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Terry Hall, the frontman of influential U.K. ska band the Specials and later a member of new wave pop act Fun Boy Three, has died. He was 63.
“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,” said a tweeted statement from the Special’s official account. “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.”
As the lead singer of the politically and socially conscious Specials, Hall achieved U.K. fame and cult status through songs such as “Ghost Town,” “Gangsters” and “Too Much Too Young.” With Fun Boy Three he enjoyed chart success with the songs “Summertime” and the Bananarama featuring hits “‘Tain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)” and “Really Saying Something.”
orn Terrence Edward Hall on Mar. 19, 1959 in Coventry, England, his parents worked in the car industry. Hall was traumatized as a schoolboy after he was abducted by a paedophile ring at age 12 and taken to France where he was sexually abused and later abandoned. In interviews, Hall has said the incident left him scarred for life and caused life-long depression, forcing him to drop out of school at 14 after becoming addicted to Valium.
The young Hall found work as a manual laborer, his only escape coming through music. He played with local punk bands, including the Squad, before being spotted by Jerry Dammers who asked him to become the frontman of his ska revival band, the Coventry Automatics who in early 1979 would change their name to the Specials. He featured on the Specials’ first single, “Gangsters,” which garnered the band attention after radio play on the BBC.
The Specials’ eponymous debut record followed in October 1979. Produced by Elvis Costello, and released on Dammers’ indie label 2 Tone Records, The Specials featured only one charting single, a cover of Dandy Livingstone’s “A Message to You, Rudy” and initially had mixed reviews, but since its release has become a classic and socially significant record. Released at a time of high youth unemployment in the U.K. as well as race riots, strikes and callous Thatcherite economic reforms, the album tapped into the pervasive feeling of despair in the country and the barely concealed tensions within society. In 2013, NME ranked The Specials at number 260 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
A quick followup album, More Specials, was released in September 1980. Leaning into politics more overtly, the record featured Hall’s first songwriting credits with the song “Man at C & A.”
The Specials’ greatest success, however, came from the Hall-fronted non-album single “Ghost Town,” released in June 1981. The song, a sardonic ode to a broken Britain, captured the zeitgeist and spent three weeks atop the U.K. singles chart, quickly becoming the song of a fractious summer riven by more strikes and rioting in 35 British cities. The accompanying music video to “Ghost Town,” featuring a morose-looking Hall and bandmates driving around a dilapidated city, was equally impactful and became an indelible part of British pop culture.
Despite the crossover success of “Ghost Town,” the Specials broke up not long after with Hall and bandmates Lynval Golding and Neville Staple going off to form the new wave trio Fun Boy Three. Signed to Chrysalis, and with a much obviously commercial and pop direction, Fun Boy Three released their eponymous first album in March 1982. The album, written by Hall, Golding and Staple, featured new wave girl band Banarama on four tracks, including the hit U.K. single, “T’aint What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It).”
In 1983, Fun Boy Three released their second album, Waiting, with the band once again sharing joint writing credits, aside from the hit single “Our Lips Are Sealed”, co-written by Hall and Jane Wiedlin and reached No. 10 on the Billboard chart when it was previously recorded by the Go-Go’s. “Gutted to hear of the passing of #terryhall. He was a lovely, sensitive, talented and unique person,” Wiedlin tweeted. “Our extremely brief romance resulted in the song “Our Lips Are Sealed,” which will forever tie us together in music history. Terrible news to hear this.”
After two albums, Fun Boy Three was no more, with Hall starting a new band, the Manchester-based pop band the Colourfield with ex-Swinging Cats members Toby Lyons and Karl Shale. The Colourfield released their debut album, Virgins and Philistines, in 1985 to moderate success in the U.K., but the 1987 followup Deception was a commercial disappointment and they disbanded.
The late 80s and the 90s saw Hall collaborate with a number of artists to varying degrees of success. He was a founder member of the short-lived bands Terry, Blair & Anouchka and Vegas, the latter a collaboration with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, and also worked with the Lightning Seeds, Gorillaz and Tricky. He also released two solo albums, Home in 1994 and Laugh in 1997.
Hall was not part of the Specials reunion tours in the 90s, but rejoined the band in 2008, with the old lineup playing Glastonbury in 2009. Hall also featured on The Specials’ album Encore, the first time he had recorded with the band since “Ghost Town” in 1981.
Hall is survived by his wife, director Lindy Heymann. They had one son; Hall has two older sons with his ex-wife, Jeanette Hall.
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