I just read that deadpan, dour musician Terry Hall was taken by cancer last week, gone at 63 years old.
Another 1980s legend who has left us, hearing his delicious songs reminds me of what great music came from that period. Hall was a songwriter and lead singer at various times with The Specials, Fun Boy Three, The Colourfield.
He also released two solo studio albums and collaborated with many artists including David Stewart, Bananarama, Sinéad O’Connor, Gorillaz, Tricky, Lily Allen, and Shakespeare’s Sister.
In 2019, Hall revealed in an interview that when he 12 years old, he was abducted by a pedophile group, something he had hinted at in the Fun Boy Three single Well Fancy That! (1983), which blamed a teacher: “You took me to France on the promise of teaching me French…”
Hall revealed that he didn’t tell his parents: “They both worked in factories. They got paid in cash. Me dad was a heavy drinker. They had their own lives, you know?”
Hall was heavily medicated during his teenage years and lived with depression: “I was on Valium when I was 13 and it took me out of life for six months.”
A political awakening came at the same time. Hall:
“I discovered that working men’s clubs had a color bar on their doors. You could only get in if you were white. That really shook me. I couldn’t work it out.”
David Bowie’s 1975 album Young Americans inspired Hall to become a singer. In 2009, he said:
“I come from a gypsy-spirited family, and everyone used to sing in pubs whether you liked it or not. I didn’t want to be that sort of singer. Then when I was 16 this album gave me a look, a sound, and a way of holding yourself. Apparently all his clothes were from WalMart at this time. He put a blond streak in his hair and we would do the same.”
The Specials released their self-titled debut album at the end of 1979 and received acclaim and brisk sales for blending punk sensibility and sharp lyrics with the traditional Jamaican Ska sound. Today this album is considered a landmark recording, and one of the best albums of the 1980s.
The multiracial The Specials were active in the Rock Against Racism Movement, playing benefit concerts for anti-racist organizations.
After the success of the album Ghost Town (1981), The Specials broke up. Hall: “It felt like the perfect moment to stop the Specials part one. We’d gone from seven kids in the back of a van to being presented with gold discs and I never felt massively comfortable with that.”
Next, Hall formed Fun Boy Three. They enjoyed chart success, collaborating twice with girl group Bananarama. They had a Top 10 single with Our Lips Are Sealed, a song Hall co-wrote with Jane Wiedlin for her band The Go-Gos.
Hall formed The Colourfield, in 1984. They had a hit with Thinking Of You.
Hall wasn’t a member of The Specials reunion band, The Specials MK 2 (1993 – 1998), instead, he released a solo album in 1997, Home, and then, Laugh (1998).
In 1992, he helped form Vegas with Dave Stewart of Eurythmics. A self-titled album was released that year, and the duo reunited in 1997 to support Bob Dylan during his Never Ending Tour.
Inspired by The Pixies’ reunion in 2004, Hall reformed The Specials for a tour with new music. They did a 30th anniversary tour in 2009 and performed at the 2012 London Olympics closing concert. In 2019, they released a new album, Encore. It went to Number One in the UK. HALL: “Achieving a first No 1 album in our 60s restored our faith in humanity.”
At the same time, Hall was still struggling with his mental health. In the last decade of his life, he sought help with medication, meditation, and art therapy.
In 2019, Hall told an interviewer:
“I feel blessed to have reached that stage. A lot of people think that 60 is part of the downward spiral, which it is if you allow it to be, but you can fight it and say, no it isn’t – it’s just part of this story.”
Reading about his passing reminds me that the 1980s, while in many was a very dark decade, with the new gay cancer and Ronald Reagan, it also brought us some great, groundbreaking music by a generation inspired by punk, but with a whole lot more sophistication.
Hall was a naturally talented singer and songwriter who overcame a horrific childhood trauma to make some of that great music.