It is with great sadness that we share the news that the great Terry Hall, lead singer of The Specials, Fun Boy Three, and The Colourfield, has passed away at age 63. The announcement was made by The Specials in an Instagram post:
“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.
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.🖤”
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“When you see injustice, all you can do is think: what can I do to help, what can I say about this, how can I make people aware of this?” – Terry Hall
Terry Hall was born in Coventry on 19 March 1959. During his school years, he proved to be a gifted academic and athlete, but due to varying circumstances, a few early opportunities supporting these talents fell through, setting a course in motion that affected the rest of his life.
At the tender age of twelve, Hall was abducted by a teacher involved in a French pedophile ring. “I was abducted, taken to France and sexually abused for four days,” he told The Spectator in 2019. “And then punched in the face and left on the roadside.”
His family were working-class and “had their own lives,” as he put it, so he kept the incident silent…and subsequently struggled with depression and bipolar disorder. “I was on Valium when I was 13, and it took me out of life for six months,” he once said in an interview. (Hall continued to struggle with alcohol and medication the rest of his life, but would embrace art therapy in his later years.) Later, his band Fun Boy Three would address the incident with the single Well Fancy That!, where the adult version of Hall chastised the teacher responsible: “You took me to France on the promise of teaching me French.”
By 14, Hall had (understandably) had enough of education and decided to embrace non-conformity. “I can laugh about it now but it sort of switched something in my head, and it’s like I don’t have to do that, and that’s when I started not listening to anyone,” he said. He got work as a bricklayer and other odd jobs. When the movement arose, a local punk band called Squad came calling. Hall received his first writing credit for their single Red Alert. Jerry Dammers, later of the Specials, soon recruited him as a frontman. Music shared by his sister, including the reggae and ska offerings of the Trojan Records catalogue and Bowie’s Young Americans, shaped Hall’s musical sensibilities.
“This album gave me a look, a sound, and a way of holding yourself,” he reflected. “Apparently all his clothes were from WalMart at this time. He put a blond streak in his hair and we would do the same.” Around this time, a political awakening also shifted inside young Hall when becoming more attuned to his bleak surroundings. “I discovered that working men’s clubs had a colour bar on their doors,” he once said. “You could only get in if you were white. That really shook me. I couldn’t work it out.”
The Automatics evolved into Special AKA, then finally, the Specials. Joe Strummer gave them their big break when he invited them to support the Clash, and later John Peel gave them a moment on the BBC. The band released their self-titled debut album in October 1979.
Hall’s politics and troubled youth channeled into his critically-acclaimed, acerbic lyrics. Often ska and reggae are associated with good times, but songs like Ghost Town directly addressed the degradation of modern Britain using the sound of Jamaican-influenced ska: unemployment, urban decay, and a sense of futility.
The multiracial Specials melded issues into a purely humanist mission; that these problems transcended race, class, and society at large. Too Much Too Young, for instance, addressed the massive hurdles and shame surrounding teen pregnancy. The band members were very active protestors, playing benefits for workers’ rights, anti-racism and anti-nuclear organizations, and going after Thatcher’s Conservative politics. Success, however, proved too overwhelming for the young band, and the Specials called it quits by 1981. One problem was that Hall found the discrepancy between fame and his political message difficult to reconcile.
“When we picked up a gold disc for Ghost Town, I felt really bad about it,” he said. “You are being told to celebrate this number one record that is about what is happening, the mess that we are in, and I felt very uncomfortable.”
Hall later formed Fun Boy Three with Lynval Golding and Neville Staple (his Specials bandmates) and continued penning political-based anthems: The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum) being one of their strongest. Hall and the Go-Gos’ Jane Wiedlin had an affair, which led to co-writing Our Lips Are Sealed to address the gossip surrounding them. He would also collaborate with Bananarama on two songs: It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It) and Really Saying Something.
Hall went on to form The Colourfield in 1984, charting with the charming Thinking of You, and throughout the 1990s he became a frequent collaborator with the Lightning Seeds’ Ian Broudie, Blair Booth, Toots and the Maytals, Lily Allen, Damon Albarn, Gorillaz, and Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart.
The Specials intermittently reunited – with assorted original members still nursing grudges – but managed a thirtieth anniversary tour in 2009 and an appearance at the 2012 London Olympics before the death of drummer John Bradbury.
In 2019, the band released a new album, Encore, which gave them their first ever number one; and spawned gigs up and down the UK, before Covid put their comeback to an unexpected halt.
“The arrival of the pandemic affected me enormously,” he once said. “I spent around three months trying to figure out what was going on. I couldn’t write a single word. I spent the time trying to figure out how not to die.” The Black Lives Matter movement arose during the summer of 2020, and Hall found the inspiration he needed: he went on to record an album of covers. Protest Songs(2021) featured new versions of Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up; and The Staples Singers’ Freedom Highway. For his remarkable political and musical career, the release and chart success was the perfect swan song for Terry Hall.
Hall is survived by his wife, director Lindy Heymann. They had one son; Hall has two older sons with his ex-wife, Jeanette Hall.