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‘An experiment waiting to happen’: A brief history of ‘Two Tone Britain’

Jerry Dammers: the father of Two Tone records
Two Tone was a specifically British, or more accurately English, musical genre that came out of punk and ska in the late 1970s. The roots of Two Tone can be traced back to the arrival of West Indians to England—the so-called “Windrush Generation”—under the British Nationality Act of 1948. This act gave British citizenship to all people living in Commonwealth countries and full rights of entry and settlement in the UK. With the arrival of these Commonwealth citizens came ska and reggae music, which was slowly adopted by the white working class.

Most youth music is exclusive—it’s old versus young; hip versus square; mod versus rocker; slacker versus yuppie; black versus white. Few musical genres are totally or even try to be totally inclusive—there is a built-in snobbishness that comes with the package. The osmosis of ska and Afro-Carribean culture into the white British culture pointed a way towards a truly inclusive musical genre—Two Tone. It was, as Two Tone singer Pauline Black once said, “an experiment waiting to happen.”

During the 1960s, Skinheads took ska as their own—but the growing racism of the skinhead movement led to their ostracization. Reggae replaced ska—but the skins hated reggae’s laid-back, spliffed-up vibe. Skinheads became suedeheads. Popular music moved onto glam rock, heavy metal, and prog rock. Then punk arrived in 1976. A new generation of youngsters saw that the means of music production could be theirs.
Two Tone pioneers The Specials.
Jerry Dammers was a young musician in Coventry. He had been a fellow traveler in various youth movements—a hippie, a skinhead, a punk—but his first love was ska. Dammers took the energy of punk with the rhythms of ska and created a new genre of music known as Two Tone—an inclusive, socially aware, “danceable earfest.” Dammers formed the Specials AKA with like-minded youngsters and the best of local talent. The Specials pioneered Two Tone music. They got a record deal that allowed Dammers to set up his Two Tone record label. Its first release was The Specials with “Gangsters” on the A-side and Pauline Black and the Selecter—a band made up in the studio—on the B-side. Dammers quickly signed up the Beat (a.k.a. the English Beat), London band Madness, Bad Manners, the Bodysnatchers and even Elvis Costello and the Attractions.

Two Tone’s iconic black and white label design (an image created by Dammers that was loosely based on a photograph of Pete Tosh from the Wailing Wailers) was a standard for the fans’ style—a mix of Rude Boy and Mod—baggy suit, white shirt, black tie, and porkpie hat. Two Tone brought black and white together and although The Specials could sometimes be didactic—they sent out a political message that united the young.

The whole story is well told by those at its heart and from those who were most influenced by it in Two Tone Britain—a thoroughly enjoyable documentary that makes you realize what at its best music can achieve. (The video embedded below looks suspiciously unavailable, but we assure you, as of the time of posting, you can click on it and watch it!)


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Madness: Ska’s original Nutty Boys in concert from 1980
06:43 pm


Nutty Boys

Madness are now as loved as the Queen Mother was once adored by London cab drivers. Understandable as they have been making people happy with their infectious music for over 30 years.

This is Madness live in Nottingham from 1980. Originally recorded for the BBC, it’s a great show, and although the audio isn’t perfect, it’s difficult not to watch without a grin on your face.

Madness Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson, Mark ‘Bedders’ Bedford, Lee ‘Kix’ Thompson, Carl Smyth (aka Chas Smash), Dan ‘Woody’ Woodgate, Chris Foreman (aka Chrissy Boy), Mike ‘Barso’ Barson

Set list:

01. “Night Boat To Cairo”
02. “E.R.N.I.E”
03. “Mistakes”
04. “Close Escape”
05. “Crying Shame”
06. “Razor Blade Alley”
07. “Baggy Trousers”
08. “My Girl”
09. “Land Of Hope And Glory”
10. “Embarrassment”
11. “On The Pete”
12. “The Prince”
13. “One Step Beyond”
14. “Madness”

Madness will be touring for the release of their 10th studio album Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da (with a cover by Peter Blake), which is out on October 29th, more details here.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Dance Craze - The Best of British Ska Live!’ ft Madness, The Specials, The Beat & more

There’s no need to explain why this film is such a corker. Joe Massot’s Dance Craze is 84 minutes of absolutely mint performances from the best British ska acts of the early 80s, featuring 27 tracks from Madness, The Specials, The Beat, The Selecter, Bad Manners and The Bodysnatchers.

All the bands were signed to the iconic 2 Tone label, who also put out a soundtrack album featuring some of the best cuts from the film. I have that record and it’s excellent, but seeing the footage for the first time in full really puts it in perspective.

The energy, the passion, the clothes, the diversity and yet the sense of community, it’s no wonder ska was the biggest youth movement in the UK after punk. These gigs look great, and it’s a pity more modern live experiences aren’t as communal and just such goddam fun.

I mean, how could you possibly go wrong with a tracklist like this:

“Nite Klub” – The Specials
“The Prince” – Madness
“Ne-Ne-Na-Na-Na-Na-Nu-Nu” – Bad Manners
“007 (Shanty Town)” – The Bodysnatchers
“Three Minute Hero” – The Selecter
“Ranking Full Stop” – The Beat
“Big Shot” – The Beat
“Concrete Jungle” – The Specials
“Swan Lake” – Madness
“Razor Blade Alley” – Madness
“Missing Words” – The Selecter
“Let’s Do the Rock Steady” – The Bodysnatchers
“Lip Up Fatty” – Bad Manners
“Madness” – Madness
“Too Much Too Young” – The Specials
“On My Radio” – The Selecter
“Easy Life” – The Bodysnatchers
“Rough Rider” – The Beat
“Man at C&A” – The Specials
“Inner London Violence” – Bad Manners
“Night Boat to Cairo” – Madness
“Twist and Crawl” – The Beat
“Wooly Bully” – Bad Manners
“Too Much Pressure” – The Selecter
“Mirror in the Bathroom” – The Beat
“One Step Beyond” – Madness
“Nite Klub” – The Specials


Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment