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Trojan Records: Book details how Willesden label changed music – and helped race relations

PUBLISHED: 11:44 07 September 2018 | UPDATED: 11:51 07 September 2018

A Trojan compilation titled Music House Volume 1, showing the Willesden headquarters. Picture: Trojan Records

A Trojan compilation titled Music House Volume 1, showing the Willesden headquarters. Picture: Trojan Records

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Trojan Records is 50 this year and a new book details the history of the Willesden label that introduced the world to reggae music.

A Trojan compilation titled Music House Volume 2 from 1972, showing the Willesden headquarters. Picture: Trojan RecordsA Trojan compilation titled Music House Volume 2 from 1972, showing the Willesden headquarters. Picture: Trojan Records

The Story of Trojan Records focuses on the days at Music House, the Neasden Lane headquarters that was a hive of activity from 1968 to 1975.

Music lovers would drop by to pick up records and artists such as Lee “Scratch” Perry, John Holt, Ken Boothe and Toots & the Maytals would hang out there when they were in the country.

Author Laurence Cane-Honeysett told the Times the label’s role in the music world cannot be underestimated.

“The book shows how it grew within two years from a tiny independent to a major chart maker and introduced the world to reggae,” he said. “It had a global effect.”

Toots & the MAytals concert advert. Picture: Trojan RecordsToots & the MAytals concert advert. Picture: Trojan Records

Laurence has already written one book about Trojan, but says this one is “far more interesting”.

“We had people we didn’t know existed coming out of the woodwork and in the years between the two I tracked down people or heard from people I wanted to talk to. What I found fascinating was it’s a Great Britain and Jamaican success story, and a London story, and if you go back further it’s a great Brent story. That’s where it all happened. It was not just founded there, the two founders first got together in Cambridge Road.

“It was the first real foothold for Jamaican music and it started with co-founder Lee Gopthal going door to door selling records with his first label Beat and Commercial to ex-pats.”

Gopthal and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell created the label, and set up base in Willesden, naming the headquarters Music House.

Desmond Dekker's You Can Get it if You Really Want record. Picture: Trojan RecordsDesmond Dekker's You Can Get it if You Really Want record. Picture: Trojan Records

“It was a ramshackle warehouse. It was a hive of activity and really cosmopolitan. It laid the foundations in many ways in terms of relations, with black and white people together. People would go there to buy records direct and all the artists would be there.

“Up until then Jamaican artists were down and out and had no money. There was a lot of racism going around obviously but it totally changed the perception of black people in Britain.

“Don Letts was saying it made you feel that, instead of being an outcast, you were someone who people wanted to be associated with,”

The Story of Trojan Records is available here.

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