Terry Hall, lead singer of The Specials and ‘Ghost Town’ fame, dies at 63

LONDON — Terry Hall, British musician and lead singer of the late 1970s ska-punk band The Specials, has died at the age of 63. announced Monday.

According to the band’s statement, the songwriter – who left school at the age of 15 and became a leader of the British punk scene at the age of 22 – died of an illness. No further details were disclosed.

Mr. Hall’s most famous hits with the second-wave ska revival group include “Gangsters” (1979), “Too Much Too Young” (1980) and “Ghost Town” (1981), a song whose somber lyrics came to embody the sense of alienation gripping towns and cities. Post-Industrial England. It was a haunting piece of music for the tumultuous summer of turmoil that engulfed neighborhoods in the country’s cities a month after its release.

Thousands of mostly black youths rioted with police officers in more than 20 British cities that summer, as unemployment soared and tensions with the police festered, resulting in more than 1,200 arrests.

“Ghost Town,” which led the Specials to widespread recognition, was recorded over a 10-day period in April 1981 at Leamington Spa in central England, according to the band’s history shared on their website.

“It depicted what we were feeling – not just in Coventry, but we were walking around up north and we watched all these factories closing, all these people being out of work,” Mr Hall told Big Issue in a 2021 interview.

The track, which spent three weeks at the top of the British charts, was ultimately what prompted the band to break up — a decision its members made in their dressing room after a live musician appearance on the TV show “Top of the Pops,” the specials said.

“We were expected to get a gold disc for this record, but I found that pretty awful. Why do we need that bonus?” Mr. Hall recalled in a 2021 interview. “Our country is a mess, do you like my gold record? It felt like the perfect moment to stop.” .

He added, “We went from seven kids in the back of a truck to being presented with gold discs, and I’ve never felt so comfortable with that.”

In addition to being the front man for The Specials – which disbanded in 1981 before regrouping in 2009 – Mr. Hall has performed with the Fun Boy Three, Colourfield and Vegas bands.

Terence Edward Hall was born in Coventry, England, on March 19, 1959, into a family that worked in the city’s then-burgeoning car industry.

In 2019, he said in interviews that he was kidnapped by a teacher at the age of 12 and taken to France, where he was sexually assaulted for four days before being abandoned on the side of the road. The trauma left him depressed and addicted to the Valium he had been prescribed. He said, “I didn’t go to school, I didn’t do anything.” “I just sat on my bed rocking for eight months.”

He wrote about his struggles in “Well Fancy That!” , which Fun Boy Three recorded in 1983. The lyrics include the lines: “On school trips to France / Imagine it / I had such a good time / You turned sex into a crime.”

Mr. Hall said he had suffered from mental illness most of his life. He held odd jobs, including an apprentice hairdresser, before deciding to pursue music after seeing the Sex Pistols in concert.

The Specials fused elements of a 60s-era ska band – with their roots in Jamaican dance music and imported American R&B – with British punk. The resulting two-tone movement, so named for the biracial groups of its bands, became popular on the country’s radio stations in the late 1970s, and was known as the “second wave” of ska.

Known for creating soundtracks that captured the mood of the late 1970s, the Specials were one of Britain’s most prominent multiracial bands, and many of their songs grappled with contemporary racial violence. Mr. Hall shared front man duties with Neville Staple, a Jamaican-born black artist who specializes in roasts, a style of rap.

“Just because you’re a black boy, just because you’re a white boy, it doesn’t mean you have to hate it, it doesn’t mean you have to fight,” Mr. Hall sang on “Don’t Make It Alright,” one of the special’s slower tracks.

In a 2021 Financial Times interview, he described how the band’s gigs had been targeted by racist hooligans.

“It got really extreme,” Mr. Hall recalled. “We were playing Madness in a college town somewhere, we walked off the stage and there were victims all over the dressing room. People who were cut and cut. It looked like an emergency room. It was heartbreaking, the last thing we wanted to see.”

British musician Billy Bragg has described the specials as “a celebration of how British culture has been revitalized by Caribbean immigration” in his Post a Twitter tribute to Mr. Hall. He added that the musician’s on-stage demeanor “served as a reminder that they were working hard to challenge our perception of who we were in the late ’70s.”

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