Reggae comes to Wrexham's Racecourse Ground this May when UB40 and the Original Wailers become the latest big name acts to play at the stadium. But as Jamie Bowman discovers, this won't be the first time that Bob Marley's old band have visted North Wales. 

One of the cultural highlights of 2016 was the long-awaited return of music events to Wrexham FC’s Racecourse Ground with this summer’s sell-out Stereophonics gig.

July’s concert by Kelly Jones and co was the first of its kind at the Racecourse Ground stadium since Motorhead played there in 1984.

The gig sold out its 20,000 capacity in less than an hour when tickets went on sale in March, showcasing the potential for similar big events which could be held in the town.

This May will see British reggae legends UB40 bringing their greatest hits to the town, but it is the presence on the bill of The Original Wailers which might jog a few memories from those fans who remember the last time reggae icon Bob Marley and his backing band visited North Wales.

Strangely enough it is North Wales that has provided one of the many myths around Bob Marley.

For many years it was thought the musician, along with such other international stars as Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe, had North Wales ancestry through his philandering father Captain Norval Sinclair Marley.

Captain Marley, who was thought to have come from Prestatyn, began an affair with Bob’s Jamaican mother Cedella Malcolm when he was stationed in the West Indies. He was 60 at the time and Cedella was just 17 and unsurprisingly the relationship was frowned upon and the couple split soon after Robert Nesta (Bob) Marley was born on Feburary 6, 1945.

Later research proved that Norval was a white Jamaican, who was born on the island in 1885, from a family who originally came from Surrey. He joined the British army in 1916 and told people he came from Wales, when he was actually stationed across the border at Park Hall near Oswestry in Shropshire. It is believed he may well have been stationed in Prestatyn for a time as well, leading to the confusion about his origins.

Bob was just 10-years-old when his father died and he rarely spoke about him as he embarked on a career that would see him become one of the world’s biggest musical icons and sell millions of records.

In June, 1976, Bob paid his first visit to Wales when he played at Cardiff’s Ninian Park in support of the Bob Marley And The Wailers album Rastaman Vibration, which was released earlier in the year.

Topping a bill which also included Eric Burdon Band, Sutherland Brothers and Quiver, Pretty Things, Gloria Jones and Gonzales and Dirty Tricks, the gig was regarded as a bit of a damp squib, with rain and bad weather affecting the attendance.

A far happier affair was Bob’s often overlooked 1980 show at Deeside Leisure Centre where he performed in front of 4,500 joyful punters on his Uprising tour.

In the late 70s and early 80s the leisure centre in Queensferry was one of the major venues on the tour scene, hosting huge household names such as Blondie, The Clash, Dire Straits, The Police, The Who and on Saturday, July 12, it was the turn of Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Tickets for the show cost £4.50 and fans were treated to an incredible set-list which included the likes of I Shot The Sherrif, Redemption Song, Could You Be Loved and the closing Get Up Stand Up. A live bootleg of the concert is available to listen to online.

Today, many gig goers still reminisce about the concert on the Concerts at Deeside Leisure Centre Facebook group, with some claiming that Marley had a pre-show kickabout with a number of local children.

“Awesome night, I’ve been to loads of gigs and this was up there with the best ever,” remembered Jim Messham, of Buckley.

Keith Astbury, of Buckley, described the night as “a truly great gig” while Graham Rhodes, of Chester, said: “I was lucky enough to be there! Brilliant night!”

Sadly, the Deeside concert was to be one of Bob’s last ever gigs. The following day he and the Wailers traveled the short distance to Stafford where they played Bingley Hall in what would be their last appearance in the UK.

Bob then flew to the US for four final shows in September in Boston, Providence, New York and Pittsburgh.

Shortly afterwards, his health deteriorated as the cancer he had been diagnosed with in 1977 began to spread throughout his body. He died on May 11, 1981, aged just 36.