BL16 - Page 40

lackwell worked as Foot’s
“civilian aide-de-camp”, until
the diplomat was posted
elsewhere. After stints as a water-skiing
instructor, renting motor scooters and
running his own jazz club, he started a
small business selling jukeboxes. This
gave him direct access to Jamaica’s local
music community as he toured around
hilltop bars and little fishing villages.
“Most of the bars were whore
houses,” he recalls. “I’d drive around
Jamaica with the jukebox maintenance
guy and I’d see what music was being
played the most. Everybody in the area
would crowd into a tiny room, and if
I put on a record they didn’t like, they’d
all come in shouting and screaming.
If it was something they liked, they’d
shout – ‘Tune!’ It was fantastic.”
In 1959, 21-year-old Blackwell
launched his music business career
with the release of Lance Hayward At
The Half Moon Hotel, Montego Bay,
an album of jazz standards by the blind
Bermudan singer/pianist. Since Jamaica
produced very little homegrown music
due to a lack of recording facilities, he
had a captive audience.
Other avenues beckoned, however.
In 1962, shooting began in Jamaica on
the first James Bond film, Dr No. Bond’s
creator Ian Fleming was, naturally
enough, a close friend of Blackwell’s
mother, and got him a job as a location
scout. Soon, the production team
offered him a career-making permanent
position. Unsure whether to go into the
movie business or continue with his
nascent record label, Blackwell took the only sensible route,
and saw a fortune-teller. The advice was to stick with music.
“Suddenly I was
hanging out at
Ready Steady Go
or at the BBC with
Brian Epstein and
all of the top guys”
o it was to be. Blackwell set up his new company with
£1,000 – the proceeds of his Dr No earnings and a
parental loan – and named it after Alec Waugh’s novel,
Island In The Sun. He quickly released a run of singles that
tapped into Jamaica’s vibrant musical spirit, and enjoyed his
first hit with Laurel Aitken’s ‘Boogie In My Bones’.
“The first three records all went to Number 1, not because
they were the greatest records, but because it was the first
time people were hearing Jamaicans singing something other
than calypso, mento or folk,” he explains. “It was a bit like
New Orleans shuffle music. What became ska was based on
Fats Domino, because all his stuff had that kind of shuffle.”
In 1962, the year of Jamaican independence, Blackwell
relocated to London, where he sold records from the back
easygoing charm is infectious, and he
remains perfectly matter-of-fact
describing an extraordinary life that has
zig-zagged, Zelig-like, through the
recording studios, concert stages and
A-list parties of Jamaica, London and
everywhere in between.
In his teens he boarded at Harrow,
where he was caned for selling booze
and cigarettes to his fellow pupils.
Although he was never expelled, his
headmaster simply said, “Christopher
might be happier elsewhere.”
“I went to a posh school and I got
every opportunity to have a good
education, but I was totally useless,”
he admits. “I got five O Levels at three
attempts, which is valueless, really. I
was originally supposed to inherit the
family rum business, Wray & Nephew.
After my grandfather died, my two
uncles f****d up the business, so when
I left school and came back to Jamaica,
that future didn’t exist for me.”
He finally found his first employment
in typically glamorous circumstances.
“Noël Coward invited me and my mum
to a party at the Dorchester given by
Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd. My
mum was talking to Sir Hugh Foot, the
Governor of Jamaica, who asked how
I was doing, and she rolled her eyes.
He said, ‘Maybe I can give him a job.’”

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