This month marks 50 years since Bob Marley and The Wailers came to Hertfordshire and played two shows that were long-forgotten, but not by those who were there.

In 1973, the soon-to-be reggae icons were yet to hit the big time, with financial struggles and a lack of recognition beginning to frustrate them.

Following a release of their fifth studio album, Catch a Fire, they embarked on a UK tour that April in Nottingham and ended in Southampton in late May.


Among the stops made by The Wailers, was a visit to Hatfield Polytechnic on May 2.

The university - now known as the University of Hertfordshire - hosted many big-name performers, but Keith Dean - a resident of the town who saw Bob Marley and The Wailers that night - admitted "no one had heard of them".

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Marley and The Wailers toured the UK to promote their album Catch a Fire.Marley and The Wailers toured the UK to promote their album Catch a Fire. (Image: PA Images)

"Bob handed out Wailers' album Catch a Fire. The sleeve was in the shape of a Zippo lighter, along with stickers," he recalled.

"No one had heard of the Wailers and the audience were all into rock."

Garry Jackson was also in the crowd at Hatfield Polytechnic, and admitted he had "not experienced anything like it before".

"The Wailers had been on the BBC show The Old Grey Whistle Test the night before," he said. 

"I was impressed and surprised that they were playing the Poly the next day.

"Admission was 20 pence, and my mate and I were right in front of the stage. I had really not experienced anything like it before.

"I still have my original copy of Catch a Fire which I bought shortly thereafter."


The Hatfield performance would be followed up with a show in front of a packed crowd at Hitchin Town Hall on May 19.

Dorrel Haynes was among those in attendance, and she described seeing The Wailers as a "privilege" when she spoke to this newspaper back in 2017.

"It was a privilege such an upcoming star came to Hitchin – it was so well attended too," she said.

"We already knew all about the Wailers from Jamaica before he came here, so it was really exciting.

"It was about the same time Desmond Decker and Stevie Wonder also came to Hitchin to play – as it was quite a small town then, it really put Hitchin on the map."

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Bunny Wailer.Bunny Wailer. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Just eight days before the show in Hitchin, Bunny Wailer expressed his frustration with the music industry, telling the NME: "We got a few stage shows which weren’t very regular.

"We used to get small bread because promoters as a whole are all for themselves. They don’t want to build no artists, they don’t want to give you anything to build yourself up.

"They want you to work for them all the days of your life without having anything substantial."

But six months on, they would get their big break, releasing their sixth studio album, Burnin', and quickly becoming worldwide stars.


Despite the success of The Wailers, things would take a tragic turn in the coming years.

Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer would leave the group in 1974, citing their refusal to play "freak clubs" as they believed it would violate their Rastafarian faith.

Then, in late 1976, Marley was shot by a unknown gunman in his home. He survived, but was forced to leave Jamaica and relocate to London.

In July 1977, Marley was diagnosed with a type of malignant melanoma under a toe on his right foot. He refused to have the toe removed despite medical advice, instead opting to have the cancer removed.

He collapsed while jogging around Central Park in 1980, and it was found his cancer had spread to his brain, lungs, and liver.

His health deteriorated as his cancer had spread throughout his body, and despite managing his illness for eight months, he died on May 11, 1981, aged just 36.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Peter Tosh (left).Peter Tosh (left). (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

More tradegy would follow, as on September 11, 1987, Tosh would be shot and killed by three-man gang who were trying to extort him. He was just 42.

Bunny Wailer, the last surviving member of the original Wailers, died in 2021, aged 73.

In that 1973 interview with NME, he said: "You will have to live forever to know all things. And that’s what we intend on doing."

Marley, Tosh and Wailer might all be gone, but their music and cultural impact certainly lives on.


And the memory of the The Wailers in Hitchin lives on too. 

Friday, May 19 will see Hitchin Town Hall come alive with their music once again, as authentic tribute band The Marley Experience play to a sold-out crowd to mark 50 years since the gig.