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

The Flat-Sharing Years, The Specials and Everything But The Girl

I was away from home last week which explains my blogging absence. We’ve been lying low this summer so as not to jeopardise any of our business ventures by having to self-isolate, but it was time to emerge from WIAA Towers to visit one of my oldest friends who has moved from London to ‘God’s Own Country’, Yorkshire. She has been mentioned around here often, whenever I’ve written about my flat-sharing years in Aberdeen. Between 1979 and 1987 we lived in a total of five different abodes (with up to four others depending on the size of the flat) before finally parting company and heading off in totally different directions, both figuratively and geographically.

Another very famous set of flatmates

We didn’t know each other very well when we moved into that first student flat in 1979 and we were studying very different subjects. As the years go by however, your flatmates become your ‘urban family’ and you form a very special bond that can only come from living in the same shared space for so long. (Oh yes, there were many, many dramas over exams, jobs and boyfriends.) It was lovely to be able to spend time with her last week, sampling the delights of the North Yorkshire Dales, nearly 42 years on from that first flat-sharing experience.

But this is a music blog so what song to share? Back in 1979 we didn’t have laptops, Netflix or Amazon Prime but we did have a black and white telly that sat on an alcove shelf to the right of the bulky gas fire (never serviced of course but thankfully we lived to tell the tale and didn’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning). My musical memories always lead me back to the show that aired on a Thursday night at 7.30pm, and despite the lack of colour, it was great living somewhere again with a telly. The year before we had been in halls, with no access to telly at all, so for a music lover like myself this was a step up in the world indeed.

As it turned out, only being able to view our favourite music show in black and white was not a problem in the autumn of 1979, as that was just when the 2 Tone phenomenon started to grip the nation – Pork pie hats were even spotted on the heads of Aberdonians. Suddenly ska and rocksteady, a genre we had been too young to appreciate first time around, really started to resonate with a new generation of young people. A tour was put together and in November 1979 I went along to a local nightspot with another music-loving friend to witness the stars of 2 Tone in action – Link to post about that night here. The Specials topped the bill and by then we knew all the songs from their eponymously named debut album. Too Much Too Young rattles along at a fair old speed, giving this late ’70s version of ska a whole new punk sensibility.

Too Much Too Young by the Specials:

But this post was supposed to be about the reunion with my old friend and I don’t remember her being a particular fan of ska in 1979. By the time we parted company in 1987 our musical allegiances were much more aligned and one of the albums I bought that year really did resonate with her. We gladly shared any new acquisition and took advantage of the flat ‘music centre’ to (very illegally) record a copy on cassette tape. Here is a song from the album Baby, the Stars Shine Bright by Everything But The Girl, one that apparently always brought a tear to her to eye whilst driving around the North of Scotland in the new company car she had just been given (which unbeknownst to her bosses became the Flatmobile). We had started flat life with steady boyfriends, but by 1987 they had long gone, and we were singletons again ready to start the next chapter.

Come On Home by Everything But The Girl:

So, ‘What’s It All About?’ – I seem to have mislaid a lot of local friends of late so was feeling a bit lonely. This pandemic has put paid to many of my regular routines and several of the friends I used to do things with are now finding themselves either busy with grandchildren, or are retiring, and moving away from the area. Thank goodness for old friends of 42 years standing. I had a lovely time last week and our 2021 ‘digs’, unlike our old flat, were most definitely 5 Star.

Until next time…

Come On Home Lyrics
(Song by Tracey Thorne/Ben Watt)

Baby come home, I miss the sound of the door
Your step on the stair’s not there to wake me no more

And every day’s like Christmas Day without you
It’s cold and there’s nothing to do

And it’s mighty quiet here now that you’re gone
I’ve been behaving myself for too long
‘Cause I don’t like sleeping
Or watching TV on my own
So please come on home

Baby, what’s keeping you all this time
You’re wasting your days out there in the sunshine
And who can I turn to if you believe still
That England don’t love you and she never will

For it’s mighty quiet here now that you’re gone
And I’ve been behaving myself for too long
I don’t like drinking
or painting the town on my own
So please come on home

Baby come on home Please

For it’s mighty quiet here now that you’re gone
And I’ve been behaving myself for too long
‘Cause I don’t like sleeping
Or watching TV on my own
So please come on home

“The Prince”, Madness and The 2 Tone Label

A joyful evening in the midst of all the political upheaval, as the band Madness have just been performing at this year’s Glastonbury Festival and I am reminded of how much I enjoyed them in the late ’70s when the 2 Tone label suddenly flooded the charts with great ska music, updated for a new generation. In those pre-internet days, pretty much the first and only time you would ever see a band perform would be on Thursday night’s Top Of The Pops. If you liked pop music it was a must-watch show and even in the sterile atmosphere of that little studio at television centre, with an often-bored looking audience being marshalled from stage to stage, you could really tell that these young lads were just a little bit special. Of course I didn’t realise at the time that The Prince they were singing about was in fact an early sixties Jamaican ska artist called Prince Buster, and that they had taken their name from one of his songs from that period.

The Prince by Madness:

As was wont to happen in those days, a new cultural movement emerged overnight and suddenly the soft rock and disco records that we were used to listening to seemed ridiculous and irrelevant, especially to young urban males. The 2 Tone label was set up in Coventry by Jerry Dammers of the Specials and very quickly ska/reggae/punk influenced records were being released by The Specials, Madness, The Beat and The Selector. The artwork for  the record sleeves was of course two tone, featuring a black and white checkerboard and a man wearing the ska uniform of black suit, white shirt, black tie, white socks, black loafers and of course, the very necessary pork pie hat.


As for me, I was a student at the time and when we discovered that the 2 Tone Tour (has a nice ring to it) of late 1979 was coming to our city it was a no-brainer that we should go and see all these great acts live. It was going to be held in one of the big night-clubs usually frequented by weekend John/Joan Travoltas and this is where I made my first mistake – Because of the venue, I wore one of my “disco-dancing” outfits (wasn’t called clubbing in those days) complete with footless tights and shocking pink sparkly accessories. I don’t know how they managed it, but 99 percent of the audience that night were dressed in full “rude-boy” uniform complete with pork pie hat. This was the North of Scotland for goodness sake but all the charity shops within a 50 mile radius must have been totally raided of vintage clothing, and who knew that so many pork-pie hats could still have been in circulation. Yes, the shocking pink accessories stood out amongst all the black and white so in order to feel less conspicuous we quickly moved up to one of the balcony areas, to witness the phenomenon that was 2 Tone, from there.

The night started off with The Selector and frontwoman Pauline Black turned in an energetic performance culminating with their hit record On My Radio. Next up was Madness and of course we were treated to The Prince but the difference here was that they had Chas Smash whose role in the band was pretty much solely, dancer. Looking back at the clip now, this is exactly how he performed right through the set. He and Suggs made a great double act, a couple of likely lads from Camden Town doing something that was totally different.

chas smash

I was sad to see that Chas Smash was not with the band at Glastonbury as he is “off doing solo projects” at the moment (they’ve had a falling out then). Something I have just got to the bottom of however is this – During the 1979 concert Chas at one point got down into the audience and it was hard to work out what he was doing. It looked as if he was in a fight, but then again the punches looked as if they were choreographed and part of his style of dancing. Turns out that it was commonplace for a skinhead element to come to the concerts somehow thinking that because of the style of clothing and haircuts, these bands had a similar mentality. Of course this could not have been further from the truth and if certain racist remarks were made, some of the band members got down into the audience to deal with it themselves – Young men and lots of testosterone.

The final band to perform that night were Coventry-based, 2 Tone founders, The Specials.  Not so much “nutty boys” but more politically informed which came through in their lyrics. Terry Hall, their lead singer, always had a bit of the Herman Munster look about him I felt which was probably intentional. Not possible to sing about the really serious issues of the day (Ghost Town) if you look like a teen-idol. We definitely witnessed something from music history that night however as the whole 2 Tone concept was short-lived and quickly morphed into something else.

As for Madness they are still out there doing their thing and although the dancing is no longer quite as energetic, they still make me smile. Aged only 18 in the clip, Suggs is now 55 and he got his grandchildren up on stage at Glastonbury at the end of their set to view the ocean of festival-goers. Could he have envisaged doing that back in 1979 when they were surreptitiously beating up unsavoury audience members? I doubt it very much, but I am very glad he did.

The Prince Lyrics
(Song by Lee Thompson)

Buster, he sold the heat with a rock-steady beat

An earthquake is erupting, but not in Orange street
A ghost-dance is preparing, You got to help us with your feet
If you’re not in the mood to dance, step back, grab yourself a seat
This may not be uptown Jamaica, but we promise you a treat

Buster, bowl me over with your bogus dance, shuffle me off my feet
Even if I keep on runnin’, I’ll never get to Orange street

So I’ll say there’s nothin’ left to say, for the man who set the beat
So I’ll leave it up to you out there, to get him back on his feet

Buster, bowl me over with your bogus dance, shuffle me off my feet
Even if I’ll keep on runnin’, I’ll never get to Orange Street

Bring back the
Who is the
We want the
Bring back the Prince…aahh!