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Keep on running - The history of Island Records captured in new book

Published:Sunday | September 12, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Bob Marley
Burning Spear
Millie Small

Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer

Some of the music business' legendary names, such as Sam Phillips of Sun Records and Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records, got their break in the 1950s when rock and roll and jazz were hot.

Chris Blackwell had no Elvis Presley or Charlie Parker when he started Island Records in Jamaica in 1959, but his company ranks with Sun and Atlantic among the music industry's great labels.

Respected British journalist and longtime Island collaborator, Chris Salewicz dug deep into its archives to produce Keep On Running: The Story of Island Records, a 226-page photo book which was released recently in the United States by Universal-Island Records Limited.

The coffee table book was initially released in Britain last year to commemorate the company's 50th anniversary. It is filled with photos and stories of the acts who helped make Island the most influential British record label ever.

Cat Stevens, the Spencer Davis Group, Roxy Music and U2 are featured, so too Millie Small, Bob Marley and Burning Spear, three of Island's most successful Jamaican artistes.

biggest signing

The Clarendon-born Small put Island on the map in 1964 with My Boy Lollipop, a song that sold millions internationally. Two years earlier, Blackwell had moved his fledgling company from Jamaica to London.

Marley was the label's biggest signing during the 1970s, while Spear blazed a trail with his hard-hitting brand of conscious reggae.

American journalist, David Katz, author of the Lee 'Scratch' Perry's biography, People Funny Boy, believes it is unlikely Jamaican music would have reached as far as it did without Island.

"They did so much to spread awareness of the music overseas, first through artistes such as Jimmy Cliff and Toots and the Maytals, later of course with Bob Marley and Burning Spear, and through countless others such as Rico Rodriguez, Ijahman Levi, Sly and Robbie, Buju Banton," Katz explained.

"By helping the film The Harder They Come to be realised, and its sterling soundtrack bringing the sounds of Jamaica into so many overseas homes for the very first time, Island was responsible for a real revolution in terms of the way Jamaica was perceived," Katz added.

The reviews for The Story of Island Records have been generally generous.

"It's not all Bob Marley, you know. Flick through this new tome and acquaint yourself with the long (50 years) and brilliant history of the coolest record label in the world. From Roxy Music to Pulp, Grace Jones to Amy Winehouse, Nick Drake to B-52's - faultless," gushed The London Paper.

Blackwell sold Island to the Polygram conglomerate for US$300 million in 1989. Its massive catalogue is currently reissued by the Universal Music Group.