2 Sep 2022 01:00

E135: Chris Blackwell on Island from Millie to U2 + Bunny Wailer

In this episode we welcome legendary Island Records founder Chris Blackwell and invite him to reminisce about key moments in his career at the helm of one of the UK's great independent labels. Chris describes his youth in Jamaica, his early exposure to Kingston's sound systems, and his move back to England in 1962. From Millie's 1964 smash 'My Boy Lollipop' to Island's expansion from ska and blue beat into rock and folk, the Harrow-educated mogul reflects on the vital importance of artists such as Steve Winwood, Free, John Martyn and of course the Wailers, the band that made roots reggae a global phenomenon. Clips from a 1988 audio interview with Bunny Wailer prompt reflections on the "Blackheart Man" and his role within the group. A discussion of the Compass Point studio Chris built in the Bahamas takes us to the Island reinvention of Grace Jones and the stunning early '80s albums she made there with the immortal rhythm section of Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare. References to the week's featured writer Rob Partridge — Island's head of press from 1977 to 1991 — leads to recall of the label's biggest act, U2, and the eventual sale of Island to Polygram... not forgetting Chris' signing of the singular Tom Waits in 1983. Many thanks to special guest Chris Blackwell, whose autobiography The Islander is published by Nine Eight Books and available now. Pieces discussed: Maureen Cleave on Ska and Blue Beat, Chris Blackwell in conversation with Richard Green, Richard Williams on Island Records, David Toop on the sale of Island Records, Rob Partridge on Free, Rob Partridge on Reggae and Bunny Wailer in conversation with Mark Sinker (audio).

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