Whenever the conversation gets around to the music of reggae among my peers and older mates, many that I know of a certain vintage immediately reminisce on the impact that the compilation album ‘Tighten Up’ had on their lives. It would appear that no gathering in the very late 1960s or early 1970s, be it a house party, wedding, or youth club dance was complete unless one or two of the tunes from it were dropped at the occasion.
The demand for the music, especially from those who had adopted the original skinhead look was overwhelming. The sound of Jamaica was all over the streets of my part of working class South East London and it still resonates heavily with many today.
Looking into the history of the label, it quickly becomes apparent however that all was not that rosy for the writers and artists of many of the famous tunes. Many of the tracks were licensed to more than one label, with the proceeds not always hitting the right pockets at the time.
Thankfully, if I’m honest, the space allowed for these blogs does not permit too much of an in depth study of the business practices and disputes that occurred.
Anyway, I’d much rather celebrate the music that came from that golden period when Trojan was king and it brought together black and white at school and on the streets, many for the first time.
Working from warehouse in Willesden, it is in some ways the story of ‘learning on the job’. The demand for the music was there and it needed to be fed.
Trojan precursor and affiliated company Island Records, founded in 1959 by Chris Blackwell, had scored a major hit in the UK in 1964 with ‘My Boy Lollipop’ By Millie Small, so the West Indian sounds were becoming familiar here, fuelled by the first major wave of immigrants in 1948 and then picked up later on by the then Mod fraternity.
Jamaican producer Duke Reid was the first out of the traps with a label called Trojan, named by Duke after the Trojan truck he used to transport his ‘Duke Reid – The Trojan King of Sounds’ sound system on.
This was an offshoot from the Island Records organisation. Reid however lost control of the label, due to being greedy with the multi -licensing of his tunes.
Trojan then appeared again 12 months later in 1968 in ruder health and completing a 50/50 deal with ‘Beat and Commercial Records’ run by Lee Gopthal, which ensured gooddistribution and access to Lee’s Music City record shops.
The sound of Trojan then began to catch the ears of the skinheads, a no nonsense street inspired style, heavily influenced by the look of the Jamaican rude boy. As mentioned previously, the first ‘Tighten Up’ album released in 1969 was a huge success and made a huge impact on the mass market. The whole package was very much inspired by the similar ‘Motown Chartbusters’ series of albums, which again, brought many great tunes to a wider public.
As demand for fresh tunes grew, singles from Trojan began to hit the charts with ‘Red Red Wine’ (written by Neil Diamond) by Tony Tribe the first in 1969, closely followed that October by ‘Return of Django’ by The Upsetters, ‘The Liquidator’ by Harry J All-Stars – which is still a staple of many a football ground tannoy today – ‘Long Shot Kick De Bucket’ by The Pioneers and a then top ten for Jimmy Cliff with ‘Wonderful World’. Added to this mix at the time were songs like ‘The Israelites’ by Desmond Dekker, all gaining huge popularity set against a backdrop of the infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech by Enoch Powell, still used by the far right today.
1971 saw the first number one for the Trojan label with ‘Double Barrel’ by Dave and Ansell Collins. Orchestration began to be added to tunes in an attempt to gain more commercial success, with the cover of the Nina Simone track ‘young gifted and black ‘ by Bob and Marcia and other tunes such as ‘Black Pearl by Horace Faith among the best. In the most part however, it had the opposite effect on their skinhead following, who preferred the harder edged sounds.
Slowly it all began to unravel in 1972, when Island left to concentrate on their own roster and the skinhead fashion faded and moved on to longer hair and ‘Glam Rock’ in some cases.
Monies were owed to many, as a legal mess evolved. The label was liquidated – Harry J All Stars anyone? – in the mid 70s, but it had a resurgence of interest on the back of the 1979 Two Tone movement.
Trojan today is part of the BMG Music Group and major efforts have taken place in the intervening years to pay the right dues to the right people and it is now acknowledged that subsequently decent sums of money have made it’s way back to some in Jamaica.
Better late than never.
That though, is another story for another blog, so I’ll leave this particular journey through ‘Trojan’ here.
To my old cloth ears to this day, they are still great tunes – and there are plenty, plenty more to be added to those above – and they provide great memories and bring a misty eyed look to those that lived through that period the first time around.
The Mumper of SE5