5 min read

Call for 2 Tone memories as Coventry celebrates its Ska heritage

a group of young Two Tone music fans snapped in the 1970s

Two Tone Group © Toni Tye

Call out to fans to contribute as the first exhibition dedicated to the 2 Tone Music phenomenon prepares to open in Coventry

The 2 tone and UK ska music scene, which tore across the airwaves and flooded millions of teenage bedrooms with a joyously subversive concoction of sounds in the early 1980s, may have grown to become a nation-wide phenomenon, but its roots definitely lie in Coventry.

A fusion of Jamaican ska, punk and indie music, 2 Tone’s sound developed in Coventry’s febrile music scene of the 1970s into something that was unique, multicultural and somehow quintessentially British.

The name 2 Tone derives from the legendary record label founded in 1979 in Coventry by Jerry Dammers of local Ska legends The Specials, and according to Dammers its name directly referenced a desire to transcend and defuse the racial tensions that festered in late 1970s Britain.

Most of the bands on the 2 Tone roster were multi-racial and the label’s first single – which also established the enduring checkerboard and rude boy motif – featured the Specials and another legendary Coventry Ska outfit, the Selecter. ‘Gangsters’ and the eponymously titled ‘The Selecter’, raced to number 6 in the UK music charts.

a photo of a bunch of people with beer cans and smiles

Desmond of the Selector and Lynval of the Specials with Two Tone fans. 1980. © Toni Tye

photo of young teenage ska fans

Young Ska and Two-Tone fans, Coventry, 1980. © Toni Tye

It was the beginning of a musical journey that brought a politically charged music that truly reflected multicultural Britain, into the mainstream.

Now this vibrant musical heritage is about to be celebrated with the first ever major exhibition in the UK devoted to the 2 Tone music sensation and its happening in 2 Tone’s home town.

Showing at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry, 2 Tone: Lives & Legacies will run from May 14 to September 12 2021 to coincide with City of Culture celebrations – and members of the public are being asked to contribute.

“We are incredibly excited to celebrate the 2 Tone phenomenon through this blockbuster exhibition,” says the Herbert’s creative director Francis Ranford. “The support we have received so far from band members, fans and industry experts has been incredible – however we would still like more contributions from fans.”

“If you are a 2 Tone fan, please share your favourite 2 Tone memories, photos and videos with us by emailing them to 2Tone@culturecoventry.com by Sunday 28 February 2021 for a chance to feature within the exhibition.”

The exhibition features fashion items and memorabilia, including the iconic 2 Tone suit, pork pie hat, Fred Perry polo shirt and the Harrington jacket worn by The Special’s lead guitarist Roddy Radiation.

Other contributors include The Selector guitarist Noel Davies and their lead singer Pauline Black, Rhoda Dakar of the female Ska band the Bodysnatchers and The Special AKA, rock n roll photographer Chalkie Davies, the man behind the iconic 2 Tone design John ‘Teflon’ Sims and artists Stewart Francis Easton and Duncan Whitley.

photo of two young ska fans smiling a waving

Cov Boys. © Toni Tye

photo of a band onstage

The Selecter gig, 1980. © Toni Tye

The exhibition explores the formation of the record label and examines its philosophy, political and social message, design and impact on the music charts of the day. It highlights the bands that were part of the label, focussing on The Specials, The Selecter but also other ska-influenced bands such as Madness, The Beat and The Bodysnatchers.

It will look at 2 Tone’s continuing influence on music, fashion, politics and culture and include interviews and quotes from original band members and 3rd wave ska bands from around the world, famous fans and 2 Tone fanatics. It will also bring the story up to date – with band members touring nationally and internationally.

The show will culminate in an immersive 2 Tone experience celebrating the energy and legendary sound of the bands’ performances together with special 2 Tone playlists and an area for visitors to leave their own memories, thoughts and highlights of the 2 Tone era.

The exhibition which has been organized in partnership with Coventry Music Museum and features guest curators Simon Reynolds, Cory Barratt, Pete Chambers, Jennifer Otter Bickerdike and Daniel Rachel, is also asking for members of the public to submit ‘selfie style’ video clips in portrait orientation that express “What 2 Tone means to you”

After the success of another recent exhibition that invited fans to contribute to an important part of West Midlands musical heritage – 2019’s Home of Metal: Black Sabbath at BMAG – it will be interesting to see what Coventry and its 2 Tone fans can come up with in response.

backstage photo of a girl band all dressed in mod and ska clothes

The Body Snatchers – the legendary seven-piece all-female band from the British 2 Tone ska revival of the late 1970s and early 1980s. © Toni Tye

2 Tone: Lives & Legacies will run from 14 May to 12 September 2021 at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum

Send your videos, memories and 2 Tone pictures to 2Tone@culturecoventry.com by February 28 to be involved.


Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

Coventry, Coventry

The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum is the perfect place to delve into Coventry’s history and engage with art and culture. Investigate the natural world, modern art, and the Old Masters. Wander through dazzling interactive displays, and enjoy the latest exhibitions while admiring the building’s unique architecture. As well as…

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *