The 2 Tone Genre
Which began in the late 1970’s in the areas in and around the city of Coventry England, was a fusion of Jamaican ska rhythms and melodies with punk rock‘s more aggressive guitar chords and lyrics. Compared to 1960’s ska, 2 Tone music had faster tempos, fuller instrumentation and a harder edge. The genre was named after 2 Tone Records, a record label founded by Jerry Dammers of The Specials. In many cases, the reworking of classic ska songs turned the originals into hits again in the United Kingdom.
The Special AKA Vs The Selecter
Having been rejected by numerous record companies The Specials decided to release a self-financed single. If the legend is to be believed the single was recorded for a mere £700 financed by a ‘sort of’ local businessman by the name of ‘Jimbo’. It is said that a piano part on the track took up most of the studio time and as a result only one track, Gangsters, was recorded.
Needing a b-side the band turned to an instrumental track Noel Davis had recorded two years previously in 1977 with drummer John Bradbury and trombonist, Barry Jones. Originally titled ‘The Kingston Affair’ the track got a slight reworking and was re-titled The Selecter. The track also came complete with it’s own unique catalogue number, which may seem unusual but was actually quite common with old ska and reggae singles.
The single was initially distributed via Rough Trade Records, who persuaded the band to produce 5000 copies, twice what the band had originally intended. The single was issued a plain white sleeve stamped by the band themselves with the words THE SPECIAL A.K.A ‘Gangsters’ Vs THE SELECTER. The band then signed to Chrysalis Records, who were more than happy to sign both The Specials and the 2 Tone label. Chrysalis pressed up more copies of the single in the now familiar 2 Tone sleeve resulting in a top 10 hit and the biggest selling independent single of the year.
Original Specials drummer Silverton Hutchinson had left the band just prior to the recording of Gangsters and was replaced by John Bradbury, and as a result Bradbury was the only person to play on both sides of the labels debut single.
The 2 Tone movement promoted racial unity at a time when racial tensions were high in the UK. There were many Specials songs that raised awareness of the issues of racism, fighting and friendship issues. Riots in British cities were a feature during the summer that The Specials song “Ghost Town” was a hit, although this work was in a slower, Reggae beat. Most of the 2 Tone bands had multiracial lineups, such as The Beat (known as The English Beat in North America and the British Beat in Australia), The Specials, and The Selecter. Although only on the 2 Tone label for one single, Madness was one of the most effective bands at bringing the 2 Tone genre into the mainstream. The music of this era resonated with white working class youth and West Indian immigrants who experienced the struggles addressed in the lyrics.
Rat Race wasn’t an attack on education but a criticism of the mentality and snobbery that seem to accompany those who attend university. Mind you this didn’t stop a room full of real students appearing in the video that accompanied the single. The single was promoted in the music press by a picture of an oversized rat pouncing on a woman seated at a typewriter and was yet another top ten hit for the band.
Bad Manners are an English ska band led by frontman Buster Bloodvessel. Early appearances included Top of The Pops and the live film documentary, Dance Craze. They were at their most popular during the early 1980s, during a period when other ska revival bands such as Madness, The Specials and The Selecter filled the charts. Bad Manners spent 111 weeks in the UK Singles Chart between 1980 and 1983, and they also achieved chart success with their first four studio albums with Gosh It’s… Bad Manners, Loonee Tunes! and Ska ‘n’ B being their biggest hits.
The Selecter originally formed in Coventry during the summer of 1979, just as Thatcherism was about to dispense the last rites to Britain’s industrial heartlands. That’s when Pauline first met Gaps, who’d migrated to England from St. Kitts. His Caribbean upbringing has long infused their music with joy – witness those irresistible versions of Jamaican standards like See Them A Come and Carry Go Bring Come, or self-penned numbers written in an early ska or reggae style like Stone Cold Sober and It Never Worked Out, which feature Gaps on lead vocals.