Racial unity and big tunes: How 2Tone changed the music scene

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Following the fantastic double gig from The Selecter and The Beat’s, we take a look back at the prolific UK musical movement of 2Tone, and ask two fans what makes the genre so special.

Cast your mind back to (or imagine if you will) late 1970s Britain. Right wing political groups are on the rise and there’s racial tension simmering. But, there’s a sound building that’s challenging the racist negativity and combining ska and rocksteady with a punk rock attitude; that’s the sound of 2Tone.

Originally kicked off by Madness keyboardist, Jerry Dammers, who started the 2Tone Record label, 2Tone was far more than just a music genre, it was – and still is – a look (the black suit, white shirt, black tie, pork pie hat, white socks and black loafers) and for many an attitude.

The racial and gender diversity of artists such as The Selecter, The Beat, The Specials and The Bodysnatchers totally set them apart from other acts of the time. These artists were making a strong statement – especially to young people at the time – about the power music has to promote equality.

We caught up with two huge fans of The Selector and The Beat to find out why their music (and 2Tone overall) struck such a chord with them.

Hello Deep, how long have you been a fan of The Selector and The Beat?

Probably since 1979. This was just before started my degree in Sociology at North London Polytechnic.

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What does their music mean to you?

For me as an asian indian young man in the 80s The Selecter and The Beat represented 2Tone music which was – and is – about uniting black and white youth. Growing up in the 60s the mod music was mainly white and borrowed very heavily from black soul music. 2Tone built upon this and the concerts at the time were inclusive for black and white youth. It also addressed racism which was rife in the 80s.

Why do you think the ‘2 Tone’ genre became so popular back in the late 70s and 80s?

The mood and politics at the time was when Margaret Thatcher was in power and the Union power had been crushed. The miners strikes were ineffective and there was unrest regarding the Falklands war. The 2Tone genre grew out of these difficulties. The messages in the songs were pertinent to the changing pressures in England and to my own pressures too: adulthood, uni studies and friendships. It was the bringing together and unity of black, white and asian youth.

The dance music, the black and white checks, the narrow sta press trousers, narrow ties were all blended with the music and gave me a sense of identity. It was a way of life and this was my reality. Songs such as Too Much Pressure, Can’t Get Used to Losing You, Mirror in the Bathroom and Hands Off She’s Mine were great tunes with messages that are arguably still relevant to the times we’re living in now.

It was a sense of real belonging that I was blessed to be a part of.

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Hi Colin, how long have you been a fan of The Selector and The Beat?

I’ve been a fan for over 30 years.

Why do you love their music so much?

They’ve got soul! I can rock and groove to the rhythm. I love the vocals – both Pauline Black’s The Selector and Toasting (Ranking Roger) from The Beat, not forgetting the live instruments!

What makes 2 Tone music so special?

Coming from a Jamaican background there was Reggae to Rock Steady music always playing in my household. So when the 2Tone came, seeing different people from Punk Rockers, Mods, Natty Dreads all coming together to form The Rude Boys, was amazing.