Heritage Playlist: 2 Tone

2019 marks the 40th anniversary of legendary and influential record label 2 Tone. Founded by Jerry Dammers of The Specials, the label gave a platform to bands including The Selecter, The Beat and Elvis Costello whose infusion of ska and punk embodied the political anxieties of a polarised nation and whose music led an ambition to transcend and defuse racial tensions in Thatcher-era Britain.

Ahead of The Specials return to Bristol’s Harbourside on 19 July 2019 for their biggest show in the city to date, we’re celebrating 40 years of the label that started the movement and the part Bristol’s venues played in galvanising a generation.

Listen to our 2 Tone Heritage Playlist featuring artists from the 2 Tone label and their performances in some of Bristol’s greatest music venues.

Great venues we lost

Ska, punk and the artists signed to 2 Tone cut their teeth in some of Bristol’s loved, but now sadly lost, music venues.

The Granary on Welsh Back was a live music venue from 1968 until 1988 hosting gigs from Yes to Motorhead but also The Beat and many others in the 2 Tone movement.

Just behind Colston Hall on Frogmore Street used to be the site of a huge complex called the New Bristol Centre which housed a cinema, ice rink, bowling lanes, a casino and also the dance hall Locarno. The Clash, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix all played at Locarno as well as an amazing one-night line-up including The Specials, The Selecter and Dexys Midnight Runners! The complex is now student accommodation and the location of the O2 Academy.

When they played at Colston Hall and other Bristol venues

Elvis Costello & the Attractions – 28 Jan 1979 

Song: (I Don’t Want to) go to Chelsea (live)
Venue: Locarno
Chosen by: Rachel

Elvis Costello produced the debut album for The Specials in 1979, which was the first album released on the 2 Tone label.

The Specials – 18 Nov 1979

Song: Dawning of a New Era
Venue: Locarno
Chosen by: Aitor

Some would argue that the 2 Tone blend of punk and ska, and its politicised messages about unemployment and racism, did herald the dawn of a new era in UK music.

The Selecter – 18 Nov 1979

Song: Three Minute Hero
Venue: Locarno
Chosen by: Aitor

“Three Minute Hero” was written by Neol Davies and performed by The Selecter, released in 1980. It is also the opening track on side one of their album Too Much Pressure.

Dexys Midnight Runners – 18 Nov 1979

Song: Dance Stance
Venue: Locarno
Chosen by: Aitor

Dexys Midnight Runners, though not ska, played support on the inaugural 2 Tone tour after Madness pulled out due to other commitments – possibly as a result of signing to Stiff Records. Off the back of the tour Dexys turned down an offer of signing with 2 Tone.

The Specials – 1979

Song: Do The Dog
Venue: Trinity
Chosen by: Grecia

Thought to have played Trinity as part of a Rock Against Racism gig, does anyone remember this?

Madness – 1979

Song: One Step Beyond
Venue: Trinity
Chosen by: Grecia

Again, thought to have played Trinity as part of a Rock Against Racism gig, can you share your memories? Often played in live performances, ‘One Step Beyond’ was originally recorded by Jamaican ska singer Prince Buster.

The Swinging Cats – 14 Sep 1980

Song: Never On A Sunday
Venue: Locarno
Chosen by: Rachel

Like The Specials, The Swinging Cats were Coventry-based; the band’s line up changed many times and the keyboard player ended up in The Colourfield with Terry Hall from The Specials.

The Specials – 14 Sep 1980

Song: A Message To You Rudy
Venue: Locarno
Chosen by: Duncan

The opening track to The Specials’ self titled debut album, ‘A Message to You Rudy’ is a cover of Dandy Livingstone’s original record. Several songs on the album are covers of older Jamaican tunes.

Elvis Costello & the Attractions – 3 Mar 1981

Song: I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down
Venue: Colston Hall
Chosen by: Louise

‘I Can’t Stand Up’ was due to be released in 1980 on 2 Tone, but was eventually released on F-Beat records.

The Beat – 3 May 1981

Song: Too Nice To Talk To
Venue: Locarno
Chosen by: Matt

The Beat were a band within the 2 Tone movement, featuring in the documentary and subsequent album ‘Dance Craze’. The Beat’s label Go Feet was inspired by the 2 Tone label.

The Mood Elevators – 3 May 1981

Song: Annapurna
Venue: Locarno
Chosen by: Rachel

The Beat signed The Mood Elevators to their label Go Feet in 1981 and ‘Annapurna’ was released as the band’s first single.

The Specials – 12 Jun 1981

Song: Ghost Town
Chosen by: Louise

This song became the soundtrack to the period of the 1981 riots in Brixton and sweeping other cities, now thought to have been sparked by the 1980 St Paul’s riot in Bristol.

The Beat – 14 Jul 1981

Song: Get-A-Job
Venue: The Granary
Chosen by: Duncan

This tune is from ‘Wha’ppen?’ This particular tune, as the name suggests, tackles unemployment.

Madness – 15 Oct 1981

Song: Sign Of The Times
Venue: Colston Hall
Chosen by: Duncan

1981 is the first time one of the original 2 Tone signings appears at the Colston Hall. This song is from the band’s 3rd album ‘7’ and expresses discontent, frustration and apathy with life at the time.

Extract from Colston Hall’s booking diary showing Madness, 15 Oct 1981

Bad Manners – 4 Nov 1981

Song: Ne Ne Na Na Na Na Nu Nu
Venue: Colston Hall
Chosen by: Grecia

Bad Manners are widely associated with the 2 Tone movement, like The Beat, they were in the documentary and featured on the associated album ‘Dance Craze’.

The Higsons – 16 Apr 1982

Song: Tear The Whole Thing Down
Venue: Trinity
Chosen by: Louise

One of the later additions to the 2 Tone label, The Higsons signed with them a few months after playing this gig in Bristol. This track was the first the band released on 2 Tone.

The Lantern Project

As part of our project to transform the hall, the National Lottery Heritage Fund are supporting us in preserving our archives for future generations to enjoy and find out about our cultural heritage.

Click here for more information on Colston Hall’s Transformation project.


Supported by

The Transformation of Colston Hall and The Lantern Project are supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund;  the leading advocate for the value of heritage and the largest dedicated funder of heritage in the UK.

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