TROJAN 50 BOX SET
A half-century of the legendary British reggae label compiled in all its ital glory.
VARIOUS TROJAN 50 BOX SET
TROJAN, OUT 27 JULY
Once asked to pick a Trojan Records Top 10, DJ, film-maker and punk pioneer Don Letts commented wryly, “It would have been a lot easier to pick the Top 100…” Letts’s dilemma speaks to the breadth and depth of the reggae label’s vast back catalogue, but also Trojan’s position as the nation’s premier importer of ska, rocksteady and roots. Founded on offering listeners outside Jamaica access to the very best sounds coming out of the island’s studios, many British listeners’ first exposure to reggae came via one of Trojan’s now-legendary compilations – not least the Tighten Up series with their impeccable track selections and, somewhat more dubious, Page 3- style covers. For their half-century anniversary boxset, the label have wisely opted to ditch the latter, instead “sexing up” this fouralbum, six-CD collector’s edition with a fabric patch and wooden 7- inch adaptor. There’s also a lavishly illustrated booklet tracing the company’s tangled early history as it evolved from a short-lived Island Records offshoot intended to tap the genius of rocksteady producer Arthur “Duke” Reid, to an independent operation relaunched in July 1968 under the guidance of former record shop owner Lee Gopthal from an office in untropical Willesden. Sometimes referred to as reggae’s answer to Motown, Trojan went on to play a major role in popularising Caribbean music in Britain. Tapping into youth subcultures such as the skaobsessed skinheads who styled themselves after Kingston rude boys, it also drew on talent from the post-Windrush generation, including London-based producer Dandy Livingstone. Gopthal’s methods weren’t always subtle – artwork for the 1970 Skinhead Moonstomp album by ska favourites Symarip featured a white street gang and relegated the band to the back cover. Yet as the opening tracks on Trojan Hits Volume 1 testify, the label had access to the cream of the era’s talent, 1969’ s releases including Tony Tribe’s lyrical cover of Neil Diamond’s Red Red Wine, The Upsetters’ militant skank Return Of Django and Harry J Allstars’ jaunty, organ-powered instrumental Liquidator. Not everything Trojan touched turned to gold. The syrupy strings overdubbed onto “commercial reggae” tunes such as Delano Stewart’s Got To Come Back were a profit-driven misstep and bawdy doorman-turned-deejay Judge Dread was little more than a novelty act. But even as ska and its more soulful descendent rocksteady were being superseded by a slower, deeper roots reggae sound, Trojan’s winning streak continued into the following decade, Ken Boothe’s honeyed yet wonderfully emotive version
of Everything I Own topping the UK chart in September 1974.
Trojan Records played a major role in popularising Caribbean music in Britain.
Thanks to rediscovered classics such as The Ethiopians’ electrifying party-starter I’m Shocking, the strongest material here remains that from the ska and rocksteady eras. And while there are stirring riddims among the later roots selections, One Love’s consciousnessraising The Slave Trade or Well Pleased & Satisfied’s quirky hot-stepper Barberman Bawling among them, Trojan never fully recovered from going bust in 1975 and being taken over for its back catalogue. Eclipsed in the ’ 80s by dancehall specialists such as Greensleeves, Trojan has since traded largely on that archive. The one new recording here, a lightweight digital curio featuring UK MC Tippa Irie, would be unlikely to scrape into Letts’s Top 100. But even if their future now lies in repackaging the past, the careful curation of this latest musical odyssey suggests it remains a labour of love. After all, Trojan’s story tells the story of reggae itself. ★★★★ RUPERT HOWE Listen To: Return Of Django – The Upsetters | I’m Shocking – The Ethiopians | Everything I Own – Ken Boothe
Trojan warriors: (from left) Horace Andy, Maytals, The Pioneers, Desmond Dekker and Ken Boothe.