2 Tone: Lives and Legacies
2 Tone: Lives and Legacies exhibition, Herbert Museum and Art Gallery, Coventry, until 12 September.
By Peter Walters.
The first thing you notice is Jerry Dammers, the cathedral canon's son who thought up the whole thing.
Jerry, pictured above, has always been the absent mastermind in the story of 2 Tone, as it has played out these past forty years. But here he is on multiple screens, talking at animated length and in detail about how, where and why it all began. And it's his personal archive that has furnished large swathes of the Herbert's number one gallery with clothes and posters and images, even art work from his schooldays, when Ska was still Jamaican and prog rock ruled the UK.
The next thing you notice are the faces of Britain at the turn of the 1980s, faces twisted with fear, or with hate, as the Winter of Discontent turned into Mrs Thatcher's blue horizon. And then you realise how important 2 Tone was in binding the wounds of division and showing that there could be a better way for white and black to co-exist and even find common cause in a time of trouble.
'Music for the feet and the mind' says musician Don Letts, describing his understanding of the power of 2 Tone in one of many on-screen contributions examining its legacy. And he's right. It fundamentally changed something in Britain, as Madness front man Suggs neatly puts it in another on-screen interview.
The sheer volume of the memorabilia on show threatens to overwhelm that simple message and even 2 Tone's third wave in the United States gets a corner of the gallery all its own. Yet the final room holds the beating heart of it all; almost sepia Top Of The Pops footage of The Specials, The Selecter and the rest in all their bouncing glory. It feels odd not to be jumping up and down with them.
Royal escort: The Selecter's Pauline Black takes Prince Charles on tour at The Herbert.
On stage: An early shot of the Specials at the Lanchester College (now Coventry Uni) courtesy of Pete Chambers, Coventry Music Museum, 2-Tone Village Walsgrave Rd
Legacy of the 2 Tone label:
The Specials: Too Much, Too Young/ Message to You Rudy/Ghost Town.
The Specials AKA: Free Nelson Mandela
The Beat: Tears of a Clown
Madness: The Prince The Selecter: Missing Words/On My Radio