Rudeboy : The Story of Trojan Records

To kick off the Revelation Film Fest, Dennis Bertoldo was on hand to view Rudeboy, which explores the historic stories of the iconic record label Trojan Records.

Dennis Bertoldo
July 8, 2019
Arts & Events

The tiny island nation of Jamaica has given us Jamaican rum, reggae, Rastafari, Usain Bolt and even a Winter Olympics bobsled team.

Rudeboy is showing two more times at the Luna this month.

Jamaica also had a huge influence on the rise of a record label that became a hit factory, and for many Britain’s, was their introduction into a complete new culture and sound.

That label was Trojan Records and its rise to success and the almost inevitable fall that came after are carefully traced in this new documentary which aims to highlight its cultural, social and economic impacts.

The film uses simple chapter headings (ska, skineheads, rudeboy, acceptance, etc) to tell the story, beginning in a sepia toned Jamaica in the 1950s.

A pivotal figure is ex police officer Duke Reid who establishes a successful sound system (a precursor to the modern mobile DJ) and later record production house.

The popular sound of this time was mostly local versions of US rhythm and blues. This later gave way to rocksteady and ska, a new form of Jamaican music, characterised by the skanking up-stroked guitars and a danceable offbeat.

From the mid-1950s England opened its doors to tens of thousands of Jamaican migrants and pretty soon the dwellngs these migrants lived in became home to the new sound systems, with records imported direct from Jamaica.

This allowed Trojan to set up and have a readymade market for fresh ska tunes, and in turn they began recording their own artists.  

Within a few short years it became the Motown of the reggae world, pumping out million selling hits by artists like Desmond Dekker, Lloyd Coxsone and Toots Hibbert, all of who are interviewed for the doco.

White working class youth soon latched on to Trojan artists via pirate radio and they adopted the rudeboy aesthetic with relish. Bridging the race divide through the music was arguably the most significant cultural contribution of this scene.  It suddenly wasn’t considered white or black music – just music – and the dance friendly nature of ska and reggae made it immensely popular.

Even the ‘squares’ eventually cottoned on, with the Jamaican sound infiltrating the top 40, sometimes courtesy of a production flourish, referred to in the film as “sweetening” the hard reggae or ska with a string section.

Director Nicolas Davies, uses what must be scant archival footage fleshing this out with artful with recreations and interviews with an assortment of the guys who made this music.

Some of the best scenes are simply and evocatively executed - a turntable and the singer or producer in a small band or pub room just listening and grooving to the beat – the joy on their faces can’t be denied.

The music itself take centre stage throughout the doco (like me, you’ll probably want to download the soundtrack straight after watching). As infectious as the grooves are the artists who tell their stories via interview. For the most part there is no bitterness, just happy memories and a deep passion and love for the music.

While the film was mostly engrossing and entertaining the ‘fall’ part of this tale didn’t quite deliver the expose I’d hoped for (where are the missing millions?) - this no doubt stems from the doco being commissioned by Trojan's current parent company BMG to commemorate the label's 50th anniversary.

Despite this flaw, fans of this scene, or those with broad music tastes, will no doubt love this movie.

Rudeboy screens on THU 11, 9PM, LUNA | SAT 13, 2PM, SX

Dennis Bertoldo

Hi, I'm Dennis! I’ve worked in media and communications for more than two decades, most recently as media and PR manager for St John WA. When I’m not looking after the state’s sick and injured I enjoy time with my young family and seeing live music, cinema and comedy shows and writing the occasional review for this here website.