2 Tone’s unexpected comic connections revealed as new exhibition opens in Coventry

Herbert Art Gallery & Museum - “2 Tone Lives and Legacies” Banner

Coventry’s Herbert Art Gallery & Museum is currently hosting “2 Tone: Lives & Legacies”, the first-ever major exhibition in the UK devoted to the 2 Tone music sensation – and it turns out there’s an unexpected comics connection – well, for me, anyway.

The 2 Tone sound originated in Coventry’s thriving music scene of the 1970s and the name derives from the legendary 2 Tone record label founded in 1979 by Jerry Dammers of The Specials, referencing a desire to transcend and defuse racial tensions in Britain at that time.

Herbert Art Gallery & Museum - “2 Tone Lives and Legacies”
Image: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

The exhibition explores the formation of the record label and examine its philosophy, political and social message, design and impact on the music charts of the day. It highlights the bands that were part of the label, focussing on The Specials, The Selecter and other ska-influenced bands such as Madness, The Beat and The Bodysnatchers.

It also looks at 2 Tone’s continuing influence on music, fashion, politics and culture. It includes interviews and quotes from original band members and third wave bands from around the world, famous fans and 2 Tone fanatics.

Herbert Art Gallery & Museum - “2 Tone Lives and Legacies”
Image: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

It also brings the story up to date – with band members touring nationally and internationally, with Madness on tour with Squeeze later this year.

The exhibition features fashion items and memorabilia, including the iconic 2 Tone suit, Roddy Radiation’s pork pie hat, Fred Perry polo shirt and the Harrington jacket.

Herbert Art Gallery & Museum - “2 Tone Lives and Legacies”
Image: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

Also on display are posters created by comic creator Hunt Emerson, well known for his music industry connections and music-inspired strips, including a big cartoon of The Beat that was a poster printed up by the hundreds, and sold at gigs for 50p.

Hunt Emerson at the 2 Tone exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, in front of posters he created 40 years ago. Photo via Hunt Emerson
Hunt Emerson at the 2 Tone exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, in front of posters he created 40 years ago. Photo via Hunt Emerson

“They’re on flimsy paper,” says Hunt, “and I’m surprised any made it to the end of the night, never mind 40 years later!”

Herbert Art Gallery & Museum - “2 Tone Lives and Legacies”
Image: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

Until now, I had no idea of Hunt’s involvement in 2 Tone, although I am aware of his album cover work for bands such as The Jazz Butcher and others. A smashing discovery!

The show culminates in an immersive 2 Tone experience celebrating the energy and legendary sound of the bands’ performances. There are special 2 Tone playlists and an area for visitors to leave their own memories, thoughts and highlights of the 2 Tone era.

The exhibition has been organised in partnership with Coventry Music Museum. Guest curators: Simon Reynolds, Cory Barrett, Pete Chambers, Jennifer Otter Bickerdike and Daniel Rachel.

The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall were among those who have already visited the exhibition, visiting last month to mark the beginning of Coventry being Coventry UK City of Culture 2021.

The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall at the 2 Tone exhibition last month. Image: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum
The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall at the 2 Tone exhibition last month. Image: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

As part of their visit to the city, the royal couple explored the exhibition in the UK devoted solely to the 2 Tone music sensation and were given a tour of the show by Curator, Martin Roberts and member of The Selecter, Pauline Black.

During their visit the couple were shown a collection of items loaned by Jerry Dammers, founder of the 2 Tone label and The Specials, photographs documenting the performances of 2 Tone bands and items relating to the Free Nelson Mandela single / Artists Against Apartheid.

Pauline spoke with the royal couple about the remarkable loyalty of 2 Tone fans, particularly those from Coventry and how the movement embraced the idea of multiculturalism over 40 years ago.

2 Tone: Lives & Legacies runs at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum until 12th September 2021 | Jordan Well, Coventry, CV1 5QP | Open Monday – Saturday: 10.00am – 4.00pm | Sunday: 12.00pm – 4.00pm | Admission Free but tickets must be booked in advance

Following a review of the capacity within the 2 Tone exhibition since opening, the Gallery has decided to add a small number of additional tickets to each slot. These tickets are now available to book online. They will also be allowing a limited number of walk ups for each slot, however, entry for walk ups is not guaranteed so you are advised to book online in advance of your visit

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



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