In the wake of the passing of Ranking Roger, frontman of The Beat, and the triumphant return of The Specials with number 1 album Encore, now seems as relevant as ever to pay homage to the Two Tone Movement, and prove that it still lives on; both in terms of music and sentiment.
Let’s set the scene…a country irreparably divided, a culture of far-right extremism, inequality and poverty, and distrust in the media narrative at an all time high…sound familiar? In the tumultuous political climate we face today, with the tortuous mire that is Brexit on everyone’s lips, it’s time to sound the Two-Tone horn once more to bring back that sense of harmony that evolved from genuine passion and love for music.
We’ve picked out five new(ish) releases that have either audible links to the reggae/ska sound, or lyrics that echo the anti-racial sentiment and harmonious ethos of the time. So, if you need reminding of why Two Tone was arguably one of the most influential movements in the UK’s musical landscape, or just want to discover something new, read on…
1. Mina Rose - ‘Lemons and Limes’
Growing up on a diet of ska and house music in the vibrant and diverse South London, Mina Rose’s debut single ‘Lemons and Limes’ is a deliciously catchy, dub-soaked anthem. This progressive pop track is heavily informed by reggae, ska and trip-hop sounds, and is politically and socially aware; Mina stresses the importance and beauty of an inclusive and multi-cultural society.
2. The Skints - 'Armageddon'
Describing their sound as “music from Jamaica in a London style”, East London four piece The Skints are masters of fusing reggae, soul, punk, dub and ska with smatterings of hip-hop and grime, and striking a chord with personal, philosophical and political messages. You’ll struggle to find a band who better epitomise the current innovative musical landscape - they explore sound and bend the boundaries of genre with such inhibition and fun, that their feel-good grooves are instant favourites. The ultimate accolade came from the Two-Tone pioneer himself Ranking Roger, who named The Skints as one of the new bands he loves: “Love their vibe and think the harmonies are great”. Their recent release ‘Armegeddon’ feat Runkus comes ahead of their album Swimming Lessons out 10 May.
3. The Specials - '10 Commandments' feat. Saffiyah Khan
Yes, we know that The Specials are hardly a revelation to a Two Tone fan, yet this particular track off their recent album deserves a special mention. The ska veterans hand over the mic to a vital voice of our generation, Saffiyah Khan. The 22 year-old activist went viral after a picture of her standing up to a member of the English Defence League in 2017 stunned the nation, her calm and pitying smile saying a thousand words. She now features on the Specials’ album after the picture depicted her wearing a Specials T-Shirt, which grabbed the attention of the band. Based on the original Prince Buster track of the same name, Khan has reinvented the noxious narrative that instructs a woman to be obedient and disciplined: “Thou shalt not drink nor smoke, or use profane language. Thou shalt not provoke me to anger, or my wrath will descend upon you heavily.” Khan retorts by mirroring this structure with her own viewpoint. “Thou shalt not listen to Prince Buster or any other man offering kindly advice in matters of my own conduct” she begins. Khan’s lyrics referring to rape culture (“Thou shalt not tell a girl she deserved it because her skirt was too short”) echo an earlier Specials project with Rhoda Dakar of The Bodysnatchers, in the form of the harrowing narrative of ‘The Boiler’ in 1982, which chronicles the assault of a woman in graphic detail. Khan defiantly calls out anti-feminists, cat-callers and highlights the rape culture that plagues our society. This remake demonstrates that The Specials are still as vital and as relevant as ever, and their political commitment hasn’t wavered at all. This space-dub track is a powerful, standout number on the Encore album.
4. Hollie Cook - 'Stay Alive'
Dub, ska and reggae beats all bubble together in Hollie Cook’s melting pot of vibey grooves. Cook’s musical journey kicked off right from the get-go, with her dad Paul Cook playing drums in the Sex Pistols, and Ari Up of The Slits being a close family friend. Cook toured with The Slits when they reformed in 2006, so this fusion of punk rock and ska/reggae influences is evident in her sound. Cook’s beautifully wistful melodies float above archetypal reggae sounds. ‘Stay Alive’ is plucked from 2018’s album Vessel of Love.
5. The Tuts - 'Give Us Something Worth Voting For'
The feminist force that is The Tuts, who are currently on tour with The Specials after being specially requested by Terry Hall, are the epitome of empowerment. The self proclaimed ‘Three-Tone’ trio (of proud Caribbean, English and Indian/Pakistani origin), have a strong feminist ethos which is also firmly rooted in anti-racist empowerment. Pauline Black, front woman of Two-Tone powerhouse The Selecter, describes The Tuts as “infectious guitar-led pop wrapped around fiery drums, sharp tongues and splendid harmonies”. The political themed track ‘Give Us Something Worth Voting For’ chronicles the desperation for someone in power that is trustworthy and relatable. “We wrote this song around the time of the general election, when we felt like there was nothing worth voting for. None of the political parties represented us, and we felt like we had to vote based on a process of elimination — the best of a bad bunch.” Although their sound isn’t audibly influenced by ska/reggae beats, with The Tuts swaying more towards pop-punky inflections, their lyrics reflect the sentiment that made Two Tone so powerful and influential.