AIL chats to Esther Anderson, who steered the early career of Bob Marley & The Wailers!

We catch up the pioneering photographer/film maker and octogenarian rebel ahead of her eagerly anticipated “Through The Lens Of Esther Anderson: Bob Marley - The Early Years” exhibition
AIL chats to Esther Anderson, who steered the early career of Bob Marley & The Wailers! picture

Jamaican-born but a Londonder for the past 60 years, Esther Anderson is a pioneering photographer/film maker and octogenarian rebel, who captured Bob Marley ahead of him becoming a global icon in the early 70’s.

Esther Anderson, who is based in Chelsea, co-founded Island Records with Chris Blackwell in the 70’s and steered Bob Marley’s early career as well as other groundbreaking Jamaican artists such as Milly Small and Jimmy Cliff; appeared in “The Avengers” TV series, and acted with Sidney Poitier in “A Warm December” and in 20th Century Fox’s sci fi cult film, “The Untouchables” as well as encouraging Marlon Brando,  who gave her her first camera, to work with European filmmakers.

A pioneer of her times Esther worked as a model, DJ, dancer and choreographer for TV pop show “Ready Steady Go!” appearing with The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Walker Brothers, Sonny and Cher, and Donovan. An incredible tour de force, Esther found herself at the middle of the early 70’s reggae explosion, helping launch Island Records and steer the early career of Bob Marley & The Wailers, whilst documenting their journey with photography and film. Her film “Bob Marley: The Making Of A Legend” was selected to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Jamaica’s Independence and has just been signed by Amazon Prime.

All in London catches up with Esther Anderson, ahead of her eagerly anticipated “Through The Lens Of Esther Anderson: Bob Marley - The Early Years” exhibition which opens on Thursday May 30th at the Muswell Hill Gallery.

What is the best thing about London

The river Thames…I love rivers. I always lived by a river as a child. It’s great that I came to Chelsea and I live by the river and next to the parks. I also love the parks as they allow people the freedom to just go and be with nature, and you don’t have to leave the city. I think London is one of the most beautiful cities when it comes to green spaces, and we are free to lie on the grass, unlike in some places like in Paris where you are not allowed not actually put your foot on the grass, you cannot ‘pelouse.’

What is the worst thing about London

Drills and scaffoldings. Drills that do not have any silencing or sound-proofing around them. I wish I could invent a silencer for all the drills that man invented to do their endless works digging up roads. In Australia, for example, all that work is done at night so you never see an unrepaired road as you drive around the country. And in Paris, the way they wash the streets at night with the trucks, and take the garbage away in the evening, so that you don’t have that mess that goes on with traffic jams.

Where do you go to have fun

I prefer to drive out to the countryside to see the sea. I also like to go to the African Odysseys at the British Film Institute in the Southbank, and also to support independent films that come from abroad that we never see distributed properly in this country because all of our cinemas are controlled by America, pre-sold cinema space by the American conglomerates who have taken over all the screens of the world, not just us and Europe, but the rest of the world. Their products have priority over everybody else, which I find very unfair. It is about intellectual property, and Americans make the most income from intellectual property.

Where is the most relaxing place

The most relaxing place in town to me is being in Battersea Park looking out at the river and Albert Bridge.

If I could change something

It has to do with violence, knife crime, children getting done in, all of that. It is worse than when I arrived. You do not understand how you have this huge police force and they cannot control knife crime. If these knives are illegal, they should not be sold. Someone got killed recently with a machete. Those are the things that put a bad light on the country.

Also very bad programming on television channels. We don’t have anything of quality. The programmers of these different channels is a sort brain-dead kind of people who have no intellectual thoughts behind their process. It is all about instant gratification. No moral compass.

What is your favourite gallery or museum

My favourites are the Natural History Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, and the British Museum because they are packed with information, a university in itself.

The song that reminds me most of London

“If there one thing that I like, “is a burn up on my bike…” To me it’s the early sixties, and Mike Sarne singing ‘Just for Kicks.’ He was a friend of ours and it was the music of the sixties I grew up with…the Stones, the Beatles, but also music coming from America like Crosby Stills & Nash and Bob Dylan. Mike’s song is a silly song, but it’s also a sort of free song because it was sung in Cockney. Cockney was the most amusing thing to me as a Jamaican, because we have Patois, which is very funny if you understand it. I felt the same way about the Cockney. So, when I heard Mike sing that song about the freedom of being on a bike, when I had a chance, as soon as I could, I was all over the place on motorbikes. I even organised the bike that we did the photo shoot for Jimmy Cliff to promote the “Wonderful World” album. The bike belonged to Johnny Gaydon of E.G. management, one of the labels that Island had given their own label too. Johnny Gaydon and David Endhoven, God bless them both, because they are no longer with us.

A London gem that everyone should know

The garden at the Ivy restaurant in the King’s Road is fantastic. It has incredible outdoor spaces to sit in. If you want to be on your phone, no one will tell you that you can’t, and you can take your laptop. You can sit there all day and work in the garden. No one will say a thing to you.

One thing everyone should do

Take a boat ride along the river all the way to Greenwich and back…it’s a wonderful trip. It’s clean and peaceful because you don’t have the road traffic noise in your ears and the pollution in your lungs.

“Through The Lens of Esther Anderson: Bob Marley: The Early Years” Exhibition opens with a Private View on Thursday May 30th 2024 from 5pm-8pm at Muswell Hill Gallery, 21 High Street, Hornsey, N8 7QB. The exhibition runs from Thursday 30th May - Wednesday 19th June 2024 with opening times: Monday to Fridays 10 am-4 pm; Closed Wednesdays; Saturdays, 11 am -5 pm and Sundays, 11 am -4 pm. Follow Muswell Hill Gallery on Instagram: @muswellhillgallery

This article is connected to Muswell Hill Gallery
Published May 16, 2024