Terry Hall, lead singer for The Specials, and former frontman for Fun Boy Three and The Colourfield, has died aged 63. The news was confirmed in a statement by his bandmates:
“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing, following a brief illness, of Terry, our beautiful friend, brother and one of the most brilliant singers, songwriters and lyricists this country has ever produced," they said.
"Terry was a wonderful husband and father and one of the kindest, funniest, and most genuine of souls. His music and his performances encapsulated the very essence of life… the joy, the pain, the humour, the fight for justice, but mostly the love.
"He will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved him and leaves behind the gift of his remarkable music and profound humanity.
"Terry often left the stage at the end of The Specials’ life-affirming shows with three words…
“Love Love Love”
"We would ask that everyone respect the family’s privacy at this very sad time.”
Terry Hall was born in Coventry in 1959. At the age of 12, he was abducted by a paedophile ring on a school trip to France. In an interview with Richard Herring for his podcast RHLSTP he said that the experience triggered a lifelong battle with depression and mental health issues.
"I was sort of drugged up then on Valium for about a year and I didn't go to school," he told Herring. "It sort of switched something in my head… I started not listening to anyone."
Hall found an outlet in the punk scene, first as singer for local band Squad and then for the Coventry Automatics, the band that became known as the Specials in 1979. Led by songwriter and keyboard player Jerry Dammers, the Specials were at the forefront of the Two-Tone movement – alongside bands like Madness and The Selecter – blending Jamaican ska with punk rock to create a multi-cultural band that was both riotously entertaining and fiercely political and anti-racist.
The Specials had seven consecutive top 10 singles in the UK, including a no.1 with the era-defining Ghost Town in 1981.
Hall's deadpan delivery was key to the Specials' success. Devoid of rock star pretensions, Terry Hall looked like his audience, like one of the kids you went to school with. He told The Guardian that he "preferred the American punk bands to the British ones... I didn't really like the McLaren/Westwood angle on punk, of making everyone look styled. In [Richard Hell's band] Voidoids, somebody would be bald and somebody would have long hair. It didn't matter."
"Don't want to be rich," he sang on Too Much Too Young. "Don't want to be famous." But he did become famous. The music of the Specials resonated with black and white kids, male and female, and their gigs would often end with half of the audience onstage.
When the Specials split in 1981, he formed Fun Boy Three with bandmates Neville Staple and Lynval Golding. They had seven top 20 hits in the UK, including Our Lips Are Sealed, which Terry co-wrote with his then-girlfriend, Jane Weidlin of The Go-Gos: it was a hit for both bands.
By 1984, he had formed The Colourfield. If their wry lounge-pop never captured the public's imagination in quite the same way as The Specials and Fun Boy Three, their third single Thinking Of You still went to no.12 in the UK. He started collaborating with producer and future Lightning Seed Ian Broudie (Hall co-wrote three songs on the Lightning Seeds' second album).
After The Colourfield, he had a solo career and was a serial collaborator – working with Dave Stewart as Vegas, with Fun-da-mental singer Mushtaq, with Gorillaz, Toots & The Maytals and many more – before reuniting with the Specials in 2008. In 2019, they released the album Encore. It went to no.1 in the UK album charts. Protest Songs 1924–2012 followed in 2021, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
His mental health issues and onstage demeanor could lead you to believe that Terry Hall was just an old miseryguts. But he was funny. You can hear it in the Richard Herring interview. Rhoda Dakar, the former singer for The Bodysnatchers who sang with The Specials on I Can't Stand It and Special AKA on The Boiler, paid tribute to Terry's sense of humour on Instagram:
"Recently, someone asked what Terry Hall was like. I said he was very funny and they looked at me like I hadn’t heard the question. Not funny peculiar, funny ha ha... No, really. Enigmatic, certainly. Intelligent, observant and with a deadpan delivery second to none. But a wicked sense of humour. Wicked meaning evil, bruv. An indispensable tool in the arsenal of any would-be singer-songwriter. Often squandered, but here it has found a very safe pair of hands."
He was also very down-to-earth. "People see success as getting to no.1 and being platinum," he said in 2019. "I don’t see that at all, I never have. I think the success is getting something inside, out, and getting someone to listen to it. That is success.
"For the first 20 years of my life, nobody would listen to me. Nobody. At school, jobcentres – they just didn’t listen, they were never bothered. But then you say something and somebody says, 'I agree, I disagree', and so – wow – somebody’s listened. That’s success."