2 Tone Lives & Legacies
Herbert Musuem and Art Gallery
Coventry City of Culture
Until September 12th, 2021
It's not any sort of colloquial birmingham adjacent where I am marooned vs Coventry pride that makes me wonder why the events of nearly 50 years ago are such a central and essential part of the 2021 City of Culture thing going on in Coventry right now. You know that if they’d put me in charge I wouldn’t have mentioned that at all. Well maybe an aside. What Jerry Dammers and all involved with 2 Tone did, is immensely important but they are memories of a bygone era I’d say and almost don’t inform at all where we are now except maybe to cast a hugely negative spotlight on how far we have not come, how we have not reinvested the legacy of positive energy 2 Tone created.
It’s easy to wander around downtown, witnessing the awesome power of University regeneration and wonder whether the City of Culture moniker is awarded to those with the money, connections and influence to demand it. The city immediately beyond the Herbert gallery’s surrounds, offers no culture at all, but provides a distinct feeling of ennui. Especially while the colleges are closed I guess. When the celebrated Fargo area and its cluster of restaurants are closed. It’s a bit of a Ghost Town.
Anyway. What’s cool about Coventry for me right there right now in the middle, is the lovely and lively Herbert gallery. I just love it from the floor up; it’s airy spaces. Not only for this exhibition, but I also saw my friend Zoe's incredible ceramic patchwork pieces on display here too (check this out!). Then there's the Transport Museum which is undersold as such, it's the entire industrial history of the city under one roof, (always free and always a great day out), including the most fantastic collection of Corgi cars donated by Tibor Reich, he seems to have had every model I destroyed. The twin Cathedrals intertwined and the artistry of every aspect of the modern and the damaged gothicity of the ancient. That’s easy to love.
That’s Coventry now. What is the culture of Coventry now? I don’t know. Young, diverse, student town? I know they scrapped their clean air zone when the pandemic pushed the pollutants down. What next for that? Embrace Life.
Whatever. The 2 Tone exhibition has been a central plank of Coventry’s City of Culture 2021 year and has drawn most everyone I know. It traces time from the prehistory of the lively mid 70s cov music scene that spawned the Specials. (Where's Greg Crabb?) There's Jerry Dammers’ early hand drawn art for the band, his graphic concepts and ideas for the record label. There are the accounts of Dammers’ outreach to other musicians, Suggs’ recollections of Dammers in his own memoir was funny and charming and is on the big screen here; the tours, the hits and everything right through to the breakup of the band while Ghost Town was at number one in the charts. Beyond that body blow, the band reformatted itself for Free Nelson Mandela which is one of the greatest pop songs of all time…
Also featured, video, clothing, artwork of the era. And it was the 2 Tone era for sure. How on earth did they hang on to four hats worn by the stars Pauline Black, Roddy Radiation and others? I don’t know. How did they know to store those.
They’ve also gathered every Top of the Pops performance by a 2 Tone band. That’s a joy to see now.
There’s plenty of media clips revealing how awful a place Britain was to live at the time. Headlines from the Coventry Evening Telegraph where my uncle used to work. More violent, more dirty, more substandard housing, more overt racism. more people like Robert Relf and the National Front. Why have we allowed all of that to creep back in? And no longer even on the fringes. Now it’s the government recording your phone calls. Things haven’t even come in a circle, they’ve come in a downward spiral.
This exhibition is totally and importantly great. A working class history soundtracked by the most joyous music imaginable (to a 17 year old at the time). With so many of the pieces provided by Jerry Dammers - that guy must have a big dry loft or something. I loved the anecdote wall where people like me could add their memories. Or the photos of rude boys, now. That's what middle aged spread looks like.
Only criticism? Not enough stuff to part me from my birthday money in the gift shop. And I was ready, ready to do my bit to my wallet in that way.
Anyway, you’ve got about a week left to see it. Free tickets are required from Eventbrite on weekends, other times just roll up. You’ll be glad and awed that you did.