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'Sorry Mr Marley, you can't play here' - Playing football with a music icon before a famous gig in Dublin

It was 40 years ago this week when the reggae singer performed at Dalymount Park.

FOOTBALL IS FREEDOM’ – Bob Marley

virus-outbreak-marley-family Bob Marley pictured shortly before his 1980 gig in Dalymount Park. Source: AP/PA Images

During his days as a stage announcer, Dave Fanning always asked the acts how they wanted to make their entrance for a gig.

Did they want a few words to mark their arrival or just leave it to the crowd to applaud them onto the stage? Different routines work for different artists. 

And when Bob Marley arrived to Dublin in 1980 with his unique reggae sound, he opted for the latter option. An unassuming entrance to match the smooth tones of his music, as well as his devout belief in the peaceful Rastafarian teachings.  

Speaking of his faith, Fanning was greeted by another cornerstone of that religion when he came to the dressing room where Marley’s band ‘The Wailers’ and the ‘I Threes’ backup singers were getting ready for their performance.

“The amount of smoke that came out the door was phenomenal,” the radio DJ recalls to The42 about his first meeting with Marley.

Weed, or ‘Ganja’ as its known in Rasta culture, is a recognised ritual in their religion. Elsewhere, it was simply an illegal drug. And their faithfulness to smoking the herb often brought them a lot of hassle. A documentary about the singer’s life, which is entitled ‘Marley,’ shows clips of the band’s belongings being searched by police when they were on tour.

Prior to his Dalymount Park gig, there were even fears that Marley and his weed might not be allowed into Ireland. 

“He [Marley] was the one who opened the door,” Fanning continues about that smokey welcome.

“I asked him if he wanted to be announced on stage and he said, ‘No but thank you very much’ because the ‘I Threes’ would go on first.

“I don’t know where he went afterwards but I don’t remember much about the gig. I would have seen it from a good angle because I would have been out with the crowd and at the side of the stage.

“Stupidly, I never got my photograph taken with him or anything which I could have done.”

The concert was originally billed for the RDS but Bohemians’ home ground was later selected as the venue. It was an appropriate setting for Marley who loved football and played it often. His eventual death in 1981 at the age of 36 was linked with a football injury, which subsequently led to him being diagnosed with melanoma.

Concert promoter Pat Egan organised the gig, with Marley coming to Ireland as part of his ‘Uprising Tour’ on Sunday 6 July.

Tickets for the event were £7 in shops and £8 at the gate. It was a generous rate for an international star who had transcended the reggae genre, and could easily pack out big arenas, but it was Marley’s request that fans be charged an affordable amount to attend the gig.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the concert this week, the Bohs Twitter account published a letter sent by Marley’s representatives, relaying his concerns about expensive ticket prices at the time.

“That’s unheard of today,” says the Bohemians marketing and commercial director Daniel Lambert when speaking to The42 about the impact of Marley’s concert on the club.

“To hear of an artist getting in touch with a promoter to lower the ticket price. It’s inconceivable. Bob Marley and his management had an awareness of places they were going to and they wanted the event to be accessible. It’s hard to think of an artist who would do that today.”

There were anecdotal tales that Marley went for a kickaround in Dalymount before the concert took place. Fanning heard similar stories before later becoming friends with someone who could verify that this indeed was true.

Cathal O’Sullivan was a regular at Pat Egan’s music shop Sound Cellar on Nassau Street in his youth. He worked at concerts too, carrying in the equipment and getting the venue prepared. 

He takes up the story of his role at the Marley gig, and that distinctive Rasta style smoke machine that greeted him when the band arrived at the stadium.

“The Marley one was unique because we spent the weekend in there [Dalymount],” he says about the concert which happened to coincide with his 20th birthday.

“We stayed on the floor of the old bar on the Friday and Saturday night and we were working all weekend. We were setting up the stage on the Saturday and the only access into Dalymount was through a laneway so we were all there around 3 o’clock humping in the gear and a bus arrived in with Marley and his entourage.

“The smell of ganja coming off the bus was just awful.

We were all watching this and whatever happened, we got into a conversation with some of the guys and started kicking a football. So, we literally ended up out on the pitch setting down coats for goals and playing an us against them game. There was about 12 of us.”

Sadly, the game only lasted about 10 minutes as a diligent groundsman came over and politely told Marley and his mates to tog in.

The intrusion didn’t seem to bother the star of the show too much though as he “shrugged his shoulders” and walked away.

“I’d say he was about 80 years of age,” laughs O’Sullivan, thinking back about the groundsman and his once in a lifetime chance to be up close with a musical God.

He just came over and he went ballistic that we were playing on the hallowed turf. And he actually apologised and said ‘I’m sorry Mr Marley but you can’t play here.’

“The rest is history as they say. It lasted about 10 minutes and it was hillarious.”

Of course Marley wasn’t the only big music act to appear at Dalymount Park. Famous rock groups like Status Quo, Black Sabbath and Motorhead all performed there. The Boomtown Rats and Thin Lizzy featured too.

But Marley’s memory has been immortalised at the club. Fans often sing ‘Three Little Birds’ during games, a hymn to a previous time when the club was facing extinction due to financial issues.

We were recognising that we were in a tricky spot but that we’d come through it,” says Lambert about the emotive impact of that song for the Gypsies.

In 2018, the club attempted to launch an away kit that paid tribute to Marley’s legacy. Images of what the shirt would look like showed his face along with the Rastafarian colours on the front of the shirt.

It was a lovely idea but it was quashed by a copyright issue.

a-view-of-a-bob-marley-and-phil-lynott-mural-in-dalymount-park The Bob Marley mural at Dalymount Park. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

There’s also the beautiful mural of Marley’s face at the grounds. Fittingly, his portrait sits alongside Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott. The black and red colours of the Bohs jersey make the artwork all the more striking when you see it.

“The guy who did that is Niall O’Lochlainn,” Lambert explains, “a brilliant graffiti artist.

He came in and did that piece and it’s great. So many people get photos with it. Lots of tourists get photos with it. We get lots of people who come to the stadium when there’s no games on to see them. There’s lots of different pieces around the stadium.

“They just add to the sense of place. Other stadiums are quite soulless and are just bricks and concrete and glass. Dalymount just kind of sits into terraced Edwardian houses so it’s kind of nice to have a sense of place around that.”

Fanning was working in RTÉ 2FM when Marley came to Dublin in 1980, the station wasn’t quite two years old at the time. 

He remembers Ireland as a conservative country in those days but says that the Jamaican man was a regular voice on daytime radio.

“He would have been played a lot. It was the first time reggae would have been played on a regular basis. Songs like ‘Three Little Birds’ and ‘Jammin’ and all that were huge. He was always played on daytime.

“[Ireland] was a very conservative place and a very conservative time but kids were listening to all the new music. Once Elvis Presley did what he did in the mid-50′s, everything changed. By that stage parents weren’t even giving out to you for whatever music you were listening to you.”

Source: terence maccurtain/YouTube

The Dalymount concert was Marley’s last outdoor performance before his passing. Irish rock band Bagatelle shared the stage with him as a warm-up act on the day.

The voices who contributed to this article don’t remember all of the songs that Marley sang in Dublin, but there’s definite agreement that there was a lovely rendition of ‘Redemption Song’.

“I was beside the stage, it was fantastic,” says O’Sullivan, summarising the joyful atmosphere of the occasion. 

“It’d be nothing like The Point or the outside gigs these days. It was just a bare stage set up and it was very basic.

“I have an old scrapbook which I took out the other day because it was my 60th birthday the other day and I was showing my kids. They saw the stuff about Marley on Twitter. It was a great day in fairness.”

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