|Dave Hendley, writer on Jamaican music and art director of many a CD re-issue for Trojan Records, charts his lifelong love affair with reggae.
Jamaican popular music in all its many guises, and photography, have been the only two consistent passions of my life. If I were only to be allowed one of theses indulgences I think my obsession with reggae has the upper hand.
This music has been my companion through good times and bad since the tail end of the 1960s. It has provided the soundtrack of my adult years and allowed me access to the people, places and experiences that have shaped and defined the past four decades of my life.
Since the days of ska the principal format for the music has always been the 45-rpm, seven inch single – the perfect platform to perform a three-minute explosion of energy and emotion. The unconventional character of the music is reflected in the liberated raw graphics that give each of these records its individual character.
Beyond a handful of names, such as Roy Tomlinson who designed the iconic, and much imitated, Studio 1 logo, the artists who gave Jamaican music such a strong visual identity remain largely anonymous. The casual disregard for design conventions alongside the bold use of colour, typography, and illustration give these graphics a vibrancy that is all too often lacking in our own contemporary imagery with its unhealthy obsession with computer generated perfection.
Mis-spellings, typographic errors and all manner of imperfections flourish on these labels and sleeves. Sometimes this results in moments of unintended humour, such as in the case of the celebrated Studio 1 re-issue of Horace Andy’s song ‘Illiteracy’, which is ironically and quite shamelessly mis-spelled as ‘Illiciteracy’.
No reference to the graphic design of reggae would be complete without mention of the silk screen Studio 1 sleeves of the 1970s. originally introduced by the label’s owner Coxsone Dodd as a cost cutting measure the crudity of the process inadvertently created some of the most graphically stunning examples of album cover art in any genre of music.
Most prized of these sleeves are the ones printed on recycled cardboard and a peek inside ‘Studio 1 Showcase – volume one’ reveals that it is printed on the reverse of a Selsun Anti-Dandruff carton.
I love the physicality of these old records and the way they are so connected to the past. Whenever the postman delivers a new addition to my collection I imagine it being enjoyed by its previous owners and wonder about the time line of events that have led it from the pressing plant in Jamaica to my UK home in a small seaside town. Such connections are impossible with CDs and iPods.