Various Artists - Total Reggae: Greensleeves 40th 1977-2017
What a label! I'd bought the records, played them as a DJ and radio presenter, interviewed many of their artists and producers and then written a lion's share of the company's promotional material throughout the nineties. I was therefore honoured to write the liner notes for this compilation of Greensleeves' finest, released in celebration of their 40th Anniversary.
Greensleeves is one of those labels that define a genre like Blue Note, Motown or Chess. It’s been reggae central for forty years, and has a catalogue of hits that outlines the history of the music during that period better than any other. The name originally belonged to a West Ealing record shop but it wasn’t until founders Chris Sedgwick and Chris Cracknell moved to 44 Uxbridge Road in London’s Shepherd’s Bush that the foundations were well and truly established. In 1977 they launched the label with a 7”single by the Reggae Regular, who were first port of call for visiting Jamaican stars in need of a backing band. Their Where Is Jah opens this essential collection of Greensleeves’ releases, which spans the label’s incredible journey thus far.
Over the years, Greensleeves has become synonymous with all of the latest hits, artists and sounds coming from Jamaica, and especially dancehall. This supply line started with the release of Dr. Alimantado’s Best Dressed Chicken In Town, which became Greensleeves’ first LP in 1978. The cover shows Alimantado greeting a friend in the street, wearing just shorts and red underpants. (We know they’re red because his zip’s undone.) It’s an iconic image and transformative, just like the music although Chant To Jah Jah is taken from the deejay’s second album Son Of Thunder. That’s also the home of Born For A Purpose, which the Sex Pistol’s Johnny Rotten endorsed during a notable radio appearance. The album duly sold 50,000 copies, and did wonders in raising Greensleeves’ profile.
Their first 12” single was War by the Wailing Souls, produced by Channel One’s Jo Jo Hookim and featuring the Revolutionaries – masters of the roots rockers style. It was an era dominated by the likes of Bob Marley, Dennis Brown and Burning Spear, and any new reggae label had to compete with Island Records, as well as Virgin’s Frontline subsidiary. Deep roots music by Keith Hudson and Augustus Pablo – whose Cassava Piece ’79 Style was cut specially for Original Rockers – showed that Greensleeves couldn’t be underestimated. Yet the label was also interested in UK reggae and their first signing was Wolverhampton’s Capital Letters, who played sessions for John Peel after hitting with the irresistible Smoking My Ganja.
The shop on Uxbridge Road soon became a major nerve centre where reggae in the capital was concerned, as celebrated by Ranking Joe on Step It Down Shepherd’s Bush, from his second Greensleeves’ LP Saturday Night Jamdown Style. As the eighties’ dawned, so did dancehall – a more trash and ready style of reggae that came from Jamaica’s sound systems, and opened the doors to an exciting new generation of artists, producers and record labels. Greensleeves came into their own at this point. They knew that keeping their ears to the ground would give them the edge over their rivals, and that’s what happened. Whilst other reggae labels courted the mainstream, Greensleeves began channelling the sound of downtown Kingston and set out to arm every reggae DJ in Europe with it.