Terry Hall, lead singer of The Specials and former member of Fun Boy Three and Colourfield, has died at the age of 63, his bandmates on the Specials have confirmed.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Terry, our beautiful friend, brother and one of the most remarkable singer-songwriters and songwriters this country has ever produced, after a short illness.” the band tweeted.
Terry was an amazing husband and father and one of the kindest, funniest, most genuine souls around. His music and performance encapsulated the very essence of life… joy, pain, humor, the struggle for justice, but mostly love.
He will be sorely missed by all who knew and loved him and he leaves behind his incredible musical talent and deep humanity. Terry often left the stage at the end of specials to affirm life with three words… “Love Love Love.”
The band asked that the privacy of the Hall family be respected.
Hall joined the first incarnation of the Specials – then called the Automatics – shortly after forming the Coventry band in 1977, replacing vocalist Tim Strickland. After a stint as Coventry Automatics, they became AKA Specials, better known as Specials. Leading band 2 Tone rose thanks to the support of Joe Strummer, who invited them to support Clash Live, and BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel.
They released their first single, Gangsters (a paraphrase of Prince Buster Al Capone) in 1979, which reached No. 6 in the UK Singles Chart. They dominated the Top Ten over the next two years, peaking with their second No. 1 single, the calling card, Ghost Town, in 1981. The lyrics, written by the band’s principal songwriter, Jerry Dammers, dealt with urban decline in Britain, unemployment and disenfranchised youth.
Its popularity peaked in the early summer of 1981 as riots broke out between young blacks and police across the UK in response to racial discrimination and the use of stop-and-search tactics. It stayed at number one for three weeks, spent 10 weeks in the Top 40, and is widely considered one of the greatest pop records of all time. The Guardian critic Alexis Petridis wrote in 2020: “She sits in the past, contemplating and staring at us, her wonderful dark power unhinged”.
Hall was born in Coventry on 19 March 1959 into a family that worked predominantly in the car industry. He was an academically gifted child and also a famous footballer who was invited to trial for West Bromwich Albion – an opportunity his parents turned down due to the inconvenience of traveling across the Midlands. After passing the 11+ exam, his parents also refused him a place at a nearby grammar school.
“Suddenly they were expected to buy books and uniforms,” he told Fantastic Man. “I was on the way to school on the way to school in my football kit. So there was always a little bit of that kick in the back of my mind. Uneducated. I wonder what would have happened if I had gone.”
In 2019, Hall told comedian Richard Herring that at the age of 12 he was kidnapped by a pedophiles’ ring in France, an incident he touched on previously in 1983’s Fun Boy Three Single Well Fancy That! , which blamed the teacher for the misfortune: “You took me to France on the promise of teaching me French,” he sang.
Hall “kept it hidden” and did not tell his parents. They both work in factories. They got paid in cash. My dad drank a lot. They had their own lives, you know? “
This led to Hall medicating throughout his teenage years and coping with depression and manic depression. “I was taking Valium when I was 13, and it took me out of my life for six months,” he said in the high issue.
He left education at the age of 14 and felt driven to non-conformity. “I can laugh about it now, but it kind of switched something up in my head, and it’s like I don’t have to do that, and that’s when I started not listening to anyone.”
His political awakening came in his teenage years “when I found out that working men’s clubs had colored tape on their doors. You couldn’t get in unless you were white. That really shocked me. I couldn’t work it out.”
After working as a builder, among other jobs, he joined his first band, the punk band The Outfit, which was inspired by the Clash and the Sex Pistols. “I realized it didn’t seem that hard,” Hall said. “They didn’t look like they could play very well, so the thing was put together a band and then work it out. That’s what we did.”
His older sister, and his guiding influence, introduced him to Trojan Records, while it was David Bowie’s 1975 album Young Americans that catapulted Hall into becoming a singer, he told The Guardian in 2009. “I come from a gypsy soul family, and everyone used to sing.” In bars like it or not. I didn’t want to be that kind of singer. Then when I was 16, this album gave me a look and a voice and a way to hold yourself. All his clothes seemed to be from Walmart at the time. He put a blonde streak on in his hair and we will do the same.”
Then came the specials. The band released their self-titled debut album in October 1979 and garnered public acclaim for blending a punk feel – and sharp lyrics about the decline of modern Britain – with a traditional Jamaican ska sound, even explicitly updating songs from the likes of Toots and the Metals, Prince Buster and Dandy Livingston.
Tony Stewart of NME wrote that the album “spans two decades of black and white music, gives it perspective and then goes on to reflect modern rock ‘n’ roll culture… It’s the kind of album that’s musically incomprehensible and likely will establish the Specials as true hopes for the ’80s. At least This demarcation is essential for anyone who wants to know what’s going on in rock and roll today.”
Today the album is widely considered a landmark record: it was ranked No. 42 on Pitchfork’s list of the best albums of the 1970s, and No. 260 on NME’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, published in 2013. The band released a darker second album, More Specials. , in 1980.
The multiracial group was active in the Rock Against Racism movement, playing benefit concerts for anti-racist and anti-nuclear organizations, and also supported the 1978 Right to Work march protesting unemployment. “Our government leaders are not interested in knowing how people feel,” Hall told the New York Times. “If they were, they’d just quit, because they’re not helping anyone. Kids can’t go to the prime minister and say, look, ‘We’re out of work, what are you going to do to help us?’ There’s no way they can approach people like that. So they cross About themselves by breaking things.”
After the success of Ghost Town in 1981, the band bitterly split up in July. “It just felt like the perfect moment to bring the first part of the specials to a close,” said Hall. “We went from seven kids in the back of a truck to presenting gold discs and I’ve never felt very comfortable with that.
Hall formed the Fun Boy Three with his own bandmates Lynval Golding and Neville Staple. They also enjoyed chart success for several years, collaborating twice with girl group Bananarama, on It Ain’t What You Do and Really Saying Something. Hall would also have a Top 10 single with Our Lips Are Sealed, a song he co-wrote with American indie star—then romantic partner—Jane Wedlin for her band The Go-Go’s.
Hall formed another band, Colourfield, in 1984, which had great success with Thinking of You. He became a frequent collaborator over the subsequent decades, working with the likes of Lightning Seeds’ Ian Brody, American actress Blair Booth, Toots & the Metals, Lily Allen, Blur’s Damon Albarn – and later with his band Gorillaz – and Dave Stewart’s Eurythmics with whom he formed a duo otherwise known as Vegas in 1992.
Hall was not part of the Specials reunion, Specials Mk 2, which ran from 1993 to 1998. He released his debut solo album in 1994, Home, produced by Broudie; A follow-up, Laugh It Up, came in 1997.
In 2008, inspired by the Pixies’ 2004 reunion, Hole announced that he would reform the Specials for a tour and new music, albeit without founding member Jerry Dammers, whom he claimed had been forced out. “The Specials were that big hole that took four years out of my life,” Hall told The Telegraph. “More than anything, I really wanted to see these people again.”
They embarked on a 30th Anniversary Tour in 2009 and performed at the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, but faced the death of drummer John Bradbury, and the departure of vocalist Neville Staple and guitarist Rudy Radischen over the next few years.
The band found themselves in the news again in 2017, when 18-year-old Safia Khan from Birmingham was photographed confronting protesters at an EDL rally while wearing a T-shirt. “It just felt like a vindication of everything the band set out to do,” said Hall.
In 2019, they released a new album, Encore, which featured Khan performing on a new song, 10 Commandments. It charted at No. 1 in the UK Albums Chart – their highest ever album position. “Achieving our first No. 1 album in the ’60s restored our faith in humanity,” Hall told Quietus.
He said that Hall struggled to write lyrics for the follow-up. The arrival of the pandemic has affected me greatly. I spent about three months trying to figure out what was going on. I couldn’t write a word. I spent the time trying to figure out how not to die.” Instead, they covered historical protest songs and released Protest Songs 1924-2012 in 2021, which peaked at No. 2.
Still struggling with his mental health, Hall admitted around this time. In 2003, he began to self-medicate with alcohol. In the last decade of his life he sought medicine, having been wary of it since he was put on Valium in his teens, as well as taking up art therapy.
“I got to a point where I had no choice – and it did me a lot,” he said. “Talking about mental health issues is a conscious decision. It’s something I want to share with people. Stigma is hard, but a lot of people have been affected — in the past year, especially — so if you have knowledge or a history, it’s good to talk to people who They go through it. Not to tell them what to do, but to suggest a way to a quieter life. It can be done.”
Hall is survived by his wife, director Lindy Heyman. They had one son. Hall has two older sons with his ex-wife Janet Hall.
In 2019, Hall told Uncut magazine that he was enjoying his sixties, an age he’d been looking forward to since he was a 27-year-old fan of death music Andy Williams, Tony Bennett, and Frank Sinatra. He said, “You have to shut down everything to do that.” “I feel fortunate to have gotten to that point. A lot of people think 60 is part of a downward spiral, which it does if you let it be, but you can fight it and say, no it’s not — it’s just part of this story.”
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