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Music, Culture & Anti-racism: The 2-Tone Records Story

Film, talks and discussions about 2-Tone and its relevance today.

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Thu 14 March // 20:00

Tickets: £5 (full)

Book tickets

Daniel Rachel, author of Too Much, Too Young: The 2-Tone Records Story: Rude Boys, Racism And The Soundtrack Of A Generation (White Rabbit Publishers) - the definitive story of a label that for a brief, bright burning moment, shaped British culture - discusses his recent book and the wider questions of music, culture and anti-racism, in conversation with Bristol poet and educator at Cargo, Lawrence Hoo, and publisher, sociologist and musician, Pete Webb, of PC-Press and UWE.

'We lived in Britain, a country that had hugely benefited from immigration, but curiously had an innate antipathy to the ideas of multiculturalism and diversity. Daniel Rachel has managed to capture the essence of that contradiction in those Margaret Thatcher governed years, with this comprehensive, cautionary but nonetheless celebratory saga of the 2-Tone label.' Pauline Black, OBE (The Selecter)

'Daniel Rachel has bagged the whirlwind of 2-Tone with joy, honesty and compassion to create the definitive account of one of Britain's finest youth movements.' Suggs (Madness)

Preceding the discussion is a rare showing of the BBC Arena programme on the rise and rise of 2-Tone, Rudies Come Back - originally broadcast in 1980 - which captures the start of the music genre in its hometown of Coventry and features interviews with The Selecter and The Specials.

( Rudies Come Back: 1980 | UK | 32 m | English | dir: Jeff Perks | cert. 18 )

This event is sponsored by PC-Press and Sociology at University Of The West of England.


In 1979, 2-Tone exploded into the national consciousness as records by The Specials, The Selecter, Madness, The Beat, and The Bodysnatchers burst onto the charts and a youth movement was born. 2-Tone was black and white: a multi-racial force of British and Caribbean island musicians singing about social issues, racism, class and gender struggles. It spoke of injustices in society and took fight against right wing extremism. The music of 2-Tone was exuberant: white youth learning to dance to the infectious rhythm of ska and reggae; and crossed with a punk attitude to create an original hybrid. The idea of 2-Tone was born in Coventry, masterminded by a middle-class art student raised in the church. Jerry Dammers had a vision of an English Motown. Borrowing £700, the label's first record featured Gangsters by The Specials, backed by an instrumental track by the, as yet, unformed, The Selecter. Within two months the single was at number six in the national charts. Dammers signed Madness, The Beat and The Bodysnatchers as a glut of successive hits propelled 2-Tone onto Top Of The Pops and into the hearts and minds of a generation.

However, soon infighting amongst the bands and the pressures of running a label caused 2-Tone to bow to an inevitable weight of expectation and recrimination. Still under the auspices of Jerry Dammers, 2-Tone entered in a new phase. Perhaps not as commercially successful as its 1979-1981 incarnation the label nevertheless continued to thrive for a further four years releasing a string of fresh signings and a stunning end-piece finale in (Free) Nelson Mandela.


Press reaction to Too Much, Too Young: The 2-Tone Records Story:

A SUNDAY TIMES MUSIC BOOK OF THE YEAR 2023
#2 UNCUT BOOK OF THE YEAR 2023
A LOUDER THAN WAR BOOK OF THE YEAR 2023

'Daniel Rachel has managed to talk to all the significant players and the story he tells is one that shines a light on the challenges of mixing pop with politics. This feels like the definitive story of 2-Tone. Masterful.' Billy Bragg

'A brilliant book and a fitting account of one of British culture's most epochal moments. Nothing is left out of this definitive book.' The Wire

'Essential read for anyone who ever moonstomped in tonic suit, DMs and stingy-brimmed trilby.' MOJO

Author, Daniel Rachel, said: 'As a child, 2-Tone defined the way I saw the world. I was seduced by the off-beat rhythms, the cool looking clothes and most importantly the social and political lyrics. 2-Tone taught me about black and white unity, it gave a voice to the pointlessness of street violence, and it provided an understanding and awareness of the horror of rape and apartheid. That you could dance, look good and be educated by a record was incredible. This music and these bands have printed an indelible mark on my life. To write the story of 2-Tone is one of profound personal pride. But more so, to honour one of the greatest periods in modern popular culture. 2-Tone at its heart was a movement of great songwriters, musicians and songs - we danced and sang, and the music played in a de boomtown!'

Publisher, Lee Brackstone said: 'The music and the aesthetic of 2-Tone set the dial for the prevailing mood of the counterculture in the 1980s, and we're still feeling the aftershocks of the extraordinary achievements of the label four decades later. Through exhaustive interviews with the major artists and those associated with the label and deep research, award-winning writer Daniel Rachel brings the story of 2-Tone to life: the joy of a uniquely creative moment which arguably did more than any other to challenge racism and class prejudice in Britain, and in the process enlightened a whole generation of fans and created a catalogue of unparalleled quality. Essential reading.'


Daniel Rachel

Birmingham-born Daniel Rachel is a former musician-turned-award-winning and bestselling author whose previous works include: Isle Of Noises: Conversations With Great British Songwriters (a Guardian and NME Book Of The Year), Walls Come Tumbling Down: The Music & Politics Of Rock Against Racism, 2-Tone And Red Wedge (winner of the Penderyn Music Book prize), Don't Look Back In Anger: The Rise & Fall Of Cool Britannia (an Evening Standard and Metro Book Of The Year), The Lost Album Of The Beatles: What If The Beatles Hadn't Split Up? (Guardian Book Of The Day and Amazon No. 1 Bestseller), One For The Road (The Life & Lyrics Of Simon Fowler & Ocean Colour Scene), Oasis: Knebworth: Two Nights That Will Live Forever (with Jill Furmanovsky; a Sunday Times Bestseller), When Ziggy Played the Marquee by Terry O'Neill (editor), and as co-writer of Ranking Roger's autobiography I Just Can't Stop It: My Life In The Beat (a Vive Le Rock Book Of The Year). In 2021, Daniel was a guest curator of the 2-Tone Lives & Legacies exhibition as part of Coventry Cultural City and curated the anniversary edition of The Selecter's debut album Too Much Pressure.