The Two Tone Label

The actual imagery of 2 Tone has become almost as famous as the music itself. The famous black and white chequered design has become synonymous with ska while Walt Jabsco has graced as many badges, poster and T-shirts as any human music icon ever has. While the concept of Walt was simply a label design for the first 2 Tone single he went on to sell vast quantities of (often illegal) merchandise which the label received no royalties from, as the legal side and hence the merchandising of 2 Tone was virtually non existent.

It’s not just among the 2 Tone faithful that Walt Jabsco is held in such high esteem. The die cut 2 Tone sleeve is listed among the most memorable record sleeves of all time, taking its place along side the likes of Jamie Reid’s artwork for the Sex Pistols and The Beatles Sergeant Pepper sleeve. Like all great design, the artwork captured the idea simply & perfectly.

Dammers loosely based the design of Jabsco on a picture of Peter Tosh from the cover of ‘The Wailing Wailers’ album, he liked the look that Tosh cut, describing it as ‘Defiant & Jamaican & Hard’. Walt Jabsco got his name from an old American bowling shirt that Dammers owned.

Walts’ first outing was on the Gangsters 7″ label, which was initially distributed by Rough Trade. These copies didn’t come with the famous die cut sleeve, instead they were issued in plain white sleeves stamped (by the band themselves) with the words “The Special AKA Vs The Selecter. Once the deal was signed with Chrysalis, Walt made his way onto the die cut sleeve. The deal with Chrysalis also meant that after initial copies of a single were pressed with paper labels all other remaining copies would appear with the rather bland grey ‘text-only’ plastic label, which doubtlessly cut back on the expense at the pressing plant.

The labels first UK picture sleeve was Too Much Too Young. Prior to this all singles were issued in the die cut sleeve and another UK picture sleeve wouldn’t appear until the bands’ penultimate single Do Nothing. However, almost all non-UK singles were issued with a picture sleeve and most had a common black and white Walt Jabsco theme, exceptions included the Spanish issues of A Message To You Rudy & Three Minute Hero, which feature full colour group shots.

There were also a few times when the sleeve designers seem to have completely lost the plot like the 2 dreadful German Rat Race sleeves, the first featuring cartoon rats running across a zebra crossing, and the second which uses a half-arsed imitation Jabsco. I would say this sleeve more than any other irked Dammers, given his annoyance with the flood of crap imitaion merchandise; for his own record company to issue a sleeve like this, was unforgivable.

While Chrysalis continued with the paper label/grey label combination in the UK in the rest of the world things seemed to be a bit more disorganised. Germany and Holland seemed to enjoy a consistent release of 2 Tone material while other countries seemed to be offered only a sporadic release of singles.

A closer examination of non-UK releases reveals that the sleeve and/or label will simply state ‘2 Tone’ or ‘A 2 Tone Record’. This is because non-UK releases were handled directly by Chrysalis and as a result were given a Chrysalis catalogue number instead of the standard 2 Tone CHSTT identity. However, as with all aspects of 2 Tone, there are exceptions. The Irish paper labels are almost identical to the UK versions complete with CHSTT catalogue numbers and are only distinguishable by the ‘Chrysalis Records Ltd’, which appears above the song title along with their usually crap typography.

And just to confuse matters even more, the Spanish promotional singles contain the CHSTT catalogue number even though they are handled directly by Chrysalis. The confusion doesn’t end there either, both the Dutch and German issues of Stereotype not only share the same sleeve design but they also have the same catalogue number. Rat Race was also issued with the same sleeve design in both countries but this time with different catalogue numbers.

As Chrysalis continued their rather confused pressing and distribution programme throughout the rest of the world the UK operation was not without fault. For instance some copies of The Selecter’s single On My Radio mysteriously appear on a blue instead of a grey label and The Bodysnatchers debut was retiled People Do Rocksteady during one print run. For more examples see the Mispressings article.

Walt Jabscos famous hand in pocket stance had served the record buying public well during the period 79-80. In 1981 trombome legend Rico released his debut album for 2 Tone, That Man is Forward, and Walt marked the occasion by appearing on the LPs labels complete with trombone.

While this was the only time Jabsco held a different pose on a UK label, the Canadian label of Too Much Pressure & US pressing of More Specials, had him listening to a transistor radio. He did of course take on numerous poses in 2 Tone release advertisements, which we hope to feature in the near future.

1982 saw the release of Rico’s second album for the label, Jama, and this time the little man was conspicuous by his absence, and he made his (UK) exit on the Jungle Music single by Rico and The Special AKA.

However, 11 years later in 1993 he would make a welcome return to grace the label of the 2 Tone EP. Although no longer used in the UK several non-UK post Jungle Music singles by The Special AKA were issued with Walt Jabsco labels, most notably the Irish War Crimes 7″ and the Australian Nelson Mandela 7″.

With the Specials splitting and 2 Tone no longer the musical force it once was, it was time for a change in musical direction for the label. Along with this change in sound came a change in image. The ska sound, which made the label famous worldwide, gave way for new bands with a jazz/funk influence and the famous black and white checks were laid to rest.

Jerry Dammers didn’t ditch the old image entirely; he did hold on to the famous chequered design but switched it to a less striking brown and gold colour scheme.

As before, the old paper label/plastic label combination was still in use. This time the later pressings were issued on a gold plastic label with black text. Since Do Nothing, all singles on the label were released in a picture sleeve and the 24th single on the label, Racist Friend by The Special AKA, was issued in the now standard 7″ and 12″ formats plus a 7″ picture disc, the first of only 2 to ever appear on the label.

The follow up to Nelson Mandela was What I like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend and it was time for yet another change in label design. Again a paper label, this time the ‘2 Tone’ logo appeared in large light blue text on a black background complete with a strip of silver checks. The plastic label was also still in use only this time it had reverted back to a grey background with black text. The Girlfriend single also saw the second and last picture disc issued on the label.

The Friday Club’s Window Shopping was issued on the grey plastic label while the last release proper on the label was JB’s Allstars Alphabet Army, whose label was similar to that of Girlfriend & In The Studio, except in a gray monotone.

The change in label design however did nothing to change the labels fortunes. 2 Tone was no longer a profit-making venture and in 1985 parent company Chrysalis pulled the plug, ending what indeed was a very chequered career…

The only other UK 2 Tone labels of note are the 1990’s labels for Ghost Town revisited & The Specials Singles LP.