THE CREOLE REGGAE BOX SET (TJETD161) - It wasn't just rude Reggae by Judge Dread or dodgy disco discs by The Chequers. There was far more to the Creole Records group of labels than that, but how many of us noticed? Efficiently and with a minimum of fuss, they gave artist after artist hit after hit, not just in the specialist listings but on the pop charts: four by soul singer Ruby Winters, five by the learned Judge, three by Boris Gardiner, plus successes for Desmond Dekker, Sophia George, those dodgy Chequers and more. They obviously had an eye and an ear for talent - but who were they?

Well, in the beginning they weren't a record label at all. Bruce White and Tony Cousins founded Commercial Entertainments as a management and booking agency in the mis-sixties. With the astuteness which would later garner all those hits for them, they not only booked Pop acts like Status Quo and Average White Band, but also entered specialist territory by acting for blue beat (as it was known then in Britain) acts like Byron Lee & The Dragonaires, the Maytals and the Melodonians. But it was the huge success of one of their artists, Desmond Dekker, with 'Israelites' in 1969 that prompted Bruce and Tony to change direction, as Bruce explained in a recent interview.

"It was this record that acquainted the ordinary British record buyer with the Reggae sound. This led us to acquire a defunct music publishing company and a record company, Creole Music Ltd. and Creole Records Ltd. to handle product from our Commercial Entertainments artists."

The first few Creole releases, by artists such as the Pyramids and Floyd Lloyd Seivwright, enjoyed only modest success - though they include one disc which has intrigued collectors, '405', credited to Augustus Pablo. However, this wasn't a rare track by the wispy melodica maestro: it actually featured saxophonist Tommy McCook. Then, forming a partnership with Island and Trojan Records, Creole placed Bruce Ruffin's 'Rain', recorded in Jamaica, but overdubbed in Britain, with the latter label and saw it reach the Top20 Pop charts. In October 1971, Bruce and Tony decided to go it alone again, issuing music on their own Creole imprint. Early issues, such as 'Don't Stroke My Pussy' by Katrina, were not big sellers, but helped by their burgeoning booking agency, they continued to expand.

The following year, at the music industry's annual MIDEM festival on the Cote d'Azur, the pair struck a deal with EMI that would see the major label distribute their releases. Once again, Bruce Ruffin came up trumps: his 'Mad About You', on the new Rhino subsidiary, was an even bigger hit for him. Its production credits, as with several other Creole group releases, was to 'Bruce Anthony'; this was in fact 'Bruce & Tony'!

In 1974, they launched the Cactus label, which was originally intended for 'ethnic' Reggae. Indeed, Bruce and Tony's magic touch propelled Rupie Edwards' 'Irie Feelings', a dubbed-up version of Johnny Clarke's 'Everyday Wondering', and about as cutting-edge as Reggae came at that time, into the Top Ten - one of the most unlikely hits of the year. Other rootsy Reggae sides, like Lloyd Parks' 'Mafia' saw issue too, but ultimately a lighter side of Reggae would make Cactus one of the most successful Jamaican music labels of all time, as Bruce recalls...

"In 1975 we decided to release Desmond Dekker on the Cactus label, as Creole had now acquired the rights to his previously recorded material. We re-released 'Israelites', which became a Top Ten hit for the second time... This we followed up with a Bruce Anthony production, 'Sing A Little Song', which went Top 30." This was Desmond doing what he did best: singing a catchy tune over an infectious, bouncy rhythm. Talking of bouncing, Cactus' other major signing that year was the formidable ex-nightclub doorman, Judge Dread, whose idiosyncratic, lewd and oddly charming waxings gave him and the label a run of hits.

Creole was all the while issuing non-reggae music on its main label. UK disco band, the Chequers had two hits in 1975 and 1976, and Ruby Winters' 1977 Top Tenner, 'I Will' was the start of a run of four hits for the long-serving soulstress. Other releases were maybe ahead of their time: Creole released the first Boney M single in the UK in 1975, only to see it stall at no.52 in the charts. The following year the group would begin a three-year run of monster disco hits. The company also hooked up with the up-and-coming soul and R&B label, Malaco to issue (male artist) Ona Watson's splendidly funkified take on David Alan Coe's Country hit, 'Take This Job And Shove It', which, despite sentiments which expressed the dream of many ordinary people, didn't catch on.

In 1976, though, Bruce and Tony cut an enduring and mutually profitable deal with one of Jamaica's longest-established producers, Byron Lee, to represent his Dynamic label, which they gave its own identity in Britain. Before you could say "Dragonaires", sweet Reggae singer (and Dandy Livingstone's boyhood mate), Barry Biggs had launched into a run of six chart hits, the biggest of which, a cover of Blue Magic's Philly soul smash 'Sideshow', reached no.2. Creole represented Mr. Lee's labels right into the new millenium, and picked up his vintage Ska productions retrospectively as well, as you'll see from the opening tracks on our first two discs.

Into the Eighties, Creole leased in hot biscuits from producers such as Jah Thomas, Dennis Brown and Dennis Starr, as you'll discover on disc three, but perhaps their most important link-up was with the more conservative Willie Lindo, who in 1986 was working with skinhead-era hitmaker turned MOR singer Boris Gardiner. True to Creole form, the seasoned crooner brought them the unexpected smash of the year: his 'I Want To Wake Up With You', on the Revue offshoot, reached no.1 and became the best-selling pop single of the year.

Indeed, the mid-Eighties saw a plethora of new Creole labels. Some, like Glitter, made little commercial impact - though there's a Lulu of a Thelma Houston single hidden away on there, and this writer hopes that Trojan will bring it to you on CD real soon. But the Winner label lived up to its name with a big hit for Sophia George, 'Girlie Girlie'.

By the time Creole joined Trojan in the Sanctuary family of labels late in 2003, it had been an independent company for over 30 years and had racked up well over 20 UK chart hits. In a business where few indies make it to their fifth birthday, that kind of track record doesn't happen by accident. The Creole story is a tribute to the astute judgement and hard work of Bruce White and Tony Cousins. It's a story filled with good music, as you'll hear on this set - and as you''l discover on forthcoming Sanctuary releases from this rich and varied catalogue.

Mike Atherton
Source: Michael de Koningh's interview with Bruce White for the Sanctuary Publishing book 'Tighten Up'.

DISC 1

DISC 2

DISC 3

Jamaica Ska
Keith & Ken
Only A Fool Breaks His Own Heart
The Mighty Sparrow
Time Is The Master
John Holt
Mad About You
Bruce Ruffin
Sweet Cherrie
Honeyboy
Sing A Little Song
Desmond Dekker
Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)
Judge Dread
Big Ten
Judge Dread
Midnight Rider
Paul Davidson
Dat
Pluto Shervington
Work All Day
Barry Biggs
Side Show
Barry Biggs
Three Ring Circus
Barry Biggs
O.K. Fred
Errol Dunkley
Just When I Needed You Most
Barbara Jones
Girlie Girlie
Sophia Goerge
I Wanna Wake Up With You
Boris Gardiner

Behold (Ska Version)
The Blues Busters
Oil In My Lamp
Eric 'Monty' Morris
You Make Me Feel The Way I Do
The Maytals
Frankenstein Ska
Byron Lee & The Dragonaires
Rocksteady
The Fugitives
The Drifter
Dennis Walks
Leaving Rome
Jo Jo Bennett & The Rhythm Rulers
Grooving Out On Life
Hopeton Lewis
Cloak And Dagger
The Upsetters
Delilah
Horace Andy
Titian (aka Tichen)
Junior Delgado
Sam's Intro
The Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari
Freedom Street
Eric Donaldson
His Majesty Is Coming
The In Crowd
Looking My Love (aka It's Not Easy)
Barrington Levy
Golden Locks
Bim Sherman
Love And Devotion
Jimmy Riley

Gunshot
Anthony Johnson
Sweetie Come Brush Me
John Holt
As If I Didn't Know
Cynthia Schloss
Revolution
Dennis Brown
Shoulder Move
Jah Thomas
What One Dance Can Do
Beresford Hammond
Tiney Winey
Byron Lee & The Dragonaires
Sunday Dish
Early B
Miserable Woman
Freddie McGregor
One More Chance
Wayne Wonder
People Make The World Go Round
Ruddy Thomas
Hortical Don
Ninja Man
Gal Wine
Chaka Demus & Pliers
We Don't Pet Sound Boy
Gregory Isaacs
Green Line
Garnet Silk
No Mama No Cry
Beenie Man

Time - 57:19

Time - 57:40

Time - 61:10

All material Copyright Trojan Records