The Story of Trojan Records Documents the Origins of Jamaican & British Youth Culture

15 August 2023

Written by

Jenzia Burgos, Knockturnal

Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records had its U.S. premiere on November 14, 2018, at the DOC NYC Film Festival.

The Sweetshop

The Knockturnal: Rudeboy is gorgeously shot, recreating scenes from the past and drawing on very little archival footage. What was the choice behind that, and what was the process of casting actors for those scenes like?

Nicolas Jack Davies: We had no choice really BUT to consider shooting recreations. The reason being that there is very very little archive of those times from the Jamaican and Jamaican Immigrant perspective. Also, there is no ‘behind the scenes’ type of footage to lean on with regard to the artists. So we imagined it all with our filming. We interviewed them first, built our story and then recreated the most pertinent memories or story points in an impressionistic way so you hopefully get an atmosphere or a feeling from it.

Casting actors and working with them was amazing… All young Brits, mostly of West Indian origin. I would give them sections of real interview answers from the people they were casting for and they would take on their persona— and if there was a performance element they would adopt the mannerisms and styles of the singing. It was a great part of the process for me.

The Knockturnal: I really admired your dedicated focus on the Jamaican community throughout the film. Did you find that this kind of true representation had been lacking in media narratives surrounding Trojan Records’ music in the past? If so, how do you think this film set out to fix that?

Nicolas Jack Davies: Thank you. That’s a very generous thing to say. I felt early on that the story had to be from the perspective of the people in it, in their words with as little manipulation as possible as I found that they hadn’t necessarily been presented in that way before in the things I had seen. I just wanted them to tell me how they saw it from their perspective and I tried to create a tapestry of a narrative from there. There was a conversation about having a narrator at one stage, but I got rid of that idea because it felt like no one else should own what’s going on other than the contributors.

As well, I think, especially with the 1960s, the predominantly white middle-class media in England saw those revolutionary times as “Peace & Love,” “The Beatles” and “swinging LONDON,” which was amazing in itself, but it happened alongside a perhaps more lasting (at street level) multi-cultural revolution happing with the mixing and clashes of music and culture brought on by the West Indian immigration in working-class areas.

The Knockturnal: What was your personal connection to this film, its music, and/or story?

Nicolas Jack Davies: I grew up just outside of London surrounded by friends and music and culture that were a direct descendant of this story, this music. I first heard a Trojan Record with Dawn Penn’s ‘No No No’ and it’s U Roy sample. And there’s countless other examples of samples in songs or covers (‘Message to You Rudy’ for example) that were reinterpreted or used in more contemporary times that I heard and then investigated the origins of from there as a young music fan. To me, that sound is as British as it is Jamaican. I grew up in a world where they are inextricably linked in a way and that fascinated me when the prospect of this film came up.

Perhaps more importantly, when devising the film – the thing that excited me the most was to try and tell a positive story about the effects of immigration in a time when immigration and movement of people is seen as negative, destructive and divisive post-Syrian conflict, Brexit, Trump, et cetera. And this story was a portal to another time when they had similar issues and so on.

The Knockturnal: Cultural appropriation is a topic of concern whenever talking about the exchanges between one culture into another. How do you think stories like Rudeboy provide nuance to these discussions?

Nicolas Jack Davies: With the film, for us, we were trying to tell the story from both sides – the movement of people and culture from the West Indies to England and then the white working-class story that connects with it.

Can’t speak for everyone but to me, cultural appropriation is kind of unstoppable at times. It’s either tasteful or not, I think. There’s a line between full-on mimicry for sure but anything defined as cultural appropriation in the era of this film only occurs as a tribute or respect to the culture that is borrowed from or exchanged with. In terms of Skinheads and Mods being influenced by music, fashion, and attitudes of the Jamaicans who came to the UK – I think they were inspired by and then reinterpreted those influences, from what I can see, and formed a new connection which created a moment of multi-cultural exchange.

The Knockturnal: This film was created in honour of Trojan Records’ 50th anniversary. What do you think still resonates most from this label’s story all these decades after its inception?

Nicolas Jack Davies: The music, simply put. It was culturally and socially mega-important but without the music it’s nothing. One way or another they assembled one of the greatest catalogues of original, innovative songs (and some quality covers) ever – especially in the UK. The music is timeless and brilliant and highly influential – and it will be another 50 years from now.