Sonny Roberts, Planetone, Sway and Kilburn…

A music trailblazer…

What a delight to be contacted by Cleon Roberts, Sonny’s daughter, to share the story of her father and his link with Kilburn. An important part of Kilburn’s link with Afro-Carribean music. Please read on…

In 2018 we published a story, written by Dick Weindling, about Island Records being located at 108 Cambridge Road, Kilburn. In this story there was a mention that 108 Cambridge Road had been used as a studio by Sonny Roberts, for his Planetone Label. We did not realise the importance of Sonny Roberts then.

Sonny Roberts established the first UK black recording studio, in the basement of 108 Cambridge Road, Kilburn in 1960.

He arrived in the UK in 1958, from Jamaica. He worked as a carpenter but is passion was music. He owned a sound system “Lavender” and would frequently appear at various events.

Sonny Roberts with his “Lavender” sound system entertaining guests at a wedding- 1960

In 1960, he rented the basement of 108 Cambridge Road, Kilburn, owned by Lee Gopthal’s family and built a recording studio, the first black recording studio in the UK. The “Planetone” and “Sway” labels were started.

Sonny Roberts pictured in the booth of the Planetone recording studio, 108 Cambridge Road, NW6 in 1960

The following artists had sessions in the Kilburn Planetone Studios.

In 1959, Sonny met Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records while doing some carpentry work at his flat. When Island Records lost their premises, Sonny suggested that they rent the first floor of 108 Cambridge Road. This is when the collaboration between Blackwell and Gopthal started. Lee Gopthal, at the time an accountant, used to spend time in Sonny’s recording studio in the basement and discovered the music he loved.

Sonny Roberts also sang and is said to have sung as “Sunny Earl”, with “Tom Brown and the Boys”. Have a listen here.

The first recording of “Midnight in Ethiopia” by Rico’s Combo took place in the Planetone’s studios in Kilburn. Have a listen here

This site has some recordings made in the Planetone Studios, for you to discover.

In 1968 Sonny converted is recording studio at 108 cambridge Road into his first records shop, “Orbitone records”. Due to the regeneration of South Kilburn, the shop then moved to 2 Station Road, Willesden Junction in 1970, and eventually to 78 Craven Park Road, Harlesden.

After leaving Cambridge Road, Sonny Roberts never stopped promoting and producing Black music. He notoriously recorded and produced African music, the most famous recordings being with “NKengas”. He also produced in 1987, “Can’t Be With You Tonight” by Judy Boucher, which reached the U.K British Charts at No.2. This single holds the record for being the first Caribbean female singer to have the longest stay in the British national charts for 14 weeks

Below is a small selection of records produced and licensed by Sonny Roberts:

Destruction – The Nkengas
Nkengas in London – The Nkengas
Carnival In Ladbroke Grove – Roy Alton
Tears From My Eyes – Teddy Davis
Lonesome Road – B. Lynch
The Loving Moods Of Tim Chandell
Together Again – Tim & Nell
Nice To Have You Back Again – Joyce Bond
Take Me Back – Hot Syndicate
Can’t Be With You Tonight – Judy Bouch (U.K Pop Chart no.2 hit record)
Dreaming Of A Little Island – Judy Boucher
Let The Dollar Circulate – The Mighty Diamonds
What A Wonderful World – Jackie Edwards
Sometimes When We Touch – Dandy Livingstone

Hot Hot Hot – Arrow
Sugar Bum Bum – Lord Kitchener
Gipsy Love – Belinda Parker
Gimme Di Ting – Lord Kitchener
Lorraine – Explainer
Darling Cool It – Asterisk
If You Want Me – Roy Alton
Tell Them – Roy Alton
Leggo Leggo – Roy Alton
My Mistake – Roy Alton
Soca Up The Party – The Might Swallow
The Storm – Shadow
Born Jamaican – The Astronaughts
Gi Mi More – Chevi
Kuchi Gadbad Hai – Kanchan
Pretty Island – The Astronaughts
Rosalie – Chevi

Sonny went back to Jamaica in 1997 and continued recording music. He sadly passed away on the 17th March 2021.

Sonny Roberts

Thank you to Cleon, for sharing details of her father’s life with us and some of the pictures.

  1. Rob Bell Pays tribute to Sonny Roberts. Link
  2. Orbitone Records- Biography. link

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