Director: Nicolas Jack Davies
With so many film festivals being cancelled this year, We Are One: A Global Festival, where films are screened for free over YouTube, is just the ticket. Many film festivals such as the ones in Cannes, Berlin and Venice have programmed films for the 10 day digital festival, and one of the first films to be shown is Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records, a documentary revealing how Britain came up with its own brand of reggae in the 60s and 70s.
Rudeboy comes from the BFI London Film Festival and it’s a typical British story about colonialism, racism and class conflict, Of course, reggae, ska and rocksteady have their origins in Jamaica, and that’s where the film begins with the tale of ex-policeman Duke Reid who would play music outside his liquor store on the newly invented sound system. Nicknamed The Trojan, Reid first played R&B American records, but soon started producing his own sounds with Derrick Morgan as singer, their first single together being called Lover Boy.
While Reid is no longer with us, a surprising number of the stars of the time are still alive and director Nicolas Jack Davies has managed to interview many of them, including Derrick Morgan who remembers hearing his song being played on the radio for the first time. He ran around shouting ‘Listen! It’s me Derrick. Me a sing!’ Other more recognisable names appear as the story moves towards the late 60s; Lee’ Scratch’ Perry, Dandy Livingstone, and Marcia Griffiths who sung Young, Gifted and Black. Pauline Black and Don Letts appear, too, as young British black artists who were so influenced by the sounds coming from Jamaica.
Indeed, there was such a market for ska and reggae that Lee Gopthal set up Trojan Records in London. However, it wasn’t just the West Indian diaspora who was buying the records, but soon, too, the white British Skinheads, when as one person in the film describes, they were ‘fashion’ rather than ‘fascist’. The suede-headed and booted youth loved the sounds and were welcomed to clubs and gigs. The fans of ska may not have been united by the colour of their skin, but instead felt solidarity with each other because both came from the working-class.
This fascinating story is a history of successful racial integration and is unhindered by today’s perspectives of cultural appropriation. The Skinheads were so loyal to the music that Trojan Records released a record for them, Skinhead Moonstomp, featuring a bunch of them of the cover. This racial inclusivity was vital for the 2 Tone movement in the late 70s where bands such as The Specials were comprised of both black and white musicians.
Full of music, and archive footage – the clip of Desmond Dekker singing Israelites is a joy – Rudeboy is the perfect summer film, and the cool rhythms still bring sunshine now as they once did to council estates in the 1970s. The only parts of the film that take some getting used to are the many re-enactments of certain scenes, but with their softened hues, these too add to the nostalgia that underlines this film. We are so familiar with stories of race riots and brutality we often forget the stories where unity was achieved. There may well be some rose tinted lenses here, but don’t let this stop you seeing this important film capturing a very special moment in the history of Britain.
Available here until 6 June 2020. Donations welcome