Let’s be honest, the initial plan to visit The Coventry Music Museum was based on a misunderstanding. A friend came up with the idea of combining a visit to the “2 Tone Museum” and an away day to watch our favourite football team when they visited Coventry. As someone who remembers the 2-Tone era with great fondness it sounded like a brilliant suggestion. It was only later that we discovered that there is great deal more to the Museum than simply the 2-Tone era.
So, on a grey Saturday morning we found ourselves entering the bizarre and really rather wonderful “2-Tone Village”, a neither world, located in a lane behind the bustling Walsgrave Road. Slipping into the walkway that leads to the village is little like going through the famous wardrobe that C S Lewis created for his characters to visit Narnia. For here you enter a special and rather unique world, The “Village” is home to a café, an excellent shop called 2-Tone Corner, an interesting memorabilia shop and of course the Museum itself.
After the drive from Bristol, some refreshment was needed, so our first stop was the café. Small friendly, very good value for money and impeccably kitted out with a range a 2-Tone graphics it’s a perfect place to start your trip (I can heartily recommend their Jerk Sausage Batch and who can resist the idea of a Skappuccino!). As you walk along the lane, logically christened Beat Street, your eye is taken by series of circular plaques on the wall, tributes to local, national and international legends of the Coventry music scene.
Having paid the paltry admission fee of £2 to enter the museum, you head up the stairs to begin your journey through the musical history of the city. As mentioned earlier, the museum, covers a much broader musical palette the simply the 2-Tone era, in fact the displays start you off in the Roman era and take you all the way through to the current day.
The musical journey started to get interesting for me as it enters the 1950’s then on into the beat scene of the 60’s, the psychedlia of early 70’s then through punk, the chart success of the 80’s and on to Bhangra and then the more recent success of The Enemy. You feel as though anyone who ever strummed a guitar, crashed a symbol or belted out a vocal in Coventry is featured.
It’s a place full of unusual juxtapositions. I never imagined that I would see the reel-to-reel tape that belonged to electronic musical pioneer Delia Derbyshire. How amazing then, to find in sandwiched between a waistcoat then used to belong to 70’s crooner Vince Hill and a pair of cowboy boots that were worn by the king of the Midland Yodelling scene (was their one?), Frank Ifield!
As befits the huge success that 2-Tone had, there is obviously a large amount of space given over to that period. Photo’s ticket stubs, gold discs, hand written lyric sheets, its all here. For many people, Ghost Town by The Specials is the song that captured the essence of life in Thatcher’s Britain. Showing that 2-Tone was a label that ,whilst wanting people to dance, also wanted to challenge the ills that were sweeping the nation, be that government hostility to the working class or street level racism, 2-Tone was a label that confronted those issues, head on. Something that Coventry can rightly be proud of.
A word also for the staff, everyone we chatted with was friendly, funny and obviously loved being part of this rather special world. This was epitomised when we were discussing late 80’s indie band The Primitives and their lead singer Tracy Tracy. Suddenly, one of the lovely guides came forward and announced that she was the mother of Tracy Tracy and quickly updated us on the current activity of the band!
There is also lot’s of interesting items on music venues in the Coventry area and bands that visited the area. For instance I learnt an interesting fact about Chuck Berry and his connection to the city. I’m not going to tell you what it is though, you will have to visit the Museum yourself to find out!
So if you do find yourself in the Coventry area, make sure that take a trip to the Coventry Music Museum. Often the media likes to tell us that for something to matter is has to happen in London. This museum shows us that places such as Coventry, which may be sneered at from time to time, are just as important in marking out the musical heritage of our county.
Maybe somebody should open a Bristol Music Museum?