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Story of the Song | No woman No Cry – an ode to women everywhere

Published:Sunday | May 12, 2019 | 12:00 AMSade Gardner - Gleaner Writer
A mural at Culture Yard in Trench Town in Vincent ‘Tata’ Ford’s honour.
The room once occupied by Vincent ‘Tata’ Ford for more than 30 years at Trench Town’s Culture Yard.
Culture Yard’s property manager Clifford ‘Ferdie’ Bent shows The Gleaner The Casbah, the room given to a young Bob Marley by Vincent ‘Tata’ Ford.
Bob Marley

A tenement yard in the ’60s or 2019 remains an underdeveloped space, rich with sounds of all kinds. As he laid in his room on First Street in Trench Town, Vincent ‘Tata’ Ford heard the cry of a mother whose son had been arrested and charged with gun possession. Her wailing taunted Ford, and it would ultimately become inspiration for Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry, of which he is co-author.

“Her name was Miss Greene. and she lived a few rooms down from Tata. Her son Jeffrey did get hold with a gun and she cry when she find out,” Clifford ‘Ferdie’ Bent told The Sunday Gleaner. He is the property manager at Culture Yard, the tenement yard where Ford lived – now a preservation site showcasing his room, guitar, and ‘the casbah’ – his kitchen-turned-love den for a young Marley and Rita.

According to Bent, Ford spent days and nights with his guitar under a mango tree, writing lyrics for the song, which appeared on Natty Dread, the 1974 acclaimed album recorded by Marley and The Wailers.

But there was something else that inspired the track.

“In that same time, there was another woman by the name of Miss Puncy, who lived in front of Tata. Her man was a fisherman, and him used to beat her up all the time, so part of the song sing because of she too,” Bent explained. “Tata was inna di yard between the two rooms with the women a soak up weh him see and hear, and a so the song come. You will hear different stories, but this is how it go. I can’t say Tata finalise the whole song, but I know him start it.”

No Woman, No Cry is revered as one of Marley’s anthems and is ranked 37 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It has also been covered several times by acts like Jimmy Cliff, Nina Simone, and The Fugees. The live version of the song is more popular and appears on Bob Marley and The Wailer’s 1975 Live album, recorded at the Lyceum Theatre in London that year as part of his Natty Dread tour.

Ford met Marley when the budding singer was 19 years old after he had moved from St Ann to live with his mother in Trench Town. It was at the hands of Ford that Marley (and original Wailer members Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer) initially learnt how to play the guitar. But music was not Marley’s only interest, and Ford helped the young chap by giving him a room to spend time with Rita, whom he would later marry.

“At 19, you know boys only concerned about girls, so Tata gave him the kitchen da little room deh and it still has the same little bed Bob used to sleep in. It’s the same bed Rita get pregnant. In deh so Ziggy Marley come, and it is that same room Bob got a lot of inspiration.”

Though Marley would later leave Trench Town and take up ­residence at Hope Road, Ford stayed in the community until the 1990s.

“Tata get a whole heap of royalties. Every month him woulda get money. Bob is a man weh sing bout Tata. Him never leave him out yet, and dem remain friends up to when Bob died in 1981,” added Bent.

Ford also has writing credit on Marley’s 1976 Rastaman Vibration album.

He died in 2008 when he was 68 years old after succumbing to complications from diabetes and hypertension. He had lost both legs due to a smoking-related illness.

“Him did always comfortable here because him did deh mongst people him love. Everybody was like family to him,” Bent said. “When him move, him never happy, and him did a drink too hard. Dem tings deh get him off the Earth.”