Terry Hall, special all the way

Masterful voice of the Specials, the Englishman was one of the most fervent defenders of multiculturalism from its beginnings, at the dawn of the eighties, until his death this Sunday, at the age of 63, following a a dazzling disease.

Last year on the covers album Protest Songs 1924-2012 which will remain the final point of the work of the Specials, Terry Hall appropriated the words of the American songwriter Chip Taylor on Fuck All the Perfect Peoplesublime woozy ballad on which he took us by the hand for an ultimate slow, between disenchantment and tenderness.

“To be or not to be/To release or not to release/Crawl or not to crawl/Fuck all those perfect people”he let go in his impassive voice, before specifying in the chorus: “No, I’m not talking about you.”


If he borrowed the words of another, we recognized in this piece something of him, this mixture of disillusioned irony, rebellious political conscience and overwhelming warmth that we had been able to measure during an interview in London early 2019, on the occasion of the release ofAgain, eighth album of his group. “I’m turning 60 next month and I’ve just had the happiest ten years of my life, he told us then. The trigger was to get diagnosed and find the right treatment to reduce my depression. We are all very eager to play concerts again and it is a period that I really appreciate: we are developing what we have in mind for the upcoming tour. Strangely, I’ve always been very comfortable on stage, whereas I really suck when I find myself alone.

We obviously contradicted him on this point, under the spell of this unique personality, as singular as his tone of voice that the years had not scratched, always between irony and sensitivity, between deadpan humor and infinite delicacy. .

The tour he was talking about turned out to be grandiose, with a gig at the monumental Cigale, which will remain his very last concert in France. In front of a backstage where various protest signs were lined up (their messages, in bulk: encourage people to vote, think for themselves, throw fascism in the trash, fight against nuclear power and listen to Sly and the Family Stone), the Specials rolled out new nuggets taken from their album at the time, Againas well as some of their legendary anthems (Gangsters, Nite Club, Too Much Too Young, Concrete Jungle…), with a sparkling energy that they relentlessly communicated to their audience, bringing Terry Hall out of his composure alongside young activist Saffiyah Khan.

Just as we often dread seeing our lifelong heroes on stage, for fear of being disappointed (which was not the case with the Specials, far from it), we were a little apprehensive about our interview with Terry Hall in 2019, especially since he very rarely agreed to speak in the media in recent years. We were wrong. From the first minutes, an incident broke the ice, both literally and figuratively: with perfect timing, he said the word “manic-depressive” and the coffee table between us collapsed without even you touch it, in a din mixing coffee stains, broken glass and spilled carafe of water. “That was really strange, like a sleight of hand, he exclaimed. I’m going to think about it for a week and try to decipher what happened… This is what happens when I talk about my depression.

David Bowie and Roxy Music

This ill-being had dogged him since his youth, leading him to a suicide attempt in 2004. He revealed one of the major causes three years ago in an interview for the English press, stating that he had been kidnapped at the age of twelve by child criminals while he was in France for a school trip. Previously, he had only evoked this horrible ordeal through the words of Well Fancy That!single from Fun Boy Three.

Following this attack, he was prescribed antidepressants very early on and he dropped out of the school system at the age of 14. In Coventry, where he was born in 1959, he did odd jobs, from mason to apprentice hairdresser, without conviction. “I had my first crush when I discovered David Bowie and Roxy Music, when I was 13 or 14 years old, he told us. I modeled myself on them to know what I should eat, listen to, wear… Even if I loved all these bands, like the Sparks too, they seemed completely inaccessible to me. I watched them on TV, but I had no idea how they got there, or how they made those songs. When I was 18, one freezing evening, I saw the Sex Pistols and The Clash in concert, in a half-empty hall in Coventry. Suddenly my friends and I understood that we didn’t have to be virtuosos. These guys looked like us. We formed our band the next day and played our first gig two weeks later..”

He therefore owes his salvation to music: in 1977 he became the leader of the Coventry Automatics, a group that transformed into Specials in early 1979.I had a complicated childhood, he continued modestly. I felt like I was living on another planet. Nobody listened to what I had to say, either at school or later at the employment office. It pushed me to make my voice heard. The easiest thing to do was to be part of a group. When you are on stage, we listen to you. Even today, it’s the only thing that matters to me. Some measure success by record sales, for me it’s when I manage to write something, record it and be heard.

A decisive influence

Atypical formation mixing black, mixed-race and white musicians, the Specials sign pieces which chronicle their daily life with acuity: a Great Britain in decline divided by racism and undermined by unemployment, ghost towns where idleness reigns… They borrow from the Afro-Caribbean music, ska, punk and became spearheads of the 2 Tone movement from their first album, produced by Elvis Costello. Their legacy remains important today, perceptible in Gorillaz, Lily Allen or even Tricky, who all collaborated with Terry Hall thereafter.

Nobody listened to what I had to say, either at school or later at the employment office. It pushed me to make my voice heard. The easiest thing to do was to be part of a group. When you are on stage, we listen to you. Even today, it’s the only thing that matters to me. Some measure success by record sales, for me it’s when I can write something, record it and be heard

After the release of the spectral single ghosttown in 1981, Terry Hall took the tangent and founded Fun Boy Three with two comrades from the Specials, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple. A quality cast for songs to match – let’s quote for example their very first single, The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)or the tube Our Lips Are Sealedco-written by Terry Hall and his girlfriend at the time, Jane Wieldin, guitarist of the Go-Go’s.

Other exciting projects were added to Terry Hall’s career: The Colourfield (two albums in 1985 and 1987), the fleeting trio Terry, Blair and Anouchka (one album in 1989), the electro-pop duo Vegas formed with Dave Stewart of Eurythmics (an album in 1992), or even a duet with Mushtaq of the group Fun-Da-Mental, the time of a captivating album with fascinating diversity (The Hour of Two Lightsin 2003).

During the second half of the nineties, in the midst of a britpop surge, Blur was the special guest of the show Taratata and took the opportunity to bring in one of its heroes, Terry Hall. The quartet goes so far as to perform a cult piece from the Specials with him, Nite Club. A whole new French generation thus discovers the one who would almost make Damon Albarn shy: a disheveled gentleman with youthful airs who does not even seem aware of the scope of his work.

At that time, Terry Hall gave himself a second youth with a solo career punctuated by two impressive albums: Home (1994), produced by Ian Broudie of Lightning Seeds, followed by Laughter (1997). This diptych is full of treasures, in particular Sense, Forever JWhere Misty Waterfascinating with their refined pop melodies, their chiseled lyrics and the voice that carries them to the firmament, of a rare purity, recognizable among a thousand others.

A “short illness” put an end far too soon to the life of this endearing artist whom many already regret: from the Libertines to the Sleaford Mods, from Alex Kapranos to Billy Bragg, passing through Boy George, Badly Drawn Boy, Anton Newcombe , or Jamie Hewlett, expressions of affection rain down on social networks to express how much Terry Hall has held an important place in the hearts of several generations. We would have preferred that this last slow never ended.


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