When the Barbican was being built, a music genre was sweeping the country, and now the Barbican has an exhibition dedicated to the music that would have been heard while it was being built.

This is Two-tone, which was born in another home of brutalism – Coventry – taking its name from the record label founded in 1979 and references a desire to transcend and defuse racial tensions in the UK. This new exhibition features a range of band memorabilia, items of clothing, literature, art, and photographs and explores how Caribbean immigration positively influenced UK youth culture.

There are though, some pretty harrowing stories from the time, reminding us how bleak racial tensions were (and still are in places), such as the story of a motorist who killed a St Lucia migrant who lived in Camberwell — and was given a caution by the Judge who said the driver couldn’t be expected to see a man of colour at dusk.

It was opinions like that which underpinned the racial challenges from Two-tone music.

It’s very much a large collection of memorabilia style exhibition, much of which will bring back memories and smiles to those who were fans of the style — which I learned still lives on as the clothes have been supplied by Modfather Clothing. You can also add to your collection as the library is selling Two-tone themed badges.

There’s also a wall filled with contributions from fans, with space to add to it if you want.

As a kid who had just moved to the UK, I owned a black and white chessboard pattern schoolbag, which meant people kept talking to me about how I must be a fan of Two-tone music. As more of a classical music person and new to the UK, I had never heard of it, and that was the bag I liked the look of. So indirectly the exhibition was a bit nostalgic, if not for the reasons the curator probably expected.

For people who were actual fans though, there’s a lot here to remind you of your youthful memories.

The exhibition, From the Caribbean to Coventry: Plotting the Rise of Two Tone is at the Barbican music library until Saturday 25th May 2024 and is free to visit.

It’s open Mon to Sat and closed on Sundays.


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  1. Hazel Morgan says:

    Thank you so much for featuring this exhibition – I must visit it.

  2. Spencer Cooper says:

    We are in London on 24/25 and will be visiting the exhibition on 25th
    What time are doors open please? And are their items to purchase?

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