A half-cen­tury of the leg­endary Bri­tish reg­gae la­bel com­piled in all its ital glory.

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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.

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