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Documentary Film Review Music Roots of a cultural phenomenon

PETER MASON recommends an excellent documentary on Trojan Records, the label that made reggae so popular in Britain

AN ABSORBING and visually sumptuous documentary, Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records rushes by in no time as it chronicles the rise and fall of Trojan.

 

Skilfully melding old footage from Jamaica and Britain with actors playing the main protagonists in the story, plus contemporary interviews with now-ageing singing stars and producers, director Nicholas Jack Davies has lovingly crafted a film that could hardly do greater honour to a label that meant such a lot to so many people and which remains a beloved cultural symbol.

 

One of Rudeboy’s strengths is its structure, which presents the fascinating history of Trojan in easily digestible chapters, beginning with the development of ska in Jamaica and ending, more or less, with the label’s emergence as a mainstream musical force nurturing chart hits.

 

It’s a simple, instructive telling of the tale that ensures it will be as enjoyable for the lay viewer as for the Trojan or reggae enthusiast.

 

Most notable, however, is the film’s humanity, which manifests itself not just in its sympathetic portrayal of musicians in their often humble home environments but also in its wistful looks-back at breezy scenes in Jamaica interspersed with the grimy back streets of late-60s London that became Trojan’s home.

 

That humanity extends to a fair-minded and proportionate consideration of the racism that served as a backdrop to Trojan’s initial struggle for acceptance, allied with credit duly given to the young working-class white skinheads who embraced Trojan’s music from day one, therefore helping to bring about an era of greater integration between black and white.

 

The cast of contributors is impressive, from Marcia Griffiths and Dandy Livingstone to Toots Hibbert and Lee Perry, not to mention younger British stars such as Pauline Black of The Selecter and Neville Staple of The Specials, who both grew up with Trojan and showed its influence in their own music.

 

Many of the old Jamaican stars are coaxed into singing charming unaccompanied versions of the songs they released under Trojan and those moments are among the most affecting of the film, especially when — rather like a skilled sound-system operator — Davies gradually brings in the original of the song to burnish the experience.

 

Created to celebrate 50 years since Trojan’s foundation, there might have been a danger that the film turned into too much of a heartfelt tribute, especially as it was funded by BMG, the German company that now owns the label.

 

Although it would have been more complete with a fuller consideration both of the precise reasons for Trojan’s financial collapse and of how the brand has been resurrected in recent years, there’s certainly no way it can be accused of unnecessary cheerleading.

 

Instead, Rudeboy is a project that does full justice to a music industry star that burned briefly but brightly.

 

Rudeboy is screened at Broadway Cinema, Nottingham, on November 30 and IFI Cinema, Dublin, on December 20.

 

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