Neville Garrick puts colour in reggae
Melville Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Neville Garrick is happily a part of the Jamaican support group for Brazilian football. Just before Mexico tackled Brazil last Tuesday, he told The Gleaner, "I have been cheering for Brazil since Pele days."
Having played as a defender for the University of Carolina, Los Angeles, the team reaching the 1971 and 1972 National Collegiate Athletic Association finals, Garrick is well qualified to speak about football matters. But there is a special link between artistry and football that he has been privy to - off the formal field of play.
Garrick is renowned for designing a number of covers for albums produced by Bob Marley and the Wailers in the 1970s, as well as more than 20 backdrops for the Reggae Sunsplash Festival, from 1981 to 1988.
His album art was not restricted to the Tuff Gong, as Garrick also did visuals for Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Burning Spear, The Wailers, Steel Pulse and the I-Threes. There was also the standout Haile Selassie I backdrop for Marley's tours. On those trips, the beautiful game was not left behind.
With Marley, Garrick said, "we never went on tour without a football". In the hotel rooms they played 'money ball' - what you broke you played for.
Garrick literally drew his way into reggae's history, honing an art skill which was nurtured at Kingston College and shaped at UCLA, where the 'Black Experience' mural he co-painted with six other students, has been recently restored.
On returning to Jamaica, initially, Garrick was art director at the Daily News. Then, he said, "I created my job with Bob Marley. Nobody was looking at the art."
At that time, Garrick said, there were artistes who would send their music to a company and the packaging would be done without their input.
"They did not have any influence on the cover," Garrick said
Along with attention to the image for the recording, was the visuals for the live presentation, Garrick saying he was a pioneer in doing lighting for shows in Jamaica. So it is not bombast when he said, "I always consider my role in reggae is to colour the music."
That colouring is being recognised on International Reggae Day 2014 (July 1), when Garrick (as a designer) will be one of three honorees, along with Marcia Griffiths and Alpha Boys School. In 2005 he received the Prime Minister's Award for Excellence, recognising his contribution to music.
He is happy with this latest honour. "I recognise the recognition, in the sense that I am being honoured for what I do," Garrick said. And what he does is not defined as income only. "It was part of the movement," Garrick said. And that movement is around not just any music, but message music.
As art director, among Garrick's latest contributions to the Marley family's output, is the cover for Ziggy Marley's Fly Rasta album, based around a painting which Ziggy saw and liked. Garrick chuckled as he remembers that "when Ziggy wrote his first tune, at about nine years old, he played it for me."
The album-cover canvas, which Garrick now has to colour the music, is much smaller in CD format than it was in the vinyl format, which he once had to work with. He does not like it, as the CD, he says, "is a much smaller canvas to work on. I can't have so much detail in the work. It would not be seen."
This is especially so as the online promotional image includes a thumbnail image.
Backdrops have also changed, from an expanse of cloth to a large digital screen, which is often utilised heavily for advertising messages. Garrick said, "I am not a big fan of the digital backdrops, but they give you the choices of using multiple images. Sometimes it's over-the-top and detracts from the performance."
Still, he is aware that the bills must be paid, so Garrick said "the advertising does detract from the artist in my opinion, but they represent the main sponsors so it can't be avoided."
Still, with some class, it can work.
In addition to being the consultant in charge of Bob Marley's image archives, Garrick said he works closely with Ziggy at Tuff Gong Worldwide in Los Angeles, USA. And his colouring of reggae will be put in moving images.
"I am currently working on a documentary with my son, titled 'Colour the Music', which talks about my graphic contribution to the development of reggae music, internationally, including artwork and concepts for album covers and stage backdrops, lighting and so on. A documentary film, a follow up to my book, A Rasta's Pilgrimage, will be the second project. I hope to resume painting and have an art exhibition next year," Garrick said.