The Vinyl Say 003: Judge Sympathy

In every collection there are records that get played all the time, many of them for years, decades even. Then there are those that, while no less treasured, somehow fall by the wayside to lie in wait, ripe for rediscovery. This occasional series chronicles some of those nuggets as they resurface from my own back pages. So, put the needle to the record, put the needle to the record, put the needle to the record and it goes like this…

Various – Judge Sympathy: The Birth of Trojan (Trojan/Sanctuary, 2008)

A classic re-surfacer this one – and it’s not even that old. Released in 2008 and marking the 40th anniversary of the demise of the Trojan label in its original form, it rounds up the 11 singles released on that most famous of reggae imprints in less than six months.

The first, the beautifully lilting rudeboy courtroom drama Judge Sympathy, arrived on 28 July 1967; and the last, Phyllis Dillon’s elegantly funky take on Make Me Yours – and arguably the stand out track in the collection – on 12 January 1968. The record is an absolute peach even though, somewhat confusingly, the original label credited it to Shirley Kay. Touchingly, the reissue repeats the error for the sake of authentic inauthenticity, but such are the peculiarities of record collecting and a first press copy is as rare as the proverbial rocking horse plop.

There’s no shortage of other highlights including Freddie McKay’s softly melodic proto-lovers tune Love Is a Treasure, the jazz-tinged rocksteady of Folk Song (aka Fook Sang) by Tony & Dennis and the fresh-as-air (I’m A) Loving Pauper by the creamy voiced Dobby Dobson, which all but blueprints Junior Murvin’s style.

The influence of US soul troubadours like Curtis Mayfield and Joe Pope from The Tams is impossible to ignore and came from Kingston’s R&B scene with key players such as Alton Ellis and Tommy McCook well represented here, not least on a shared disc with Wise Birds Follow Spring and Soul Rock respectively.

Months after the demise of the original Trojan the imprint was reborn and became the UK’s prime source of JA music, but these First XI discs capture it at a very specific point with ska, rocksteady and early reggae gently overlapping to create a soul-soothing blend of beat, meat and feet typified by richly crooned vocals and intricate musicianship that gave way to fiery toasting and crisp moonstomp rhythms to drive the skinhead sounds of 1969 onwards.

There’s much kudos also for the leaflet essay by Laurence Cane-Honeysett who manages to be both informative and passionate, providing the icing on a very rich cake indeed.

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