Blue Beat Records
Blue Beat Records is a label so influential that its name eventually defined a genre. The record label, created by Melodisc Records founder Emile Shalit and Sigmund 'Siggy' Jackson in 1960, played such a major role in marketing and popularising early-Sixties Jamaican music in the UK that the term ‘bluebeat' became used to describe the music of artists that weren't even on its books.
For seven frenzied years Blue Beat thrived on the London club scene. The label's aim was never chart success but bringing the music to those passionate about it. The music, imported from the West Indies, became the soundtrack to London life in the Sixties for Mods, expatriates and others in the know. But 400 singles later, the label was no more, an era-defining back catalogue consigned to the history books.
Island Records usually gets the credit for establishing Britain as ska and reggae's second home, but it was a chaotically run London indie label that created the scene in the first place. Before Island opened an office in London, Blue Beat had the keys to Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken, Derrick Morgan and Owen Gray, and brought rasta drummer Count Ossie and sound-system originator Duke Reid over from Kingston to play Lewisham and Brixton.
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One of Blue Beat's early stars was Jamaican producer and DJ Duke Reid. He remained in his home country and earned money licensing his productions to several UK labels, but it was Blue Beat with which he was most associated in the early days; most of the labels first 30 singles were Duke Reid productions. One of his most popular tracks was 'Duke's Cookies’, a bluesy, sax-heavy number guaranteed to set evervone in the club bouncing.
Another Blue Beat pioneer was Laurel Aitken, known to many as the 'Godfather of Ska’. Born in Cuba but with Jamaican roots, Aitken moved to London in 1960 and almost immediately began recording for the label. Over the next few years he provided Melodisc (established 1947) with a slew of popular singles instrumental in establishing its newly launched sub-sidiary as the UK's most recognisable West Indian music imprint. He worked with Reid to record early tracks such as ‘More Whisky’ and ‘Boogie Rock' with the Boogie Cats.
Aitken's importance can't be overstated. He was Jamaica's first major recording star - a pioneer who, in the Fifties and early Sixties, helped promote indigenous styles from mento to ska. Later he played a significant role in promoting reggae in the UK and Europe and, when ska's populariy rose internationally in the early Eighties due to the popularity of 2Tone, he was rightly acclaimed as a founding father.
Laurel Aitken blue plaque at 22 Munnings Close, Leicester LE4 6DX
Emil Shalit's connection with a young Prince Buster, whose name would become synonymous with Blue Beat, proved to be the most memorable, and long lasting, of the many licensing arrangements signed to Melodisc. From 1962 onwards the majority of releases on the label came from Buster's Prince Buster, Voice Of The People, Islam, Olive Blossom, Soulsville Center and Wild Bells labels.
He successfully toured France, Spain and numerous other continental countries, and came to Britain in 1964 to appear on the TV production "Ready Steady Go”. That same year, he broke all records during a sensational concert at Brixton Town Hall, and his fame spread to America.
London's mods adopted the sounds of Blue Beat as their own and Prince Buster, 'King Of Blue Beat', toured the UK to rapturous receptions and recorded a 'live' album in the UK, 'Prince Buster On Tour', in 1967. Legend has it that Buster was often escorted to his concerts by a phalanx of scooter outriders. His records, including 'Ten Commandments', 'Judge Dread', 'Al Capone', 'Tribute To The Toughest'/'Ghost Dance' and 'Madness' (which, fifteen years later, would lend its name to the most inventive and successful of the UK 'ska revival' groups) and countless other Blue Beat releases were instrumental in taking the sound of Jamaica to the youth of England's inner cities and outer suburbs
On February 25, 1964, Prince Buster arrived at Heathrow Airport in London and was greeted by fellow Blue Beat musicians and a crowd of young Mods. Among those greeting him were Brigitte Bond, Siggy Jackson, and Ambrose Campbell.
Singers Owen Gray and Derrick Morgan both enjoyed lengthy careers. In 1960 Gray was one of the first artists to be produced by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, who invited him to London; as soon as he arrived he was spirited away and signed to Blue Beat.
Morgan burst onto the scene in 1960 with the Latin-flavoured ‘Fat Man' and, with his near-brimless pork-pie hat, became a leading figure in Jamaican music. He remained so into the Seventies, but would be hampered by failing sight.
ALTON & EDDY
Alton & Eddy were Alton Ellis and Eddy Perkins. Ellis penned their first big hit, Muriel', while working as a labourer on a building site, but when follow-ups proved less successful Perkins emigrated to the Unites States. Ellis then linked with John Holt before forming a group, the Flames, when Holt joined the Paragons. Basing himself in Britain from 1972, Ellis remained a creative force until his death in London in 2008, age 70; the Jamaican Minister of Culture paid tribute to his monumental contribution to the development of Jamaica's popular music.'
HIGGS & WILSON
Higgs & Wilson were Joe Higgs & Roy Wilson. Higgs would later become famous for mentoring the young Bob Marley as he took his first steps to superstardom. Chuck & Darby were yet another double act combining the talents of Chuck Josephs and Dobby Dobson (artists' names were often mis-spelled on the label). In 1960, they cut their debut single, ‘Cool School’, for Duke Reid, and recorded a steady stream of hits over the next two years. On the duo's demise Dobson joined forces with a group of college friends as the Deltas, going on to find solo fame with 1967's self-penned theme song ‘I'm A Loving Pauper’.
THE END OF BLUE BEAT RECORDS
Blue Beat's distinctive blue label and silver logo first appeared on the label's third release, Higgs & Wilson's ‘Manny Oh’. But by 1967 relations between Jackson and Shalit had become strained, and the Blue Beat story effectively ended. in spite of later attempts to revive it, when Jackson left for major label EMI. Jamaican music would slow down and become reggae, ska now cast as its frantic excitable predecessor.
REFERENCES & LINKS
Roy Black - Vintage Voices: Blue Beat bolsters J'can music in the UK - Jamaica Gleaner 27 October 2019 - READ MORE
Peter Mason - Prince Buster Obituary - The Guardian 8 September 2016 - READ MORE
Joanna (Miss Upsetter Designs) Blue Beat Baby: The Untold Story of Brigitte 3 September 2022 - WATCH VIDEO
Prince Buster Music Inc. - VISIT WEBSITE