The Greensleeves Story
Greensleeves began in modest circumstances as a record shop in West Ealing, London, in November 1975. A move to Shepherds Bush in 1977 saw the foundation of the thriving record label that is now based just west of London in Isleworth, Middlesex, with a sales and promotion office in New York.
Kicking off with two 7" singles, Reggae Regular's Where Is Jah and Dr Alimantado's classic Born For A Purpose, the Greensleeves label quickly established itself. Its first album, Dr Alimantado's Best Dressed Chicken In Town, was a runaway success and has never been out of print since.
The 'Carnival Of Reggae History' 12" sleeve, created by the designer who still works for Greensleeves today, Tony McDermott, became something of a guarantee of quality for the reggae aficionado. By 1980 the record shop had become largely a sideline to the record label.
Greensleeves quickly established an identity with acts that provide a continuity between those fledgling days and today: the first few albums included work by Augustus Pablo (the acclaimed Original Rockers album) and Barrington Levy, both of whom still appear on the label.
The emergent dancehall culture of the early eighties led Greensleeves to form mutually satisfying relationships with Henry 'Junjo' Lawes, the pioneering early ruler of the genre, and with singer/producer Linval Thompson. This period included dub releases from Scientist, vocal albums from the Wailing Souls, Freddie McGregor, Linval Thompson and Don Carlos, and early works from Black Uhuru produced by Prince (now King) Jammy, another Jamaican producer long associated with the label.
The mid-eighties were a particularly strong time for the label: it's hard to name a reggae star of the era who wasn't associated with the label. Among best-remembered highlights of the era are several albums from Eek-A-Mouse (including the classic Wa Do Dem), 10 albums from Yellowman (including his most famous, Zungguzungguguzungguzeng), Josey Wales' The Outlaw Josey Wales, Johnny Osbourne's Water Pumping, Junior Reid's debut Boom Shack A Lack, and Frankie Paul's early success Pass The Tu-Sheng-Peng.
At the same time, the company continued to provide for the more traditional end of the reggae market with classic roots material like Hugh Mundell's Africa Must Be Free By 1983 , Jacob Miller's Who Say Jah No Dread, Ras Michael's Rastafari and albums from Burning Spear, Ini Kamoze, Augustus Pablo and Israel Vibration.
An eight-year period of home grown productions reached its peak with Tippa Irie's UK top 30 hit Hello Darling in 1986. Other Greensleeves UK acts to score heavily were Wolverhampton's Capital Letters, who hit big with Smoking My Ganja and President Amin (a national hit in Spain), Pato Banton, much of whose early work was released on Greensleeves, and reggae-rapping duo Clint Eastwood & General Saint who were highly successful with Another One Bites The Dust (nine weeks at No.1 in the UK reggae charts) and Stop That Train (No.3 in the national charts in Holland).
Greensleeves was quick to embrace the new digital music from 1986 onwards, issuing Wayne Smith's Under Me Sleng Teng, the record that started it all. In 1988 a long-held association with Augustus "Gussie" Clarke, who had previously supplied the company with albums by Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, and the Mighty Diamonds, suddenly broke big: Gregory Isaacs' Rumours single was the best selling reggae record of 1988 and created a new hi-tech raggamuffin genre all on its own. For two years, Gussie's music ruled reggae, and his productions on Gregory, JC Lodge, Dennis Brown, Home T, Cocoa Tea and Shabba Ranks, and Greensleeves' own signing Deborahe Glasgow, dominated both the label and the reggae world.
When Gussie stepped back a little from the front-line to set up his new studio, Mikey Bennett filled the breach with his acclaimed 'Two Friends' productions of Dennis Brown, Papa San, Shabba Ranks and many others. At this period Greensleeves was also licensing material from other leading Jamaican producers like Jah Screw, Philip "Fattis" Burrell, Carlton Hines, Junior Reid and Anthony Redrose.
For several years Greensleeves licensed the leading American reggae label RAS, with releases from Black Uhuru (including a UK Top 50 entry for Great Train Robbery), Freddie McGregor and Israel Vibration. It continued to distribute the RAS label, and in addition provided UK/European distribution for other leading US reggae labels Heartbeat, Shanachie and VP, for a number of years until deciding to concentrate on its own Greensleeves label in the late nineties. In the late eighties the company also released a world music series, including three albums from Zouk masters Kassav'.
In the early nineties productions from the New York reggae scene began to be issued on the label, and Shaggy's Oh Carolina reached the UK No.1 slot in March 1993, providing Greensleeves with their biggest single to date. The single also reached the top 10 in Holland and Belgium on the Greensleeves label. As a result the innovative NY production team Robert Livingston and Sting International have now built up a substantial following throughout the world and Shaggy himself has been elevated to deserved pop superstar status.
The mid-nineties also saw an involvement with the fast-rising 'new roots' scene in the UK through releases for the legendary sound-system figure Jah Shaka and newcomers Alpha & Omega, and also some of the toughest productions to emerge from the UK Ragga-Jungle scene (now collected on two mid-price compilations).
Strong relationships with most of Jamaica's top producers has continued to allow Greensleeves the pick of the very best music from the island, including productions by King Jammy, Shocking Vibes, Jack Scorpio, Steely & Clevie, Startrail, and Bobby Digital. Highlights have included five albums by Bounty Killer (including the highly successful Ghetto Gramma in 1997), Garnett Silk's Lord Watch Over Our Shoulders (1995), Beenie Man's Maestro, Mykal Rose's Nuh Carbon and Beres Hammond's Lifetime Guarantee (all 1996).
In an unexpected echo of the early days of reggae, compilation albums increased significantly in importance during the nineties, and Greensleeves has established two of the leading compilation series - its midprice Sampler series of more accessible reggae, and its Ragga Ragga Ragga series of hardcore dancehall. As well as releasing singles, Greensleeves also releases rhythm albums of top cuts on the hottest rhythms coming out of the dance in Jamaica, both on CD and on DJ-friendly double vinyl.
A recent development has been a merging of roots lyrics with modern ragga rhythms, which are showcased on the compilation series Conscious Ragga, and on albums from artists such as Everton Blender, Anthony B, Bushman, Morgan Heritage, and Sizzla.
One of the keys to Greensleeves' continuing success has been its willingness over the years to release music from young producers and artists. This is particularly evident from the host of high-profile stars that have emerged on to the reggae scene over the last few years. They include Red Rat with his debut album "Oh No ... It's Red Rat" (1997) and the enigmatic Sizzla who released his classic album "Black Woman & Child" to massive critical acclaim (1997) and has struck gold again with his recent albums "Royal Son of Ethiopia" (1999), "Bobo Ashanti" (2000) and the new "Rastafari Teach I Everything" (2001).
The end of the nineties also produced two national chart hits for Greensleeves. Beenie Man scored his first pop hit with Who Am I (Zim Zimma) which stormed on to the UK national charts at No. 10 in 1998. Following this, dancehall sensation Mr Vegas proved himself a cross-over success: his debut album became Greensleeves' best-selling artist album to date, the title track Heads High reaching No. 16 in the UK pop charts in 1999 after his MOBO award success that year.
To celebrate its 25th Anniversary in 2000, Greensleeves re-released 25 classic titles from its catalogue, remastered, re-packaged and at an attractive price. This "Greensleeves Classics" series has been continued with further re-releases on a regular basis.
The annual "Biggest Ragga Dancehall Anthems" series of double-CD collections each year has recently been supplemented by its first retrospective Anthems release, covering the 1979-82 period and entitled "The Birth of Dancehall".
On its publishing side, Greensleeves has published ten top 20 hits in the UK in the last ten years, including two No. 1's, and Greensleeves Publishing has now developed far beyond its original subsidiary role to the record label. With a well-established network of sub-publishers throughout the world, it has become a substantial business in its own right, currently handling over 12,000 songs, including two recent Top 20 hits in the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA.
Greensleeves' web site was established as early as 1995 and currently attracts about 30,000 unique visitors per month.
The new millenium has seen the emergence of the charismatic Elephant Man, whose first three albums on the label have been among the copany's biggest successes recently. Greensleeves has also signed the highly innovative Ward 21, and has recently added the most talked-about new star to emerge in Kingston recently, Vybz Kartel, whose debut album was released late 2003.
The other recent development on the label has been the success of the Greensleeves Rhythm Album series, meeting the ever-present demand of hardcore reggae fans to own all the cuts on the best new rhythms by releasing them on a single album. Number 27 in the series, "Diwali" produced by Steven "Lenky" Marsden, even crossed out of the base market to reach the sort of sales figures normally only achieved by top artist albums in the genre and spawned the recent Wayne Wonder hit No Letting Go.
As always, Greensleeves keeps its eyes firmly on the future and looks forward to introducing the world to the next generation of artists and producers.