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IN THE early 1970s the world’s largest record company releasing Jamaican music, Trojan Records piled up hits in Britain’s pop charts with artists like Bob And Marcia, Jimmy Cliff, The Pioneers and The Maytals while its budget albums including the multivolume Tighten Up series were snapped up by the West Indian community and skinheads alike.
Trojan was a joint venture between Chris Blackwell’s Island Records and Lee Gopthal’s B&C Records. Its label manager Bob Bell had watched as reggae evolved from mento, Jamaican R&B, ska, and rock steady and compiled the first ever anthology of Jamaican music, a three album set The Trojan Story in 1971.
He penned the liner notes from scraps of information as “Jamaican producers never sent any biographical material on their artists, nor photos.” The set was, however, well received and was reissued in 1980 with much-improved graphics.”
“Trojan had access to Island’s Jamaican releases, dating back to 1959. Plus we used titles from labels such as Blue Beat, Dr Bird and Ska Beat — fewer than a third of the tracks were from Trojan,” said Bob.
Fifty years on BMG owners of the Trojan catalogue have released a three CD or three vinyl album set (the latter with a 50-page book) curated by Bell. “Trojan (BMG) had lost the rights to nine of the original tracks so we had to come up with substitutes from the same time period — late 1950s through 1971 and they wanted 50 sides. Hence the 11 new tracks on this set.”
There are no reggae chartbusters here — but there are many vintage classic by the likes of Lord Tanamo from 1957, Jimmy Cliff from 1962, Lord Creator from 1963, The Ethiopians 1960s club hit Train To Skaville, Desmond Dekker, The Maytal’s classic Pressure Drop and many more.
Despite the chart hits Trojan went bust when Blackwell amicably withdrew. Bell (who had left the label) says “Trojan signed up every Jamaican producer, giving them their own label, spreading themselves thinly and releasing too much product and running into financial problems when screwed by another record company they hoped would save them.”
With each track annotated by Bell and Rusty Zynn, chock full of rare label shots and memorabilia — this is a treasure trove of Jamaican music history.
The Trojan Story is released by Trojan/BMG £17.71.
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