When The Coventry Music Museum opened its doors at the beginning of November 2013, as with all major projects, there was something of a cross-fade of feelings; a project completed on one hand, and a long and exciting journey ahead on the other. So far that journey has been an exhilarating one and the museum in its first weeks is seeing some seventy visitors a week.

Rewind some three years ago and the smiles from the team much in evidence now, were decidedly up-side-down when our initial project at Coventry University came to an end. That small project named 2-Tone Central, concentrated just on the 2-Tone genre (2-Tone developed in Coventry in the late 1970s fusing elements of ska, punk rock, rocksteady, new wave and reggae). Lasting some 11 months, the project was left homeless as the Student Union moved to newer premises. But, within a few months, new premises were found and work began to create a museum to tell everything about Coventry’s varied musical past, not just its ska history.

The objectives of the project were clear; we needed to create a unique space, on limited budgets, to educate and entertain. We needed to create sections that made sense to the visitor, but in some cases set challenges. For instance, the juxtaposing of a Victorian Music Hall that had stood on the same site as The Eclipse Rave Club, and mixing the two timelines. Coventry has a steadfast tradition of multiculturalism and this is, unsurprisingly, evident in its music. This too, was an important point-of-reference in our displays, be it 2-Tone music or Bhangra.

Being an independent museum run by volunteers, our objectives as a team were, understandably, flexible. I was very much against the idea of charging for access to the museum, but industry experts made it clear that it would create an important income stream. The nominal charge of £2.00 for adults and £1.00 for children between the ages of 5 and 15, has worked without question.

Our journey has been a slow one. The museum was based in a courtyard area that became The 2-Tone Village, consisting of a cafe, a Caribbean restaurant and record, memorabilia and clothes shops. This was part of the plan, with a Coventry Wall of Fame keeping the museum idea alive. We received help from many of our regular customers, who we refer to as The Ska Family. The Village project was the idea of Geoff Holden, the man responsible for fitting out the museum to our demanding criteria. Help was at hand from the likes of Coventry Market, who, right back at the start, had the passion for all things ‘Coventry’. It was on a market stall where the first idea of a music display began. They, along with Heart Of England Community Foundation, gave us funding that helped to create the custom-made display cabinets. This was closely followed by the creation of our ‘Rude Boys Bedroom’, a typical Specials/Selecter/Madness fan’s room circa 1981, with all the trappings of a typical 1980’s teenager, including Brut, a pay packet with pound notes, a cassette and pencil, posters, magazines of the day, plus a can of Tennents Beer.

Rude Boys Bedroom
Rude Boys Bedroom

Now at least when visitors came to see the 2-Tone Village, we had something to show them, and come they did, not just from all over the country but all over the world.

Our team of volunteers continued to grow and things began to fall into place, with a £10,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund. With a launch date finally set, the feet dragging that had occupied the team for several months was transformed into frantic energy as the museum began to make sense. Posters and artwork were designed by new partners Dean Eastment at Hyper, and printed free of charge by Print Works in Coventry, while Lorna Pepler came on board with Silver Moon Marketing.

Lennon Corner
Lennon Corner

Although we are a small museum, the area has been used perfectly. Our areas include ‘Pre Pop’ (beginning the story at AD60 and the Roman Occupation) as well as a reproduction record shop listening booth that tells the story of ‘The Coventry Sound’. Doc Martens have their own display and laptop giving visitors the chance to tell the world what they stand for, and share it on Facebook. There’s a 2-Tone Legacy wall looking at the real meaning of 2-Tone and its multicultural message. Our temporary exhibition space, is currently occupied by ‘International Jet set’ looking at 2-Tone’s Global success, with fans from all over the globe explaining just why they ‘got into’ this very British music. In February, our second temporary exhibition will look at Coventry Music Hall star T.E Dunville who is now virtually forgotten but was earning £100 a week in 1890. Bringing it right up to date, we also have our ‘Band/Artist Of The month’ showcasing current Coventry artists, who get to play at Knights venue, below the museum.

The whole project has cost around £25,000 to create. After just a few weeks, we have received amazing feedback from our visitors. But we’re not getting carried away. We know we have much to do in the future and we are all looking forward to our first school trips – the Rude boys and girls dressing up boxes await.


Museum & Cabinets design & build: Geoff Holden | Lighting Design: Phil Beahan | Carpets: Lindsey Joplin Carpets | CCTV : Active Communications Ltd | Additional Building Work: Active Construction

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