It was a text from Jacques the Kipper at just before 11pm last night.
JtK has been a close pal for more than 30 years, and I’ve long known that when a text from him is short and simple, it means something awful has happened.
People die all the time. I’ve lost friends and family in recent years, and some close friends have endured grief and tragedy that is beyond almost any of our comprehension or true understanding. I should be well-prepared for reading awful news and that someone else has passed on, but this one has come as an almighty shock.
The news of his death, at just 63 years of age, came via a series of tweets from The Specials:-
“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,”
“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’.”
By the time I finish typing this piece, there will be thousands of tributes out there, many of which will pay a better, more knowledgable and heartfelt tribute than I’m capable of. I’m merely a fan of his music and loved his outlook on life. I didn’t rush out and buy all of his records, and I only ever saw him once in concert. Mrs JC came very close to meeting him once – she went into a record shop in Glasgow and learned that Fun Boy Three had just left the premises after a signing session, which she was gutted about. She did see that the band had signed a handful of extra copies, and so she bought one…and the album still has a proud place here in Villain Towers.
Like so many others of my age, my introduction to Terry Hall was via The Specials.
I was 16 years old and really beginning to get into my music in a way that was different, thanks to having a paper round that allowed me to spend more money than ever before and also that I was now, in my parent’s eyes, old enough to go to gigs at the Glasgow Apollo. My tastes were predominantly new wave, with the odd disco track thrown in. I knew nothing of ska….I came from a city that was incredibly white in terms of its population, with a small number of Asian families from India or Pakistan. There were next to no Caribbean or black people in Glasgow, and while you might occasionally hear some reggae when you were hanging around any record shop, you wouldn’t hear any of the music that proved to be such an influence on 2-Tone when bands such as The Specials, Madness, The Selecter and The Beat burst onto the scene, seemingly out of nowhere. I’ve written before as to how and why 2-Tone became a huge part of my early and very primitive forays into DJing, if playing records on a single deck at a youth night in my school could actually be described as DJing.
It was also an age when I was becoming increasingly politically aware, developing and moulding a sense of values that have remained with me all my life. Musicians such as Paul Weller, Joe Strummer and Terry Hall, and their various bandmates, played a huge part in this. I was more instinctive than active in those days, but that would change a few years later when I went to University and found myself in an environment where I could develop a greater understanding and learn to articulate my thoughts in a rational way.
Which is why I can’t honestly say that my love for Ghost Town had much to do with the scathing political commentary it offered in 1981, but more related to the tune and the incredible vocal performances. Oh, and the fact that the b-sides were equally outstanding!
Terry Hall quit the band, seemingly backstage at the Top of The Pops studios, after they had performed Ghost Town. He immediately, along with bandmates Neville Staples and Lynval Golding, formed the aforementioned Fun Boy Three, with the trio becoming staples of the pop charts, with seven genuinely brilliant Top 20 singles in a two-year period.
Evidence that he was never content to rest on his laurels came with the decision to disband FB3 while they were still enjoying hits, and to form The Colourfield (originally called The Colour Field). A band whose music verged often towards a romantic-folk style or chamber-pop, there would be a modicum of initial success with songs that seemed, to my ears, to lay the foundation for The Beautiful South to enjoy great fame and fortune. The debut album Virgins and Philistines reached #12. The second and final Colourfield album, Deception, barely scraped into the Top 100.
The Colourfield debut goes back to 1985. It turned out to be the last time a Terry Hall album would make the Top 20 for thirty-four years. Castles In The Air, a single from the debut album, also coincidentally reached #12 in 1985, and, although it’s hard to believe, Terry Hall would never again be part of any big hit single – Sense by The Lightning Seeds went Top 40 in 1992, the same year as Possessed by Vegas, a new electronica band put together by Terry and Dave Stewart, formerly of Eurythmics.
In between all of this activity there had been Terry, Blair and Anouchka, a trio formed in 1990 and who delivered Ultra Modern Nursery Rhymes, an album inspired by 60s/70s sunshine pop to next to no takers. Jacques the Kipper, however, picked up on it, and he passed on a couple of its songs via C90 compilation tapes; to my eternal shame, I never tracked down my own copy, relying later on a Terry Hall compilation CD for the three songs I have of theirs, plus an even later download of a track JtK had included on a tape (and which formed part of a Terry Hall ICA I put together in February 2021.)
Vegas, despite the minor hit single, didn’t last too long and Terry’s next move was to finally record under his own name and release solo material. The two albums, Home (1994) and Laugh (1997) were critically acclaimed, but in an era when Britpop and its offspring were dominant, neither made much of a commercial impact, which is a
shame disgrace given the quality of the songs on offer.
The years immediately after the turn of the century saw more collaborations, including with Gorillaz, Mushtaq (of Fun-Da-Mental fame) and Toots and the Mayals. But it was also a period when Terry was at his lowest, although very few knew of it at the time, as it took a while for the fact to emerge that he had attempted suicide in 2004 after decades of mental health issues. It all led to him being diagnosed as having a bipolar disorder.
Five years later, The Specials reformed. Having said many times it would never happen, Terry Hall revealed it had been after seeing Pixies play again after their reformation that he realised it would be a good and right thing to do.
The gigs in 2009 were a huge triumph, despite the fact that Jerry Dammers chose not to be a part of things. This led to more tours and festivals over the years, albeit since 2015, just three of the original members were now part of things, augmented by new and/or guest musicians. A new album, Encore, was released in 2019 and went straight to #1, something that hadn’t happened in the band’s heyday. A further record came out in 2021. Protest Songs was an album of covers, encopassing a range of genres including blues, folk and country, and which was unlike anything else The Specials had ever released before but which, on reflection, captured a great deal of the way Terry Hall had gone about his entire musical career.
Terry Hall seemed in recent times to be much more at ease with himself. In interviews, he never refrained from saying his piece, especially in light of the fact that the left-wing, anti-racist and equal society messages he has always been associated with are every bit as relevant today, if indeed not more so, than back in the late 70s/early 80s. He also said to one interviewer that “I’ve always thought I’d make my best music between the years 60 and 70.”
Sadly, the news from last night means it is not to be.
Terry Hall was a fabulous singer, an unparalled songwriter and a very capable musician. He was a brave champion of social and political justice his entire life, and when he stood up in the late 70s and early 80s to preach his message, he did so knowing he and his mates would get flak and be subject to violence.
The stresses and strains of it all took their toll on him over the years, but thankfully, his cry for help in the early 2000s was heeded and with the support of health professionals, his family and his friends, he got himself back on an even keel. His final years brought stability and a return to fame, something that was long-overdue. He has gone from us at far too young an age, but he has left us with much to treasure.
There were two Terry Hall ICAs in February 2021. Khayem was first up with #277 in which he made a rule of ‘one song per act and collaborations to the fore’, while mine immediately followed as #278 and was much more conventional. Here’s some songs from each of them.
RIP, Terry. Missing you already.
PS : Today’s post was originally going to be a China Crisis ICA, written by Martin (Our Swedish Correspondent). This will now be held off till a future date.