Thursday, 18 March 2021

2 Tone

Has one single record label done more for shifting thoughts, cooling tensions, and throwing some banging good tunes into the mix, than a small enterprise founded in a small Coventry front room?

By the late 70s, Punk was over - Post-Punk and New Wave were now the preferred terms.  And a Mod Revival was gathering pace.  Close partners in style, attitude and sound of the original Mods in the 60s were the Skinheads.  And as you can';t necessarily have one without the other, the Skinhead revival was happening alongside the Mod Revival.
In truth these sub-cultures had never really gone away, it's just now they were receiving attention again.

Whilst the Mods went for sharp suits and a look that tried to break their connection to Working Class roots and environment, Skinheads revelled in their roots and wore the clothing of their environment - atoned down -but equally sharp - mod look and close cropped hair, and then modified the Mod look with .  The look was not far removed, and was certainly influenced by, Jamaican Rude Boy.  And completing the Caribbean connection, the Skinheads soundtrack was Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae.

The true reasonings for a faction of the late 70s Skinhead becoming associated with far right attitudes and violence is lost somewhere in the mists of my research.  Maybe it was the rise of Oi, disaffection for their environment, rabble rousing and the rhetoric of the rise of the National Front, or a combination of all these things?
From a simple historic view, the archetypal skinhead is now pictured with a Union Jack T-Shirt, a swastika tattoo on their forehead, and a general air of snarling violence.
But hang on - there was another -possibly larger group of the skinhead population which were perhaps truer to the original movement, remained (generally) apolitical and continued to party to the sounds of Prince Buster, The Maytals, Desmond Dekker, and anything on the Trojan label.

And it was from this second group that spawned Jerry Dammers band - The Coventry Automatics, soon to be renamed The Specials.  Politics though, or at the very least Racial politics and disaffected youth politics, were very much to the fore in the (surprisingly?) savvy Jerry Dammers.

And in this sleepy Midland town of Coventry he found he was not alone with ska being performed by multi-racial bands, chief among them The Selector.  Darn sarf in That London, Madness were adopting a similar look and sound, while to the West in the badlands of Birmingham The Beat were knocking around.
Never one to pass up an opportunity to spread the word, Jerry Dammers did a deal with Chrysalis Records to fund the recording of 10 or 15 singles a year and a couple of albums.

First off the blocks was The Specials re-working of Prince Buster's Al Capone backed with good mates The Selecter, and for the next 6 years 2 Tone released a host of singles and albums of influence and popularity.  The Specials manged 2 number one singles and a slew of Top 10 hits, and other bands on the roster weren't far behind.

And the roster is best described as small but perfectly formed - and also did what no other label did.  Gave the bands the freedom to record as much as they want before going elsewhere.
Madness, The Beat, and Bad Manners got their first releases on Two Tone (in the case of Bad Manners it was 2 tracks on the Dance Craze album) before departing the Good Ship.
It's easy to see 2 Tone as a Specials vanity label, but they were joined by The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers, The Swinging Cats, and latterly The Appolinaires and The Higsons.
OK, they may not have set the charts on fire but they all added value and worth the not just to the label but the thoughts and actions of the listeners, both then and in the future.

The label may only have existed for 6 years (1979 to 1985) but it's sound, attitude, and politics captured a moment, made people think (a bit), and no doubt had a lasting influence.

The Specials - Gangsters

The Selecter - On My Radio

The Specials - Doesn't Make It Alright