Photo courtesy of Get up Stand Up : The Bob Marley Musical
Get up Stand Up! Immersive storytelling through the music of Bob Marley
MAG_BMT catches up with actor David Albury about his experience of playing the iconic music legend in the blockbuster West End musical and how music alone can tell a multitude of stories to great effect.
How much do you have to do mentally to get into the character every day?
I originally started as an alternate in the show doing two performances a week, and I remember I had to do quite a lot of work to get myself into the right headspace. But now I’ve taken over the role full time doing six shows a week, I’m able to relax into it a bit more. I’m always listening to his music though and try and immerse myself in his world or the world that he was living in at the time.
How about physically? I know Bob kept himself quite fit and loved a bit of footie!
It’s physically very draining as he didn’t stop moving! He was an absolutely wild and electric performer – always 100% committed to everything he was doing as you can see by all the footage that still exists such as his concert at the Rainbow Theatre and others around the globe. You can’t do an authentic performance without having that level of commitment in there somehow.
Conditioning is a huge part of it, both vocally and physically. I’m a huge football fan myself and play a lot too but one thing that I did change was my diet. I’ve gone completely vegetarian for the duration of this particular run – not strictly an Ital diet, but moving away from meat has really helped – it makes me feel really alive on stage and off.
Photo courtesy of Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical
Apart from his music what other archives about Bob Marley do you tap into?
I never stop listening to his interviews because when you have the gift of a role where you’re the center of the piece, something that he may have said in a particular interview can just strike you in a different way or with a different weight than you previously thought. It’s still authentic and tells the story, but because you’re still part of his world, you can play with those changes.
Bob was very reluctant to do interviews but realised it was obviously an important part of his situation at the time – so there there’s a load of wonderful interviews where people tried to challenge his beliefs and philosophy and you see a specific side of him dealing with media. You see him having to justify himself over and over again because the Rastafari belief system was portrayed in a very negative way and painted with racism.
Were you a Bob Marley fan before you took on this role?
The best way I can kind of explain it is that I listened to Bob Marley for many years but it wasn’t until I began working on the show that I really heard the depth of his lyrics and how clear and penetrative his message is. More than that, I got to understand why the framework of reggae music – its rhythm and BPM – was the perfect vehicle to deliver his political message, as Bob obviously knew. I also wasn’t aware of the links of reggae to Cuban drum music and African forms of tribal drumming as well as Rasta drumming – it’s been an interesting journey.
I worked at HMV for a little while, so while I was there, I basically raided that music store! But what’s been really lovely have been the gifts from friends and family who have been passing their Bob Marley records onto me – from my father to my grandfather. Even my newest godchild recently gave me an original vinyl of
Catch a Fire!
Photo courtesy of Get Up Stand Up: A Bob Marley Musical.
Tell us about Get Up Stand Up! Does it follow a kind of chronology of Bob Marley’s life?
Yes, the show charts the way through his specific relationships and moments in his history although the focus is placed very much on the music. Culturally, Bob Marley’s such a significant figure which is underpinned by a cherished and hallowed philosophy – so this piece had to be handled with an awareness of everything that’s tied up in him and his music.
One of the things that the show does really well, without giving too much away, is that it sets up the environment as a sort of Jamaican dancehall sound clash, really putting the music front and center stage. It’s a very sparse set which allows the kind of authenticity of the material to come through. Bob Marley was very much about authenticity, freedom and equality and there are many authentic Jamaican born people and those with Jamaican heritage in the show. We do as much as we possibly can to fill those gaps and bring that authenticity to the show, like rigorous dialect coaching for instance.
So Marley’s music archives really create the backbone of the story?
Yea and that’s actually the greatest and the truest representation of the man himself. I mean, he lived and breathed his music. It was so intrinsically linked to his belief system and therefore the clearest way to understand Bob Marley is to understand him through his music. You know, the love he had for people in his music through songs like
Waiting in Vain and Could You Be Loved and Is This Love – and the political side of him in songs like War, Exodus, and Jammin’ even and Redemption Song of course.
You kind of get this this picture of a person who has so much love in their heart but also a huge awareness of this political landscape that we’re all operating in. So those archives are really interesting to show you the world he was fighting against and the language and the discourse, the dialectic that was operating at that time – and when you get into that kind of political side as well, it’s more current than ever really, you know? The show feels so timely – certainly from the audience reactions.
Oh really. How are the audience reacting?
At the moment it feels that they’re quite politically charged. The set-up of the show is almost like a concert at times so everyone’s really engaged and riled up by the end, living and breathing the music as it’s being performed by an incredible band with some of the best musicians in the UK. But you know, what I find is quite interesting is that the audience are very participatory during the show. You get your cheering, your clapping – that’s normal – but they very much respond to the action as it unfolds in front of their eyes. You’ll have people murmuring and weeping and others commenting on what the cast are doing in different moments. And it won’t be like, a whole wave of laughter – it will be pockets of people who recognize that particular dynamic they’re witnessing on stage.
Marley was anti royalist but he would never blame someone alive for someone else’s actions. His philosophy was one of unity and moving forward but it kind of set him aside from a lot of other Rastafari believers at the time who took a different approach.
The show sounds so immersive – and that’s without the use of any headsets!
Yea! The show interacts with the audience without breaking the fourth wall. I’ll be just standing out there performing to the audience in a gig set up and then suddenly you get to peer through to his private life. It’s another scene but at no point does it feel like you’re breaking out of one into the other – they kind of seamlessly flow from moment to moment. They also included some interview footage which adds to its credibility but it’s a really unconventional musical in some ways and goes a long way to creating an immersive world like you said.
A lot of people come back two or three times. London was Bob Marley’s second spiritual home – he spent a lot of time here and recorded a lot of music here too – so alot of people saw him for real two or three times maybe. So coming to the show is like reliving those moments on stage again for them!