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Book Review Island discs

PETER MASON picks a luxury item 

The Island Book of Records, Vol 1, 1959-68   
Neil Storey, Manchester University Press, £85

FIFTEEN years in the making, this first volume of The Island Book of Records chronicles the early era of Chris Blackwell’s pioneering label, which was home during the 1960s to an eclectic range of musical artists, from Millie Small and Jimmy Cliff to Traffic and Fairport Convention.   

LP-sized and weighing in at 390 pages, it’s both an elegant coffee table book and a proper history, with a sizeable amount of written information to complement the fascinating photographs of record covers, artists and other ephemera, including gig adverts, concert tickets and flyers.   

There are also interviews with many of the musicians themselves, plus a host of producers, studio engineers and record company personnel. One way or another the book covers every LP released by the company up to 1968, with a bit of back story for each of them.   

It’s intriguing to see the evolution of the label from its early focus on Jamaican R’n’B and Caribbean calypso through to the emergence of ska and rock-steady — which it helped to popularise in Britain — and then on to British folk and rock with the likes of Jethro Tull, Spooky Tooth and Sandy Denny.   

There are, too, some interesting surprises — such as the fact that Island made a speciality around the mid-60s of putting out bawdy and sexually suggestive songs and albums, including an instrumental LP called Music to Strip By and two volumes of Rugby Songs by The Jock Strapp Ensemble.    

It also released, in 1966, the last live recording of Billie Holiday, having got hold of a series of tapes of Lady Day singing at the Storyville nightclub in the early ’50s.    

Although there’s an A-Z guide to the main protagonists at the back of the volume, it would have been nice to have a full index — not least for those music buffs who would like to treat this as a full-blown reference book.    

That quibble aside, it’s a handsome, if pricey, item to acquire. 


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