Bob Marley live recordings restored after 40 years in a mouldy London basement

When owners of a London hotel were moving out, they stumbled upon damp, cardboard boxes full of reel-to-reel master tapes. They featured live recordings of Bob Marley from the 1970s. Jazz musician and Marley fan Louis Hoover was the first to hear the tracks restored.
After years of collecting dust, some old recordings of Bob Marley were recently discovered and restored. One of the reel-to-reel master tapes, seen above, features a 1975 recording of "No Woman No Cry." (EVENING STANDARD/STRINGER/JOE GATT)

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When the reel-to-reel tapes were discovered in an old London hotel, they seemed like a lost cause: they were damp, dusty and mouldy. No one had opened the boxes in four decades.

But these weren't just any tapes. They were one-of-a-kind live recordings of Bob Marley from the 1970s, back when the reggae star was still relatively unknown. When British jazz musician and Marley fan Louis Hoover was called about the discovery of these boxes, he knew they needed a new lease on life.

It was hard work. It took more than a year to restore the tapes. But when Hoover heard the recordings for the first time, he said it was "like finding Picasso's paint palettes."

Louis Hoover (left) and Joe Gatt show off a couple of the restored reel-to-reel master tapes of Bob Marley recordings. (JOE GATT)

Hoover spoke to As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about the treasure trove of Marley tapes.

Helen Mann: Louis Hoover, tell us about that moment you first heard these restored tapes?

Louis Hoover: Helen, it was remarkable. Because the nature of the tape itself, it's like we're listening to the artist' paint palette, if you like. It doesn't get any purer than that. The performance goes straight to that tape and then they mix it down and bounce it up. So it was remarkable to go back 40 years, especially with my partner in this project [Joe Gatt], who was actually in the audience in London the night they recorded that famous live version of "No Woman No Cry." To be part of the salvation process 40 years later . . . It was remarkable.

We found an expert in the audio industry, who painstakingly worked on the tapes day by day . . . literally on his hands and knees with his magic lotions and potions.- Louis Hoover

HM: What was the first song you heard?

LH: "Jammin'," I think. And then we played through the rest of them. But it was the build up to all of it that made it so special. The fact that we had to wait over a year for the results of the tape restoration and — fingers crossed — hoped it would work. And then rescuing these 13 tapes destined for destruction within hours of us intervening. And the fact that the tapes were found within a mile of where I grew up in London as a kid.

Bob Marley seen performing in 1974. (Gary Merrin/Keystone/Getty Images)

HM: Why had they been lost all these years? Where had they been stashed?

LH: It's a bit of a mystery because the building they were in is now defunct. But I think it's fair to say they were either forgotten, left behind and certainly neglected. The damage was water damage — they were gone and beyond redemption. My friend of 28 years, [Joe Gatt], the guy in the audience, got a call from a friend, who told him a couple was clearing out their old hotel and there was all this refuge and rusty bikes. And they came across these 13 huge tapes in cardboard boxes with "Bob Marley recorded live in London and Paris 74-77" [written on it.] So he said, "Wait, wait. Whatever happens, you can't throw those away." And eventually we found an expert in the audio industry, who painstakingly worked on the tapes day by day, in between recording sessions, literally on his hands and knees with his magic lotions and potions.

LH: We were called in about 14 months after leaving them with him. We were full of trepidation still because he wasn't giving anything away. But when he pushed the faders up, it was remarkable.

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