication by granting us all honorary Jamaican citizenship for the duration of our stay on the island. AND Peter Tosh preaching to the crowd, talking about the sunrise just as sunrise broke. Truly Beautiful!

Unknown said...

Wow, that was an amazing event, whis I could remember more but I know I had some of the most fun I've ever had there, thanks for this

Anonymous said...

I was fortunate to be there for all 3 nights. Prime Minister Edward Seats conferred honorary Jamaican citizenship on all of us and opened the show by telling us to lively up ourselves. Zigfy Marley and the Melody Makers were the first act, children at that time. Peter Tosh was the final act but I think Aretha Franklin's performance was the highlight for all.

Unknown said...

I was there in 82.....had a blast!

SG said...

Working with the PR firm for the Jamaican Tourist Board, I was involved with promoting the festival from the start, organizing a press conference in NYC that included Peter Tosh.

Provided with tickets for the festival, I was able to upgrade to backstage passes through a friend who owned a major booking agency which had several acts in the event.

As noted, the Bob Marley Music Center was but a large gravel lot with a large stage at one end and rows of concession stands, a lot of jerk chicken, on both sides.

The tickets were US$100 or Jamaican $100 depending on where you came from. No way that most locals could afford US$100.

With the backstage passes, I decided to sell the tickets I had and was pleasantly amused when a Deadhead offered me some acid instead of cash. Not even a smoker, I politely passed on the offer and eventually just gave them to a cab driver in lieu of fare for a round trip to Tryall.

I'm skeptical of the crowd sizes mentioned. There were a lot but I don't think 50k was seen. The biggest problem the organizers had was that most flights into Jamaica were already booked because of the holiday which severely limited those coming in for the festival.

My strongest memories are Mike Love's girlfriend whipping her long braided hair around in the sidestage seating area, lacerating anyone within five feet of her while ignoring pleas to stop; Rick James hitting on my girlfriend as she exited a restroom, seeing faves the Clash, Joe Jackson, English Beat and Squeeze live, and an absolutely drop the mic performance by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Also fascinated by the Jamaican love for Skeeter Davis, who sang her country hit, 'The End of the World'. Evidently, Ronnie Milsap was big in Jamaica as well. Besides Sha Na Na playing Woodstock, this had to be one of the most eclectic festivals ever.