I know it's March and everyone is excepting another Irish playlist but I did that last year and really have nothing new to add. If you are looking for St Patrick's Day music check out 21 Irish Songs. Also you might want to check out the new Tossers - The Emerald City out now. Also you might want to check out my old bands the Have Nots 1996 Demo now on Spotify and for sale as a Digital Download at all the normal places.
No this time around I want to talk about and say the story of the English Label 2 Tone. It's an interesting story because it was first born like many independent labels out of a need to release the Artists own music then snowballed into one of the best making hit making UK labels in the late 1970s. You cant mention 2 Tone without talking about the greatest Ska band to come out of the UK, The Special aka. Originally formed as a not so great punk band called the Automatics in Coventry, England with keyboardist Jerry Dammers leading the way. Like any garage band they went through a number of member changes and playing around with musical styles. Mr. Dammers had a vision that would shape not only the direction that the Automatics would develope but the face of music in the UK and world wide.
I can't remember who said it but it has always stuck out in my mind, but when asked what type of music they played, instead of falling back to the modern day explanation of Jamaica and the 60s ska and soul that would morph into reggae, he said point blank, "It's English Music." This say volumes about where the music that the 2 Tone bands and movement that surrounded them. See this wasn't by accident, this movement it was planned and envisioned by Dammers and the like mind people and bands that would become part of the 2 Tone story. Looking toward the youth movements of the past including Punk, Mod, Skinhead and the Jamaican Rude Boys of the 1960s, they set out to create a new youth movement with a mixture of Ska and Punk as the soundtrack. There was an agenda behind it to create a movement with the power and interest of punk without all the negativity to shape real change. At the center of it all was the 2 Tone Label started as a means to an end to put out the Specials AKA as the Automatics were then know as, first split single with the Selectors.
The sales of the single would lead to a a record deal with Chrysalis Records. The most interesting part about the deal was that Chrysalis agreed to release singles on the 2 Tone label and gave complete control to release whoever they wished. Something that was also completely unheard of was that the bands would be signed to a one single deal and have the right to go to the label of their choosing after the single was released. It says a lot about how much selling power the label had because labels normally wouldn't want to break an artist and promote them unless there was a contract in place to insure they would end up on another label after they broke. This put the label in a position that both allowed them to break artists that would normally been gun shy to sign a record deal and also to release a wide range of new music. The problem is that often the "Money Makers" jumped ship soon after releasing on 2 Tone including Madness, Elvis Costello and the Beat to make the big bucks for other labels.
The labels logo of Walt Jabsco which was designed by Dammers, Horace Panter and graphic designer John "Teflon" Sims has gone on to not only represented the label but has gone on to become the world wide symbol of Ska. Based on the Peter Tosh's pose on the Wailers - the Wailing Wailers it would be reduced time and time again and is still in uses today. Though Walt Jabsco wouldn't just grace the labels of Ska records as the label progressed into the 1980s. The fact is that by 81 the Ska Craze had ran it's course and was now fading fast. If you look at the 10 years after Punk Rock drop it's bomb on the UK Music scene in 1977, you can't help but notice that the UK music scene went through a huge progression with fades and trends running to the top of pops in a very short time only to have bands finding themselves in the cut out bins only a month or so later.
I guess if anything can be said about the label is that it influenced and can be seen as a starting point for a movement that has continued from 1979 to present. Ska is one of those forms of music that seems to be on a continuing rise and fall. It has seen revival after revival as a new generation discover the hold the music has. The thing that the Specials and their other label mates did was to take a good time music and put social and real world context to it. They took a music that was an import and made it their own by adding lyrics that addressed the issues that effected them. The fall of Two Tone and the movement around it can be traced to a a lot of causes, lack of public interest, the breakup of the original line up of the Specials but I think more than anything you have to consider how young they were at the time and how quickly their fame came. Straight from pubs to Top of the Pops within a few months at age 19. Suddenly your small label is a trend setting hit marker distributed by a major label. So in part it could have been a case of trying to wear too many Pork Pie hats at once that cause the decline and the lack of ability to cash in on the demand.
The label did continue into the late 1980s releasing a number of re-issues and new releases often branching out in new directions far from the Ska that had made the label famous. Often reaching into the latest dance in an attempt to regain lost glory but you have to ask was it all just an attempt to regain old fire or was it music that Dammers truly believed in? Which was all that was really at the heart of 2 Tone, Music that they believed in.
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