In 1979 cool kids rocked like a Monkey Man to the 2-Tone tour. The Specials, formerly The Coventry Automatics and The Special AKA The Automatics, supported by Madness and The Selecter, had rehearsed for the tour at The Roundhouse in London’s Chalk Farm. In October they played the first gig at the Top Rank, Brighton. The running order for stage shows was always The Selecter on first, then Madness, lastly The Specials.
2-Tone, created by Jerry Dammers, the son of a Coventry clergyman, designer of the 2 Tone label, with its black and white checks and ‘rude boy’ mascot, Walt Jabsco, had come a long way from the founder’s one-bedroom flat on 51 Albany Road. The sound was raw and ready.
Earlier that year Rude Girl Pauline Black was working as a Walsgrave Hospital radiologist when she and a group of Coventry musicians formed The Selecter. Born Belinda Magnus in 1953 to Anglo-Jewish/Nigerian parents, Black epitomised 2-Tone.
“It was obvious the Mod/skinhead revival was coming and I was trying to find a way to make sure it didn’t go the way of the National Front. I idealistically thought, we have to get through to these people, and that’s when we got the image together and started using ska rather than reggae. It seemed a bit more healthy to have an integrated kind of British music, rather than white people playing the two. In the 1940s and 50s, Professor Longhair took on board Caribbean rhythms, then Jamaica picked up on New Orleans sound. You got Afro-Cuban jazz combining North American jazz with African rhythms – and that’s the roots of ska”.
Was it all fun on the road?
“The amount of violence at specials gigs has been exaggerated down the years” say Dammers. “I really wish there hadn’t been any. The great majority were trouble free, but there were a few where a minority thought they were supposed to have a scrap. With about four exceptions, any sign of trouble was nipped in the bud by the band stopping and Terry explaining that it wasn’t part of the deal”. In Bristol, Neville Staple discovered his fame now meant girls were willing to star with him in hotel room porn. On November 7, all 3 bands appeared together on Top of The Pops. In just 3 months, 2 Tone had gone from indie label to countrywide phenomenon.
In his book, Ska’d for Life, Horace Panter says that mostly he sat up the front of the bus. I don’t remember it like that. I remember him and the terrifyingly cool Terry Hall holding queenly court on the back seat… I have to say I have never met such a bunch of prima donnas as some of The Specials.
I don’t accuse Neville Staple of this behaviour, but the remaining sextet should have been sent down by ‘Judge 400 years’ for a long spell of personality rehabilitation.
The three bands are strung out across the Roundhouse bar. The Selecter and Specials mingle, wander and joke. Madness are quaffing light and bitters, being noisy. They look like a gang of spotty kids waiting to be taken on a day trip to the seaside, yelping and impatient.
A friend of mine named Kellogs who works for Stiff as a tour manger is standing at the bar, watching them. When Stiff signed Madness, they were put in his paternal care. He’s just finished a fortnight on the road with the rascals, and they’ve nearly brought him to his knees.
“They make me feel so old,” he says wearily. “They just don’t stop. Up till four every morning, boozing. Look at them. . .”
We look at them. Down the hatch go another seven pints.
“They’re fucking loving it,” says Kellogs. “They’re on top of the fucking world. A hit single, on the telly, on the road away from mum, drinking, smoking – all yobbos together. They’re having the time of their lives.”
“Annuver 300 pints of light and bitter,” cry Madness in unison as the coach finally pulls up outside The Roundhouse. – Uncut
Most of the pictures below are from The Specials’ 12 date ‘Seaside Specials’ tour, when new 2 Tone signings The Bodysnatchers were the support act.
Would you like to support Flashbak?
Please consider making a donation to our site. We don't want to rely on ads to bring you the best of visual culture. You can also support us by signing up to our Mailing List. And you can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For great art and culture delivered to your door, visit our shop.