Rude Boy: The Story of Trojan Records
First, let me come clean. I’m a big fan of reggae music, so I loved this film before I saw it.
But let’s do this properly.
Between 1955 and 1963 over 100,000 people emigrated from Jamaica to Great Britain. Confronted by racism and exclusion, many of these young people were forced into creating their own vibrant social scene, and it was to the emerging ‘ska’ music from back home in Jamaica they turned to for a soundtrack.
Soon this new music would find popularity, not just with first generation black immigrants, but working class white skinheads, looking for a great night out.
And so the Trojan record label was born, to bring first ska and then the evolving reggae music to these previously colourless shores.
Founded by Asian-Jamaican businessman Lee Gopthal in 1963 it became the first record label in Britain to focus entirely on black music, let alone Jamaican sounds.
“So why has it taken so long for someone to make a film about it?” you might ask. Well, the wait is over.
Step forward Pulse Films and director Nicolas Jack Davies whose docu-feature charts the story of the label, from its musical roots in Jamaica (it was named after pioneering producer and label owner ‘His Mightiness, Duke Reid, The Trojan’) through its impact on British music and culture in the sixties and early seventies, to its sad demise in 1975.
To help us on this journey, the makers have enlisted a multitude of reggae legends to provide narration, from Derrick Morgan to Bunny Lee to Dandy Livingston to Marcia Griffiths to the law unto himself that is Lee Perry.
But the real strength of this film is Davies’ decision to cast young actors to play these legends in their heyday. These recreated scenes, intercut with interviews and found footage, allow the story to bounce along with a real sense of social drama.
There are some powerful sequences. A modern day Derrick Morgan describing the circumstances in which he wrote the first ‘Rude boy’ record, ‘Tougher Than Tough’, intercut with a recreation of the night when ‘Busby’, the subject of the record, came to a tragic end.
Or a modern day Marcia Griffiths talking about the impact of ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ as we watch a beautiful, black woman, playing the young, idealistic Marcia, dreaming of what was to come.
There is something wonderful about watching elderly versions of your musical heroes talking about their achievements with quiet, reflective pride. You feel privileged to be in the room, particularly when they’re invited to enjoy their own records, while the camera continues to roll.
No one was more bemused by the eventual success of this music than the people behind it, and this is reflected in these interviews. This music was created on the streets of Jamaica as an alternative to American R&B, but it became the soundtrack to the first multi-cultural musical movement certainly this country had ever seen.
And these records sound as great today as they ever did.
Sit back and enjoy Dave Barker mouthing along to “I am the magnificent…” Or Roy Ellis of Symarip dancing to his own ‘Skinhead Moonstomp’ as an Apollo rocket takes off. Or a recreated Desmond Dekker getting choked by the tie as he tries to perform ‘The Israelites’ to adoring fans.
If you love reggae and ska music you’re in for a treat. If you don’t, this film can still be enjoyed as a valuable social document. The parallels between then and now will not be lost on you.
We are shocked when we hear that Trojan founder Lee Gopthal was eventually told, ‘If you’re an Indian, why are you trying to run an empire? – you should be running a greengrocers!”.
But equally, when we watch an angry Enoch Powell arguing for the drawbridge to be raised on these sponging foreigners, it’s easy to believe that not much has changed at all.
Ultimately, ‘Rude Boy: The Story of Trojan Records’ is about great music bringing people together in times of hardship. It reminds us, in gloomy 2018, that sometimes the most powerful creativity is born out of adversity.
Well done to the makers of this long overdue film. This grateful viewer is still moving his feet.