Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Specials 30th Anniversary Celebrations Kick-Off In Coventry With Plaque Unveiling & Exhibition Of Never Before Seen Photos Of The Band

The Specials 30th anniversary reunion celebrations have started! Ever since the reunion was announced and the tickets for the UK tour went on sale (and sold out in minutes), the excitement has been growing. No where is this more true than in Coventry, the heart and soul of 2-Tone. Just this week alone a plaque was unveiled near the canals in the city where the iconic photographs of the band that graced the covers of their first and second albums were taken. To commemorate the occasion, both Roddy Byers and Horace Panter were on hand to help unveil the plaque. The plaque and the event was the brainchild of Pete Chambers of The Coventry Evening Post and author of several books on 2-Tone was there to serve as the MC.

Here is video of the plaque unveiling:

As part of the plaque unveiling celebrations, The Lock Gallery, which is in a redeveloped area of Coventry right on the canal, opened an exhibition titled "Setting the Two Tone" featuring never before seen photographs of The Specials taken by local photographer John Coles. Coles frequently photographed The Specials during their heyday and his photographs serve as testimony to the great moments in rock and roll history that The Specials own. From what I can gather there is both an art and a science to shooting a rock concert. The art comes in because live shows and musicians are unpredictable and spontaneous. Musicians tend to be expressive, especially when they are performing , so the results when done well, can be images full of emotion and energy. However, this energy is also the cause of one of the biggest challenges from a technical perspective in live music photography. Capturing the gyrations of seven members of The Specials had to be a tricky business. Coles has delivered on both accounts.

According to remarks prepared by Chambers at the gallery opening on Thursday, "Coles was born in Coventry on 1955 and attended Bishop Ullathorne RC School. With over forty years behind the lens, and sixteen of those as a wedding photographer, John sums it up in his usual ‘matter-of-fact way, “After forty years I think I can safely say that photography has long ceased to be just a hobby, it’s much more a way of life now”. As well as the 2-Tone roster, John has photographed the likes of The Adverts, The Killjoys, The Stranglers, Boomtown Rats, Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Golden Earring, the Who, Automatics, Squad, Clash, 999, Uriah Heep, Queen,The Tubes, The Flys, The Buzzcocks and new local heroes Pint Shot Riot, The Ripps and The Enemy. His work has appeared in Sounds, and the Coventry Telegraph."

I had the chance to conduct a short interview with Coles, who related that he is Coventry born and bred and has been a professional photographer for most of his life. He has been friendly with The Specials since their early days and frequently had a backstage pass to their shows which provided him with unique access to the band and the opportunity for many close up pictures of the band performing. The photographs are striking for their ability to capture the energy and intensity of the band performing live. Amazingly, the large cache of pictures that are now on display had been stored at Coles home for the last 30 years. Among the pictures are many from The Specials last performance. Coles mentioned that he has spoken with the band about photographing them during their upcoming UK tour when it visits Coventry in May.

The Lock Gallery is an independent open studio and art gallery located in Coventry's Canal Basin within the hub of Coventry's art scene. (local arts and craft workshops and studios surround the canal basin.) It is run by artist and sculptor Emma O'Brien (below hanging a picture) who curated the exhibition.

O'Brien was kind enough to conduct an interview with me about "Setting The 2-Tone:

How long has the Lock Gallery been open?
Since May 2008.

How did you connect with John Coles?
Through Pete Chambers. I was Talking to pete about the plaque unveiling, and how it would be good to have an exhibition in the gallery.

How much work went into preparing for the show?
A huge amount. Pete Chambers kindly donated a lot of original memorabilia, from the era, and it was very hard sifting through all of Johns fantastic images to find the right ones to display

What is your take on the pictures?
I think they're amazing, there has been great interest so far in them as they have never been published before, and there is also such a huge response in the return of The Specials, with lots of excited fans having the chance to take a trip down memory road through the exhibition

Are you a fan of 2-Tone?
Not as big as some, but I am proud to be part of all this, and to open the 30 year celebration with my exhibition, is a real honour, I'm glad we are celebrating the great things that have come out of Coventry

What kind of response have you had to the pictures?
A great response, a lot of people like to talk about the concerts they were taken, and if they were their or not, they are definate conversation starters!

How can fans purchase copies of the prints?
By coming into the Gallery, each print has 2 large sizes, 2 medium and two small and available to buy (ltd edition) from £10.

You can watch a BBC Midlands news piece about the plaque unveling and the photo exhibition here.

The exhibition opened on Friday January 16th 2009 and will remain up until Saturday January 31st 2009. Reprints of the photographs on display are available for sale at The Lock Gallery. For more information about the exhibition or to find out how to purchase reprints contact the gallery via their website or their Facebook page.

Coles was kind enough to share photos he took at the plaque unveiling and exhibition opening with me. I've included a number of them below. Enjoy!

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