January 12th to
May 25th 2024
Barbican Music
Library, London

Plotting the rise of 2 tone

Our Barbican exhibition is a journey that starts in France and Belgium at the time of the Great War and ends in 1980's Coventry. The exhibition explores the hugely positive influences on British youth culture that Caribbean immigration has brought, and continues to bring to the United Kingdom. Using music genres and fashion as the touch points the show includes architecture, art and literature as well as direct contributions from fans and 'faces' alike.

An Exhibition for the fans by the fans going some way to explain not just what 2 Tone is but why and how we got there!

A history of 2 Tone Records

A history of 2 Tone Records

2 Tone Records was created in Coventry, UK in 1979 by Jerry Dammers who apart from being the songwriter and music director for bands ‘The Specials’ and ‘The Special A.K.A’ was also the Chief Executive of the label and responsible for signing artists such as Madness, The Selecter, The Beat and The Bodysnatchers.

Dammers, the son of Horace Dammers, one time Dean of Bristol Cathedral, grew up in the midlands area of The UK during the late 1960s/early 70s and became…

2 Tone Records was created in Coventry, UK in 1979 by Jerry Dammers who apart from being the songwriter and music director for bands ‘The Specials’ and ‘The Special A.K.A’ was also the Chief Executive of the label and responsible for signing artists such as Madness, The Selecter, The Beat and The Bodysnatchers.

Dammers, the son of Horace Dammers, one time Dean of Bristol Cathedral, grew up in the midlands area of The UK during the late 1960s/early 70s and became influenced with the sounds of Jamaican Ska Music that was being heard in the UK mainly as a direct result of the Government policy which saw big cultural changes in big city areas due to the influx of immigration in places such as Birmingham and Coventry. Virtually all the 2 Tone artists were from the area; the one exception being ‘Madness’ who were from North London.

The label started off with the release of the classic single ‘Gangsters’ shortly followed by Madness’ ‘The Prince’ (a tribute to Prince Buster and the Jamaican Ska scene in general) and The Selecters’ ‘On My Radio’ Other well known tunes that followed included ‘Too Much Too Young’ and perhaps the most famous 2 Tone release of them all; ‘Ghost Town’. Many of the Specials songs were about life in Coventry. 'Concrete Jungle', 'Dawning Of A New Era', 'Stereotypes' etc.

Early label signings such as Madness and The Beat released just one record on 2 Tone before signing for Stiff Records and Go Feet respectively, however, The Specials released a successful self-titled LP in 1979 and became the figureheads for 2 Tone Records and the UK Ska scene. The follow-up ‘More Specials' was, at the time, considered disappointing but in truth had a hard task following up the first album and was possibly released too late - after the success of 2 Tone was beginning to fade somewhat.

A revised version of the band - now known as The Special A.K.A -  enjoyed a comeback culminating with the album 'In The Studio' and singles such as 'Bright Lights/ Racist Friend' and 'Free Nelson Mandela'.

A history of Trojan Records

A history of Trojan Records

On July 28th 1967, British-based Jamaican music company, Island Records launched a label to showcase the output of one of the most popular and successful producers of the ska and rock steady eras – Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid.

The imprint, called ‘Trojan’ after the title Mr. Reid had acquired during his early days in the music business, surprisingly failed to fulfil its potential and folded after a matter of months. And this may well have been the end of the Trojan story…

On July 28th 1967, British-based Jamaican music company, Island Records launched a label to showcase the output of one of the most popular and successful producers of the ska and rock steady eras – Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid.

The imprint, called ‘Trojan’ after the title Mr. Reid had acquired during his early days in the music business, surprisingly failed to fulfil its potential and folded after a matter of months. And this may well have been the end of the Trojan story had it not been for the creation of a new Jamaican music company, launched in the summer of ’68, which was in need of a suitably dynamic name.

The result of a merger between by Island Records and one of its main competitors, B&C, Trojan Records promptly launched an ambitious programme of issuing singles on a variety of labels that highlighted music from every producer of note, ranging from British-based music makers such as Robert ‘Dandy’ Thompson, to such esteemed Jamaican operators as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Edward ‘Bunny’ Lee and, of course, Duke Reid himself.

Trojan’s rapid growth during its first year was due in no small part to the development of a working class youth movement that embraced Jamaican music as part and parcel of its culture: skinheads.

The purchasing power of this fast developing demographic resulted in an explosion in sales and in the summer of ‘69 the company enjoyed its first mainstream hit with ‘Red Red Wine’ by a little known British-based singer Tony Tribe. Its success was soon eclipsed when the Upsetters, the Pioneers, Jimmy Cliff and Harry J’s All Stars all made their way onto the higher reaches of the mainstream listings.

The Trojan bandwagon rolled on remorselessly into the new decade, with the likes of Desmond Dekker, the Maytals and Bob & Marcia all flying high on the British Pop charts.

In the spring of 1971, Dave & Ansel Collins’ ‘Double Barrel’ provided Trojan its first UK number one, while further chart entries followed with hit singles by Bruce Ruffin, Greyhound and the Pioneers.

Aside from their overtly commercial output, the company also highlighted music by artists largely unknown outside Jamaica, many of which would later become major international recording stars – among these were Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs and a Kingston-based vocal trio called Bob Marley & the Wailers.

Trojan remained hugely successful over the next year or so, with further major hits from Dandy Livingstone, John Holt, Ken Boothe and the larger than life ex-bouncer, Judge Dread, but in 1975, after experiencing financial difficulties, the label acquired a new owner in Marcel Rodd.

Rodd’s inexperience with Jamaican music proved costly and despite signing new deals with a number of up-and-coming producers, Trojan struggled, but as the seventies came to a close, the ‘Ska Revival’ brought a dramatic upturn in its fortunes.

The success of bands such as the Specials and Madness sparked renewed interest in vintage ska and reggae classics and for a time Trojan thrived once more,  with compilations, such as ’20 Reggae Classics’ and Bob Marley‘s ‘In The Beginning’, compiled by label manager, Patrick Meads, selling particularly strongly.

Unfortunately, the good times were not to last and in 1985, with the ska boom long since over, Colin Newman – an accountant by profession and avid collector by nature – purchased the label. Under Newman’s direction, Trojan’s primary focus was on its formidable back catalogue, with various specialists employed to ensure it maintained its position as the world’s leading vintage reggae record company.

Some 15 years later, Sanctuary Records became Trojan’s fourth owners, paying over £10 million for the privilege. Over the next few years, the label went from strength to strength, its already vast catalogue augmented by those of RAS and Creole, resulting in an astoundingly diverse range of releases, highlighting everything from ska to dancehall.

The Trojan Records story took its next dramatic turn in June 2007, when the Universal Music Group purchased Sanctuary in its entirety, bringing the Jamaican music imprint back under the same roof as Island, the label that had been instrumental in its creation some 39 years before.

Universal maintained the catalogue for the next 7 years, issuing numerous acclaimed collections and reviving the much-missed Trojan Appreciation Society, before reluctantly selling the imprint to BMG, a subsidiary of one of Europe’s biggest media companies, Bertelsmann.

Much has changed since the summer of 1968, yet despite the rise and fall of numerous music trends and the development of new formats on which music can be acquired, Trojan Records has consistently maintained a significant and relevant presence in an ever-competitive market. And such is the vast wealth of music at its disposal there is no reason why it should not continue to do so for many, many years to come.

Launch Event Preview

The exhibition launch party took place on 26th January 2024 at the Barbican Music Library, London. In this exclusive video, we hear from Rachel Levy (Head of Barbican & Community Libraries), and also David Burke (Biff Bang Pow) on how the event was put together.

Sam Williams Exclusive

Sam is a multi platinum music producer, award winning songwriter, film composer, mixer and multi instrumentalist based in Oxford, UK where he works from his own Temple Sound Studios. He has worked with many different artists including Supergrass, Plan B, The Noisettes, Gaz Coombes and The Go! Team in a career spanning three decades and encompassing a wide range of musical genres. In this exclusive video, Sam discusses the impact that 2 Tone and Trojan had on his career.

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Barbican

The Barbican, a renowned arts and cultural complex in the heart of London, is a celebrated architectural gem known for its striking Brutalist design. This iconic venue houses a wealth of creative spaces, including concert halls, theatres, art galleries, cinemas, and more, making it a vibrant hub for a diverse range of performances and exhibitions. Get directions.

This exhibition tends to be very busy on Saturday afternoons. If you would like to view the exhibition at a quieter time we recommend visiting on Saturday mornings or throughout the week, again particularly in the mornings.

Barbican Centre
Silk Street, London
EC2Y 8DS
barbican.org.uk

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Supported by

Barbican Music Library

The Barbican Library is a vibrant public library in the heart of the Barbican Centre with books, spoken word recordings, DVDs, CDs and sheet music available for loan to all members. Along with the adult library located on Level 2 within the Barbican Centre, you will also find the Barbican Music Library and Barbican Children's Library, along with places to sit, read and study.

W: barbican.org.uk

Mono Media

Mono Media was born in the night clubs and pubs of SE5 in 1997. From DJing to putting on events, from band management to PR, from books to films to foods, they've had a finger in plenty of pies, over the years. Some hot, some cold. Never forget, it ain't where you start, it's where you finish.

T: 07967 290 150
E: mono_media@hotmail.com

Modfather

Mario Warner & Daniel Warner founded Modfather Clothing in March 2012. This family-run business was born out of a lifelong passion for classic Italian Scooters & British subcultural style. Whether you are a mod, skinhead, suedehead, rudeboy, casual or scooterist, Modfather Clothing has specifically selected lines from heritage brands to suit your way of life.

W: modfatherclothing.com

Biff Bang Pow

Biff Bang Pow started life in 1997 as a graphic design agency creating artwork for record companies and recording artists. The intervening years have seen BBP progress into developing complex software solutions, integrations and elegant brochure websites for a wide and diverse range of industries such as Recruitment, Health & Life Sciences, Travel & Tourism, Professional Services and The Built Environment.

T: 01235 202161
E: info@biffbangpow.com
W: biffbangpow.com