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Ska Revival

September 1979. England. The Prince by Madness had entered the British charts on 1 September. The Specials (pictured above) were riding high in the Top Ten with Gangsters.

Those hot, hot summer holidays were over and the standard school uniform of black and white was about to take on a whole new meaning.


Pocket money was spent on 2 Tone badges and scarves. Ties were worn skinny-side out and uniforms were altered to include stove-pipe pants, crombies, white socks and penny loafers. 2 Tone was taking over.

Taking Berry Gordy‘s Motown as the blueprint and “with an agenda for social change resulting in racial harmony”, The Specials’ organist and chief songwriter Jerry Dammers set up 2 Tone records and had The Specials rubber stamping 5,000 plain paper sleeves for their debut single in bassist Horace Panter’s bedroom a mere five months earlier. Only three months later the revived ska movement in the UK had become a huge mainstream phenomenon.

2tone_6363Top Of The Pops was invaded by Madness, The Specials and The Selecter, and five months later Jerry Dammers declared “2 Tone has become a monster”. Its success (five Top 10 hits including The Specials’ first Number One with the live EP featuring Too Much Too Young) had taken its toll.

What differentiated the 2 Tone movement was the extent to which the bands controlled their own affairs: their autonomy being something major record labels couldn’t co-opt, replicate or dilute (unlike, say, Madchester or Britpop).

Jerry Dammers’ dream of 2 Tone as a modern Motown – an invincible hit factory with a diverse roster united by a common but aesthetically flexible sound – had come true . . . for a while.

ska_63543After the chart success of Tears Of A Clown, however, The Beat jumped ship and started their own label, Go Feet, which formed a 2 Tone/Chrysalis-like alliance with Arista. Madness also stuck with 2 Tone for just one single before signing to Stiff Records.

Ska revival clone bands began to spring up all over Britain. Most were unsuccessful (the exception being Bad Manners, a comedy-ska troupe with a fat frontman called Buster Bloodvessel) but Dammers felt pressured to keep pushing things forward. For him, this meant pursuing his fascination with mood music and easy listening.