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Like Father, Like Son

Angela Marlett • FeaturesMarch 2019 • March 7, 2019

 

Neville and Nesta Garrick

LDs Neville and Nesta Garrick have lit two generations of Marleys. Theirs are two families united in a reggae legacy.

As Bob Marley rose to stardom, Neville Garrick was right there, coloring the music. As Bob’s sons take their father’s place at the forefront of reggae music, Neville’s son Nesta carries on the family tradition, lighting the way for two sons in next generation of Marleys — Damian and Stephen. The Garrick and Marley families are united in a reggae legacy. The parallels between Neville and Nesta’s careers are uncanny. Both father and son parlayed a background in graphic design into a position as a Marley creative director, responsible for all aspects of visual presentation from album covers to lighting design. As LDs, both are self taught and both created their own jobs through skill and perseverance.

As Nesta explained, “To be able to do what your dad did unintentionally, you’re working with the sons of his best friend and you’re both doing the same thing, I’m like, ‘I can tell dad must be feeling pretty good about this right now, and the fact is, this is crazy.’ So for me, it’s nuts. I wouldn’t expect it, so that’s why working with [Damian and Stephen] has such a different kind of meaning. Everybody else is about creativity and a paycheck… This is a legacy. This, you can’t put a dollar figure on.”

The elder Garrick agrees, adding, “I’m really pleased, because I kind of stayed with the family, I never left. I’ve always been with them from the beginning. His sons are fulfilling his legacy, and if my son can fulfill the part that I played for Bob, then I’m really overjoyed.”

Neville Garrick notes that when he would light Bob Marley during his shows, he would frame the performer from the waist up, “and if that wasn’t enough, I’d add one on the backdrop to frame out His Majesty” [Emperor Haile Selassie I]. so it would appear like a moon.” Photo by Adrian Boot

‡‡         The First Generation

Neville grew up in Kingston, Jamaica but left the island to attend college at UCLA. After graduating with a degree in graphic arts in 1973, he returned to Jamaica to work as art director for the Kingston Daily News. A burgeoning interest in Rastafarianism combined with a five-page spread on Bob Marley he designed for the newspaper prompted Neville to approach Marley about being his art director. He immediately resigned from the newspaper and eventually took up residence in the Marley recording compound at 56 Hope Road in Kingston. There was never an official job posting and Neville doesn’t recall ever being issued a paycheck, but he quickly became an integral part of Bob’s inner circle and remained a close confidante until Bob’s death in 1981.

He explains that he sought out Marley not for personal gain, but to aid in spreading the message of reggae and Rastafari. “You make your own luck, and I choose that. I knew that [reggae] was something I wanted to be part of, and I thought this was something I could contribute to. There was no competition, no advertisement. I created my job; I created my own luck,” he said.

Bob Marley performs, lit by Pars and ACLs. Photo by Adrian Boot

Coming from a background as a graphic designer, Neville approached lighting as simply another medium of artistic expression. “I just saw lighting as being another way to paint. It was like a new set of paintbrushes and paints for me,” he said. “It was an extension of my artistic outlook because I never went to lighting school, I was never trained in lighting.”

In 1975, when he first took on LD duties, concert lighting was still rudimentary and formal training nearly nonexistent, especially in Jamaica. This lead to a great deal of experimentation and improvisation as Neville made the most of existing technology. “When I first started with Bob on the Natty Dread tour in 1975, apart from a few big festivals, we were playing mostly nightclubs like the Paul’s Mall in Boston. At Paul’s Mall, they had eight or ten colored floodlights and some on/off switches. I didn’t have a board, I just had some light switches, like what you have in your house, which I could flick on and off,” he explained.

Neville Garrick and Bob Marley on tour. Photo by Kate Simon

Technical limitations aside, Neville emphasizes that his designs were always intended to highlight the performers and further the message in the music. “I saw my job as coloring the music. Visually, from album covers to concert lighting to backdrops. At least I had some concept and I knew that lighting was there to enhance the artist, not to take away from him. So, sometimes less is more, which is how it started out with me,” he said. “On that first tour, there were some gigs where I used the lighting board and learned that, but my whole thing was focusing. Sometimes I would myself climb to get the focus right because that was important, especially when you have a limited amount of lights. I didn’t have Vari-Lites. I just had PAR Cans and what we used to call aircraft lights, which were actually aircraft landing lights. They were narrow, not like the PAR Can washes. When that came into play, I really got into it because I could have three, four specials just on Bob. I always had a light on all the players. A special for them that I would have to use a spotlight because sometimes, if Family Man [Aston Barrett] is playing a bass line that I like, I kinda play the bass with him with the light. So like with [drummer] Carlton [Barrett], I would have at least two backlights on him. Whenever possible, in the early days, I would use drum lights that were on the floor so I could make a fan behind him to light both keyboard players, the bass player and the lead guitarist.

“Most of the time, we only had two spotlights, left and right, which I would use to focus on Bob. When the I Threes were singing, I would shift one over to these singers. But when things got better and the gigs were larger, I had more spotlights. I think spots are very important. I don’t think people use spotlights as much anymore.”

Neville’s “less is more” design philosophy guided his use of spotlights to frame Marley. “Less is more. When I’d frame Bob, I usually framed him from his waist up, and if that wasn’t enough, I’d add one on the backdrop to frame out His Majesty [Emperor Haile Selassie I] so it would appear like a moon. Bob said it was very artistic,” he said. Marley made the most of the spotlights, often guiding them around the stage as needed. “Bob was so clever that when I didn’t have enough spots and a guitar solo was coming up, Bob would actually walk over to the guitarist so I didn’t actually have to shift it off him. He would take the spotlight over to him and then fade back into the background,” Neville explained.

Neville Garrick painting the Haile Selassie I coronation backdrop. After use on multiple tours, the backdrop now hangs at the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica. Photo by Adrian Boot

‡‡         The Message in the Music

As Marley’s career took off and Neville found himself lighting increasing larger venues and international audiences, he focused on putting the music’s Rasta message front and center with a series of hand painted backdrops. “The first backdrop I did was of Marcus Garvey, who was like Jamaica’s George Washington. He was the first national hero, he’s the one who pointed to Ethiopia and told us when His Majesty [Emperor Haile Selassie I] would be crowned,” he said. “By the second tour, Rastaman Vibration, I did a drop of who he was pointing to, of His Imperial Majesty’s coronation. I didn’t do a third one until we did the peace concert, which I did one especially for. I designed a big Ethiopian flag on burlap in green, gold and red, like 60 inches wide. That was conceptualizing what Bob’s message was about. When I see the photographs with the images behind, what it does is enhances the stage look. He doesn’t disappear into the background.”

Marley’s visual presentation, along with his music, catapulted him to international stardom. Neville’s backdrops provided a visual reference for audiences unfamiliar with Rastafarianism. “I pioneered that. I was the first one to do lighting and stage and such from Jamaica for any artist,” Neville said. “All I tried to do was just enhance Bob because there’s always a story to be told. So I lit not just the mood, but what he’s trying to say with the lyrics. With the backdrops, there were more than one so I could fly them in and out. In big arenas, I could put up all four.
I introduced all those concepts to reggae music. Nobody from Jamaica toured with backdrops. When I toured with Bob, I would say 70 percent of our audience was white college kids. I didn’t want them just dancing to the beat and not getting the whole visual outlook of what Rasta was about, so I felt that was my duty to enhance it that way.”

Neville toured the world with Marley for seven years until the singer’s untimely death in 1981. Following Bob’s death, Neville has remained close to the Marley family, serving as a founder and executive director of the Bob Marley Museum. He also designed the lighting and backdrops for Jamaica’s Sunsplash and World Music festivals.

Nesta’s visuals for Stephen Marley. Photo by Tiesha Pough

‡‡         The Next Generation

The link between the Marley and Garrick families remained strong, and Neville’s son Nesta continued the legacy, becoming creative and lighting director for Bob’s sons Stephen and Damian Marley. Like his father, Nesta has also translated a background in graphic design into a career lighting the Marleys.

Nesta’s first professional gig with the Marley family was designing the graphics for Rohan Marley’s Tuff Gong clothing line. In 2008, he linked up with Damian, who was recording the Distant Relatives album with rapper Nas in L.A. A website that Nesta created for an online ticket giveaway caught the attention of Jason Chantrelle, Nas and Damian’s A&R manager. Impressed with the images, Nesta was approached to recreate the artwork as backdrops for the upcoming Rock the Bells tour. After the tour, Nesta made a bid to do the album art for the Distant Relatives album, despite the record company already having other artists lined up to do the cover.

Responsible for all aspects of visual presentation from album covers to merchandise to the tour backdrop, Nesta soon found himself taking on the role of lighting designer. “They didn’t have a light person touring, so I helped along with that. I also helped a lot with how the look of the show should be, visually with the lights and such. I was on a flight to go back home, and [Damian’s manager] Dan Dalton called me and asked if I could stay and help out with the lights for some more gigs. I did three or four gigs, and by the third one, I asked the guy to just program the Avolites for me and just let me run it. I guess they were impressed with me and from there, they started hiring me as an LD,” he said.

Like his father, Nesta is also a self-taught LD and turned to one of his father’s friends for a crash course in lighting design. “I was learning on the road. I called my dad’s friend, Bobby Bascombe, to learn about lighting,” he explained. “I told him what I wanted to do, what I thought lights should look like, and he told me the best way to go about it, especially the technical things. Everyday you’re using a different console, and now with my years of experience, I’m not stumped.”

The Ethiopian flag waves proudly behind Damian Marley. Photo by Tiesha Pough

‡‡         Giving Lighting its Due

While Nesta has been touring with Stephen and Damian for a decade, he’s one of the few LDs working with reggae artists. He’s working to change that, touting the importance of visual presentation to musicians who often treat lighting as an afterthought. “I’ve been trying to get reggae music into thinking of having [lighting] as being important in their repertoire. That’s not been the case. You get an engineer first, then you get a monitor engineer, then you get two more backup singers. Lighting and visuals are just not a priority.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in my culture to help them grow into that and to realize that you can take your presentation so much further with lighting and visuals. Now with visuals, videos, LEDs, and projection going in, I can bring my art direction back in and feel like I have it complete,” he said. “They’re starting to see it now. From musicians Kabaka Pyramid to Morgan Heritage, they’ve all talked with me about it. They all ask me how they can get started, and I really help them out as much as I can. Rebelution has really good lighting, of course. Their whole thing is lights. You’ve got Fishbone, Tribal Seeds, all these other bands have lighting. I’m trying to get these other bands to understand, ‘You need to hit on this. You need this. No matter big or small, you need it. It makes a massive difference, house rig or not.’”

Stephen Marley in concert. Nesta used his father’s artwork from Bob Marley’s Confrontation album to reinforce the Rastafarian themes at the heart of the music. Photo by Tiesha Pough

‡‡         Culture at the Forefront

Nesta also stresses the importance of having an LD who understands the culture and message integral to reggae music. Himself a Rastafarian, Nesta’s shared cultural understanding is evident in his use of imagery such as his father’s Battle of Adwa painting from Bob Marley’s Confrontation album.

“Look, this is the message you’re putting in the music, and this is what’s going on, so we need to go all out and represent that. Especially within the Rasta and reggae [community,] especially with the ones with a more spiritual vibe, I will just come up with the ideas.” He continues, “You’re going to go to the venue where they’ve never heard your music, they don’t know what your thing is, and they’re going to try to give you a show and they’re going to represent you. But is that the proper representation or can you get someone who understands the music and the culture and have them represent you on the stage in the way that you want your music to be represented?”

Neville says that seeing his artwork incorporated into the presentation of the next generation of the Marley family fills him with pride. “I feel real proud when he uses my images because Bob’s sons are singing his songs. I’m very, very proud of him. Sometimes I kinda get up on the boy. I think, ‘Nesta’s one of the best lighting people in the world.’ I like the way he lights, and I keep telling him, ‘Less is more. Less is more.’“

And it appears that Nesta has been listening. Despite the wealth of glitzy options available today, he’s taken to heart the idea of putting the performer front and center. “On Damian’s Stony Hill tour, we decided we didn’t want to have lights and video for everything. He wanted something more simplistic. I have all these crazy ideas, but I was like, ‘Okay, then let’s balance it. Let’s have some content and then have light shows. Let’s not bombard with visuals, [rather] let’s put the focus on you.’ I think sometimes videos are too great, too amazing and and now you’re looking at this rather than the artist. There’s some people that are just so great that you don’t want them overshadowed. The visuals should complement them.”

In addition to a pared down design approach, Nesta also has to contend with the practical limitations of the smaller venues that typically host reggae shows. For Stephen Marley’s acoustic tour, he made the most of a limited rig, employing special effects in addition to lighting. “We had our budget and we were going to make it work. We hooked up with Pulse Lighting – they were great working with our budget. We got 12 GLP X4 Bars, some Robe Mega Pointes and some Antari low-fog hazers and made an experience out of it that most people weren’t expecting. We used the gold lion, with smoke coming out and red eyes that light up. For an acoustic show, that’s not what people were expecting.”

When he’s looking for feedback, Nesta often approaches his father. “We talk about ideas. I tell him what I’m doing, but I would say it’s more about getting feedback from when he watches the show,” Nesta explains. “As far as influence within art, his work ethic — it’s the biggest thing. He’s not going to drop the ball. He’s gonna work hard, day and night. He’ll go 48 hours without sleep to get the job done. Sometimes I think a lot of it is genetics, because there’s stuff I’ve designed without ever seeing his stuff before. There’s been concepts I’ve used or certain styles implemented, and then I realize those styles are so similar to his.”

Nesta is currently on tour with Stephen Marley through July 25. Long retired from touring, Neville serves as a consultant to the Marley estate.

More photos of Bob Marley from Adrian Boot:

More photos of the Next Generation by Tiesha Pough

 

 

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