He Was Special, He Was Fun: RIP Terry Hall

WIAA: Alyson, oh Alyson… ?

ALYSON: I know, WIAA, it looks as if I’ve gone AWOL the week before Christmas but year on year I get more and more nostalgic about days gone by and for all those Christmases spent with family and friends who are no longer with us.

WIAA: I suspected that might have been the case – I suppose it doesn’t help that this is a retrospective music blog where you revisit those festive songs enjoyed throughout your life, especially those from your youth.

ALYSON: Indeed. I will no doubt snap out of it before the big day but in the last few weeks: three of my close friends have lost a parent; last night I found out that an old work colleague had died suddenly at the age of 62; and today, I woke up to the awful news that Terry Hall has also died. He was only 63.

WIAA: Terry Hall?

ALYSON: You might not remember, WIAA, but he has appeared on these pages before, in the context of being attached to one of the most exciting new labels in the history of British music – 2 Tone Records. In fact the band he was in, The Specials, got the whole 2 tone movement started, something intrinsically linked to my time as a student, whilst I was still in my late teens. Such a great time to be alive.

You know what, WIAA, I think you’ve just snapped me out of my fug. The festive post can wait for now as instead I really want to pay tribute to Terry Hall, someone whose death is eliciting great sadness today in fans of a certain age.

My last post was about the death of Christine McVie, and I mentioned that the Fleetwood Mac album Rumours had found its way into my Christmas stocking in 1977. What I hadn’t said then was that it had been a gift from the school boyfriend. In 1979 the self-titled album The Specials also found its way into my Christmas stocking, and it was from the same boy, except this time he was the student boyfriend. We had parted company for quite some time after school but at the tail end of the ’70s we had found each other again and immediately reconnected, spending most of our free time together, listening to albums by artists like The Specials and Elvis Costello. I will always associate The Specials with that time in my life. Although it was really Jerry Dammers’ band, Terry Hall was the very stolid, ‘unjumpy’ lead vocalist, so much of the focus was always on him. Here they are with Too Much Too Young, a song from that first 1979 album.

Too Much Too Young by The Specials:

The music we were listening to was no longer the slick, soft rock made in studios on the West Coast of America, which suited the comfortable lives we had led in our parents’ warm homes whilst at school. Things had changed, we were now poor students dressed in charity shop finds, living in pretty grotty cold tenement flats and becoming aware of the social injustices documented in songs by bands like The Specials. Their music came on the back of punk but was combined with ska and rocksteady which also made it very danceable. It was right for the times.

The Specials were short-lived as a band but before they split they released this non-album single, Ghost Town, a song that spent three weeks at the No. 1 spot on the UK Singles Chart in 1981. Again it felt right for the times and evoked themes of urban decay, unemployment and violence in our inner cities, something that came to a head in the summer of 1981. The song was hailed as a major piece of popular social commentary, and all three of the major UK music magazines awarded Ghost Town the accolade of Single of the Year.

Ghost Town by The Specials:

After his time with The Specials, Terry Hall, along with Neville Staple and Lynval Golding formed the Fun Boy Three. This time the songs were less frenetic, less political and more… fun. They teamed up with Banarama for a couple of single releases and even recorded a beautiful cover of the standard, Summertime. Here is the song Terry wrote with Jane Wiedlen of the Go-Go’s during their short-lived romance, My Lips Are Sealed. Both bands released the song as a single but of course on their respective sides of the pond. Needless to say the Fun Boy Three version did best on the UK Singles Chart reaching the No. 2 spot in 1983. (Terry’s hair definitely looking a bit different from when he was with The Specials – ’twas the times.)

Our Lips Are Sealed by Fun Boy Three:

But Terry never stood still for long (no pun intended) and by 1984 he had formed another band The Colourfield. Their first album was full of really beautiful songs like this one, Thinking Of You. He was still just in his mid-20s but was now a very different artist to the one who signed up with The Specials only seven years earlier. I too was a very different person in my mid-20s to the one who had first discovered The Specials in 1979. The world of work had beckoned and the flats had got nicer. The city I lived in, Aberdeen, was experiencing a bit of an oil boom, so the lyrics to those earlier songs didn’t really resonate with me or my friends any more. The school/student boyfriend and I didn’t last the distance, and we eventually parted company just as Terry’s time as a chart artist was also coming to an end. Terry would never be as commercially successful again in terms of record sales, but I’m glad he carried on making new music, collaborating with other artists right up until his untimely and premature death.

RIP Terry Hall

So, ‘What’s It All About?’ – I’m sorry I’ve not managed anything festive yet this year, but still time hopefully. I’ve been having one of those intense spells of contacting bereaved friends, and organising flowers & sympathy cards. Just as you hope there’s going to be a bit of a respite something like this comes along, an artist you haven’t really been following for a long time dies suddenly, and all the memories from a certain period in your life come flooding back. I’ve been trying to remember what other albums I got as a gift from the same boyfriend, as that’s two now that have featured in back to back tribute posts – I won’t say, as I don’t want to tempt fate, but as we music bloggers of a certain age always say, it’s kind of inevitable that we’re going to be writing tribute posts on a more regular basis as time goes by.

My condolences to Terry’s family and friends who along with his many fans will be grieving today.

Until next time… RIP Terry Hall.

Our Lips Are Sealed Lyrics
(Song by Terry Hall/Jane Wiedlin)

Can you hear them talking ’bout us
Telling lies? Is that a surprise?
Can you see them, see right through them?
They have a shield, nothing must be revealed
It doesn’t matter what they say
No one listens anyway
Our lips are sealed

There’s a weapon that we can use
In our defense, silence
Well, just look at them, look right through them

That’s when they disappear, that’s when we lose the fear
It doesn’t matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed
It doesn’t matter what they say
No one’s listening anyway
Our lips are sealed

Hush, my darling, don’t you cry
Guardian angel, forget their lies

Can you hear them talking ’bout us
Telling lies? Well, that’s no surprise
Can you see them, see right through them?
They have a shield, nothing must be revealed
It doesn’t matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed
Pay no mind to what they say
It doesn’t matter anyway
Our lips are sealed
Our lips are sealed
Our lips are sealed

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days. I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 57 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team, Bacharach and David. The opening line to that song was, "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

16 thoughts on “He Was Special, He Was Fun: RIP Terry Hall”

  1. Sad news indeed as are those other deaths you mentioned.
    As JC commented at my place following the death of Wilko Johnston “the ages of so many of the musicians who the likes of you and I looked up to, admired or indeed worshipped, means that reading obituaries is going to be an ever-increasing habit in the months and years ahead.”
    My tribute is scheduled for tomorrow

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It would be unrealistic to think they’re not going to be ever more frequent but still a bit of a shock when it’s someone around your own age who did mean a lot back in the day. Was very sad to hear about Terry this morning.

      Will look out for your tribute.


  2. Just missed The Specials and Two Tone (oh how I wish I was 3 or 4 years older!).
    In retrospect The Specials had the image, the songs, the multi-culturalism, the politics … and great humour.
    Terry Hall was often cited as having the driest of dry senses of humour.
    Like it says above – it all feels a little bit closer than it used to.

    December is turning into a right old month of loss … not just Terry Hall (and also today, Martin Duffy) but Jet Black recently, and Kirsty MacColl, Stuart Adamson and Joe Strummer in past years (and all within the same couple of weeks).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was just the right age so saw them all on the 2 Tone Tour (such a lovely ring to it) and I loved all these ska albums. Such great music to dance to when you were 19 and could keep up the pace for hours on end. Still good for a bit of a cardio workout but can only last a few minutes now.

      It’s been a real shock for many of us of a certain age as he was a contemporary. December has been brutal.


    1. It’s really hit home this one, with many of us who are around the same age as Terry. If like me you were a student in the late 70s I can’t emphasise enough how big an impact the Specials and all the other bands from the 2 Tone and Stiff labels made back then. I had taken a while to settle into student life but during that 2 Tone explosion I found my ‘tribe’ and from then on student life was fantastic. Will always associate Terry et al with that period.


  3. Lovely post, Alyson. When I saw the news yesterday morning, I gasped when I read about Terry. Ska wasn’t my thing, but I was certainly aware of the social commentary of the times.

    As Megan is a good deal younger than I, when I said “Terry Hall of The Specials has died!”, she said “Who?”

    “Terry Hall,” I replied. “No, who are The Specials?”, she asked. 🤦‍♂️ On the plus side, we’re a reasonable Heardle team, covering a wider spread of genres and decades than we would separately.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I must admit when I heard the news at 7.30am on the radio I was really shocked. Perhaps more so because it comes after a string of ‘closer to home’ deaths (there was another later on yesterday – a neighbour’s husband).

      Ha ha, just shows you, a few years of difference in age, and he just wasn’t in your wheelhouse so to speak – a real blow for many of us who were the same age as him though.

      Thanks for the heads up about Heardle by the way. I’ve just investigated today’s puzzler and got it in the first second – sadly I couldn’t work out how to put in the answer so mucked it all up but will return tomorrow now that I think I’ve worked it out. Yes, you two should have a fair breadth of musical knowledge between you – today’s was fine for me but had it been something from the 21st century it might not have gone so well.


    1. It wasn’t really that great a tribute to Terry (there certainly are plenty of those around) but I just wanted to get across how you can be much more affected by someone’s death when their music played the soundtrack to a particular time in your life. Think that’s why I’ve been floored so much. My student life suddenly took off in ’79 and the music of The Specials played a large part in that.


  4. A lovely tribute and as Rol says, just wish you hadn’t had to write it. I’m just taking time to catch up with some blogs and know I’ll be repeating myself throughout in comments but there is so much love for Terry and all he represented out there. His death has got to me more than I ever even thought it would, it wasn’t until this moment that it really came home just how much a part of my youth the Specials and everything around them was – somehow in the very fabric of my life without me even realising it. So glad you got to see the 2-Tone tour, what a time to be alive!
    Another Winter of losses, I know it happens every year but some are so much more personally relatable than others and this is one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really is quite telling isn’t it how the death of Terry Hall has affected people to such an extent. So many tributes on the sidebars. I’ve been trying to work it out but for many reasons I suspect. A couple of summers ago I wrote about my trip to see my old flatmate, who I first shared with back in 1979 – one of the songs I featured then was Too Much Too Young as that was the year the whole 2 Tone thing kicked off. Turned out the old school b/f lived in a flat just round the corner and we all spent loads of time together listening to this kind of music. The flats were basic and we lived like paupers, but what a time to be alive. Think it’s because Terry was around the same age and his death was unexpected – hits home hard. He’d had a tough life at times, but he seemed to be in a good place when he died – such a tragedy for his family.


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