Andrew Cousins from Gema Records examines the influence of Two Tone Records on Music and Social Integration
It’s not often that a label also manages to be a musical movement, but Two Tone confounded the stereotypes to be exactly that. Rising out of punk and reggae, the bands on the label – and largely who controlled the label – were racially mixed, still a rarity in Britain in the late 1970s. The fact that the speeded up ska sound, which was Two Tone’s trademark, would be so successful was beyond anyone’s expectations, but it struck a chord with the British public (and overseas, too). Two Tone used the DIY ethic for the label, keeping control of the product and for a while was as successful as any major.
In 1979, Jerry Dammers formed "2 Tone Records". His desire was to create something new.
Black and white became a symbol and 2 Tone Ska was born. The 2 Tone logo of a man in a black suit, white shirt, black tie, sunglasses, pork pie hat, white socks and black loafers became the official logo. In a time of racial riots and the racist National Front organization at its peak, the black and white clothing and racially integrated bands promoted racial unity in a torn country. As with Jamaican Ska, the mood of the times was reflected in the lyrics.
Bands such as Madness, The Beat, The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers, the Specials, revitalized the classic ska sounds of Prince Buster and other first wave artists.
It all began with a punk band, The Coventry Automatics, based in the Midlands. Their multi-racial blend of punk and reggae wasn’t working as they’d hoped, so instead they began playing ska, speeding it up for the young crowds with punk tastes. Changing their name to The Special A.K.A., they toured with The Clash – even though they’d yet to release a record. Determined to go their own way, rather than sign with an established label, they borrowed money to record one song, and took another from a home recording by a friend to fill the other side. They pressed up copies and named the label 2 Tone, with its distinctive black and white logo.
To their surprise that single, Gangsters, did well, and once they’d organised distribution it became a national hit. That was followed by singles from Madness and the Selecter, both Ska records, and both big hits. The Two Tone craze was underway.
The Big Time
Renamed as just The Specials, they scored a hit once again with A Message to You Rudy, after which they put out the debut by another Midlands Ska group, The Beat. Everything the label issued made the top twenty, and most went higher. Suddenly Britain loved the new Ska.
The problem was that it all became too big too quickly, leaving the artists divided between business and music, with both suffering, especially The Specials, who were at the centre of it all. Inevitably there was dissension in the ranks and The Selecter left for greener pastures, but The Specials soldiered on until 1981, breaking up after their biggest-ever single, Ghost Town, a song that perfectly echoed the mood in England during a period of riots.
Two Tone continued after the demise of The Specials, bringing out more singles from artists like Rhoda Dakar and trombonist Rico Rodriguez. Jerry Dammers, leader of The Specials, effectively became Special A.K.A. again and spent two years working on a studio album, although his biggest triumph was 1983’s single Nelson Mandela, which gave Two Tone its last chart hit, selling over 150,000 copies. The label limped along, putting out its last record in 1985, although many of the songs live on in frequent reissues.
So what made Two Tone so important?
The fast beat Ska proved a template for bands worldwide (in America it’s still referred to as the “second wave” of Ska, and remains influential on many young bands), with its energy and the sheer joy of its performances. Many of the bands managed to mix political lyrics with a highly danceable beat and catchy melodies – prime examples of political pop music.
Strong pillars in the Rock Against Racism movement that was prevalent at the time, the Two Tone bands, with their multi-ethnic makeup of black and white artists showed that integration could work in 20th century Britain.
It also showed that artists could be successful as independents, with their own label, running their own lives. Granted it only lasted six years, but the number of hits they racked up during that time showed they caught the mood of at least part of the nation, and did it themselves.
Comments about this article
There are no comments, be the first to leave one!
Empty Courts – Full Prisons
Current page: Political Pop Music
Email a Prisoner
A service with offenders in mind
If it was left to me
What prison is really like
Who guards the guards?
This Way Up
Lags and Wags
A Policeman’s lot is not a happy one!
Barry George: A likely candidate
Challenging Surveillance Evidence - Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000
Brainwashed by the therapy cult
Talk the Tale, Read the Tale at Morton Hall.
Prisoners need protecting from the Home Office.
An illegal immigrant from Russia served the Queen tea.
What It Feels Like ... to be a Prison Guard at Guantánamo Bay
What It Feels Like ... to be a Prisoner at Guantánamo Bay
Book Review..On The Edge: My Story - By Richard Hammond
Book Review...The Murder of Billie-Jo - By Sion Jenkins & Bob Woffinden
Book Review...Child C - By Christopher Spry
September 2014 Headlines
There is no crisis
Learning lessons to reduce suicides in prison
Inspecting the Inspectors
Purpose of prison
Bank accounts - it’s up to prisons now
America’s lap dog
How psychiatry could help you, but generally doesn’t
Why does it take so long
This is NOT me
Treated like cattle
Month by Month September 2014
Spotlight: shining a light on opportunities inside
The Parole Board questionnaire results
Courts accused of wasting £230m a year by locking up suspects awaiting a trial
One hundred and forty three metres
Letter from America
Tell us why you did it
From over the wall
The Forgotten Lifers
Open and out... is it really that simple
Abuse of process
New! Volume 5 of
is now available!
A collection of poems by prisoners of all backgrounds.
Availabe to buy from this site! Volume 1,2,3 and 4 are also still available and you can SAVE by purchasing bundles!
The Useful Services for Prisoners scheme from insidetime provides discounts, vouchers and other benefits from USP Group Members for Prisoners, their families and legal advisors. Click the image above to read more about it.
You can subscribe to insidetime Newspaper and get the paper each month delivered to your door!
Advertise your business or solicitors office to a highly defined target audience.
Inside Time has produced a number of books and publications you can purchase online.
All contact info for the Operations office and the Editorial Team.
Our site map page contains links to all pages on the insidetime site.
We have a number of external websites which you may be interested on our Links Page.
Everything you need to know about visiting people in prison; procedures, opening times, directions etc.
Comprehensive information about each prison regime; lock down times, facilities, healthcare etc.
*NEW* Detailed information about IRC - Immigration Removal Centres.
Various pages of information for help and support organisations and networks for those in custody as well as recently released. Also information for friends and family.
This grants and funding pdf document aims to meet the need of prisoners and ex-offenders for accurate, up to date information on the supplementary funding available to prisoners.
Information on rules & regulations used throughout the prison service.
The Glossary of Prison Related Terms explains what all the acronyms and terms stand for with prison related matters. Includes links to external sites to further explain things.
We have produced many Prison Related Fact Sheets inc. Legal Fact Sheets, Parole Fact Sheets and Other related information.
You can search our solicitor database for listings of solicitors in your area that provide the services you require.
You can search our barrister database for listings of barristers in your area that provide the services you require.
You can search our address database in many ways to retrieve contact information for all those elusive addresses you need in a hurry.
This document provides details of leading training providers who offer sound professional training.
Inside Information has produced a number of books and publications you can purchase online.
Our site map page contains links to all pages on the insideinformation site.
Use the Contact Us Feedback form to send us suggestions, plus our address and phone numbers.
insidejustice was launched in July 2010 to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice.
Full introduction is on the insidejustice homepage