Terry Hall: 1959-2022

Terry adopted a disaffected air

Yesterday I got home from work and was starting to get ready for dinner when I saw an email from commenter schwenko that simply said “Terry Hall, GONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” That certainly hit out of the blue. I had not heard of any health issues from Hall, but then again, I never really paid much attention to him, for reasons mostly having to do with the failure of The Specials to connect with me until the very end of their brief lifespan.

At the time that the Ska Revival happened, it seemed a weird, nostalgic throwback to the early 60s, and a retrograde reaction to all of the more exciting Post-Punk music I was getting into. Chasinvictoria had bought the debut Specials album and when I heard it, the thin production by Elvis Costello didn’t exactly win me over. In that era I was more interested in synthesizers which were in extremely short supply in Ska music. So that’s probably why I was never poring over Terry Hall records of the era.

His romantic linkup with Jane Weidlin of The Go-Gos that happened when the California band were touring the UK with The Specials and it yielded the solid gold single, “Our Lips Are Sealed,” which was The Go-Gos calling card to the US Top 40. I thought it was touching that the two had a fling and then wrote a song together about it.

It wasn’t until I heard the final Specials single, “Ghost Town,” that the penny dropped for me, but by that time it was too late. The band were kaput after firing that still potent musical missile. I bought a couple of Fun Boy Three singles afterward and that didn’t last long either. Just two albums and then Hall was off wandering again. His peripatetic muse taking him all over the pop landscape.

He next linked up with songstresses Blair Booth [who was working around the same time with Billy MacKenzie] and Anouchka Groce with the Terry, Blair, and Anouchka project “Ultra Modern Nursury Rhymes.” An album that I never heard anything from, where all of Halls’ earlier projects had reached my ears in one form or another.

Then two years later the Vegas album made with Dave Stewart [?!] was another Hall project that I never heard a note from. With Stewart’s participation, I was surprised to just see that it never got an American release, so that explains that much. It was something for the European and Japanese market only.

By the early 90s, I had bought the first Colourfield album as well as the “MOR[e] Specials” album, but as these were records, I never got around to playing them, and a few decades later, I traded them in for CDs. Probably at the last time I’ve ever done that as well, in 2015. I had no idea of what Terry Hall had done following Vegas, but apparently a pair of solo albums followed,

I had heard of the reformation of The Specials at a certain point but the second wave UK Ska bands who reformed without key members, or in competing lineups is all too common, so I never really paid much attention to the reformed band. Even though they recorded new albums in 2019 [“Encore,” “Protect Songs 1924-2012”].

Reading the details of Halls’ life, I’m horrified by the news that as a boy he was abused by a pedophile ring in France, which he turned into the grist for a Fun Boy Three lyric, but not before developing a teenage Valium habit as a result. The would be the sort of trauma that would be almost impossible to overcome, leading to his alcoholism issues in later life and possibly the sort of impetus that kept him on the outside; distant and remote from his own successes. A late in life diagnosis of bi-polar disorder was not at all surprising.

What was surprising was that after only 63 years, Terry Hall is no longer with us. It’s shameful that I lack the first two Specials albums at the very least and the DLX RMs of those title should be added to the endless want list. Then I need to peer under the surface of Hall’s post-Specials career and find out which of its nooks and crannies would be calling out to me. Condolences to his family and friends after this loss.

-30-

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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21 Responses to Terry Hall: 1959-2022

  1. Scott Klapman says:

    Excellent tribute. Too many passing these past few weeks, including Martin Duffy. Sucks.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Scott Klapman – It seems like I just wrote about Jet Black. And it’s only going to get worse. And I really should have more Terry Hall records. Sometimes there are important artists I barely have in my Record Cell and he’s one of those. But I still need to mark such deaths; such that I can.

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  2. Roy Solomon says:

    The B side of Ghost Town features two excellent songs, Lynval Golding’s “Why ?”, written in response to the violent assault on him, when he was attacked by right wing thugs, as well as Terry Hall’s Friday Night and Saturday Morning, which perfectly encapsulates what a weekend was like in UK provincial towns in the late ’70’s & early ’80’s. Rest in peace, Terry.

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  3. I have those deluxe remasters on my (far too long) want list. I was “always” into the Specials, at least when I first heard them, probably about the same time as you. And while their post-Hall existence has some moments, the band just isn’t the same. Never did get into Fun Boy Three or any of his other projects. They just never grabbed me the same way Specials did.

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  4. JT says:

    In the 1980s and 1990s I played the three Specials albums – and a collection of non-LP singles/B-sides – to death, and used quite a lot of the material on them in mix tapes. Now, I’ve come to the point where I can’t even listen to them anymore; they offer no new surprises (I’m often curious about if others experience getting to a point with top-favorite records where decades later they’re just done).

    But I’ve still got all the time in the world for Fun Boy Three, who sound basically nothing like the Specials. Just don’t think of them as a Specials spin-off. It’s a different thing. Different vibe, different mood. Their first album has some filler on it, but also some good stuff, and the second is solid all the way through. A 19-track Canadian only(!) CD billed as a “best of” is chock full of non-LP singles and B-sides giving you most of what you need beyond the two albums.

    But it’s a crime that none of the Terry Hall obits popping up even mention “The Hour of Two Lights” by Terry Hall & Mushtaq. I know the Monk isn’t into ersatz ‘world music’, but there’s also that territory defined by Bill Nelson’s Fourth World Music, Peter Gabriel’s “Passion”, and Byrne/Eno’s “Bush of Ghosts”, and this record fits in nicely there, but with maybe less sampling and more live playing… which is a good thing.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      JT – In the 90s I just got dead tired of Depeche Mode, Erasure,and Pet Shop Boys. I’ve bought two PSB albums released after 1994 in the last decade. One good, one awful. There was one great Erasure album I bought, but the toe I dipped in Depeche Mode waters was not encouraging. So, there’s a Canuck CD with a decent spread of rarities, then? [looks] It seems that the same disc got issued in Europe, and Australia as well. I just looked and the FB3 CDs are all a bit pricey. “Waiting” only had two pressings ever, apart from a twofer with the debut; also not cheap. Hmmm.

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  5. Jeremy Shatan says:

    I heard Gangsters on WNEW’s unsigned bands segment one morning during breakfast in 1979. My mind was instantly blown and I needed that song and more! Got the single and then it was a long wait for the album. Finally got it and fell for the whole package, even more so after I saw them at the Hotel Diplomat in March 1980. One of the best shows ever – I didn’t even mind when someone peed on my foot! Never bought the second album, but Ghost Town was an unbelievable song and 12”. After that, my favorite thing he did was Poems, the collaboration with Tricky from the Nearly God album. But he was a true original.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Jeremy Shatan – Wow! A show so good that urination on your foot couldn’t ruin it??!!!? [I hope this happened at the bathroom urinal…] That reminds me that I always had a clubbing policy of never using the restrooms back in the day. I don’t think there was ever a lapse on that one either, with the exception of Johnny’s Rockin’ Bistro, which was a full restaurant, and therefore, a cut above. Though there was that night that The Hatebombs vs. The Exotic Aarontones busted down the door during their infamous Lucha Libre gig!

      I actually did have “MORe Specials” and it was a fascinating album from the spin I gave it in the 90s. But I figured I should have it on CD and we’re still waiting for that one!

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  6. Taffy says:

    Oh Jeez but is this sad news. Loved the first Specials album to death, liked the second, never got the third, but somehow found the spooky charms of the Fun Boy Three very compelling. And for a song to be so utterly entrancing in two wildly different versions as Our Lips Are Sealed is a pretty stupendous piece of song craft. That first Colourfield album also has a place in my heart, as Pushing Up the Daisies is one of my very favorite Terry Hall compositions. Farewell, kind sir. Thanks for the nice write-up, Monk.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – We were very lucky that Fun Boy Three also decided to record “Our Lips Are Sealed.” Definitely a winner in both incarnations. It was a heck of a foot in the door for The Go-Gos, but now the needle is tipped towards Fun Boy Three as my fave.

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  7. Tim says:

    I think that he was a stunning example of how people involved in the arts are able to elevate their audience’s awareness of social issues, all while creating some pretty incredible music that will age gracefully and even find itself applicable to times that it was not explicitly written for.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – Too true there! It was the social content that finally got the penny to drop on the Ska Revival for me. My problem was probably encountering Ska first through the earliest Madness singles. Because The Beat, The Selector, and The Specials all dealt in the juxtaposition of downbeat lyrics mated with extremely upbeat music; one of my favorite things.

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  8. Echorich says:

    Hall was a songwriting hero in my mind, woefully underrated, while contributing to some stellar moments in his own and others careers. But it’s that sense of the real you got from his vocal delivery that stands out as one of the important voices of our musical generation. His ability to mix sneering nihilism, life affirming Pop and full on life-lived pathos into his music makes/made him a giant for me.
    Songs to hear if you want to catch up with where Terry went after The Colourfield –
    First Attack Of Love, Sense and Forever J from his first solo album, Home; Ballad Of A Landlord from his second solo effort, Laugh; Possessed from Vegas and Ultra Modern Nursery Rhyme from is album with Blair and Anouchka.
    I ended the tribute on my blog with his version (with The Colourfield) of The Roches Hammond Song. It is delicate beauty performed by an Artist who understood delicacy, joy and pain very, very well.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I certainly get the sneering nihilism and life-lived pathos, but life-affirming Pop is nothing I’ve yet to encounter in Terry Hall’s music. Keeping in mind that I never managed to actually hear The Colourfield. So Vegas had something going for it? By 1992 the last thing I wanted to hear was anything with David A. Stewart participation.

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      • Tim says:

        I used to feel the same way about Vegas, when it was new, when I saw it in resale shops, etc.
        Dave Stewart has a career respective 2 x cd set and I’m listening to it when I first bought it and I keep thinking, wow, this song or that song is really good, how come I never heard it? Look it up, it’s the Vegas project.
        I gave Vegas a chance and I like it quite a lot.

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  9. The Specials grabbed me early on with “Ghost Town” in particular — adding social commentary to ska in a biracial band was just the substance the Two-Tone label and movement needed to keep it relevant, where Madness and others focused on the fun factor. The energy factor in Specials shows, however, was insane – except for Terry.

    Terry’s bloodless delivery of the lyrics reminded me of the near-monotone of recovering addicts and survivors of trauma, and now we know why. I remember being very struck by both “You’ve Done Too Much, Much Too Young” and later “The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)” as powerful statements in two very different genres.

    The Colourfield was about the end of my time with Terry, mired as it was in the late-80s UK soundscape, which I didn’t find too appealing. I did always like him as a vocalist, maybe for the same reason Mr. Spock made every bit as much of an impression on people as Captain Kirk: excitable, Terry Hall was not.

    Years later, I heard a song or two from Terry, Blair, and Anouchka and it sounded pretty good – made me think he ought to work with Mari Wilson someday – and he sounded happier. I hope he was able to reconcile his life and was satisfied with his body of work. His was an important voice at a crucial moment in late 20th century music.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – Yeah, you nailed it on his delivery. All of the Two-Tone bands [The Beat, The Selector] were serious in their intent while upbeat in their groove, at least in the first wave. Madness weren’t but they quickly departed the style for flat out Music Hall. With Bad Manners staying in the Jesters of Ska role and basically owning it.

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