The story of The Blue Beat Label began in 1949 when entrepreneur Emil Shalitt began importing Jazz tapes from America, and releasing 78rpm records in Britain on his Melodisc record label - the first independent record company in Britain.
His catalogue expanded to include diverse genres, including Irish Folk music, Cha Cha Cha, Blues, and African Hi-Life records, as well as the Mento and Calypso records from the Caribbean which became internationally popular in the early 1950s. He would also export these shellac discs to overseas markets.
Apart from importing and exporting music, Melodisc embarked upon recording and releasing home-grown Calypso tunes, recorded in London with recently arrived Caribbean musicians.
Such names as the Calypsonian Lord Kitchener made ground breaking recordings which fused the raw island sounds of Calypso incorporating some of the best UK based Caribbean Jazz players of the day such as Joe Harriott to create a quirky Jazz/Calypso fusion in 1950s London that became internationally popular with fans.
Emil Shallit had initially employed Jack Chilks as label manager, who was followed by Trinidadian musical director Rupert Nurse. Then in 1953 an A&R man named Siggy Jackson took over the London office to oversee the operation.
By the end of the 1950s a very different style of music began to emerge from the newly established recording studios of Kingston, Jamaica.
Emil Shalitt's Caribbean connections brought him into contact with the producers of this new music, and he started licensing Jamaican recorded tracks to be marketed mainly for the Caribbean communities in Britain.
Siggy Jackson was given the task of releasing and marketing this new style of music - which was essentially a Jamaican interpretation of the US shuffle R&B music that was very popular on the Island in the fifties - but this music had a different lilt. Jackson said "it sounded like blues, but it had a catchy beat, so I called it Blue Beat" - and so a legendary label was born.
The first release on this new Blue Beat Label was in 1960 - Boogie Rock/Little Sheila by Cuban born singer Laurel Aitken, and from the beginning the new sound became a popular hit in the Caribbean clubs, dances, and parties in Britain.
As the sixties progressed, so did the music. Licensed tracks from Jamaican producers such as Byron Lee, Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid, and Prince Buster - whose pioneering production of the Folkes Brothers Oh Carolina featured the first ever example on record of Rastafari drumming - became the soundtrack for a new generation.
The label also released some of Siggy Jackson's home-grown UK productions by UK based artists such as Laurel Aitken, Rico Rodrigues, and The Marvels, and The Blue Beat Label made inroads into the UK market.
The popularity of the new sound spread rapidly, and it wasn't long before radio presenters like the popular Blues DJ Mike Raven had made "Blue Beat" into a generic term that encapsulated this new Jamaican sound - regardless of what actual label it was released on.
Just as R&B, Jazz, and Rock'n'Roll had been the favoured music of the youth in earlier years, so it was in the sixties with young British mods taking in the sounds of black American Soul,
(popularly referred to as "Motown" in the UK after the Tamla Motown record label) and alongside "Motown" the young ravers also latched on to the new sounds of "Blue Beat".
The Blue Beat Label showcased some of the earliest works from Jamaican artists who went on to become household names on the scene in later years: Prince Buster, Derrick Morgan,
Owen Gray, Alton Ellis, Derrick Harriott, Toots and the Maytals and many other names began their international careers with UK releases on The Blue Beat Label.
In 1962 a young British Jamaican record label owner named Chris Blackwell moved his operations from Kingston to London, where he shared premises with pioneer London Jamaican record producer Sonny Roberts.
Chris Blackwell had established his Island label in Jamaica in 1959, releasing records for the local market, and following on from the success The Blue Beat Label, he saw an opening in the UK market that he could utilise to sell his own records that he was importing from the island, and along with Rita and Benny King's R&B operation - who had also started releasing the new Jamaican sounds in London - the popularity of Jamaican music blossomed.
By 1963 The Blue Beat Label began releasing some of the first examples of a new Jamaican beat called "Ska" - the new sound of independent Jamaica. The name first appeared spelled as "Sca" on a 1962 Island LP by Derrick Morgan titled Forward March! - a celebration of Jamaican independence. The new beat caught on instantly although the music was still generally referred to as "Blue Beat" in the UK. Chris Blackwell advertised his own early Ska releases as "Blu Beet".
Several minor UK chart entries ensued from The Blue Beat Label's most prolific artist Prince Buster, who flew to London to promote his new success, recording his hit Wash Wash using UK session musicians - including Georgie Fame on organ. Georgie Fame went on to release his own EP entitled Rhythm and Blue Beat, on which he covered Prince Buster's Madness and the Monty Morris hit Humpty Dumpty.
It was Chris Blackwell who achieved the biggest hit of the era when he recorded Jamaican singer Millie Small in London, with Jamaican guitar legend Ernest Ranglin as arranger and top UK session players covering Barbie Gaye's 1957 R&B shuffle hit My Boy Lollipop, which reached No.2 in the UK chart and sold over six million copies worldwide.
The biggest selling record in The Blue Beat Label catalogue of that era was Prince Buster's 1964 release Al Capone c/w One Step Beyond, which reached no. 18 in the UK charts in February 1967, leading to an appearance on the popular TV chart show Ready Steady Go, a legendary gig at London's Marquee Club, and a UK tour.
The record had sold slowly after its initial release, but eventually reached the top twenty. Due to the music selling mainly in localised specialist music outlets, many sales were never registered in official chart sales shops, and with an unknown number of re-pressings, Al Capone remained available right through into the 1970s, and there are no available accounts to show exactly how many copies of this massively popular dance track actually sold over those years - as is the case with so much of The Blue Beat Label catalogue.
As the decade moved on the music of Jamaica evolved from the lively beats of Ska, into the slower, heavier sounds of Rocksteady, and then into the unique new sound of Reggae, but the
generic name of Blue Beat still stuck with many British fans, and new releases on various different labels continued using the generic term right into the early seventies.
Albums such as the 1967 Rocksteady LP "Blue Beat Special" - which was on the Coxsone label - was specifically marketed at the UK audience, and many other albums freely and frequently mixed up the terms "Reggae, Blue Beat and Ska".
In 1967 after releasing over four hundred singles and a plethora of albums on The Blue Beat Label, Siggy Jackson resigned from Melodisc Records following a dispute with Emil Shalitt, and Melodisc's ground-breaking Blue Beat Label was discontinued.
Jackson then went to work for EMI records to focus on his own UK productions with bands such as the Bees, Laurel Aitken, the Mopeds, Blue Rivers, and several other names. He released a series of records on the Columbia Blue Beat label, but these failed to have the same impact that the original sounds from Jamaica were achieving, and the label was discontinued after nineteen releases.
The music of Jamaica was on the cusp of its greatest period of international success to date at that time, with artists Desmond Dekker and American singer Johnny Nash introducing the sound of Rocksteady into the international charts, and the emergence of the new vibrant rhythms of Reggae, which stormed the UK charts in the following few years introducing a new generation to the music of Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, The Maytals, and so many other great names that went on to become widely renowned.
Then The Blue Beat Label resurfaced briefly in 1972, reissuing some of the popular Prince Buster hits that were in huge demand, as well as some new Reggae songs from John Holt, but the label had faded from wider popularity with the abundance of new labels and rapidly changing musical trends of the decade. However, retrospective interest in the label continued to grow due to its lasting popularity in parties, clubs and discos, and records that had been released in the sixties became cherished and sought after collectors items among the youth subcultures of the day, as well as more mature and dedicated record collectors.
In the late 70s/early 80s, interest in The Blue Beat Label was once again rekindled when groups such as Bad Manners, Madness, The Specials, The Beat, and The Selecter kicked off a "Ska revival" by blending Ska rhythms with a Punky influence and filled the charts with hit record releases. Madness adopted the name of a Prince Buster song of that title as their band name, covering classics from The Blue Beat Label like Madness and One Step Beyond. Gangsters - an adaptation of Prince Buster's Al Capone - was the first hit for The Specials on their new 2-Tone label, and The Beat covered Prince Buster's version of Eddy Grant's Rough Rider on their debut album I Just Can't Stop It, which became one of the best selling and acclaimed albums of the era. The Blue Beat Label duly joined the success of this "Ska revival" by reissuing some of those original classic tracks on 12" singles.
Some years later in the 1990s, Buster Bloodvessel - leader of Ska revivalist band Bad Manners helped continue The Blue Beat Label by licensing the label name from Siggy Jackson for a series of releases that were sold successfully mainly to the band's large fanbase, but did not reach the hoped for wider audience at the time. Nevertheless it was a decent continuation of a series of releases on The Blue Beat Label including the wonderfully produced Get Along Without You Now.
In 2001, band leader, singer/songwriter and record producer Marcus Upbeat located Siggy Jackson and approached him with a new idea. Marcus recalls: "I had recently formed No.1 Station - a band playing new original songs in the style of the classic Jamaican music that I'd grown up with. Many bands had latched on to the "Ska revival" style of the Punky-Ska 2-Tone craze of the eighties, and various "new waves" had emerged from that root in the ensuing years, but I wanted to differentiate my sound from that particular "Ska" genre. I wanted to return to the roots of the music and release records in the more traditional styles of classic Jamaican Ska, Rocksteady, and early Reggae, and to revive the name "Blue Beat" as the generic umbrella term to describe my new music".
Then teaming up with previous owner Siggy the label was relaunched by the duo in 2004. This resulted in an overjoyed Siggy Jackson pressing a new series of official vinyl releases on
The Blue Beat Label and Marcus' dream of a Blue Beat revival had become a reality.
Marcus and No.1 Station released six 7" singles - twelve original tracks - on The Blue Beat Label which included new tracks featuring original Blue Beat artists The Marvels and Eddie
"Tan Tan" Thornton - the trumpeter on all the No.1 Station releases.
A total of twelve new singles on The Blue Beat Label were released in this series, and although Marcus didn't quite fully achieve his dream of getting a number of other contemporary bands to release tracks on The Blue Beat Label to create the movement he'd wanted, he did manage to get Siggy to release one single from popular Kent band Intensified, and one from the original
Pyramids band (aka Symarip).
Siggy also reissued two Laurel Aitken tracks, and a single by The Mopeds which had previously been issued on Columbia Blue Beat.
In 2009 - after more than fifty eventful and uniquely successful years in the business - Siggy Jackson retired from the music industry, in the process allowing and enabling Marcus to carry on as successor and the new owner of The Blue Beat Label that they had successfully breathed new life into together.
Marcus then embraced the emerging and ever faster growing digital age for The Blue Beat Label. An exclusive digital distribution agreement for The Blue Beat Label was implemented in 2009 and over the following years a few selective No.1 Station and other releases were made available for digital release on iTunes and other reputable digital outlets. During October 2011 Marcus registered Blue Beat Records Ltd. to operate, administer and conduct the business affairs of The Blue Beat Label.
Also during 2011 Marcus and No.1 Station supported Roxy Music on their 2011 UK arena tour bringing The Blue Beat Label continuation and music to a bigger new audience. Through careful management and guidance The Blue Beat Label survived the turmoil of the past decade in the independent music and entertainment sectors.
Then during 2018 planning began for The Blue Beat Label 60 Year Celebrations in 2020.
This resulted in The Blue Beat Label getting a further reboot during summer 2019, This reboot included a brand new 7" vinyl single release (the first in almost 10 years) during summer 2019 along with a brand new website thebluebeatlabel.com featuring all the releases on the label since 1960.
Still proudly a truly independent record company, The Blue Beat Label celebrates sixty years since the first release, and sixty years of The Blue Beat Label during 2020. Another chapter in
The Blue Beat Label story has begun.
The Blue Beat Label is still going independently at sixty!