Home Culture Bob Marley & The Wailers – Ibiza 1978

Bob Marley & The Wailers – Ibiza 1978

Bob Marley & The Wailers arriving at Ibiza Airport in 1978
Bob Marley & The Wailers Ibiza 1978

Two pounds of Jamaican ganja, two pounds of Jamaican honey and twenty pounds of white fish…. That and $50,000 is what it took to create one of the most iconic moments in Ibiza’s rich musical history.

Ibiza has a well documented musical history. Throughout history the small Balearic island was in the cross hairs of one or another burgeoning civilisations trade routes, this often left the Ibicenco residents under the heel of whatever marauding hoards happened to be passing through in any given epoch in time. This formed a resilient, rebellious and autonomous spirit that created a kind of bohemian oasis in the Mediterranean during Franco’s rule of Spain. The stories of the origins of the Balearic beat are often lamented but one of Ibizas most halcyon moments in musical history has been much less documented. A chance meeting I had with the daughter of Noel d’Abo, one of the events promoters led me to this story, in his words, this is the story of Bob Marley’s one and only concert for the people of Spain, or more precisely, the people of Ibiza.

“It all began with David Olivestone, a property developer, renting his former Bayswater office to me and my partner, Andrew Miller, up and coming UK concert promoters. Olivestone was a big music fan with a holiday home in Ibiza and suggested we do a summer show in the bullring. He wanted to finance the project with an Ibiza resident who had all the local contacts, Roger Middleton and, together, they made it clear how and why they wanted us to get involved: “You sort it, we’ll pay for it – Bob Marley’s the biggest thing in Ibiza!” Days later, we had a signed contract with Bob Marley & The Wailers to play the Ibiza bullring on Wednesday, June 28th, 1978.

Our modus operandi was Andrew Miller did the deals, while my job was to market and sell out the shows. We’d launch with posters, press ads, radio ads, plus tickets + album competitions. We had a logo, Music Ibiza ’78, printed over a shining sun, surrounded by a Spanish red and yellow border to ease objections to us UK interlopers! The rest of the poster was a blue wash to suggest sea and sky. 

“The only part of Ibiza that’s Spanish is the police station”

I’d drive round Ibiza Town putting up large posters in the street, small ones in the shops and, in addition, took 10 pairs of tickets and a box of Bob’s latest album, ‘Kaya’, to the local radio station. We paid a small fee to get the ball rolling but, from then on, every time we turned on the radio we’d hear the ad in its full glory: a few bars of Kaya then, ‘Bob Marley . . . Plaza de Torros . . . Miercoles . . . 28 Junio!’ The ad was on pretty much day and night, so one thing was certain. Everyone in Ibiza knew Bob Marley was coming to town! His opening gig was in Ibiza, because we could offer a full stage, sound and lighting crew, plus PA, lights, monitors and back line. At the same time, Bob’s road crew would be in Rome setting up their equipment for the original opening date the following evening. Playing Ibiza meant an extra $50,000 to the Marley tour, with no costs apart from airfares to and from the island. We’d cover local costs, including transport, villa for the artists and, most important, Bob’s rider: 2 lbs of Jamaican ganga, 2 lbs of Jamaican honey and 20 lbs of white fish. Luckily, our local man-on-the-ground sorted everything with the words: “The only part of Ibiza that’s Spanish is the police station”

Music Ibiza ’78 – Bob Marley & The Wailers

I arrived at the airport an hour before Bob’s scheduled arrival mid-afternoon with the fish, the ganja and the honey. All I needed now was to meet the driver, check the coach, then wait for Bob and his entourage. What could possibly go wrong? Walking into the terminal building, there, slumped on one of the seats looking rather the worse for wear, was my coach driver. How I knew it was him I can’t remember, but I shouted out a loud, ‘Hola!’ and he was on his feet like a boxer at the count of nine. The coach was fine and he showed me where the luggage would go, said he knew the route to the bullring and, finally, showed me a small, hidden enclave beneath the driver’s seat. It was all silk cushions and woven prayer mats, doubling as carpets and wall coverings – the perfect place to hide Bob’s rider. Moments later, I was shaking hands with Bob, his entourage close behind, all smiles as they strode out of ‘Arrivals’. After the initial introductions on our way to the coach, Bob asked if I’d managed to get the ganja. I assured him all was well. “The fish?” “Oh, yes . . . that, and the honey!”

Bob Marley arriving at Ibiza airport in 1978, image by Francesc Fabregas

When we got to the coach, Bob’s chef took the fish, the honey and bags to be driven to the villa. He would prepare dinner for the Marley team there. Meanwhile, Bob joined me in the cosy inner sanctum and took a good look at the ganja. “Shall we try it?” I instantly agreed. As we made ourselves comfortable, I offered him a pack of Rizlas, but he handed them back, smiling, “No, you roll it!” If there’s one moment I’ll never forget, it’s being invited to roll a joint for the legendary Bob Marley. He was charm itself. One puff was enough. Bob was happy. I left him and the band in the hands of the coach driver. Later, I was driving back to the bullring when I saw an extraordinary sight: Bob Marley, The Wailers and The I Threes all walking down the road to the venue! I stopped the car and asked, “What’s happened?” Totally unfazed, one of The High Threes told me; “The driver told us to walk this last bit – it’s a No Entry!” It must have been around 5pm and crowds were starting to gather. Some were putting steel crowd barriers up against the bullring wall as ladders so, once I’d escorted the band to the dressing rooms, I told security to keep an eye on the crowd outside till we opened the doors.

Soon after, Bob and the band were on stage for the sound check. I watched from the wings then descended the steps towards where the crowd would be standing but, for some strange reason, I turned towards the centre ground beneath the stage. There, to my surprise, stood one of my sound crew by a 16 track sound desk ready to record the show. For a very brief moment, the thought of cutting a deal there and then crossed my mind. “If Marley’s team see this, they don’t play and we lose fifty grand. I’m giving you 15 minutes to get this recording gear dismantled.” I’d realised that a deal’s a deal and, if we ignored this central core of our agreement, it could put us out of business. Sometimes I look back at that moment and wonder, what if?! In fact, Tony Visconti, producer of David Bowie, Thin Lizzy and many others, had asked us if he could  film the gig, but Marley’s management refused. It’s possible they’d already sold exclusive film rights to a live performance of the Kaya tour, so that opportunity was gone.”

Noel d’Abo.

It turns out there was a recording made that there was actually a secret recording made that night by someone in the crowd you can listen to it over on Reset Rebel Podcast. A series created by island resident Journalist Jo Youle, exploring how Ibiza became notorious for attracting those looking to forge a new path in life. Carving out a new lifestyle and sharing it is what makes the community of the island so unique. Each month, she dives into the investigative underbelly of the islands rogues, rebels and those who relished their time on the white island and left their mark like Bob Marley did in 1978.

Music Ibiza 1978. Bob Marley & The Wailers. Thin Lizzy.
Music Ibiza ’78. Bottom left Noel Dabo. Bottom right David Olivestone.

Lead image by Francesc Fabregas