The Specials’ Terry Hall Dead At 63
Terry Hall, longtime lead singer for British ska greats the Specials, has died. The band announced Hall’s passing on Instagram, writing that Hall recently died “following a brief illness.” No cause of death has been revealed. Hall was 63.
Terry Hall grew up in the West Midlands city of Coventry, and he dropped out of school at age 14. (Later, Hall claimed that he’d left school after being depressed because he’s been “abducted by a pedophile ring in France” when he was 12.) Hall worked menial jobs as a teenager, and he joined the band then known as the Automatics, replacing original singer Tim Strickland, in 1977. The Automatics went through a few different names before becoming the Specials.
The Specials were at the forefront of the British ska-revival genre known as 2-Tone, a term coined by Specials keyboardist Jerry Dammers. The band was biracial, and they brought their own twist to the ska and rocksteady that the musicians had been hearing since they were kids. The Specials weren’t a punk band, but they sang about the same go-nowhere working class youth identity that animated the first wave of British punk bands. They also had a strong aesthetic, with their checkerboard logo and their sharp clothes. Terry Hall, lean and handsome and perpetually bored, made for a striking frontman in a striking band.
The Specials caught an early break after the Clash’s Joe Strummer saw them live and invited them to open for his band. The band formed their own 2-Tone label and released their debut single “Gangsters,” a reworking of Prince Buster’s 1964 Jamaican ska classic “Al Capone,” in 1979. “Gangsters” was a top-10 hit in the UK. More hits followed, as the Specials’ first six singles all made the top 10 in their homeland. Elvis Costello produced the band’s 1979 debut, a straight-up classic that manages to be angry, fun, and desperate all at once.
With their 1980 sophomore album More Specials, the Specials grew loungier and more experimental, and they followed that LP with their eerie 1981 smash “Ghost Town,” a #1 hit in the UK. But tensions within the band were growing unbearable, and immediately after “Ghost Town,” Terry Hall and his bandmates Lynval Golding and Neville Staple all left the group to form a new trio called Fun Boy Three. Fun Boy Three recorded a couple of hit collaborations with Bananarama, and they also released a 1983 version of “Our Lips Are Sealed.” Terry Hall co-wrote that song with the Go-Go’s’ Jane Wiedlin. The Go-Go’s’ version of that song had already been a huge American hit, and Fun Boy Three took it into the top 10 in the UK.
In 1984, Terry Hall left Fun Boy Three and started a new wave band called the Colourfield with members of the Lightning Seeds. Hall also contributed to the Lightning Seeds’ records, collaborated with Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart in a short-lived project called Vegas, released a collaborative EP with Damon Albarn, and came out with a few solo albums. In 2001, Hall appeared on the Gorillaz/D12 track “911.” In 2009, he rejoined the Specials, and he continued to perform with them until his death. The Specials released their most recent album Protest Songs 1924–2012 last year, and they played at a number of festivals this past summer.
UPDATE: Specials bassist Horace Panter has shared a message about Hall’s death, revealing that he died of pancreatic cancer after falling ill in October. Here’s Panter’s full message:
The Specials. Terry. This is what happened.
We had it all planned out. Make the album we were going to do in 2020 – a reggae album.
Record in Los Angeles in November. We had the studio booked, flights paid for, accommodation sorted. Roger Rivas from The Agrolites was going to co-produce. Shepard Fairey was going to do the cover. Lynval, still recovering from his spinal surgery earlier in the year, was over in the UK and raring to go. Terry had the framework for 8 tunes. Confidence was high. We were set to meet up with Nikolaj and make magic. This was in September. Terry e-mails everyone and says he’s in bed with a stomach bug and can’t do the first week of pre-production sessions. No big deal, we can knock everything back a week. We’re not due to fly out until November 4th. The next week, Terry is no better and is in hospital. There’s not much we can do except wait for him to get better. Sunday October 2nd and I get a phone call from Manager Steve.
And everything turns to shit.
Terry’s illness is a lot worse than we thought.
He has been diagnosed with cancer.
This is serious. Like life-threatening serious.
He has also developed diabetes. This has to be treated first, then it’s a regime of chemotherapy.
There is nothing anyone can do. Everything is put on hold.
Terry is emphatic that no-one be told about this. If anyone asks, he’s managing his diabetes.
The chemo treatment starts favourably but it seems that it would be March 2023 at the earliest before we’d be in any position to work. He is in and out of hospital to stabilise the diabetes issue and also to manage pain.
It then goes quiet.
Beginning of December and reports are not good. Terry has lost a lot of weight and is very frail. His friend Ian Broudie visits and phones Manager Steve. He fears that Terry is slipping away.
15th December and Manager Steve drives up to London to visit. He calls me on his return journey and says things are not looking promising. Terry is dying. The next day he is put on morphine and is more-or-less unconscious for most of the time. I thought it would be best for me to go and visit but Lindy, his wife, advises against it. She has held her phone to Terry’s ear so that his sisters and Lynval can say their goodbyes. She suggests I do the same. So, I did. It was tough.
Terry died around half past 5 the next evening, Sunday 18th December.
The world has lost a unique voice and I have lost a good friend.
Below, check out some of Terry Hall’s work.