Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Terry Hall


Sometimes you can be incredibly moved and touched and upset by the passing of a musician, in this case a Pop Star. It's difficult to fully comprehend really, the strangest of emotions. I've been feeling that way over the past couple of days since I heard about the death of Terry Hall, of The Specials, Fun Boy 3, Colourfield, and so many other, fabulous projects in the decades since. He had a voice, stance, perspective and conviction all of his own. He was also a wonderful team player. The Specials particularly were one wonderful team.

So a strange sensation. To be so terribly moved by the passing of someone you don't actually know. But with some musicians, the rare ones, you feel like you do. As a great music lover, I have this sensation quite often, but with over the past ten years with three in particular David Bowie, Lou Reed and now Hall. There have been others, Toots Hibbert, Peter Green, Aretha, but it's never felt quite as deep or profound somehow to me as with these three. This one seems to strike home quite deeply. It feels close to home somehow. 

I was too young for Punk really. Only eleven or twelve when the first fledgling Punks started to appear around Richmond, the leafy suburb of West London where I grew up. They scared me as they intended to and although I picked up on The Stranglers, The Clash and the like as their singles began to penetrate the charts as the mid Seventies became the late Seventies, I didn't identify with the scene at the time. I had nothing to rebel against, being the product of a happy middle class home.

But The Specials arrived at a time when I was ready. Becoming politically conscious, naturally Left leaning at a time when the UK and England in particular was in turmoil. Riots on inner city streets. Black and White and a need to choose sides.

I wasn't part of the hip set at school, the kids who would turn up in Two Tone suits, but you couldn't help but notice The Specials singles that told you of a world of decisions and choices that were coming a few years down the line. Teenage pregnancies, dead end jobs, the terminals you were heading towards if you took  the wrong turns in the road.

The Specials charted these decisions with pinpoint precision and incredible wisdom beyond their years, in a series of quite fabulous songs, singles and album tracks. Too Much Too Young, It Doesn't Make It All Right, Stereotype and too many others to mention. Leading of course to Ghost Town. Number One in the UK charts while Britain's inner cities burned, and The National Front and mindless racism, which Thatcherism actively encouraged and fed flourished. I still feel privileged to have been alive in these times. It taught you all you needed to know.

I bought my first actual record with Terry Hall on it in 1983. The Fun Boy 3's second album after Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staples formed after The Specials split. The greatly underrated Waiting, named according to Hall because everybody seemed to be waiting for something. Paralysed by the fear of actually doing something instead.

It was a contradictory record. At once dark and bright. Mordant and funny. It was all great, coming at a rare moment in British Pop Music when you could actually say something and have hits and speak to people from their radios before the predominant, prevailing and dominant voice became the handed down dogma of Thatcherism and Reaganism. Aspiration greed, hedonism and froth . For a few years, if you wanted to hear something else, you mostly had to look elsewhere, rather than the singles charts.

But if you were interested in Hall and where his particularly glum, introversion originated, one track on Waiting immediately stood out. Final track Well Fancy That the autobiographical tale of him being abducted and sexually abused by a paedophile ring when he was 12 on a school trip to France. It was bleak and frightening and utterly haunting and coloured by the deepest, bravest honesty. As an innocent, sheltered boy coming towards his late teens with no idea of this deeply evil aspect and possibility of life, it came as a huge shock to me. I'd never heard anything like it. It answered the conundrum of Hall's bleak demeanor. The depression he struggled with all of his life, this deeply, harrowing haunting formative experience. I can't actually listen to it anymore. But I'm glad it's there.

Hall continued to make wonderful music over the following decades. Coloured by his own witty, smart, unique perspective. He had a voice of great warmth and emotion and like the greatest singers, immediately recognisable. Then, in 2009,  came The Specials return, unfortunately without Dammers,  one of the few reformations that was actually welcome, almost necessary. I was lucky enough to be at the first gig of their comeback tour in Newcastle where the anticipation for their arrival onstage was palpable and tangible. It was some night.

His death when it was announced earlier this week came as a huge shock. Hall had made it clear to friends and family that he didn't want his worsening and ultimately terminal condition to be announced. Some things are deeply and rightly private. Still, he'll be deeply missed, and not just by those who knew him. He made an indelible mark.

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