Trojan 50

Iconic Record Label Celebrates Its 50th Year

Tuesday 22nd May 2018

"This is the label that scored a shed load of chart hits and provided a soundtrack that united the youth, black and white on the dance-floor – I know I was one of them. Recognised by any fan of Jamaican music as a mark of quality Trojan holds a special place in the hearts, minds and feet of the people and will do for generations to come" - Don Letts 

There are few, if any, record labels that can claim to have influenced the direction of British counterculture (and in turn mainstream culture) to the degree of the effect that Trojan has had in its 50-year history.

The label had its beginnings in 1967, initiated by Lee Gopthal and Chris Blackwell as a conduit to distribute the records that Duke Reid was producing in Jamaica at that time. Gopthal had come to England from Jamaica in 1952, qualifying as an accountant and British born Chris Blackwell (already a co-founder of Island Records) arrived in London in the early 1960s, having grown up in Jamaica, his father a major in the Jamaica Regiment of the British army. The pair took the now iconic name from that of Duke Reid's The Trojan Soundsystem; itself named after the model of flatbed truck that Reid utilised to transport the formidable equipment around Jamacia. 

Reid's own label, Treasure Isle, took its name from his family-owned grocery shop business in Kingston. Widely credited with expanding the boundaries of ska and rocksteady as well as popularising it, Reid's production and Treasure Isle had begun to dominate the Jamaican music scene by the mid-'60s with his hugely successful 45 singles. Gopthal and Blackwell's stroke of genius was in bringing the 45s to a UK market. 

Fittingly the first Trojan release was Duke Reid's 'Judge Sympathy' and the now familiar orange labelled 45s were born.

The working class youth subcultures of late 1960s Britain embraced Trojan's imports almost immediately. By the early 1970s, they had introduced songs from the like of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Desmond Dekker, The Pioneers, Prince Buster, Jimmy Cliff and of course Bob Marley and The Wailers - up to then an unknown band outside of Jamaica.

Far from just being a niche or specialist publisher, despite the highly curated nature of their output, Trojan was a commercial success with the label scoring a UK number 1 in 1971 with Dave & Ansel Collins’ ‘Double Barrel’.

The latter half of the 1970s saw reggae and ska become part of a new counterculture. Ska became the touchstone for 2-Tone, with The Specials, Madness, The Beat and The Selecter all drawing upon source material that included Prince Buster and Jimmy Cliff, while reggae became adopted by, and integral to, the punk movement, introduced by Don Letts to clubgoers at The Roxy.

Trojan's songs have become thoroughly ingrained into British culture, underground and mainstream. A good example of this cultural permeance would be Harry J All Stars' 'Liquidator' appropriation by football fans of Chelsea and West Brom as a pre-match anthem. So embedded did the song become that it was banned at West Brom as a means of calming the terrace mood, and the absence of the song has since been blamed for the club's poor fortunes.

‘Trojan’s place in the development of mainstream popular culture should never be underestimated. Often hailed as the Motown or Blue Note of reggae, the company introduced the sound of Jamaica to a global audience and by so doing was instrumental in forever changing the sound of popular music. A success story that is both British and Jamaican, its importance is reflected in the fact that after 50 years in business, Trojan continues to attract music fans the world over.’ - Laurence Cane-Honeysett, Trojan Records

In the mid-'80s Trojan had amassed a huge discography and the label's attention followed the shifting music market with compilations that collected the sought after records into expertly selected albums, and the label continues to be a symbol of excellence for lovers of music of Jamaican origin.

As you would expect from a label with a back catalogue as expansive as that of Trojan, the list of planned anniversary releases is substantial and represents a chance to get hold of otherwise hard to source rarities. Unlike so many other anniversary packages, the Trojan anniversary is a great opportunity to revisit or discover some of the most important songs of 20th and 21st century.

BMG and Pulse Films recently completed production on the new documentary 'Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records'. The film chronicles the rise and impact of the label and its influence on the cultural movement in Britain from the early 1960s through the late ‘70s. The film is expected to make its film festival debut this year. 

A book, ‘The Story of Trojan Records’ written by Laurence Cane-Honeysett will be released in July. The book contains hundreds of photographs, record sleeves, labels and archive material, most of which has remained unseen for decades.

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