The design legacy of two Tone

The exhibition offers an in-depth look at 2 Tone's legacy and its importance as a musical and political force in the late 70s and early 80s. What can also be seen everywhere is the coherence of the design of 2 Tone, from the logos to the distinctive black and white checkered branding to the clothing worn by both the bands and their fans.

The show shows the creative power of Jerry Dammers, who founded The Specials in 1977 and founded 2 Tone Records in 1979 as part of a deal with Chrysalis. The exhibition draws Dammers & # 39; early artistic endeavors and offers a veritable treasure trove of memorabilia and pop culture iconography from its collection.

This includes the original handwritten lyrics for songs like Ghost Town from The Specials and early sketches for the band's logo. Plus there's the suit that Dammers wore on the very first cover of The Face and countless other items that Dammers & # 39; Demonstrate vision for 2 tones.

Above and above: Installation recordings of 2 Tone: Lives & Legacies in the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum. All installation photos © garryjonesphotographyPhotography by Toni TyeOriginal 2-tone band t-shirts

There is also a study of the political and social context in the UK that gave birth to 2 Tone. "One of the things that influenced 2 Tone is that it was created in part by the punk movement and obviously punk arose out of the discontent many young people felt in Britain at the time in the 1970s," says Martin Roberts, one of the show curators. "There was a lot of unemployment, a lot of jobs were lost, there was racial assault on the street … it was a pretty dark time in many ways and that was one of the things that gave birth to punk and then later 2" Ton.

“We also tried to look at the musical roots of 2 Tone,” continues Roberts. “Aside from the influence of punk, the other important influence was Jamaican ska. We tried to tell this story – how Jamaican ska was brought to this country by migrants from the Caribbean who came here in the 1950s and 60s. ”The combination of punk and ska defined the two tone sound, while the social one Klima gave the bands a strong political and anti-racist stance.

According to Ali Wells, another curator of the show, the city of Coventry, where The Specials and many other bands on the two-tone scene emerged, was crucial to its development. "It was very much a Coventry movement," Wells explains. "Jerry says it could have happened wherever he was, but for us it had to happen somewhere where there was Coventry heavy industry, which meant the Windrush generation came along and brought their reggae music … that) both collided and came together in different ways. It was this driver, especially for Jerry, who took this anti-racist stance. That was the main message of 2 Tone. "

Installation in the museum with the suit jacket by Jerry Dammers worn on the cover of the first issue of The FaceThe Body Snatchers, photographed by Toni Tye2 clay badges

The specials and other 2-tone bands brought up racism and other social issues in their songs, but Dammers intended to "almost sneak the message in," according to Wells, to ensure that the songs were primarily "catchy" and had good melodies.

In addition to the political message in the songs, the band members of the 2 Tone label also addressed racism directly with the members of the Front National, who occasionally appeared at concerts – "they spent quite a bit of time talking to whites about anti-racism" children ", says Wells.

In addition to Dammers & # 39; 2-tone memorabilia, the exhibition features black and white photographs of live gigs and fans by Mark Osborne, Toni Tye and John Coles, as well as a number of iconic promotional images from Chalkie Davies. There are also vintage clothing items, including Fred Perry shirts and the original pork pie hats from Neville Staple and Pauline Black. Fans will no doubt also be delighted to see the original and now rather ragged bowling shirt from Dammers that provided the inspiration for the Walt Jabsco character's name in the 2-tone logo.

Fred Perry shirts on display at the 2 Tone exhibitionSelector Gig, photographed by Toni TyeJerry Dammers at the 2 Tone exhibition with the original texts he wrote for The Specials' hit Ghost Town

There is also a slew of fan-contributed items including fan mail and artwork sent to 2 Tone that Dammers has kept over the years. "Jerry was really interested in us celebrating the fans," says Wells. "A lot of his material came here."

This is a compelling exhibition that demonstrates the power of 2 Tone's message both politically and musically, as well as in terms of branding and design. While the design work of other UK labels, notably Factory Records, has long been recognized, 2 Tone's contribution to musical design history may have been underestimated in comparison – an oversight that is likely to reverse this show.

2 Tone: Lives & Legacies is on view at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry until September 12; theherbert.org


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