Terry Hall, Lead Singer for the Specials, Dead at 63
Terry Hall, lead singer for the English ska revival band the Specials, has died at age 63.
The news was confirmed in a social media post on the band's official accounts.
"It is with great sadness that we announce the passing, following a brief illness, of Terry, our beautiful friend, brother and one of the most brilliant singers, songwriters and lyricists this country has ever produced," reads the post. "Terry was a wonderful husband and father and one of the kindest, funniest and most genuine of souls. His music and his performances encapsulated the very essence of life … the joy, the pain, the humor, the fight for justice, but mostly the love. He will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved him and leaves behind the gift of his remarkable music and profound humanity."
Born and raised in Coventry, Hall was inspired early on by singers like David Bowie, whose 1975 album Young Americans made a deep impact. "I come from a gypsy-spirited family, and everyone used to sing in pubs whether you liked it or not," Hall explained to The Guardian in 2009. "I didn't want to be that sort of singer. Then when I was 16 this album gave me a look, a sound and a way of holding yourself."
Hall joined the Coventry Automatics in the late '70s, a band that turned into the Specials. The group's first success arrived in 1979 when their song "Gangsters" was played on BBC Radio 1. A reworking of Prince Buster's 1964 ska song "Al Capone," the Specials wrote "Gangsters" about an incident that occurred while the band was on tour in France with the Clash: The Specials were held fiscally responsible for hotel damage allegedly caused by members of the Damned. "Gangsters" became a Top 10 hit in the U.K.
Watch the Specials' 'Gangsters' Video
Later in 1979, the Specials released their self-titled debut album, which contained two more hits, "A Message to You Rudy" and "Too Much Too Young." A year later, their second album, More Specials, yielded another three hits: "Do Nothing," "Stereotype" and "Rat Race." In June 1981, they released "Ghost Town," a song with themes of disenfranchisement and urban decline that became a No. 1 hit and a defining song of the era.
Shortly after the release of "Ghost Town," Hall left to form a new band, Fun Boy Three, with two of his Specials bandmates, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple. They released a pair of hit singles, "The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)" and "It Ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)," followed by the album Fun Boy Three, which reached No. 7 on the U.K. Albums Chart. Their second album, Waiting, included "The Tunnel of Love" and "Our Lips Are Sealed," which Hall wrote with girlfriend Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go's, who had a Stateside hit with their version of the song. ("Gutted to hear of the passing of [Hall]," Wiedlin wrote on Twitter following the news of Hall's death. "He was a lovely, sensitive, talented and unique person.")
Waiting also included a song called "Well Fancy That!" that Hall wrote about his experience of being a victim of sexual abuse. When he was 12, Hall was abducted by one of his teachers at school, taken to France and delivered to a pedophile ring. "On school trips to France / Well, fancy that / You had a good time / Turned sex into crime," he sang in the song.
"That was the first time, through making a record or writing a song, that I addressed myself, properly on a personal level," Hall explained to Mojo in 2014. "The reaction I got from that was really brilliant because people would communicate with you saying, 'I went through a similar sort of thing.'"
Listen to Fun Boy Three's 'Well Fancy That!'
Hall went on to sing in several more bands, including the Colourfield; Terry, Blair and Anouchka; and Vegas (a duo formed with Dave Stewart of Eurythmics). He also released solo albums and collaborated with the likes of Toots and the Maytals, Gorillaz and the Dub Pistols.
In 2008, the Specials reunited and began touring again. In 2019, they released a new album — the band's first new material with Hall since "Ghost Town" — called Encore, which shot to No. 1 in the U.K. "Achieving a first number one album in our 60s restored our faith in humanity," Hall told The Quietus in 2021. The band released a covers album, Protest Songs 1924–2012, in 2021, too.
“Age has taught me that the quiet protest is equally as valid,” Hall noted. "I'm at the stage where I will shout for everybody else who wants unity, love and togetherness, not literally shout, necessarily, but speak on their behalf because I know I'm here to represent them."
Watch Terry Hall Perform 'Ghost Town' at His Last Specials Concert