The ground-breaking label marks its half-century with a glossy new documentary celebrating its legacy.

Despite its influence on the emerging multi-cultural Britain of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Trojan has always played second fiddle to its more famous cousin, Island Records. Perhaps that’s inevitable, given Island’s enviable roster of stars – Bob Marley being its most famous catch – and the fact that Island was finding its groove just as Trojan was faltering. Other labels got in on the act of producing Jamaican music for the fast-expanding British market, too. But there’s only so much you can fit into a swift 80-minute doc.

More surprising, perhaps, is the choice of director. A filmmaker like Don Letts would have seemed the most natural choice for such a task as this. He has, after all, produced an expansive series about the label for BBC6 Music. He was also right there, in the thick of it, when sound system culture swept the UK. Instead, the label has enlisted director Nick Davies, best known for his Mumford and Sons tour doc The Road to Red Rocks, to explore the story on screen – and called on Letts for expert, eye-witness testimony. Much of the film is presented as dramatic reconstruction – there’s almost no archive of the 1960s music scene in Jamaica, apparently – with each sequence led in by requisite shots of vintage vinyl (and that needle dropping). Generally, the talking heads fit neatly in-between, and we hear from many who were there at the time. In addition to Letts, there are producers Duke Reid and Bunny Lee, and artists such as Derrick Morgan, Marcia Griffiths, Toots Hibbert, Neville Staple and Pauline Black. Others, such as Island’s Chris Blackwell, are notable by their absence.
With no narrator, Davies’ film zips through the grim and ugly reality of Britain becoming a multi-racial nation, when it courted cheap labour from its fast-vanishing Empire, only to recoil when its citizens decided to stay in the motherland. Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech is neatly ticked off, as is the everyday racism the Commonwealth emigres faced when trying to find work and board (and somewhere to unwind).
More satisfying is the role the import business plays in uniting Britain’s newest arrivals against their hostile hosts. Sound system culture explodes and with it, a skyrocketing demand for Jamaican music. By 1968, Trojan Records is born. Two years later, Wembley is hosting a festival dedicated to reggae. Even a disapproving Tony Blackburn can’t stop the music.
The music is, of course, glorious – you’ll be hard-pressed not to be craving a Trojan collection after this whistle-stop ride through its back pages. Which, perhaps, is the point. It is bank-rolled by the label, after all. But clearly, it’s far from the definitive doc musos and fans may have wished for. It is great fun, thanks largely to the surviving key players from the time, who are all lively interviewees. It’s more an introduction for the uninitiated than an investigative piece, particularly since it pulls back from going into detail about the missing millions. But if you’re here purely for the music, it will certainly do.

Little White Lies 12.10.18.