Can you feel the 2-tone beat? New ‘Peaky Blinders effect’ predicted for Birmingham tourism following TV drama

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Major tourism boost predicted for Birmingham and Coventry - and it’s got 2-tone rhythm

Culture, music, and television professionals expect to see a significant increase in tourism for Birmingham and Coventry following the broadcast of a new TV drama about 2-Tone music in the West Midlands.

The latest BBC series from Peaky Blinders creator Steve Knight called This Town highlights the significance of the genre in the two cities amid the socio-economic and racist turbulence of 1981 - including riots in Handsworth.

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The BBC One drama saw its finale broadcast on Sunday 28 April. The full season, available on iPlayer, was filmed in Midlands locations including Coventry, West Bromwich, Aston, Walsall and Digbeth’s Loc Studios - a short walk from the O2 Institute.

It’s around 45 years since The Specials, The Selecter and The Beat broke through and established Coventry and Birmingham as the epicentre of the 2-Tone movement.

This Town actors Bardon Quinn (Ben Rose), Gregory Williams (Jordan Bolger), Dante Williams (Levi Brown)This Town actors Bardon Quinn (Ben Rose), Gregory Williams (Jordan Bolger), Dante Williams (Levi Brown)
This Town actors Bardon Quinn (Ben Rose), Gregory Williams (Jordan Bolger), Dante Williams (Levi Brown) | BBC

Looking back to those early days John Mostyn, former manager of The Beat, and booking agent for The Specials, recalls: "It was a dark and wet afternoon when a strange-looking chap called Jerry knocked on the door of my home agency office in Bearwood in March 1979.

"I put the record he'd brought on my player and knew straight away this was something special as the opening bars of Gangsters boomed out of the speaker. Never could I imagine that 45 years later there'd be a great, major TV series based on this music and times."

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Joe Cook, the drummer with new Brummie reggae and hip-hop punk band Lobster, explains how the genre is still significant today saying: “2 Tone, with its infectious live energy and lyrical messages, laid a lot of the foundation to many band’s sounds including our own.”

‘Peaky Blinders effect’ tourism boost expected for Birmingham & Coventry 

Highlighting the Peaky Blinders effect expected on local tourism Pete Chambers BEM, Curator-Director of the Coventry Music Museum and consultant for This Town, said: “As soon as the Steven Knight Drama This Town hit the TV screen The Coventry Music Museum was inundated with visitors looking for the real roots of 2-Tone music and our This Town Exhibition.

“At last the West Midlands is finally flexing its musical muscle thanks to This Town. It's a fantastic moment to show the world how much we have to offer.”

The BeatThe Beat
The Beat | Lyle Bignon

This Town Assistant Costume Designer Mark Almond - who hails from Newtown in Birmingham, added: “We’re sure that This Town will trigger another ‘Peaky Blinders effect’ which will see tourists from domestic and international markets visit the locations we worked in, and look forward to local authorities and the creative industries capitalising on the interest.”

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 The predictions follow interviews with Knight, who told journalists recently that it is now the turn of Birmingham and Coventry as European cities to bang the drum and tell their story, with This Town playing a key role in showcasing the two West Midlands hotspots.

Pauline Black OBE, vocalist with The Selecter, added: “Anything that brings people into the West Midlands to look at its musical history is a fantastic thing.”

A bit more about This Town

Starring Michelle Dockery (Downtown Abbey) and Jordan Bolger (Peaky Blinders) along with newcomer Levi Brown as the main character Dante, the six-part series follows a group of disaffected young people from Birmingham making their way in the socio-economic and racist turbulence of 1981 through a shared love of music.

The major production drew heavily on specialist resources across the Midlands, including music tutors from BIMM Birmingham, vintage amplification equipment from Black Country manufacturer Laney, and the expertise of cast and crew who have grown up in the region, including This Town Assistant Costume Designer Mark Almond.

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Lobster - a reggae & hip-hop influenced punk band from BirminghamLobster - a reggae & hip-hop influenced punk band from Birmingham
Lobster - a reggae & hip-hop influenced punk band from Birmingham | Lyle Bignon

Mark has contributed to renowned film and TV productions such as Masters of the Air, Mission Impossible, and Dunkirk. He explained how significant filming the story in the West Midlands was saying: “Working on a production so focussed on telling the story of our cities, people, and history was a genuinely memorable experience.

“To have a major drama not only about 1980s Birmingham and Coventry but shot here using local talent is surely a sign of confidence in the Midlands screen industries.”

How else is 2-Tone music being celebrated in Birmingham?

Experts have shared predictions of a boost in domestic and international visitors to key music and filming locations in the region, ahead of a special BBC event exploring the Midlands’ role in shaping the global music phenomenon 2-Tone at the O2 Institute tomorrow (Thursday, May 2).

Featuring a headline set from The Beat featuring Ranking Jnr, a performance from BBC Introducing-supported act Lobster and DJ sets from Mazzy Snape (The Night Owl, Birmingham International Ska and Reggae Festival), the event is hosted by broadcaster and journalist Adrian Goldberg and will see Horace Panter (The Specials) and Pauline Black (The Selecter) each share their experiences and memories of 2 Tone, and Mark Almond (costume designer, This Town) talking about his work on the programme.

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Tickets have all been allocated but you can listen to the evening which will also be recorded for a one-hour special to be broadcast on BBC Radio WM, Monday 6 May 2024 at 1800.

Birmingham International Ska & Reggae FestivalBirmingham International Ska & Reggae Festival
Birmingham International Ska & Reggae Festival | Bread PR

The event is being followed weeks later by the Birmingham International Ska & Reggae Festival at Thornborough farm on the outskirts of Kings Norton and Wythall from May 31 to June 2.

The lineup is a harmonious blend of local talent and international legends. The Pioneers, celebrated for hits like ‘Long Shot’ and ‘Let Your Yeah Be Yeah,’ will take centre stage alongside Midlands Ska legend Rhoda Dakar (The Bodysnatchers). Basil Gabbidon (Steel Pulse), Kioko, Lobster, and The Reggulites will represent the thriving Midlands ska and reggae scene.

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