RIP Terry Hall, singer with The Specials, Fun Boy Three, and The Colourfield. It appears to have been pancreatic cancer.
Anyone who loves Second Wave ska knows Terry’s voice. His slightly pouty, somewhat snotty, always witty vocals powered all the greatest hits by The Specials om the very late 70s and early 80s. Terry died Sunday after a short illness. He was 63. He’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
The Specials burned hot and bright for a couple of years through two albums and a series of ska singles. The genre, which had been largely dormant since is roots in Jamaica, was given a punky twist by a series of UK bands and has since become one of the most enduring of all alt-rock subgenres. I mean, who doesn’t love skanking to songs like this?
When the whole 2 Tone thing imploded, Terry went on to front Fun Boy Three with two of his Specials compatriots (Neville Staple and Lynval Golding). For a brief time, Terry had a romance with Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Gos and co-wrote “Our Lips are Sealed,” first a Fun Boy Three song and then a major hit for The Go-Gos.
That group was followed by The Colourfield in 1984, who release a glorious record called Virgins and Philistines the following year. The production on this song is excellent.
There were other bands–including a solo career and many collaborations with bands like Gorillaz–and a Specials reunion that culminated with a 2019 record called Encore, which was a massive success in the UK.
Parts of Terry’s life were excruciatingly tragic. Growing up poor in tough industrial Coventry (his family worked in the local auto industry), he was a solid football player who was invited to try out for a pro team. Unfortunately, his parents couldn’t swing the travel involved so it never happened. Terry was abducted at age 12 by a teacher (apparently part of a pedophile ring) and spirited away to France where he was sexually abused for four days. (Note the lyrics in the Fun Boy Three Song, “Well Fancy That” that goes “You took me to France on the promise of teaching me French.”
Obviously, that experience had a profound effect on his psyche–depression, specifically, no doubt exacerbated by the fact he kept the story from his parents–for the rest of his life. At 13, he was already addicted to Valium and stayed in his room for eight months. It was only after he discovered punk when he was 14 that he was able to come out of that shell.
After he attempted to take his own life in 2004, he was diagnosed as a manic depressive. There’s no word on what sort of illness did him in.