2 Tone Records was the brainchild of Jerry Dammers, a reggae and ska fan from Coventry. More a culture mash than a culture clash, the label took the ideology and DIY aesthetics of punk, welded it to the Jamaican dance music that was prevalent in the multi-cultural Midlands and created the most exciting musical sound this writer had ever heard in his 10 short years on the planet.
It was almost too much for someone so young. That it happened to be the edgiest, most fashionable music of the era, with the razor-sharp creases on their Sta-Prest as razor-sharp as the attitudes of the folk wearing them, was neither here nor there. For me, 2 Tone was plain and simply exciting pop music, no different to Dog Eat Dog or Kids In America or Status Quo’s ‘Down Down‘.
2 Tone was initially conceived as a vehicle for Dammers to release his own Special AKA singles, but quickly became a collective that put out some of the most vital, insistent and exciting records of the era.
To keep the costs down, 2 Tone’s first release was a split release – ‘Gangsters‘ by The Special AKA on the one side (catalogue number TT1), with The Selecter’s eponymously-titled instrumental (catalogue number TT2) on the other.
The Special AKA. – Gangsters
The Selecter – The Selecter
The Special AKA’s track was the one favoured by DJs and went Top 10. The ‘flip’, not many realised, was actually a track without a band. John Bradbury, The Specials’ drummer played backing to a couple of local musicians who’d written the lilting instrumental based on the original ska records they heard around the city. When ‘Gangsters‘ became a hit, Dammers realised the need for an actual Selecter and, just as the pop impresarios of the previous decade had done, a Selecter was quickly formed.
With a strong emphasis on black and white, both in clothing and personnel, the bands on 2 Tone were coiled springs of energy, bobbing left, right and centre on their numerous Top of their Pops appearances. Suedeheads, pork pie hats and loafers became desirable items of want.
The suedehead was easy enough (though too severe for my mum’s liking (and mine, if truth be told) – I had a pre-Stone Roses bowl cut instead), Burtons sold tassled loafers and skinny black ties – next to the white shirts and sober suits in the ‘funeral’ section, believe it or not, but where in Irvine could you buy a pork pie hat?
Easier to get a hold of were the most important things – the records. Every Sauturday I’d run down to Walker’s at the Cross with my £1 pocket money and part with 99p of it in exchange for the latest 2 Tone 7″.
The Prince. Tears Of A Clown. Do Nothing. Stereotype. On My Radio. I had them all.
Then I gave them all away to a jumble sale that was raising money for Band Aid.
Regretted it ever since. I spent the early 90s sifting through boxes of singles at record fairs (remember them?) in the hope I’d turn up an old friend. Some I now own once again, but many still elude me, going for daft prices online. You live and learn, eh?