THE TROJAN RECORDS STORY
On July 28th 1967, British-based Jamaican music company, Island Records launched a label to showcase the productions of one of the most popular and successful producers of the Ska and Rocksteady eras, Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid. Named ‘Trojan’, after a title Mr. Reid had acquired during his early days in the music business and which had provided the name for his earliest Jamaican imprint, the label surprisingly failed to fulfil its potential and folded after a matter of months. That might well have been the end of Trojan had it not been for the creation of a dynamic new Jamaican music company that was in need of a name.
Formed in the summer of 1968 by Island and its distributor, B&C, Trojan Records quickly set about an ambitious programme of issuing a plethora of singles that highlighted music from a variety of producers, ranging from British-based music makers such as Robert ‘Dandy’ Thompson, to such esteemed Jamaican operators as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Bunny Lee, Clancy Eccles and, of course, Duke Reid himself.
In addition to its showcase Trojan label, the company also maintained existing Island-launched producer-based subsidiaries, such as Coxsone, Studio One and Amalgamated and created numerous new imprints, including High Note, Upsetter, Jackpot, Clandisc, Down Town, Blue Cat, Big Shot and Duke. In fact, so rapid was Trojan’s development during this early period in its history that by the dawn of the 1970’s, the company had launched more than thirty different new labels.
Up until this time, the Jamaican music market had been widely regarded as purely singles-based, with the few long-playing albums disregarded at little more than novelty items. But Trojan’s progressive thinking and ambitious marketing strategy turned this notion on its head and soon after its launch, created a number of lines dedicated to albums, the most successful of which was the TBL series that introduced the legendary ‘Tighten Up’ series to the world.
Trojan’s sales over the first year of trading far exceeded expectations, thanks in no small part to the development of a working class youth movement that embraced the emerging sound of Reggae as part and parcel of its culture – Skinheads. Smartly dressed and sporting closely-cropped haircuts, the Skinhead style was a natural progression of the Mod look so favoured by the British youth earlier in the decade and as the sixties drew to a close it was embraced and adopted by young men and women the length and breadth of the country.
The result for Trojan was an explosion in sales and in July 1969, the company experienced its first mainstream chart hit, an upbeat rendering of ‘Red Red Wine’ performed by an unknown singer, Tony Tribe. That Autumn, Reggae – and in particular Trojan - took the UK Pop charts by storm, with the Upsetters, the Pioneers, Jimmy Cliff and Harry J’s All Stars all finding their way high into the mainstream listings, a remarkable feat given how most radio stations and popular music publications chose to ignore the genre altogether.
None the less, the Reggae bandwagon rolled on regardless and 1970 witnessed its greatest commercial success to date with Desmond Dekker, the Melodians, Toots & the Maytals, Bob & Marcia, Nicky Thomas, Horace Faith, Freddie Notes & the Rudies, as well as the aforementioned Jimmy Cliff, all flying high on the Pop charts.
In the spring of the following year, ‘Double Barrel’ by Dave & Ansel Collins provided Trojan its first British number one, while further chart entries for the company were provided that year by Bruce Ruffin, Greyhound and the Pioneers. In addition to their more commercially successful releases, the company continued highlighting music by artists unknown outside Jamaica. Among these were a number of performers who would go on to become major international recording stars, with Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, U Roy and a Kingston-based vocal trio calling themselves Bob Marley & the Wailers among their number.
Trojan continued to remain the world’s biggest Reggae company throughout the early seventies with further chart hits by the likes of Greyhound, the Pioneers, Dandy Livingstone and the larger than life, Judge Dread. But the demise of the Skinhead movement allied to poor management and Island’s decision to sell back its shares to B&C resulted in a dramatic downturn in the company’s fortunes. Despite a number of false dawns, including huge sellers by John Holt and Ken Boothe, the end was in sight for the old management and in the Spring of 1975, Trojan was acquired for the princely sum of just over ï¿½ï¿½30,000 by Saga Records’ owner, Marcel Rodd.
Over the next few years, Rodd set about bringing some stability to the company and with the help of a number of respected Jamaican music specialists, made Trojan a relevant force in the UK Reggae market once more. Releases featuring such up-and-coming talents as Sugar Minott, Bim Sherman, Prince Jammy, Barry Brown and Linval Thompson re-established Trojan’s credibility among British Reggae fans, many of whom were part of another national youth movement, Punk.
By the end of the 1970’s, Punk was on the wane and a new style and sound was beginning to take the country by storm – ‘Ska Revival’. This new genre’s main protagonists paid homage to the Mods and Skinheads of yester-year in their dress sense, whilst musically they fused the energy of Punk with the sounds of vintage Jamaican music. Headed by bands such as the Specials, Madness, the Beat and Bad Manners, Ska Revival led to renewed interest in long-forgotten Ska and Reggae classics, with Symarip’s classic ‘Skinhead Moonstomp’ the Harry J All Star’s perennial footie anthem, ‘Liquidator’ and the Pioneers’ tragic equine lament, ‘Long Shot Kick De Bucket’ all making their way back onto the British Pop listings, eleven years after their initial release.
In 1985, Trojan was purchased for an undisclosed sum by music fan and avid collector, Colin Newman, who immediately set about putting in motion an extensive re-issue programme. Under his stewardship the company focused its attention on its vast back catalogue, employing the services of respected music journalist and historians to help turn Trojan into the world’s leading vintage Jamaican music company. In the summer of 2001, Sanctuary Records became the company’s fourth – and present - owner, paying the sum of ï¿½ï¿½10 million for the privilege of becoming the historic label’s next owners.
Over the six years since, the label’s fortunes have remained on the ascendant. The involvement of some of the world’s leading Jamaican music authorities has resulted in a series of acclaimed compilations, covering a variety of genres, ranging from Ska to Ragga. Alongside esoteric collections, aimed at those already with a deep knowledge and love of the music, there have been a number of best selling sets that have been instrumental in introducing vintage Jamaican sounds to a wider audience and of these, none have been more successful than ‘Young Gifted & Black’ and the two volumes of ‘Reggae Love Songs’, all of which enjoyed long runs on the national Pop charts.
The addition of two more respected, long standing Reggae-based labels, RAS and Creole to the Sanctuary fold has greatly expanded Trojan’s already vast catalogue and as a result, Trojan’s output has never been so diverse or comprehensive. Today, some 40 years since the launch of the original UK imprint, its position as the world’s favourite vintage Reggae label looks unassailable.