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Wednesday 21 December 2022

Terry Hall

For as long as I can remember pop music being part of my life Terry Hall has been part of it. As kids at the tail end of the 70s The Specials were part of our world, their riotous, joyful modernised version of ska perfect for youth club discos- run around, bounce up and down, sing/ shout along. The fact that their songs said something about the world we lived in and saw on the TV made them even more special- songs about men at C&A, nuclear war, the rat race, contraception and doing too much too young were right up our streets. Ghost Town, blaring out at number one on Top Of The Pops the day after there were riots across the UK (including in Moss Side, just up the road from us) was not just a pop song, it was a reflection of the state of the country and the nation's youth- we were kids, I was eleven years old, I wasn't unemployed and didn't know anything about the Right To Work, but these records informed us, they were important. They were messages we received. How anyone could enjoy The Specials, sing along to A Message To You Rudy, and then say things and act in ways which were racist? Have you not listened to the songs? 

Ghost Town's B-sides, Why and Friday Night, Saturday Morning, were important too. Why? was a list of questions put to violent racists. Friday Night, Saturday Morning a list of events that we were too young to take part in- nightclubs, bouncers, queues for taxis, women dancing round hand bags, stag dos, piss stains on shoes- but would be old enough for soon, and to be honest it all sounded like a mixed blessing. 

Friday Night, Saturday Morning

When Terry left The Specials and formed Fun Boy Three with Lynval Golding and Neville Staple the music and the messages continued. The Telephone Always Rings and the Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum were strange out of kilter pop music with weird chord progressions and time signatures and at the centre the three voices humming and chanting, and Terry, always deadpan and serious, with that look on his face. Tunnel Of Love a single in 1983, made a huge impression on me with Terry's gimlet eyed lyrics and delivery; a couple meet, fall in love, get married and divorced in three minutes and six seconds and Terry's lyrics are full of adult concerns such as wedding lists, bottom drawers and trial separations. The song is so catchy too, endlessly singable and the first verse's lines, 'My ego altered/ Altered ego/ Wherever I go/ So does me go', were so puzzling to a thirteen year old.

Tunnel Of Love

While on tour in the U.S. with The Specials and with The Go- Go's supporting he began a relationship with Jane Wiedlin which led to them co- writing Our Lips Are Sealed, one of those songs I never tire of. The versions by both those bands are superb, the pure Los Angeles pop rush of The Go- Go's version, the lugubrious downbeat, almost out of tune post- punk of Fun Boy Three's version and the Urdu version from the 12".

Our Lips Are Sealed (Urdu Version)

It didn't hurt that Terry Hall always looked so cool too. In The Specials he was usually standing still as the rest of the group bounded around all about him, short cropped hair and Two Tone suit and then later on in The Specials and in Fun Boy Three with his crow's nest bleached streaked hair and demob suits. Terry was a match going Manchester United fan, often spotted in the crowd at Old Trafford. I bumped into him once, almost literally, coming round the corner of what used to be called the Scoreboard End but was changed to the more prosaic East Stand in the 90s. He stopped, checked the look on my face as I apologised and then realised who I was almost nose to nose with, and smiled as I spluttered out something along the lines of, 'Ooh, sorry mate, oh fucking hell, you're Terry Hall'. 

In 2003 Terry made an album with Mushtaq (from Fun- Da- Mental) called The Hour Of Two Lights, a wild, thrilling melange of Terry's unique and doleful voice and presence combined with Arabic music, Bulgarian folk and 21st century electronics, a record full of personal and political statements (and of course further evidence to support the view that the personal is political and the political is personal).

A Gathering Storm

Terry Hall has been there, a part of my world, since the late 70s and he played a big part in shaping my views and how I see the world. It's dreadfully sad he's died, aged sixty three. He had a life filled with its own difficulties and issues that would be enough to fell anyone but despite it all remained Terry Hall. The part in The Specials' Enjoy Yourself where he introduces himself sounding like the man least likely to enjoy himself at a social event (and doing it with the faintest trace of a smile on his face) is in many ways in itself, a microcosmic ideal for living and a design for life. 

'Hi, I'm Terry and I'm going to enjoy myself first'.

Terry Hall R.I.P.


Nick L said...

Couldn't have put it better. Great choice of tunes too. A great frontman, a committed anti-racist and left-winger, and a just a good human being. In 1979 and 1980 you could subtly adapt your school uniform and become one of the tribe. Thousands of us did. RIP to one of the true greats of not just British but world music.

Martin said...

Excellent post, as always. That first para about The Specials, especially, nailed it.

Charity Chic said...

A great tribute Adam

JC said...

A superb tribute. I'd completely forgotten all about the little spoken bit in 'Enjoy Yourself.' Just listened again....it made me smile.

It's fascinating to read here that Terry Hall and the whole 2-Tone movement had such a lasting impact on someone who was just 11 years old when it emerged. I was a wee bit older, but saw with my own eyes at a youth club in Glasgow the very same reaction among 12-14 years whenever a ska song was aired. If the messages behind many of those songs made even just one of those kids a better person later in their life, then it was all worth it.

naguiar2003 said...

A very sad loss, indeed. Even here in Brazil, he was someone important for those who lived during their prime. An inspiration to all. He will be sadly missed.

Anonymous said...

Some deaths just hit you harder! Sleep well Terry.

Rol said...

Well said. This was a huge shock.

Anonymous said...

As Anon said above, feels like when we lost Bowie. One of the biggies from our youth that kept on releasing music that mattered. Well done, Adam. - Brian

C said...

Beautiful tribute, SA. Your first sentence is just so spot on. It wasn’t until this in fact that it really came home just how much a part of my youth the Specials and everything around them was too, just there, entrenched in my life without me even realising somehow. So very sad and shocking.