RIP Terry Hall; Special

Terry Hall was important. To music. To society He was in The Special AKA (people forget that AKA) and they had a huge importance.

The Special AKA

He was the leader of a Ska revival band, yes, but the Special AKA (or the Specials) were a multi racial band who never had to speak about it, a band who came from Coventry, a city devastated and decimated by Margaret Thatcher’s economic experiment which hurt so many.

They came from that pain, it was part of them and that pain and anger came out too. Terry Hall and The Special AKA seemed dangerous.

The Ska Revival

I remember it. It wasn’t a music revival. It was more, and also less, than that. Let me explain.

Capitalist culture grabbed it. Let me add a caveat that the Special AKA released albums they wanted to be purchased, albeit on their own label, but the Ska Revival was grabbed by capitalism.

That title, the design, black and white draughts and checkerboard design, so important in showing the multi cultural nature of the bands, was such a good design.

The Two Tone design figure, Walt Jabsco, was iconic and was everywhere, badges, ties, pork pie hats – we tried, and failed, to sneak it into our uniform at school.

Walt Jabsco

Credit; Rock By Mail

And there were choices in the Ska Revival, the commercial cover of ‘Poison Ivy’ by the Lambrettas, the energetic, sharp Ska attack of the Selecter, with impressive Pauline Black one of the leaders.

And then we had Madness. Chas Smash, their dancing machine, was scary, but this band were actually fun, jokey, naughty and inevitably commercial. That’s not a bad thing, my first album was their debut, ‘Ine Step Beyond’.

The Special Were Special

They had a danger. The Special were sweaty, a club band, they had something real, they seemed to have something to say, they also seemed to have a simmering discontent.

Jerry Dammers’ vision, his gap-toothed smile, it hinted at a special character and then there was the exuberance of Neville Staple, foil to main vocalist Terry Hall.

Terry Hall’s Style

Bassist Horace Panter apparently described Terry Hall’s vocal on their first hit ‘Gangsters’, as a combination of angry and bored.

And that’s a really good place to start. On first hearing, Terry Hall appears off key, out of tone, but that’s not it. He has a disconnection, not that he’s removed from the song, he’s all in, he’s right there. The Guardian called him;

‘Famously deadpan, dour and slightly menacing…’

It’s just that there’s a sense of powerlessness, no better heard than on the thin, plaintive line ‘all the clubs have been closed down’ on the Specials’ swansong ‘Ghost Town’.

It just feels tired, beaten down, the desolation of a once hugely influential manufacturing town, now left with very little since the end of Jim Callaghan’s Labour government and given nothing in at the start of the Conservative Margaret Thatcher government.

It’s so tiring, so tiring, to have to live in that.

Terry Hall Was A Pop Star

When he left the Specials in 1981 and took mainstays Neville Staple and Lynval Golding with him, I was shocked.  Why would he leave a great band like the Specials? I didn’t know what I do now, the apparent trouble recording ‘More Specials’, the supposed feeling that there was no more Specials or Special AKA.

And the Fun Boy Three then released the cover ‘Taint What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It)’ with Bananarama making an early, perhaps first, musical appearance. The version was messy, easy, seemed as if they’d just rolled out of bed to record it; many liked it, the record hit no4 in the UK charts and broke the top 50 on the Billboard dance chart.

Terry Hall was a 2 group chart topper; that’s rare.

Terry Hall Did What He Wanted Musically

He tickled the charts with Pop loveliness The Colourfield and their gentle whimsy ‘Thinking Of You’, tried going electronic with Dave Stewart in Vegas, supplied vocals to excellently beating, difficult to define Dub Pistols. And he had a solo career too.

Some thought Terry Hall disappeared. He wasn’t in the charts regularly. But he was doing what he wanted to, following his own musical call; when you’ve been a chart success, why want that over and over again?

He did revisit one musical place through.

The Specials Reformation

They came together in 1993. Without Jerry Dammers, but with energy. Released albums. And then, in 2009, they released ‘Encore’ and things jumped up a notch; was it just a coincidence that this was the album where Terry Hall returned.

Terry Hall

Credit; Medium

It’s a great piece of work and remarkable because Terry Hall, ostensibly the lead vocalist, hands so much of the album to other singers. When he appears on the album, it’s all the more effective.

Seek it out, it’s an amazing listen.

Terry Hall? Special

He had an approach which wasn’t usual. He used it to make the music work. He had a chart topping time but never seemed as if he was looking for it. He had a time of abuse and was honest about his depression and that period.

Above all, Terry Hall was Special.  And he will be remembered.

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