Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

Island Life

Episode 1 of 2

Chris Blackwell founded Island Records in Kingston, Jamaica in 1959. Don Letts reveals how Blackwell built it into one of the world's most exciting independent labels.

50 years ago Chris Blackwell founded Island Records in Kingston, Jamaica. Transporting Caribbean sounds to swinging London in the 60s. He went on to build up one of the most diverse and exciting independent labels in the world and Don Letts tells the story.

In the first part of the series, Island Life, Chris Blackwell tells Don how he brought the Jamaican music he loved from the tiny island in the sun, to the streets of London and beyond. Delivering boot-loads of vinyl in his car to record shops in London, Birmingham, and anywhere that would take them Chris built his ear for sound and a deep knowledge of the records that would sell.

Island's first hit record was Millie's 'My Boy Lollipop' but Chris would not be confined to the burgeoning reggae scene. His love of jazz brought his attention to the progressive folk and rock sounds of the time and we hear from early signings Spencer Davis and Muff Winwood of Traffic, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull and Joe Boyd who, through his Witch Season imprint, brought the likes of Fairport Convention, John Martyn and Nick Drake to the Island fold.

Yusuf (Cat Stevens) tells us how these acoustic vibes drew him towards the label and now 30 years on he is back on the label. The wheel has come full circle with a music world now much in need of Blackwell's pioneering spirit.

The next stage of Islands history was Roxy Music and Brian Eno explains how the label supported their individual groundbreaking style. Vivianne Albertine of The Slits also talks about how Blackwell never really understood punk music, perhaps because he saw real punk attitude in reggae.

Rita Marley picks up the story when Blackwell returned to his roots in Jamaica and turned Bob Marley and the Wailers into a global phenomenon. Their success was only equalled by another group from a small island with a lot to say - U2. The Irish band became the mainstay of Islands repertoire and finances up until 2006 and by the early 90s one of the biggest groups in the world.

By then Chris Blackwell had left the label and the music industry was a very different place. Don Letts follows the highs and lows of Island life over 50 years. Other contributors include Ernest Ranglin, Toots Hibbert of the Maytals, Derrick Morgan and Jimmy Cliff, who tell us about the roots of ska and reggae.

1 hour

Last on

Sat 23 May 2009 22:00

More episodes


You are at the first episode


See all episodes from Island 50