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DENNIS MORRIS

Dennis Morris was still at school when he first photographed Bob Marley, and those iconic shots propelled him on a journey from Sex Pistols chronicler to full-time art director at Island Records, as Gary Tipp discovers

During the mid-to-late 70s, the fiercely anti-authoritarian genres of punk and reggae were thrown together by way of their outsider status and rebel stance. The mutual love-in manifested itself in many ways. John Peel championed both movements and would typically play the latest punk 45 scorcher followed by a heavy dub cut. Don Letts turned the punks onto reggae via his DJ set at the Roxy, while Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry produced The Clash’s third single, the explosive Complete Control. To seal the deal, Bob Marley would release the totemic Punky Reggae Party as a 12” single in 1977 as a follow-up to Jammin’.

With a foot in both the Sex Pistols’ and Marley’s camps, photographer, sleeve designer, A&R man and recording artist all wrapped up in one, Dennis Morris was the right man in the right place at the right time.

As he confirms when Long Live Vinyl catches up with him at PIAS HQ in Bermondsey: “Bob represented the new youth of Jamaica and the Pistols represented the new youth of England. I was fortunate enough to bridge both grounds. At the time, the only music that was saying anything politically or socially about the world around them was reggae and punk. It was a perfect fusion of both cultures.”

MARLEY & ME

In love with photography from an early age, Morris first sold a shot to Fleet Street at the tender age of 11, but an encounter with Marley is when it all kicked off for him. “I knew he was coming over for his first tour of England [1973] and I decided I wanted to take some pictures. I bunked off school and went down to The Speakeasy Club on Margaret Street and waited.

“He eventually turned up with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. I walked up to Bob and asked to take his picture, and he invited me in to the soundcheck. During breaks, he asked me what it was like to be a young black kid in England and I asked him questions about Jamaica. We got on well. He told me about the tour and asked if I wanted to come along. Next morning, I packed my sports bag and I was ready to go.”

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