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bio-photo-1 bio-photo-2 Sonny Roberts of Orbitone Records.

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The Biography of the Legendary Sonny Roberts

Do you remember Sonny Roberts of Orbitone Records and Spindle Records located in Harlesden, London NW10, England? Sonny Roberts, who was born in the Manchester, Jamaica in the district of Spice Grove, went to London in 1958 on-board the historical Manistee ship to learn a trade in carpentry and to further his ambitions. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Sonny struggled his way through sheer hard work and low pay by working for furniture companies and set design companies in England.  Although, he was excellent at his craft and loved carpentry, Sonny was becoming despondent due to the unbearably cold workshops he had to work in.  Winter months in England were no laughing matter! Sonny and his wife Monica and three children – Jackie, Cleon and Andrett to support.  Mouths had to be fed and bills had to be paid!  Sonny had to work harder.  He had a full time job working 9 – 5 at a carpentry factory, however, he quickly learnt that he could earn extra income by making speaker boxes for sound systems.  Eventually Sonny decided to start his own sound system called Lavender and discovered that by playing at people’s parties and weddings he was earning more in a night  than he would earn in one week at the carpentry factories and workshops.  Hence, he decided to become self-employed. In 1961, Sonny managed to save enough money to establish the first recording studio by a Jamaican Britain, in the basement of 108 Cambridge Road, Kilburn, London NW6.  This was where the Planetone label was created which released songs by alto saxophonist Mike Elliott and the famous trombonist Rico Rodriquez. Whilst still doing his carpentry work Sonny met Chris Blackwell the founder of Island Records. Sonny was doing some commission work at Chris’s home and they both soon realised that they had similar musical tastes!  They both shared a passion for Jamaican culture, Jamaican music and Rhythm and Blues.  Sharing stories about Jamaica was something they could also relate to. Sonny and Chris soon became good friends, mainly because Sonny was extremely hardworking, very ambitious and honest too.  Chris also liked the fact that Sonny owned a recording studio where he not only cut records but he was pressing them as well. During that time, Chris’s office was based in the London’s West End.  Many black artists and musicians came to his office, much to the disapproval of residents and business owners who complained.  Chris decided to leave.  Fortunately in the same building where Sonny’s studio was situated, an office was available to rent so Chris moved his offices there.  Ironically the building was owned by Leichman ‘Lee’ Goptal (founder of Trojan Records) who was an accountant at the time.  The rest is great music history!  108, Cambridge Road became well known by singers and musicians in England and Jamaica as the “go to place”, to break into the music industry.  Roberts closed Planetone and his studio in the late 1960’s to go back to carpentry work to support his wife, two children and to plan his next business venture. In the late 1970’s, Sonny opened Orbitone Records located in the Harlesden area of London.  The store became a hub for the city’s diverse population who wanted the latest reggae, world beat and calypso music.  During the 1970’s, Sonny befriended several African musicians who lived in London.  Among them were Peter King but it was the Nkengas’ who were flown in from Nigeria to perform, that was one of the highlights in Sonny’s music career.  The Nkengas’ recorded some of the earliest examples of Afro Beat music in England.  Roberts produced those projects at the famous Chalk Farm studio in north London which was owned by Vic Keary as well as many other recordings. In a decade when protest music was popular, Sonny showcased reggae’s softer side, releasing albums by Judy Boucher, Joyce Bond and Tim Chandell.  The latter 1977 album; The Loving Moods Of Tim Chandell remains one of the label’s best sellers.  Sonny’s nickname “the ballad man”, was given to him by people in the music industry because of his talent to write and produce soft reggae ballads.  In the summer of 1987, Sonny was savouring the success of Can’t Be With You Tonight, a song by St Vincent-born singer Judy Boucher which went to No.2 on the British national chart.  Unfortunately, Madonna’s single La Isla Bonita prevented him, from obtaining the No.1 position.  The follow-up single “Dreaming of A Little Island” reached No.15.  Sonny’s contribution to music has helped and developed the careers of young, black British artistes. Sonny produced and licensed many popular hits such as:-

  • Tears From My Eyes (covered by UB40)
  • Gipsy Love – Belinda Parker (popular Soca classic)
  • Hot Hot Hot – Arrow (U.K British pop chart hit)
  • The Loving Moods of Tim Chandell – Tim Chandell
  • Carnival in Ladbroke Grove – Roy Alton
  • Can’t Be With You Tonight – Judy Boucher (no.2 in the British pop charts)
  • Dreaming Of A Little Island (no.15 in the British pop charts)
  • Sugar Bum Bum – Lord Kitchener (popular Soca classic)
  • Destruction – Nkengas’ (70’s Afro-funk album)
  • The Nkengas’ In London – Nkengas’
  • Omo Lewa – Peter King
  • A Soulful – Peter King
  • Gimme De Ting – Lord Kitchener (popular Soca classic)
  • Lorraine – Explainer (popular Soca classic)
  • Nice To Have You Back Again – Joyce Bond

Sonny returned to Jamaica in 1997. He is living happily semi-retired, he enjoys working on his farm in Manchester and is a cancer survivor since 2009.  He is passionate about music and still has a flair for business.  Now in his “golden age”, Sonny is still going strong in business.  He has created a successful product which is sold mainly in the Caribbean called Sonny’s All Natural Mosquito & Insect Anti-Itch Formula as well as other natural products.  For details on any of these, check out the company website www.sunburstproducts.com