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The world’s most famous palm tree turned 60 this year. From Bob Marley to Amy Winehouse via Nick Drake, Roxy Music, Cat Stevens, Grace Jones, U2, PJ Harvey, Tricky and many others, Island was the ultimate paradise for real-deal artists. Talking to the men who made it happen, GarethMurphy reveals the true story behind the music business legend



What’s the best record label of all time? It’s a question we sometimes ask in here. Fire this riddle into a room full of musos and watch a shouting match degenerate into a mass brawl. But conduct a proper debate, and I hereby contend, that regardless of one’s personal tastes, a betting man would put his money on Island snatching the democratic vote. On all the key indicators: artists, classics, sleeves, studios, longevity, the ability to break genres, remain relevant, inspire the field and incubate younger labels, Island Records is the contender.

For a start, no other rival comes anywhere near Island’s founder in terms of adventure, taste and living life like a widescreen movie. Yes, the epic story of Island Records begins and ends withits founder, Chris Blackwell, the suave soul-rebel so ingeniously artful, the music business jealously nicknamed him The Babyface Killer.

A white Jamaican born into technicolor horizons, Chris Blackwell’s mother Blanche Lindo was the heiress of a Jamaican rum dynasty whose Sephardic ancestry stretched all the way back to 17thCentury Portugal. His father, Middleton Blackwell, was a protestant Irishman of military stock who hailed from Westport in County Mayo.

The only child of this multicultural love affair, young Christopher missed so much school as a result of chronic asthma that he could not read nor write at the age of eight. But his tropical home provided its own kind of education. Picture a colonial world of spinning fans, Jamaican maids and wild parties where the likes of Errol Flynn and Ian Fleming debated life while Blackwell senior stood at the record player blaring Puccini and Wagner at curtain-flapping volumes.

The separation of Chris Blackwell’s parents provoked a period of upheaval that, in retrospect, may have forged the grit from which his future imprint grew. Shortly after his father relocated to Chicago, young Christopher was sent to boarding school in Harrow, a miserable experience of exile and academic failure that nonetheless had him flying between England, Jamaica and America, getting a bird’s eye view of the world and its music. Nearly expelled for smuggling cigarettes, he dropped out aged 15 and spent years hustling around Jamaica. He tried his hand at jet-ski instructing, real estate, even professional gambling. But through his mother’s friends, he landed two plum jobs, first as a runner for the Governor, then handling logistics for the Jamaican scenes in Dr. No, the first James Bond movie.

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About Long Live Vinyl

Tonight, we're gonna party like it's 1999… Issue 32 of Long Live Vinyl brings you an exclusive first look inside the huge new 15LP Prince boxset as members of the Purple genius' band and his closest friends tell the story of the original 1999 album. We also hear from Estate Manager Michael Howe why this is only the beginning for Prince collectors. Pick up your copy to find out which releases are coming next from the Paisley Park vault. Elsewhere, in our packed interviews section, we sit down with Elbow, Big Thief, Adam Green and Jason Isbell to chat about their new albums, as well as delving into the history of the legendary Palm Tree label, Island Records, as they celebrate their 60th birthday. Fab Four fans should check out our Essential Beatles solo albums collector's guide. Plus we visit the Premier League referee who's running his own record shop, as well as taking an in-depth look at The XX's Mercury Prize-winning album xx. If all that's not enough, you'll find the widest range of new album, reissue and hi-fi reviews anywhere on the newsstand. Long Live Vinyl is THE magazine for vinyl lovers. Pick up your copy today!

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