Key Bands of the 2Tone Era

Emerging from the sounds of ska which originated in Jamaica, 2Tone which was named after the record label began in the late 1970’s. In essence it was a ska revival.

Using a large array of instruments including brass, keyboards and strings with a walking bass line being dominant often in the tracks ska moved across the world from Jamaica to Coventry in England which influenced the 2Tone sound of bands like Madness, The Selecter and in my opinion probably the best band The Beat.

2 Tone Records was founded by Jerry Dammers a songwriter/keyboardist formed The Specials in 1977 with vocalist Tim Strickland, guitarist/vocalist Lynval Golding, drummer Silverton Hutchinson andbassist Horace Panter (a.k.a. Sir Horace Gentleman).


Fusing the traditional sound of ska with the punk attitude and energy 2Tone’s desire was to defuse a Britain that was full of racial tension at the time.

The bands were often large and made up of both black and white artists. Most of the bands were signed to the 2Tone label but not all.

Here is the list of bands and songs:

  1. The Specials – Gangsters – 1979
  2. Madness – Prince – 1979
  3. The Selecter – Three Minute Hero – 1980
  4. Bad Manners – Special Brew – 1980
  5. The Bodysnatchers – Let’s Do Rock Steady – 1980
  6. The Beat – Too Nice to Talk Too – 1980
  7. The Higsons – Tear the Whole Thing Down – 1982
  8. The Apollinaires – The Feelings Gone – 1982

To find out more about each track keep reading;

1.The Specials – Gangsters – 1979

If you read my last post you may well feel you recognise this song as it was a reworking of the Prince Buster track ‘Al Capone’.

  • Formed: 1977–1984, 1993, 1996-2001, 2008-present
  • Location: Coventry, England
  • Original Known Members: Jerry Dammers, Tim Strickland, Lynval Golding, Silverton Hutchinson, Horace Panter (a.k.a. Sir Horace Gentleman)

Gangsters is a good example of how the Ska bands in the UK revival reworked many of the 60’s songs.

After seven consecutive UK Top 10 singles between 1979 and 1981, three members of the group including Terry Hall (who replaced Tim Strickland) their frontman abruptly left to form Fun Boy Three who released 9 singles and two albums during their time together from 81 to 83.

2.Madness – Prince – 1979

Staying in 1979  ‘Madness’ released a tribute to Prince Buster which was their debut single – Prince which peaked at number 16

  • Formed: 1976–1986, 1992–present
  • Location: Camden Town, London, England
  • Original Known Members: Graham “Suggs” McPherson, Chris Foreman, Mike Barson, Lee Thompson, Daniel Woodgate, Mark Bedford

The ‘B’ side of the single was a Prince Buster cover by the band called ‘Madness’ which, is supposedly where their name came from.

Although only on the 2 Tone label for this single, Madness were one of the most effective bands at bringing the 2 Tone genre into the mainstream.

Originally together from 1976 through to 1986 they reformed in 1992 and continue to perform today.

2012 saw two notable performances by the band, performing at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration and also at the closing ceremony of the London Olympic Games.

3. The Selecter – Three Minute Hero – 1980

Taking their name from the Jamaican word for disc jockey, ‘The Selector’ with Three Minute Hero from 1980.

  • Formed: 1979–1981, 1991–2006, 2010–present
  • Location: Coventry, England
  • Original Known Members: Pauline Black, Neol Davies, Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson, Compton Amanor, Charley ‘H’ Bembridge, Charley Anderson, Desmond Brown

The Selecter featured a racially diverse line-up and their lyrics featured themes connected to politics which was often the case for Ska bands.

They were one of the most successful bands of the 2Tone era, notching up several top forty singles in the British charts.

4. Bad Manners – Special Brew – 1980

Bad Manners with their very charismatic frontman Buster Bloodvessel released Special Brew in 1980 which reached number 3 in the U.K. chart

  • Formed: 1976–present
  • Location: London, England
  • Original Known Members: Buster Bloodvessel (born Douglas Trendle), Louis Alphonso, Martin Stewart, Winston Bazoomies, Chris Kane

Bad Manners were not signed to the 2Tone label like many of the Ska bands at the time but instead were on the Magnet label.

One of their most memorable hits ‘My Girl Lollipop’ was a reworking of the ‘My Boy Lollipop’ 1964 release by Millie Small.

Interestingly in 1996 Buster Bloodvessel opened a hotel in Margate called Fatty Towers but it closed its doors in 1998. I wonder what went wrong?

5. The Bodysnatchers – Let’s Do Rock Steady – 1980

Getting back to the 2Tone label  ‘The Bodysnatchers’ released Let’s Do Rock Steady in 1980.

  • Formed: 1979–1981
  • Location: London, England
  • Original Known Members: Rhoda Dakar, Sarah Jane Owen, Stella Barker, Nicky Summers, Penny Leyton, Miranda Joyce, Jane Summers

A seven piece all female band The Bodysnatchers only released two singles on the 2Tone label and didn’t record any albums.

For their third gig, they were invited by Chrysalis Records to play at Debbie Harry‘s birthday party in late 1979.

They supported other bands like The Selecter, The Specials, Toots and the Maytals and Madness.

6. The Beat – Too Nice to Talk Too – 1980

For this next band, I had a difficult time choosing a song so I got help from a friend – I hope you approve of his choice – This is ‘The Beat’ with Too Nice To Talk Too from 1980.

  • Formed: 1978–1983, 2003, 2006–present
  • Location: Birmingham, England
  • Original Known Members: Dave Wakeling, Ranking Roger, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Morton, Saxa a.k.a. Lionel Augustus Martin

The Beat (known in North America as The English Beat and in Australia as The British Beat) due to other bands with the same name, they formed in 1978.

Too Nice to Talk Too which reached number 7 was a non-album song but would later appear on the CD re-issue of Wha’ppen.

The Beat toured the world with well-known artists such as David Bowie, The Clash, The Police, The Pretenders, R.E.M., The Specials and Talking Heads.

They were together from 78 to 83 but reformed in 2003 and again in 2006 and continue to play.

7. The Higsons – Tear the Whole Thing Down – 1982

The next band  ‘The Higsons’  lead singer turned out to have another talent (continue reading below) but let’s look at their track Tear the Whole Thing Down from 1982.

  • Formed: 1980–1986
  • Location: Norwich, England
  • Original Known Members: Charlie “Switch” Higson, Terry Edwards, Stuart McGeachin, Simon Charterton, Colin Williams, David Cummings

One of two songs released under the 2Tone label (the other being Run Me Down) neither of which charted, their most successful track was “Music To Watch Girls By” “Music To Watch Boys By” which reached number 2 in the UK Indie Chart.

So what was that other talent then?, Charlie Higson their frontman  would later find fame as a comedy writer and actor on The Fast Show a hugely successful comedy show in the 90’s.

8. The Apollinaires – The Feelings Gone – 1982

The last track is from The Apolinaires with their track The Feelings Gone from 1982.

  • Formed: 1981-1983
  • Location: Leicester, England
  • Original Known Members: Paul Tickle, Tom Brown, Francis Brown, Kraig Thornber, James Hunt, Simon Kirk, Peter Millen, Laurence Wood, Paul Hood, Chris Freestone

This was their first single after signing with 2Tone in 1982 with a then ten-piece band. The song features vocals from Rhoda Dakar of The Bodysnatchers.

Unfortunately, the band split in 1983, one of the main issues being the difficulties of co-ordinating their large number of members.

Remember to check my radio show ‘Time Warp’ on SineFM

Hope you enjoyed the list and the music.


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