Featured here are a number of mid-1960s to late-1970s ska and reggae record labels. They are from a collection owned by DJ and graphic designer Shernette Daly, who worked for seminal reggae label Trojan Records in the noughties. Links to Daly’s radio show and website are at the end of this article.
Part One: Windrush & Skinheads
How much of your collection is inherited from your father? Is this the music you listened to in your childhood, or did you come to appreciate it in later years?
During my childhood, my father introduced me to several genres; early rhythm and blues, Motown soul, jazz, blues, mento, reggae, blue beat, ska, rocksteady, roots, instrumentals, reggae vocals, lovers rock, disco, funk, country and western, calypso, 1980s pop, rock music and gospel.
Growing up with two older siblings, we listened to both legal and pirate radio stations such as Radio One, Kiss FM (when it a pirate radio station), LWR, Sunrise, Centre Force, Rock to Rock, Beat FM, Choice FM – this opened me up to discovering so much more musically.
My father accumulated a diverse collection of records, but lost many of his vinyls over the years for various reasons, leaving him with only a few hundred. I have vivid memories of us visiting record shops together, shops across London and this also inspired me too.
I started purchasing records from the age of 12 when I saved my pocket money to buy music. I have a collection of around 5000 vinyl records including 7”, 10”, 12” singles and albums. In addition, like many people, I also bought and was given numerous CDs whilst working in the music industry – approximately 4000.
Don Letts said that skinheads were the first multicultural movement in the UK. He also refers to punk as having been a refuge from racism. Caribbean music undoubtedly played a huge role in integrating the neighbourhoods of Windrush immigrants and the white working class at the same time that Enoch Powell was giving his Rivers of Blood speech. Do you have any comment on this?
My parents are both from the Windrush generation so I have first-hand knowledge of their experiences of living in London, my father arrived here in 1955 and my mother in 1962. Because of British colonialism people from the West Indies had this perception they would be immediately welcome in this country, particularly as they were invited to help build the economy after WW2, yet they were still treated like illegal immigrants from the moment they arrived.
Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech fuelled further fear amongst Caribbean communities, encouraged segregation and condoned violent behaviours. It was uncalled for since Caribbean people worked very hard in job roles many British people didn’t want to do, they came here placed into specific job roles, not to live off the benefits system and ‘take jobs’ as Powell suggested. It was quite ridiculous and the current issues under Theresa May’s government and now Boris Johnson on sending the Windrush generation back home is truly disgraceful and upsetting to witness.
Ska music encouraged integration as there wasn’t a lot going on socially in the UK. British people with rebellious attitudes during the mid 60s could identity with genres such as ska and rocksteady, but from research and my conversations with relatives, I found the music scene still had a huge divide.
The unity brought by late 70s rock/punk groups like The Clash with their cross-genre influences and The Specials (a self-consciously multi-racial group) was short-lived as the combination of economic turmoil and unemployment during Thatcher’s government created a terrible recession. Racism in the UK has been systematic since the Windrush period with older generations passing down negative viewpoints.
Part Two: Design & Influence
There are exceptions, but it feels like the JA labels are mostly simpler, more carefree designs (and some – High Note, High School, GG – have cheerful 1950s-style designs) where as the UK labels tend to lean to a more aggressive style of design. Would there have been a conscious effort by labels to appeal to the white skinhead/inner city street scene?
All of the reggae record label designs use strong visual communication with memorable names, typography, symbolism and colour palettes. I think UK labels such as Punch (active between 1969-1975) had a distinctive and very powerful language. Punch’s illustrative fist combined with the textured news print perhaps did appeal to the Skinheads. If we were to compare this to another UK label such as the Giant ska label, there is a completely different tone of voice again, with no graphic references to JA, so we could indeed assume this was a deliberate strategy to appeal to a British audience.
As the scene began to become more popular, with the Skinheads love of ska and rocksteady, some of the ska tracks were specifically created with a sound to appeal to the audience. The design may have been created with a specific intention, but it was all about the music, the provenance of the label wouldn’t have prevented sales.
Labels such as Treasure Isle have more obvious links to Jamaica beginning with the name – Treasure Isle which is a subsidiary of the founder Duke Reid’s labels; Trojan, Duke Reid, Duchess and Treasure Isle. Treasure Isle was the name of Duke Reid’s liquor store and then transferred to the name of his record label.
The Duchess label was named after Duke Reid’s wife. Reid was involved with Island music from the mid 50s when he launched ‘Duke Reid, The Trojan Sound System’ after the British-made Trojan vans used to transport the system from one venue to another.
GG record label is the name of the founder Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin. The GG element apparently came from the two Gloria’s in his life, which he also used for the name of his 1950’s sound system ‘GG Discotheque.’ Ranglin began by setting up a TV and Juke box repair shop, but this later became a record shop under the name of GG records.
Other labels such as ‘Ackee’ derive from the Ackee plant in the Caribbean which is a popular dish across the West Indies, so may seem to have a softer tone of voice. The design was more about celebrating part of Jamaican heritage/culture forming an immediate relationship through its very specific symbolism/iconography.
I’ve only scratched the surface of the research to further deconstruct the meaning behind the designs, so I am being subjective, but what is clear from the JA designs is the array of everyday influences to create such impactful and memorable names.
The colour palette is predominately yellows/oranges and cyan – sun and sea! A stark difference to the decadent (foxtrot, swing) labels of earlier periods with their deep colours and gold text. Would you attribute this purely to the changing times and new post-war youth market, or do you feel there’s a reflection of the Jamaican landscape?
The JA labels depict a broad spectrum of colours from the vernacular and heritage of the Caribbean, encompassing many cultural elements from Jamaica and the earlier period of the mento genre, which originates from Africa, but became the sound which later influenced calypso and soca from Trinidad and Tobago. The UK and US pressings were influenced by these colour palettes. The West Indies is on the whole a very colourful place and this translated through to the label designs which occurred on JA/US/UK pressings. In the 1960s the UK was still a very grey place, recovering from the war, so an injection of colour would surely have been welcomed.
Part Three: Collecting & Value
A lot of the records (both yours and online) are graffitied with names or notes, to the extent that it feels like these additions are almost as much a part of the artwork as the printed label. As a collector, does this bother you? Or does it capture a social history, a collective memory of sorts?
The names and numbers scribbled on records adds to their charm and provides individuality in my opinion. These notes can provide details about the provenance beyond the place of purchase of each piece of vinyl – telling us a little about the previous owners. The names were there for several reasons – to ensure records were not mixed up amongst DJs/ Sound Systems and returned to their owners after a party, for example.
My father added ‘73’ to all of his vinyls, when I questioned why he had chosen this number he stated that it was a great and happy year for him living in the UK but also made his records distinguishable… but it didn’t stop him losing a large proportion of his collection!
In the competitive sound system culture, some record labels were deliberately blacked out (usually with a marker pen or completely removed) to stop the opposition from seeing what was going to be played next, so I have some records with no label which indicates the records could have previously belonged to someone prolific from the music scene.
Some of the scribbles also help you to identify which side to play as some pressings were incorrect, or some records have a better b-side. I usually put a simple tick to give me an indication of which side to play. I have bought records with more detailed notes inside the sleeve; there was one which had an A5 piece of paper with a short letter, the record was a gift for someone’s auntie and the note detailed how much they deserved it.
There was a thread on the Trojan Records forum where people were giving their choice of best looking reggae label and one user commented that they always used to get excited when they saw the Punch label, that 9 times out of 10 when they played the record they liked it. Perhaps as a designer you will be biased, but how much do you think the designs contributed to the success of a label?
Punch as a label released many good tunes with their catalogue and generally have clear pressings with a distinctive, heavy analogue sound. The design of the record label is great, they are well considered, delivering label designs which have an original quality and provide distinction between genres of reggae, with such good designs; type, colour palettes and symbolism, but ultimately the success is because of the music production from prolific producers.
Some songs were released on multiple labels. What would determine which pressing is the most valuable/sought after? Does the quality or excitement of a label design also contribute to its value for collectors?
As a collector, you try to obtain the original JA pressing. JA Pre-Release (White label) and original JA released versions are the most sought after pressings. Because I am a designer and have always appreciated the label designs, I have consciously tried to collect the ones I want – as many as I can! A good quality of pressing and sound is also what a true collector wants, the quality of the pressings, masters and recordings can differ. Also, because the records are so old sometimes it’s hard to obtain a vinyl without lots of surface scratches, you will indeed pay much more for one in good condition.
Rare tunes are also sought after by collectors and these can be found almost anywhere; charity shops, record fairs, boot sales, record shops, there are also dedicated record auctions which take place where you will find very valuable pieces. There have been auctions which sell 7” single reggae vinyls and other genres with prices from £50 to the most I’ve ever seen for a single, which was £1750. Outrageous!
Have you noticed any change in the collectors market as a result of the recent renewed interest in playing records?
Yes, the value of some records have increased considerably and some of the hidden stores I personally visit have now been discovered by many, so it’s much more difficult to find specific tunes. I tend to buy a lot of tunes online from sites such as Discogs and eBay but two of my favourite stores are Eldica Records in Dalston, East London and Supertone Records in Brixton, South-East London. My brother was recently searching for a record which used to be sold for approximately £20 or under, now you will be hard pressed to source an original copy for less than £80. There is a huge re-press market, often bootlegged records will also have a street value depending upon the release. For example, if the original is rarer, perhaps worth more than £300 – the value of repress can increase to at least £50.
Trojan Records released a limited series a few years ago, which had 250-500 pressings including unreleased tracks from their archive. These 7 inch records sold for £7 new and once sold out within a few weeks you would see them online for a considerable price. In these situations I purchase two copies, but generally I prefer original pressings.
Now music is readily available on digital platforms, the interest in buying records is now more limited to dedicated collectors. Do you find there’s less records in circulation now, or has the dumping of analogue music by the casual listener increased the availability?
There are so many tunes unavailable to listen to online, some of my tunes are very rare, so if you were to use Shazam to find the track for example – you couldn’t. With reggae, I would say there are less original pressings in circulation because of the rise in interest, but this often occurs in phases depending on what is currently deemed trendy to younger audiences. Once it is no longer fashionable the market becomes busy once again as these tunes go back into circulation.
Using this platform as a call-out to other collectors, is there a record you would love to own that has eluded you thus far?
The Cooler by The Wrigglers (Giant, 1968). It’s an absolute rocksteady scorcher. It’s one of the tunes which has increased considerably in value… and one of the records my father lost!