When it comes to culture, Coventry has long been regarded as something of a backwater. But a new exhibition hopes to prove it is no artistic ghost town.
For the first time, an exhibition dedicated to two-tone music, the phenomenon that spawned bands such as the Specials and the Selecter, is to open as part of Coventry’s 2021 city of culture celebrations.
Two-tone came to prominence in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A fusion of reggae and punk rock, it was led by musicians hoping to ease racial unrest. Its name, a nod to co-operation between black and white people, came from the 2 Tone record label. It was founded by Jerry Dammers, the songwriter and keyboard player for the Specials, the Coventry band whose hits include A Message to You, Rudy and Ghost Town.
Dammers, 65, said the genre’s anti-racism message was more important than ever given such events of the past year as the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests. “Racism has not gone away,” said Dammers, who wrote 1984’s Free Nelson Mandela. “We’ve got to keep moving forward with it.”
Organisers of the exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum are asking the public to share memories and memorabilia, from photos and videos to Harrington jackets and pork-pie hats. “That democratic way of doing things is in the spirit of two-tone,” said Martin Roberts, its curator.
The exhibition runs from May until September and promises to be one of the highlights of the festivities.
“For years Coventry has been slagged off as a cultural backwater, which has come from people in Coventry as much as anybody else,” said Neol Davies, a founder member of the Selecter. “But it’s an amazing place with an amazing history.”