Monday 28 July 2014

Two Tone Remembered

I was already in the early stages of researching the background to my novel Ghost Town in 2000 when Bob Eaton’s Three Minute Heroes first came to the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. But the Internet was still a moody teenager back then, and Social Media barely a glint in a Harvard student’s eye, so by the time I stumbled on the existence of the Two-Tone musical, I’d missed both its original run and its short revival the following year.

model of set for Three Minute Heroes
I was delighted, just before Ghost Town came out, to interview Bob Eaton, here on this blog, about the genesis of his musical – and even more pleased a few weeks ago to hear that it was being revived for the new studio stage at the Belgrade.

The news came with the announcement of an appeal for people to bring their Ska memorabilia to the Belgrade on Saturday 26th July. The play’s producers were hoping to find rare footage of Ska gigs and Coventry ‘rude boys’ that they could project onto Patrick Connellan’s stripped down set. I decided to
go along to capture some of those memories.

The first treat of the day was to find Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson of The Selecter, and Neville Staple and Roddy ‘Radiation’ Byers of The Specials there – looking cool and very 2-Tone! (The fact that I got to shake hands with Pauline Black almost made up for my appalling failure to catch her at the Penn Festival, just down the road from where I now live, only the week before!)

The second treat was to meet not only Pete Chambers, authority on all things to do with the Coventry music scene and the driving force behind 2-Tone Village and the Coventry Music Museum, but also Suky (Sukhbender) Singh, who as well as running a Ska Memorabilia shop at 2-Tone Village is the author of Concrete Jungle, a radio play that deals with the impact on young Asians of both 2-Tone and the racial tensions of 1981.

I was bowled over by the warmth of the reception I got from these guys. They actually took a copy of Ghost Town and put it in pride of place among the memorabilia they had on display. The story of that summer, so little known outside the city, is still something woven into the fabric of Coventry’s consciousness – and anything that touches on it is given a reception there unlike it would meet anywhere else. It made me feel proud to be a part of it.

Coventry still has its share of idiots like any other. But the city has a way of seeing them off, just as they did in 1981. Patrick Connellan told me that a few weeks back, a far-right group called Britain First tried to hold a demo not far from the Belgrade Theatre. Another group that happened to be protesting about the war in Gaza got wind of it and managed to keep them pinned down in a pub so they never made it onto the street.

Now that’s the city I remember!

Turn out for 2-Tone Remembered was not as good as the theatre might have hoped. So if you have any memorabilia from that era, then you can email the Belgrade with your photos and other memories at: Mark the subject line ‘Ska’d For Life’. You can also share your memories via Facebook at or via Twitter @BelgradeTheatre using the hashtag #2ToneRemembered

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