Lost Bob Marley live recordings rescued from damp hotel basement

Reel-to-reel tapes have been restored and will be auctioned in London this May

Bob Marley performs on stage  on June 7th, 1980 in London, United Kingdom. Photograph: Peter Still/Redferns

Bob Marley performs on stage on June 7th, 1980 in London, United Kingdom. Photograph: Peter Still/Redferns


Live recordings of Bob Marley and the Wailers, which were found by chance after spending 40 years in a damp hotel basement, are to appear at auction.

The reel-to-reel analogue tapes were recovered during the clearance of a hotel in Little Venice, London, but, with water damage, mould and grime oozing out, they looked beyond repair and were going to be binned.

But after a two-year restoration by sound engineer Martin Nichols, the 10 tapes will be auctioned off next month.

The recordings were of 1970s gigs at the Lyceum theatre in the West End of London, the Rainbow theatre in Finsbury Park, and the Pavilion Baltard in Paris. They include some of Marley’s greatest hits including No Woman No Cry, Is This Love and Jamming.

The concerts were recorded on what was at the time the only mobile studio vehicle in the UK, loaned by the Rolling Stones.

Bob Marley and the Wailers at the Lyceum

The recordings were rescued by London businessman Joe Gatt who said he had a friend working on the hotel clearance who called him about the tapes. They were literally on the truck heading to the tip, Gatt said.

Gatt then enlisted the help of his friend and neighbour, the jazz singer Louis Hoover, asking him what to do next.

“When I finally saw the labelling and footnotes on the tapes, I could not believe my eyes,” Hoover said. “But when I also saw how severely water-damaged the reels were it was pretty gut-wrenching … there was plasticised gunk oozing from almost every inch.”

Hoover asked who might be able to save the tapes and was directed to Nichols, who lives in Weston-super-Mare.

“When I first saw the tape reels I should really have said: ‘no thank you, guys,’ as they were covered in mould and had clearly suffered massive water damage,” Nichols said. “If anyone had even tried to play the reels in that state all the content would have been destroyed and lost forever.”

Nichols said the long, painstaking restoration had been a labour of love.

Hoover recalled hearing the restored tapes for the first time. “We were immediately transported back in time. Especially Joe, as he’d actually been there in the crowd at the Lyceum on July 18th 1975 when he was just 22, on a friend’s spare ticket.”

The tapes, with digitally restored audio, are being sold by the specialist auction house Omega in Merseyside, in three lots on May 21st. Each has a low estimate of £25,000 and auctioneer Paul Fairweather predicted worldwide interest. – Guardian