For Island, Life begins at 50
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For Island, Life begins at 50

2009 is the 50th anniversary of the founding of Island Records


Bob Marley, U2, Roxy Music and Nick Drake are among the artists who have called the Island Records label home over the last 50 years.

The Island story started in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 1959, when 22-year-old jazz fanatic Chris Blackwell fell in love with the music of a jazz pianist called Lance Hayward, who had been performing in his hotel.

So Blackwell took him into a recording studio. 'I just loved the band,' Blackwell says. 'It was purely driven by being a fan.

'It wasn't driven by thinking, 'This is a great business to go into'. I was teaching waterskiing which was great fun. A great way to meet girls.'

By 1962, Jamaica had gained its independence from the UK and Blackwell decided that his white skin meant he 'would be viewed more as part of yesterday than tomorrow'.

So he moved to London and set about peddling his repertoire to record shops and stalls, tearing around in his Mini Cooper with stacks of records in the back.

By the early 1970s, Island was one of the hottest labels in the country, home to rock and folk acts like Free, Traffic, Cat Stevens, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and King Crimson.

Blackwell sold Island in 1989, and stepped down as its boss in 1997. Since then, the label's biggest star has been Amy Winehouse, who Blackwell describes as 'an extraordinary artist'.

Despite the drawbacks and turmoil in the music industry, Blackwell says it is a great time for artists and entrepreneurs to take control of their own destinies, as he did five decades ago.

Don't be an Island, be a part of it!

Location: 22 St Peters Square, chiswick, W6 9NW