The 2-Tone Trail first began in the form of a book written by Coventry Music Historian and 2-Tone authority Pete Chambers. Pete became frustrated by the lack of any tangible evidence of Coventry being the birthplace of this black and white ska-based phenomenon. This first book (and later the 2-Tone-2 title), both highlighted the trail, and the tour has been enjoyed by many locals and visiting 2-Tone fans alike.
Coventry University, was known as the Lanchester Polytechnic in the days Pauline Black and Jerry Dammers and Horace Panter attended. It was here where Jerry first met Horace, a meeting that proved to be crucial to the creation of The Specials. The song “Rat Race” was conceived here and the promotional video was recorded in the main Hall in 1980. The Specials played there in September 1980.
The Hand and Heart pub
The Hand and Heart pub played host to the emerging Coventry punk scene in the late 1970’s. Reggae band Hardtop 22 played there a few months later key members of the band would form the core of the Selecter. On February 23rd 1978 a band called The Coventry Automatics played the venue, on Friday 1st December 1978 they returned as the Specials.
The Binley Oak
Just an ordinary pub in an ordinary street, but the Binley Oak was the prime rehearsal space for the would-be 2-Tone artists in the late 1970’s. It’s where Pauline Black first became a member of the Coventry ska band The Selecter. It was also here that The Specials first perfected that familiar sound that eventually would become known as 2-Tone. The overriding memory of the venue was just how cold it was, Horace Panter recalled playing sunny Jamaican ska in fingerless mittens, with froze
Coventry Canal Basin
Coventry Canal Basin was very run-down the day The Specials arrived for a photo shoot in 1979. It’s pretty obvious that neither the band or the photographers Chalkie Davies andCarol Starr, had any idea the images they created that day would become so iconic.Those images graced the front and rear covers of TheSpecials first album, and the rear of the More SpecialsLP. Though photographer Chalkie did say, “We always felt that our work for The Specials was the best we had ever done”. Jerry wanted the cover to be a pastiche of the Who’s “My Generation” LP cover, with the band all looking up at the camera. Today the canal basin is home to many of Coventry’s art fraternity and there’s actually water in the canal now.
51 Albany Road
51 Albany Road, is the Holy Grail for 2-Tone fans, for it was up in that front-bedroom flat where the 2-Tone phenomenon was born. In 1979/80, it became the HQ of Britain’s most creative record label. As well as being Jerry Dammers home, and a ‘hang out’ area for the rest of the band. It was featured in the BBC Arena documentary on the rise of 2-Tone, where the band along with Music Journalist Adrian Thrills are gathered in party mood in this one-bedroom record company head-office.
The Rocket public house bears the plaque that should have been located on Horizon Studios, sadly the studios and indeed the building that housed them has long gone. Horizon studios was very much the tangible face of 2-Tone during its rise to fame. It was here most of the Selecter’s body of work was recorded, and of course The Specials first vinyl outing “Gangsters” and their second album “More Specials”. Roger Lomas produced Bad Manners here too of course. While The Rocket provided liquid lunches between long recording sessions. The exact location of the studios are opposite the Rocket, where the bollards to the entrance road to Central Six now lies.
The Holyhead Youth Club and Music Workshop
The Holyhead Youth Club and Music Workshop, was where Neville Staple first met the rest of the Specials when they rehearsed in the basement of this club. Coventry Soul singer and 2-Tone catalyst Ray King became the club’s manager and installed Neville Staple and Trevor Evans with their Jah Baddis Sound System, as resident DJ’s for the club. The Holyhead became pivotal in the development of the various musicians who would eventually form the 2-Tone bands The Specials and The Selecter. Much of the graffiti from those days is tantalisingly still in evidence on the basement walls here, making this a special place for the fan.
When The Sex Pistols played at Mr George on 17th December 1977, a certain Jerry Dammers was looking for his band to support them. History tells us that never happened, but that band (The Automatics) did secure a four month Monday night residency here. During that residency, Roddy joined the band, they picked up manager no 2, and supported Ultravox at The Marquee for just £10. A little over a year later, The Automatics had rebranded themselves as The Specials and with the launch of Gangsters were enjoying chart success for the first time.
Tiffany’s (or The Locarno or The ‘Rockhouse’), was a major venue for the city in the 60’s, and 70’s, before it became a public library that is. Chuck Berry recorded his only number one here (My Ding-A-Ling), and all of the major 2-Tone bands played this venue at some time or other (The Specials, Madness, The Selecter, The Beat, The Swinging Cats & The Bodysnatchers). Live B-sides “Skinhead Symphony” (The Specials) and “Carry Go Bring Home” by The Selecter, were both recorded here. The Locarno is also immortalised in the lyrics of The Specials song Friday Night Saturday Morning.
Virgin Records / Soul Hole
In the 70’s Virgin Records provided a base for the music-minded in the city. John ‘Brad’ Bradbury, AKA Prince Rimshot, worked here, and developed his love for various forms of music, including reggae, soul and of course ska. The original Coventry Automatics vocalist Tim Strickland, and Swinging Cat Chris Long also earned a wage at the shop. Upstairs, the Soul Hole was the domain of Pete Waterman, Locarno DJ and the very first Specials Manager. If you couldn’t get it anywhere else, Pete would get it for you here. That’s long before he became a global phenomenon of course.
The Heath Hotel
This building has a ‘special’ piece of history, because back in October 1977 The band that would become The Specials played their very first gig at this building. Jerry’s own hand written diary of the time, states the band were called The Automatics (not the Hybrids as many think). He also mentions that the organ wouldn’t fit on the stage, so he played it in the audience facing the band. This was in the pub’s Rainbow Lounge whilst supporting the punk bands Urban Blight, Certified, The Wild Boys and Squad (a band that included a certain Terry Hall, but not for much longer).