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PROFILE
DE SE RT ISL A ND DIS C S : T HE BE ST OF ISL A ND R E C OR D S
TRAFFIC
TRAFFIC
(1968)
NICK DRAKE
FIVE LEAVES
LEFT (1969)
Traffic’s eponymous
second album is a
heady cocktail of
psychedelia, rock,
soul and folk that
laid out the blueprint
for numerous other
artists to follow.
Although Nick
Drake’s achingly
beautiful, pastoral
songs failed to find
much of an audience
at first, this is now
rightly considered
one of the best
debut albums ever
made. Fifty years on,
it still feels utterly
timeless.
of his Mini Cooper to the West Indian
immigrant communities. It was, he
says, a high point in his life.
“I was driving around London in
a little Mini, going from shop to shop.
I absolutely loved it. I had two hi-fi
systems; one for buying and one for
selling,” he chuckles. “The buying
system never sounded great, but the
selling system sounded fantastic. There
was this one guy called Nat Fox who
had a stall in Dalston Market. He came
into the office one day, and I was on
form. I had a few records, and I’m
blasting them on the good sound system,
and he bought everything. I saw him a
month later, and he had a few that
hadn’t sold. He said, ‘I’m not coming to
your office any more to listen!’”
His first British hit single was a cover
of Barbie Gaye’s ‘My Boy Lollipop’,
sung by helium-voiced Jamaican
teenager, Millie Small, and produced by
Blackwell himself. With the spelling
altered to ‘Lollipop’, it reached Number
2 on both sides of the Atlantic, and
became a cornerstone of the ‘bluebeat’
boom – the pre-reggae popularisation
of Jamaican music. “I knew it was going
to be a hit, and I knew exactly how it
JOHN
MARTYN
SOLID AIR
(1973)
One of the defining
moments of British
folk. Yet quite apart
from Martyn’s
sublime songs, the
key to its enduring
appeal is his ability to
dive into uncharted
musical waters,
stirring heavy doses
of jazz and blues into
his mellifluous mix.
BOB MARLEY
CATCH A FIRE
(1973)
ROXY MUSIC
COUNTRY
LIFE (1974)
Already established
in Jamaica, it wasn’t
until their 1973
Island debut that Bob
Marley & The Wailers
managed to find
their feet, perfecting
a potent blend of
killer songs and
superb production
with their trademark
tight-but-loose
musicianship.
Country Life finds
Roxy Music at the
very peak of their
powers, mixing pop
and art to create
a truly groundbreaking yet ageless
sound that had an
incalculable influence
on music.
should sound,” Blackwell explains. “She had this voice
which made you smile, but I knew that a high-pitched voice
can’t last long on a record. It was one minute and 52 seconds.
In and out. Boom. If it had been longer, it would not have
been the same hit. It took me onto another level. Suddenly
I was backstage on Ready Steady Go or at the BBC, with
[Brian] Epstein and all of the top guys.”
Soon enough, Blackwell was one of the top guys himself.
‘My Boy Lollipop’ sold seven million copies worldwide, by
which time Blackwell had discovered the Spencer Davis
Group. The band, who went on to enjoy a string of hits,
including ‘Keep On Running’ and ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’,
featured a young Steve Winwood on lead vocals alongside
his brother, Muff, who became Island’s first A&R man. In the
summer of 1967, ‘Paper Sun’, by Steve Winwood’s new band,
Traffic, provided Island with its first Top Five single. The
label was on its way to becoming one of the dominant forces
in British music.
“In the Sixties and Seventies, music
was a big part of the culture. I don’t
know whether it’s as important to
people as it used to be,” Blackwell
muses. “The music business was full of
misfits and mavericks – that was what
was really great about it. Freedom was
essential to me, because I have my own
ideas of how I like to do things. If you
are able to execute that yourself, you’re
in great shape. In a corporate structure,
people are always jockeying for position,
Opposite top:
Blackwell with U2
and manager Paul
McGuinness (in tie),
in 1982. Opposite
bottom: ‘Black Gold’
Blackwell Rum. Below:
Mille Small, whose song,
‘My Boy Lollipop’, was
Blackwell’s first big hit
41
BOISDALELIFE .COM
SUMMER 2019
ISSUE 16





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