Kensal Rise, North-West London. In a damp apartment, a discovery is made. It’s a cache of old tapes. But these are no ordinary tapes. They’re master tapes. With original tracks on never heard before. The recording artist? Bob Marley!
The legendary Jamaican reggae icon and his band, The Wailers, used to stay in the flat in England’s capital when they were touring Europe. But the tapes of these jams? Lost. Until now…
The tapes were rescued from the garbage by London-based Marley fan and businessman Joe Gatt. “My friend was doing a building refuse clearance that included some discarded two-inch tapes from the 1970s,” says Gatt. “I couldn’t just stand by and let these objects, damaged or not, be destroyed so I asked him not to throw them away.”
Gatt then gave the master recordings to his friend – business partner and jazz singer – Louis Hoover. He takes up the story: “I was speechless, to be honest. It was quite comical, looking back now, as Joe was so cool and matter of fact about rescuing these global artefacts that I actually had to stop the car to check that I had heard him correctly.”
“When I saw the labels and footnotes on the tapes, I could not believe my eyes, but then I saw how severely water damaged they were. There was literally plasticised gunk oozing from every inch and, in truth, saving the sound quality of the recordings, looked like it was going to be a hopeless task.”
The sound was poor and needed to be cleaned up. So the two men got Sound technician specialist Martin Nichols on the case… “They really were in such an appalling condition they should have been binned, but I spent hours on hours, inch by inch, painstakingly cleaning all the gunge off until they were ready for a process called ‘baking’, to allow them to be played safely,” Nichols said.
“The end result has really surprised me, because they are now in a digital format and are very high quality. It shows the original recordings were very professionally made. From the current find of 13 tapes, 10 were restored, two were blank and one was damaged beyond repair.”
But, after a lot of work, the tapes were salvaged. “It made the hair on the back of our necks stand up and genuine shivers ran up our spines with joy,” Nicholls says when describing listening to the lost tapes for the first time.
“The experience was comparable to, say, finding Van Gogh’s easel, paint pallet and paints in an old room somewhere, then Vincent emerges through a secret door to paint 26 of his finest masterpieces … purely for us.”
What a story. We’re pleased the saved the tapes and we’re sure the world will feel blessed when they get to listen to the lost old tracks very soon! We can’t wait…