Words by Jesse Serwer
Photos by Frenel Morris
Chris Cracknell and Chris Sedgwick established Greensleeves Records in 1977 as an extension of their London record shop — a key early outpost for reggae music in England. The label quickly found success by licensing clusters of singles from Jamaican producers like Henry “Junjo” Lawes, and packaging them as full-length albums — offering British listeners access to fresh sounds from Kingston. As reggae begat dancehall, Greensleeves kept ahead of the curve, issuing genre-defining LPs like Barrington Levy‘s Englishman and Yellowman‘s Mister Yellowman. In the mid ’80s, its U.K. Bubblers sub-label gave London toasters like Tippa Irie an international platform, and the label did much to popularize the riddim LP — full-length albums consisting of different vocal tracks recorded over the same instrumental. Shaggy, Mr. Vegas, Vybz Kartel and Busy Signal all released their debut full-length albums as Greensleeves artists.
Cracknell and Sedgwick sold their interest in the label in 2006, a year before its 30th anniversary, and in 2008 the catalog was purchased by VP Records. Today, the definitive U.K. label’s archives are housed in New York City, at the Queens warehouse belonging to VP, once its rival for global reggae supremacy. Yet the Greensleeves brand lives on, through a steady stream of new releases and classic reissues.
Today, Alborosie is the most visible member of the label’s roster on an international level. The Sicily-born artist has released six albums, and a joint dub release with King Jammy’s, through Greensleeves over the last nine nine years. Living and working in Jamaica, he has become one of the leading reggae stars in Europe, particularly in his home country of Italy.
In June, Alborosie arrived in New York City for a concert celebrating 40 Years of Greensleeves with labelmates Queen Ifrica and Addis Pablo, at BB King’s in Times Square. The next day, we met for a walk through Jamaica, Queens, and over to VP for a tour of the Greensleeves archives. As we thumbed through classic releases, from Dr. Alimantado‘s Best Dressed Chicken in Town to Eek-a-Mouse‘s “Wah-Do-Dem,” Alborosie shared his own history with the label, first as a fan and then as an artist. In this episode of LargeUp TV, presented in association with Greensleeves Records, Alborosie is our host as we highlight the label’s role in proliferating the conscious message of reggae music, and the role its aesthetic — the crisp, green logo and comic book-style covers from artist Tony McDermott —played in spreading the gospel. As Alborosie puts it so well:
Sometimes you don’t even know the artist and you just buy the record. That was the power of Greensleeves, and the power of the logo.
Watch “40 Years of Greensleeves Records with Alborosie” here, and keep up with Greensleeves as the label celebrates 40 years, here.