Trojan Records: innovators and archivers

Trojan Records is a label with a
rich and vibrant history. Since its formation in 1968, it has been responsible
for turning millions of UK kids on to reggae, dub, ska, rocksteady, dancehall
and soul.

With artists over the years
including Lee Scratch Perry, Desmond Dekker and Byron Lee, the label has a vast
back catalogue of incredible Jamaican music on which to draw. That catalogue
has just got larger after a buyout by Universal Music. One effect of this is
that it has made Universal’s enormous own archives available, including those
of fellow reggae-frendly label Island, for the compilations and box sets for which
Trojan is widely feted.

Rocksteady

Overseeing the process is Laurence
Cane-Honeysett, who puts together the reissue compilations for the label.

“It’s difficult to overestimate
Trojan’s importance – it was the label that broke reggae in the late ‘60s and
early ‘70s, bringing the likes of Gregory Isaacs and Bob Marley to a wider audience.
Island Records had a small part of the market but Trojan’s was incredible in
comparison. It broke acts into the mainstream rock and pop market and presented
Jamaican music as a serious music form as well.

“The turnover in the ‘60s and ‘70s
was nothing short of astounding – for such a small island to produce such a
wealth of fantastic music recorded by a small number of people is incredible.
So with that amount of repertoire recorded in what I call the golden age of
reggae, rocksteady and ska, it’s wonderful to put these together. I’ve worked
for Trojan for 20 years and every day spent compiling is a joy. It’s the music
I grew up with and I feel passionately about it,” said the producer.

Mr Cane-Honeysett said that during
the 1980s there was virtually no interest in compilations with a few exceptions
in that era, so packaging of reggae was a relatively recent phenomenon. The
last decade, particularly, has seen a dramatic change with more and better
quality releases able to come out with the familiar lavish booklets in the
releases as Trojan grew as a company.

Increased budgets

Increased budgets and staff under
Universal mean that certain compilations are now also coming out on official
vinyl – Trojan releases have notoriously been bootlegged by numerous operators
all over the world – and there will be a revamped website.

Cane-Honeysett also co-penned a
book about the label, entitled Young, Gifted and Black: the Trojan Records
Story. He said that though his passion is vintage Jamaican music he still keeps
half an eye on what is emanating from the scene there, although the sounds that
end up making it over to the UK are not always the most authentic.

“There’s great music being produced
in Jamaica but from what we see over here it doesn’t have a great deal to do
with the great sounds of yesteryear, which is sad. There was music in the
eighties which was still influenced by that from the sixties but over the years
influences from Afro-American music, hip hop and MTV are becoming more
profound. Whilst there’s still a wide mixture of styles it’s difficult to
identify a lineage back to the roots in contemporary Jamaican music. It seems
music is more US-influenced than Jamaican-influenced, at least to us over here
in the UK,” observed the reggae expert.

New discovery

And although it is vintage reggae,
continued Mr Cane-Honeysett, there is a distinct breath of fresh air to helping
people discover artists for the first time.

“The things that have given me the
greatest pleasure have been the deep catalogue stuff, such as the John Holt and
the Paragons, the Duke Reid stuff onward. Something like that is the most
joyous thing I can do. The same goes for the Techniques – these are groups that
have almost been lost in the mist of time as far as the general public may go,
but in terms of Jamaican musical history they’re key, core artists. The hits
are nice to work with but having seen them appear on so many compilations it’s
wonderful to be able to release things that have been unissued, never appeared
on CD or unreleased.”

In summer 2011, revealed Mr
Cane-Honeysett, Trojan plans to release the ultimate box set – an enormous
10-CD box set that may also include an illustrated new book about the history
of Trojan Records plus rare video and DVD footage from the era.

Imminent Trojan releases include
box sets of Jamaican 7” singles of Lee Perry Black Art, a Lee Perry disco mix
set, a double CD of Jimmy Cliff’s early days, definitive compilations of the
work of Desmond Dekker and Bob Marley plus a host of compilations drawn from
the deep catalogue of the enduring reggae label.

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