Greensleeves Records paves way for dancehall

In August, it will be 50 years since Jamaica gained Independence from Britain. Today, the Jamaica Observer's Entertainment section reflects on the influence Jamaican pop culture has had on that country in REGGAE BRITANNIA, a weekly feature leading up to the Golden Jubilee.

IF Island Records and Trojan Records put ska, rocksteady and rootsreggae on the British map, it was Greensleeves Records which paved the way for dancehall in that country.

Founded by Englishmen Chris Sedgwick and Chris Cracknell in 1975, Greensleeves was responsible for introducing hardcore dancehall to Britain during the 1980s. They did so through a distribution deal with the hottest producer in Jamaica.

That producer was Henry 'Junjo' Lawes whose Volcano label released some of the biggest hits of the period, many of them recorded at the fabled Channel One studio in Kingston.

The Greensleeves/Volcano deal made singer Barrington Levy and deejay Yellowman huge stars in England and helped revive the career of rocksteady vocalist John Holt.

Sedgwick and Cracknell actually started Greensleeves as a record store but two years later, their small business expanded, becoming a label that distributed underground artistes like singer Doctor Alimantado.

His song, Born For a Purpose, was recorded at Channel One but took off when it was endorsed in Britain by none other than singer Johnny Rotten of the popular punk band, Sex Pistols.

Born For a Purpose became a hit in the West Indian community and among whites. The reception influenced 'Tado' to move to Britain where Virgin Records reportedly offered him a lucrative contract.

Dr Alimantado turned it down, and accepted a distribution deal with the comparatively smaller Greensleeves.

“Greensleeves offered to help me set up my own company which was more important. Greensleeves' offer wasn't financially viable but it offered me the best in a stable company,” he told American author David Katz, for his book Solid Foundation.

Alimantado's Best Dressed Chicken in Town was Greensleeves Records first album release in 1978.

While Alimantado recorded at Channel One, his sound was distinctly roots-reggae. Lawes' productions, driven by updated Studio One rhythms from the Roots Radics Band, represented a new era in reggae. Songs like Looking My Love and Englishman made Levy the Desmond Dekker of his generation in Britain.

Holt also benefited from the Junjo/Greensleeves link. His Sweetie Come Brush Me and Police In Helicopter both did well in England where he had a following since the late 1960s when he was a member of the Paragons.

Other independent Jamaican producers like Linval Thompson had fruitful distribution deals with Sedgwick and Cracknell who assiduously monitored the dancehall scene in Kingston.

That attention to detail resulted in Greensleeves assembling the most formidable catalogue of Jamaican dancehall music from the 1980s.

When the company celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2007, CEO Steve Weltman addressed the value of Greensleeves' work from that decade.

“All our back catalogue titles which includes a bulk of Junjo's work continue to thrive,” he said. “Our release of Barrington Levy's Englishman and The Wailing Souls compilation have been very well received.”

Greensleeves maintained its dancehall ties in the 1990s, scoring with Shaggy's Oh Carolina and Mr Vegas' Heads High. They later had hits with Sizzla and Elephant Man.

In 2006, Greensleeves was purchased by Zest Inc, a company owned by Weltman. Three years ago, it was purchased by VP Records.

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

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