Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Exclusive: Interview with Coventry Music Journalist, Author & 2-Tone Expert Pete Chambers

While every music scene has the bands that put the city on the map, there are also the important and indispensable members of the media who serve to chronicle and help promote the scene and keep its fans informed. The Beatles arrival in New York City was heralded and covered by one Murray The K. Later, the Los Angeles KROQ DJ and Rock scene maker Rodney Biggehneimer was the man every musician passing through on tour wanted and needed to speak to. Coventry and 2-Tone also has such a person and his name is Pete Chambers.

Pete is an unabashed fan of 2-Tone and a booster for Coventry. A lifelong resident of the city, his passion for 2-Tone and his connections with its musicians has helped him to keep its legacy alive while establishing perosnal and professional relationships with members of the bands. This dual role of journalist/fan has allowed him to support and publicize the music as a member of the media and author, while providing the perspective of a fan who loves the bands and music and wants other fans to love it just as much.

Pete is a very busy man these days. Between writing a regular music column for the Coventry Evening Telegraph and hosting a BBC radio show he has also authored a number of rock music books. Of particular interest are his two books about the history of 2-Tone. The first, "The 2-Tone Trail" looks at the places and the faces that helped to shape 2-Tone. Full of rarely seen photographs and very interesting tidbit's of info, the book features a 20 location tour around Coventry, and each one is brought to life by quotes from the likes of Jerry, Horace, Roddy, Lynval, Neville, Pauline, Roger Lomas, Neol Davies who also contributes the foreword. He just launched the follow-up titled, "2-Tone 2 - Dispatches From The 2-Tone City 30 Years On". The new book includes news stories, rare and unseen photographs, and the views of some of 2-Tone's key players.

I was lucky enough to interview Pete the same day The Specials announced their first UK tour dates since 1981. Pete shared his thoughts on The Specials reunion, his favorite 2-Tone song and band (you might be surprised who that is) and the future for ska music in Coventry. Enjoy the interview.

Can you tell me about your introduction to music and ska music in particular?
Like so many others, my lasting memory of the discovery of music, has to be The Beatles. The old Dancette in the corner, blaring out sounds that seemed to make sense, probably the only time in our lives when my whole family shared anything near a musical taste I suppose. I’m a bit of a cultural tourist, so happily I have been influenced by all types of music. I love ska and reggae of course, but I also love many other types of music. Though Ska and reggae music came into my life around the 70’s. I was a proud suede head, spending my paper-round money on Tighten Up compilation albums. I recall that this was the music our particular youth culture was supposed to be into. I never got that, I wasn’t getting off on it cus I was supposed to, this was bloomin great music, simple as. I recall hearing Here I am baby, by Al Brown & Skin Flesh and Bones for the first time, and been blown away totally. That made me want to explore the genre even more, I adore roots reggae, especially The Mighty Diamonds and U-Roy, stuff like that.

What was it like growing up in Coventry? Did you experience the 2-Tone explosion firsthand?
I suppose I should talk of ghost towns and concrete jungles. The truth is I had a pretty average upbringing, in an average city. I always talk about the Ghost Town dichotomy, we were branded a ghost town at our most creative period, 2-Tone was amazing for Coventry. Every local artist in the 80’s wanted to be the cities next ‘pop stars’. The legacy it has created is now well and truly seated in Cov’s urban history. No other artists from the city has ever done that. As a music fan it was a wonderful place to live in the 80’s, it was happening right on a doorstep. For once we weren’t your average city. We were Cov, and at last we had something to be proud of. Happy days.

You seem to be very well connected with members of The Specials and The Selecter. How did you meet them?
Through my music journalism mainly, anyone who knows me, will see me not just as a writer, but a fan too. I don’t really care about the bullshit of the industry, just the music. I try never to cross anyone, I just write about the music, I think they respect that. I know Lynval does, as he has told me many times. Horace has been a family friend for years, I DJ’d and took the photos at his wedding. Horace, Roddy, Neville, Neol, Gaps, Lynval, Aitch, Roger Lomas among others, are always there for me in all my cockeyed ideas and schemes god bless them. (Lynval Golding with a copy of Pete's new book).

You were the only member of the media invited to secret rehearsals for The Specials first reunion show at Bestival in September. What was that like? Its hard for those of us who never saw the band live to fathom how significant their reunion is isn't it?
I know we all love a good sound bite, but I was literally looking away, then back at the stage, convincing myself I was seeing those six guys back together. When the session began and they started playing I admit there was a tear in my eye. It was that important to me, and to be allowed to witness this piece of history. Most people will never know just how hard it was for this reunion to happen. It was a nightmare at times, and so often I thought that it would never happen. So to see this was a glorious result of an almost impossible journey. I was so humbled to be allowed in that room with such giants of music.

What is your take on Jerry Dammers? Do you think he will decide to tour with the band next spring and help mark the 30th anniversary?
Here we go, in-band politics, lets put this in perspective, No Jerry Dammers, no 2-Tone, we wouldn’t even be doing this interview if it wasn’t for him. I would dearly love to see all seven guys on stage next year, do I think it will happen, not a chance.

What is your favorite 2-Tone song and why?
Gangsters has to be up there, where it all began Ghost Town perfect song where it all ended, It Doesn’t Make It Alright is genius though. On My Radio had incredible energy, although not strictly 2-Tone we had Celebrate The Bullet, a forgotten gem, I adore it. Sorry can’t narrow it down to one.

The Specials or The Selecter? Which one and why? (Sort of like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones)
I always say that, as much as I adore the Specials, I felt that the Selecter were nearer the ethos of what 2-Tone was all about. Neol and Pauline were a dynamic that worked far better than many realised. Her ‘in yer face’ interpretations of Neol's often stark lyrics, was a match made in 2-Tone heaven. I saw them sing together recently, and it was like someone had switched a light on. They just got up there and made magic, it was easy to see the spark. The Selecter, now that would be another great reunion for sure. (Neol Davies with Pete's new book in front of Coventry's Horizon Studios where The Specials and The Selecter LPs were recorded).

Coventry and 2-Tone are forever linked in the same way that Detroit and Motown and Seattle and Grunge are here in the U.S.. When one talks of a 2-Tone sound everyone knows what that means. What is it about Coventry that it has been the birthplace of so much great music and bands?
I put it down to the big bang factor, we are a great fusion city. The automotive industry in Coventry saw the influx of people settling in Coventry from the Caribbean . They bought with them their culture and music, it was understandable music fusion would occur. It would eventually influence people like Jerry Dammers. By 1980 many bands in Coventry were playing the Coventry Sound, basically a four four beat, with a huge punk/new age angle to it. There were a few hit bands that came from the city, but others like Gods Toys, Urge and The Reluctant Stereotypes that were just as good, but never really made it.

You are quite a multimedia fellow with a newspaper column, a BBC radio show and a number of books to your name. How did you get where you are now?
Not certain where I am exactly; but I love what I do, my jobs my hobby and vice versa, I’m living the dream. I suppose I did it by knowing and being passionate about my subject, it’s amazing when you write a book and suddenly you become an expert. My first book Godiva Rocks really opened doors, and that led to full-page column in the Coventry Telegraph and a regular guest spot on BBC radio. Now when TV want a talking head that knows Coventry music they wheel me out. I’m loving it!

Tell me about your two 2-Tone specific books. Where can readers get a copy if they are interested?
My new book is 2-Tone-2- Dispatches From The 2-Tone City 30 Years On. Basically a compendium of lots of 2-Tone stories, articles and rare or unseen photos with an update of my first 2-Tone book thrown in for good measure. It’s getting some great reviews I’m happy to say. Lynval Golding was kind enough to do the foreword. The best place to get it is on E-Bay, just search 2-Tone-2. I’ll even sign it for you. (The picture below is from Pete's book launch party for 2-Tone 2 this past October including Neol Davies, Horace Panter, Roddy Radiation and Roger Lomas among others)

What is your take on the ska scene in the UK at the moment? What do you make of Pama International, The Ripps, The Enemy? Do you think another revival is in the works?
I love Pama, an exciting band, The Ripps are a shining example of what Coventry can produce. They are for me the natural legacy of 2-Tone, a superbly talented trio. The Enemy are a Coventry band, but don’t play ska or reggae. They have however put Coventry back on the music map. With the reunion of the Specials I think there’s going to be considerable interest in the genre, as for a ska revival, well has it ever gone away, I would say not? Many thanks been great to do this, respect.

Here is a recent TV clip about Pete's new book "2-Tone 2" that features an interview with Pete and Neol Davies of The Selecter:

Here is footage of Special Brew (a 2-Tone tribute band) along with Ray King, Horace Panter and Neol Davies performing at the launch party for Pete's new book back in October of this year:

You can buy a copy of Pete's new book on Ebay here

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