Island Presents: Ska - 40 Original Ska Classics

We'll Meet - Roy & Millie
Love You The Most - Lloyd Clarke
Judgment - Clancy Eccles
No Raise No Praise - Derrick Morgan
One Eyed Jacks - Jimmy Cliff
Garden Of Eden - Larry Lawrence
I Shall Remove - Laurel Aitken
Bullo Man (A Come) - Theo Beckford
Come Down - Lord Tanamo
Robin Hood - Baba Brooks & His Band
Stranger At The Door - Stranger Cole
Miss Universe - Jimmy Cliff
Three Blind Mice - Baba Brooks & His Band
One Cup Of Coffee - Bob Marley
Til My Dying Day - Stranger & Patsy
J.F.K.'s Memory - Don Drummond
The Sun Rises In The East - Dotty & Bonnie
One More Time - Lloyd Brevett & His Group
Catch A Fire - Baba Brooks & His Band
Do You Keep On Dreaming - The Cherry Pies
What A Man Doeth - Eric Morris
Jeserene - Desmond Dekker & The Cherry Pies
Take Your Time - Theo Beckford
Jump Out The Frying Pan - Justin Hinds & The Dominoes
Dragon Weapon - The Skatalites
Trojan - Lord Briscoe
Stampede - Don Drummond & The Skatalites
The Choice - The Virtues & The Ambassadors
This Woman - Desmond Dekker & The Four Aces
My New Name - The Maytals
Starvation - Derrick Morgan
Little Did You Know - The Techniques
Duck Soup - Baba Brooks & His Band
Peace And Love - Justin Hinds & The Dominoes
Skalarama - Lyn Taitt & Baba Brooks Band
The Jerk - Derrick Harriott & The Audley Williams Combo
Lucky Seven - Baba Brooks & His Band
Parro Saw The Light - Lloyd Clarke
Choo Choo Ska - Llans Thewell & The Celestials
Hey Boy - Hey Girl - Millie & Jimmy

Jamaican Ska almost took the world by storm back in the 1960s. Its pulsing rhythm not only infatuated those on the small island, but also many within the UK and America, whose fascination with the sound and the country of its origin was heightened by the blockbusting 1962 James Bond film 'Dr No', filmed on the isle and featuring a soundtrack provided in part by popular local band, Byron Lee & The Dragonaires.

In Britain the music sold mainly to West Indian immigrants and very trendy Mods, while in the North America it was pushed as a new dance craze to those hip young things just getting over Elvis and his swivelling hips. A few US-based labels, such as Amy and RCA, slipped out Ska albums, some a little on the light side, complete with dance step instructions emblazoned on their sleeves, while others were the real deal, including works by the likes of the mighty Prince Buster and the aforementioned Byron lee.

Ska was the rage and even infiltrated the World's Fair in New York in 1964, but it was never to crack the market as the Reggay or Reggae rhythms would just a few years later. Distribution was the main stumbling block in the UK. Even if you wanted to buy a bucket-load of Ska, unless you lived in an inner city or had friends in the know, names like Derrick Morgan and Jimmy Cliff weren't the sort of thing you'd find nestled in the racks of your local record emporium sitting next to the likes of the Beatles and Ken Dodd.

Island Records were a prime mover in the Ska stakes, as can be seen from this compilation where every track found release on either the company's flagship label (initially sporting a pure white design with a small logo at the top, and latterly with the distinctive red and white 'bow tie' design) or the sub-label Black Swan with its striking half-black half-white design.

island founder, Chris Blackwell, (born in England, but raised in Jamaica), initially managed jukeboxes, an enterprise that took him into the music communities, nabbed raw young local talent like Owen Gray and Derrick Morgan and slipped them into the primitive studio to beat out home-grown R&B. This was as the boom in hard US R&B had faded and a softer sound had arrived that was not to the Jamaican taste. the lack of the raucous R&B that ruled the dancehall prompted Blackwell to try home recording using the young talent that seemingly lurked at every dance. He would then offer the subsequent recording as a one-off to a sound system.

In 1959, he founded Island Records and soon after released his debut 45, featuring a young Cuban-born singer, Laurel Aitken performing 'Boogie In My Bones'. It was a hit in the dances and soon Blackwell decided not just to record specials for exclusive sound system use, but also to offer his records to jukebox operators and the public at large.

'Boogie In My Bones' sold well when it hit the shops, in fact it was so much of a hit that it found release in London both on the Starlite label, an offshoot of the mighty Esquire Jazz imprint, and Kalypso, one of the many labels run by the esoteric Melodisc company. A number of Blackwell's Jamaican productions, featuring pioneering artists like Wilfred 'Jackie' Edwards and Lord Lebby, gained a UK release on Starlite.

Whether Blackwell agreed the deals for his early work to be released in the UK is a moot point, but what the reaction this side of the Atlantic did do was alert him to an interested and growing market for Jamaican R&B and shuffle-beat from the flourishing West Indian immigrant population. So enticing was this new, lucrative market that Blackwell relocated his operation to London in 1962. A very small time, man-and-a-van pressing and distribution system began with dashes round the various record shops loaded with boxes of the latest Island 45s stored in the back of his Mini Cooper. This was just at the time that the Ska rhythm was sliding in and taking over from a more traditional style R&B or the Jamaican shuffle-beat, which, as its name implies, was a slightly loping style of R&B. The Ska carried the shuffle further from R&B and more into the realms of a new very Jamaican dance and music form.

Now located in London, Blackwell obviously didn't have the time or resources to fly back and forth to Jamaica and started to release productions from the big name producers on the island. Leslie Kong, Lindon Pottinger and Duke Reid all supplied Island Records with their productions as the Ska rhythm moved into the dances. Some sent master tapes, but others just sent over a normal pressed Jamaican 45 for use as a master, hence some UK pressed records are, to put it politely, somewhat lacking in the sound-stakes! But when blasted out at full volume on a sound system in places such as Handsworth or Lewisham it didn't matter, and the patrons didn't notice. It's only now, when the records have transcended from being vehicles for delivering party music to collector's items, carefully preserved and played on four grand's worth of hi-fi, that the defects and drop-outs have been noted.

This was a time when young fresh talent was appearing on Island Records, names that would basically shape the sound of the music for a decade or more. the sound of the USA still wasn't far away from Kingston in the early 1960s with artists such as Derrick Harriott delivering heart-stopping Doo-Wop style ballads and finger-snapping jiving tunes. Even when he moved to pulsing Ska with his version of veteran American group the Lark's US smash, 'The Jerk', the vocal delivery is pure US Doo-Wop. 'The Jerk' was a major hit for Island in the UK and Harriott would go on to interpret some of the finest US records from major groups like the Ink Spots (and their hit 'Do I Worry') into the Rock Steady idiom, with the majority finding release on Island.

'The Harder They Come' film star and veteran singer, James Chambers aka Jimmy Cliff, was one of Island's first big hitters. Born in 1948, he began writing songs while still at school and at the tender age of 14 hit the big time with 'Hurricane Hatty' for Leslie Kong. By 1964 he had massive sellers such as the Rastafarian influenced 'King Of Kings' and 'Miss Jamaica' under his belt, all produced by Kong and released in London by Island.

Cliff relocated to London in the mid-1960s at Island's request as Blackwell saw a broader outlet for Cliff's work in the Rock market. Pop stardom failed but Jimmy did make some very enjoyable Soul-influenced records and had a big hit in Brazil with 'Waterfall', plus his adaptation of Cat Stevens' 'Wild World' certainly sold a good few copies for Island. Cliff, of course, went on to hit the charts for Trojan Records in the late 1960s with marvellous compositions such as 'Wonderful World, Beautiful People' in still is releasing first-rate music to this day.

Another well-known name that first appeared on Island via the Jamaican productions of Leslie Kong is Robert Nesta Marley, who cut his musical teeth with the producer and debuted in the UK on Island with 'Judge Not'. His 1963 recording 'One Cup Of Coffee', a revival of a 1960 US Country recording by the obscure Bill Brock, was his second Island release and while it was far from being a hit it is now one of the most sought-after singles ever issued on the label. Marley, of course, was later groomed by Blackwell to crack the Rock market, but back in the early 1960s, the guy and his Wailing friends were no more influential or important than a dozen other acts whose work appeared on the Island imprint.

This is unlike Derrick Morgan who by the mid-1960s was one of the biggest names in Jamaican music. Born in 1940, the partially sighted singer started out as most did, performing in talent shows such as the 'Vere Johns Opportunity Hour'. By the early sixties, he was a regular fixture in the local pop charts, with one of his and Island's biggest selling records being 'Housewife's Choice'. The 45 sold in phenomenal numbers, both in Jamaica on Leslie Kong's Beverley's label and for Island in Britain. Other hits followed, like the independence anthem, 'Forward March' and a number of more sentimental duets with Millicent 'Patsy' Todd; all were picked up by Island and became consistent sellers for the label. Morgan carried on into the Rock Steady and Skinhead era, laying down some particularly fine music. although by this time, Chris Blackwell was more interested in the growing Rock market than Jamaican output and rival labels increasingly began to pick up the UK rights to his music. Derrick Morgan still appears on the revival circuit to much adulation from fans both young and old.

The Maytals, featuring the rousing lead of Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert, also delivered some of their finest work on Island Records, starting early on with Gospel-drenched tracks such as 'Hallelujah'. 'My New Name', from 1965, is a continuation of their sound, notably for a spirituality and fervency inspired by the teachings of the Bible. Toots continues to this day laying down blazing performances live and occasionally on record.

Many other outstanding artists have graced the Island imprint over the years, none finer than Justin Hinds who with his Dominoes took the sound of rural and country Jamaica to the studio. His work, filled with hope,, parables and old-time Jamaican sayings has been an inspiration for many Roots-Reggae artists and is still avidly collected to this day. Born in 1942, Justin took the number one spot in the autumn of 1963 with 'Carry Go Bring Come', recorded for Duke Reid's Treasure Isle label. The single was swiftly picked up by Island for release in the UK, where it repeated its Jamaican success by selling huge quantities. Justin is said to be Duke Reid's most popular artist and most likely was not far short of holding the same honour for Island in the 1960s prior to the days when U2 took the label to higher heights commercially. 'Jump Out The Frying Pan' and 'Peace And Love', both included on this compilation, are typical heartfelt Justin Hinds comments on life and the hope for a better day. Hinds continued to record popular singles into the seventies and went to cut a couple of very notable albums in the 1970s and early 1980s before becoming increasingly less active musically. Tragically, he passed away in 2005.

It wasn't just vocalists who carried the sound of Ska in the 1960s. The whole sound was based on a fine band playing behind the front act and many instrumentalists were first-rate Jazz-trained players first and top Ska band performers second. None perhaps, are more famous than Don Drummond, the troubled master trombone player whose minor key compositions pre-dated by almost a decade the melancholic Roots sound of Augustus Pablo and his melodica. A founder member of the mighty Skatalites and one of the band's principal composers, Drummond shaped the sound of the Ska rhythm as much as any of his contemporaries such as Tommy McCook or Lester Sterling. Convicted of murdering his girlfriend on New Year's Day 1965, the troubled trombonist was imprisoned and died four years later in custody.

Little is widely known of bandleader, Oswald 'Baba' Brooks, other than he was born in the mid-1930s and could be found by the mid-1950s playing trumpet for Eric Dean's Jazz band. He formed his own band in the early 1960s and was also an infrequent collaborator with the Skatalites. With independence in 1962, Brooks and band hit with 'Independence Ska', and subsequently had a number of releases on Island Records, primarily for Duke Reid, two of the most notable being 'Guns Fever' and the frantic 'Duck Soup' - the latter with its much admired drum roll start. Brooks was last heard of in the early 1980s recording as Baba Leslie, after which he disappeared completely from the music scene.

In 1964, Chris Blackwell found success with Millie Small and her version of the 1956 Barbie Gaye song, 'My Boy Lollipop', a track that showed so much promise that he licensed it to Fontana, realising his own small Island operation would have been unable to keep up with the anticipated demand. Another on his roster at this time was the singularly fine singer/songwriter, Wilfred 'Jackie' Edwards, who also had some success with Fontana prior to his composition, 'Keep On Running' bringing success for the Spencer Davis Group. Blackwell had discovered the latter, an R&B outfit featuring the talented Steve Winwood on lead vocals, in a club in the Midlands, and their signature to his label fired the entrepreneur's ambition to further explore the commercial viability of the Rock music market.

Their subsequent success prompted the entrepreneur to take further chances on the underground hippy-Rock groups that had proliferated throughout London and the UK in the wake of the Flower Power revolution. Consequently, he began to pull away from Jamaican music, focusing instead on names like Nick Drake, King Crimson, Jethro Tull before looking to acts such as Roxy Music and Spooky Tooth as the 1970s rolled in.

The rest, as they say, is history, with Island Records becoming one of the prime labels in the seventies, handling major international Rock and Pop performers, although happily, maybe feeling the need for a little of the sunshine of his youth, Blackwell took an interest in Reggae following the break-up of his alliance with B&C that had produced Trojan Records. By the mid-1970s, following the commercial success of Mr Marley and acclaimed releases by some of Reggae music's other cutting edge acts, Island were once again established as major movers on the Jamaican music market.

The wheel had turned full circle, with Jamaica once again providing Chris Blackwell with its fruits, while he, now older and wiser, could still appreciate the simplicity, honesty and beauty of the island's music.

Michael de Koningh
All material © Trojan Records