After several decades marred by a dearth of tomes about 2 Tone apart from George Marshall's foundational and wonderfully opinionated The Two Tone Story (1990) and an extraordinary chapter about 2 Tone in Dick Hebdige's Cut 'n' Mix: Culture, Identity and Caribbean Music (1987), we're finally in a golden age of plenty. The spigot began to open in the late 2000s, with autobiographies from Horace Panter and Pauline Black, plus Paul Williams' superb biography of The Specials, You're Wondering Now. And more recently, we've seen coverage of 2 Tone in Heather Augustyn's terrific surveys of the genre, Ska: An Oral History and Ska: The Music of Liberation; amazing autobiographies from Ranking Roger (read my review) and Madness (read my review); and the best oral history of 2 Tone one could hope for in Daniel Rachel's Walls Come Tumbling Down: The Music and Politics of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge. (Oh, and I published The Duff Guide to 2 Tone in 2020, as well!)
To this crowded bookshelf, the discerning 2 Tone fan absolutely should add Lee Morris' book 2 Tone: Before, During & After (Paperback, Media House Books, 2020). Morris provides a comprehensive overview of every band that released music on the 2 Tone label (including the lesser-known, non-ska acts that were signed on the tail end of 2 Tone's existence, like Friday Club, The Higsons, and The Apollinaires), from their origins in the '70s up till the present day--and includes biographical sketches of all band members and key collaborators. (Plus there's a chapter on 2 Tone related bands, and if you ever make the pilgrimage to Coventry, info on the 2 Tone Trail.) Morris' book is crammed with details (and some welcome commentary) that help flesh out the entire 2 Tone story--and American fans, most of whom didn't have easy access to the British music publications breathlessly covering 2 Tone's rapid rise and prolonged flame out, will find it especially enlightening. I was particularly grateful for Morris' chapter on The Special AKA, since I knew too little of this band's history other than it's Phoenix-like rise from the post-Ghost Town ashes of The Specials; and that Jerry Dammers' perfectionism in crafting the magnificent In the Studio cost an ungodly sum, took forever to complete, and was so miserable an experience that Rhoda Dakar to this day has never listened to it.
2 Tone: Before, During & After is an essential and handy reference guide to the label--one that you'll be thumbing through for years to come (I certainly will be).
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