The magnificent Peter Tosh

Garry Steckles enjoys an unpublished book about one of the original Wailers, and recalls one of his own encounters with the reggae star

Peter Tosh. Photograph by David Corio

As just about any aspiring author will testify, one of the trickiest things in the book world is finding a publisher. And it tends to be particularly difficult in a region like the Caribbean, with our widely scattered pockets of population and a limited number of bookstores.

It’s a stumbling block I thought Ceil Tulloch, a Jamaican who teaches English as a second language in South Korea, would navigate without too much trouble when she sent me an advance manuscript of a book about Peter Tosh, the great reggae singer-songwriter.

Peter, for the benefit of readers not familiar with the history of Jamaican music, was one of the original Wailers, and, after embarking on a solo career in the mid-Seventies, quickly became an international star.

Ceil’s book consists of memories of Tosh written by an impressive cross-section of people who knew him, admired him and, in many cases, played music with him.

I couldn’t put it down, and was honoured when I was asked to contribute a foreword. I also thought Ceil would have no problem finding a publisher because so little has been written about Peter since he was tragically murdered in his Kingston home in 1987, and also because over the years I’ve lost count of the number of reggae fans who have told me the rebellious, outspoken and brilliant Tosh was their favourite Wailer.

No such luck. Ceil told me the other day that she’s joined the ranks of frustrated authors in a seemingly interminable search for a publisher. So, on the off-chance it may come to the attention of one of those hard-to-find publishers, I thought I’d share with Caribbean Beat readers a capsule version of my foreword to her book.

It consists largely of just one of my many memories of the days in the late Seventies and early Eighties when I promoted a number of Tosh concerts, spent time on the road with Peter and his Word, Sound and Power band, and got to know him well and to like him enormously.

I’d been roped in by Peter’s irrepressible publicist, Charles Comer, to come up with venues for shows in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Montreal and Ottawa were easy enough, but Toronto was a problem – largely because of its large West Indian population and the cost of renting major venues in Canada’s biggest city. Eventually, I managed to persuade Ontario Place, on the Toronto waterfront, to take on the show. And a huge bonus was that the concert would be free with only a modest admission price to the government-owned and run entertainment complex. The Forum, Ontario Place’s main music venue, had a policy of first-come-first-served when it came to seating, and it was filled to overflowing, mainly with Caribbean people, by mid-afternoon.

I had been asked to drive Peter to the venue an hour or so before the scheduled performance, and when we arrived we were delighted to see it was already a full house.

But we were less than delighted when, a few minutes before showtime, Ontario Place officials put a couple of dozen seats for VIPs in prime positions on the circular stage and the crowd erupted in an angry chorus of booing and hissing.

And I was even more apprehensive when Comer grabbed me by the shoulder and pushed me out onto the stage in an attempt to defuse a potentially ugly situation. The booing got louder as the crowd, thinking I was one of the VIPs, became even more agitated, and a few missiles (mainly, thank goodness, of the fruit-and-veg variety and poorly aimed) were hurled in my direction before the appearance of a couple of musicians helped restore calm.

The concert took place without further incident, and Peter, as usual, was magnificent. I was delighted, although the irony of being pelted with apples, oranges, bananas and the occasional empty beer can after I’d been instrumental in making the show happen remains with me to this day.

More than three decades later, I hope Ceil’s quest for a publisher is successful, and that Tosh fans around the world can share this treasure trove of memories and anecdotes from people who were a lot closer to this remarkable and often misunderstood man than I was, among them Dermot Hussey, Norman O Richmond, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Herbie Miller, Donald Kinsey, Fully Fullwood and Dennis Thompson.