The Specials singer Terry Hall dies, aged 63

Terry Hall onstage in 2019
(Image credit: C Brandon / Getty)

Terry Hall, vocalist and songwriter for the UK’s influential two tone ska band, The Specials, has died aged 63, according to a statement from the group. No cause of death has been specified.

“Terry was a wonderful husband and father and one of the kindest, funniest, and most genuine of souls,” reads a message from the band. 

“His music and his performances encapsulated the very essence of life… the joy, the pain, the humour, 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.”

Hall joined The Specials in 1977, in the year that punk broke, having been inspired to make music by the likes of the Sex Pistols and The Clash, realising “it didn’t seem that difficult” (or so he told The Big Issue (opens in new tab)). 

Indeed, The Clash’s Joe Strummer attended an early Specials show and later invited the group to support the punk legends on their Out On Parole tour in June 1978.

The band stood out among their punk peers for their multi-racial line-up and played a key role in the Rock Against Racism movement of the late-’70s – sparking a wave of two tone and ska revival groups across the UK, in the process.

“My political awakening was in Coventry in my teenage years when I discovered that working men’s clubs had a color bar on their doors,” Hall told The Big Issue. “You could only get in if you were white. That really shook me. I couldn’t work it out. 

“The ‘70s was so racist. It was the most racist decade. At my school we had this influx of Ugandan Asians who were kicked out by Idi Amin. They faced racism every day. It opened my eyes, and things haven’t changed.”

The 1980 album More Specials showed the band stretching their wings musically, defying the straight ska stereotype in favor of soul, lounge and avant-garde influences. However, it was their 1981 single Ghost Town that would become their defining masterpiece. A haunting, viscerally angry document of the death of the UK inner cities and a fraying social fabric caused by unemployment, inflation, strikes and rioting. 

Hall’s lines contrast and punctuate fellow vocalist Neville Staples’ exhausted “coming like a ghost town” refrain, disassociating from his surroundings, as he sarcastically recalls the ‘good old days’. 

The song was accompanied by a video of the band driving around London, contrasting images of the East’s financial district and grimier docklands areas. 

Shortly after its release, Hall left the band and formed Fun Boy Three, with fellow Specials Lynval Golding and Staple, releasing a string of hits in the UK. He also released solo material and performed with Gorillaz, the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, Toots And The Maytals, Dub Pistols and a string of other names. The Specials later reformed in 2008, albeit without founding member Jerry Dammers. 

In more recent interviews, the group have remarked how worryingly similar the social situation in the UK and US has become in recent years. Still, Hall maintained his conviction never wavered. 

“Even if we couldn’t change things, we could make people aware,” reflected Hall last year (opens in new tab). “There have been records when I felt it was time to share feelings about racism or fascism or mental health. 

“Even at a very young age, I didn’t want to be in a band to sell records or be well known. I wanted it because it felt like it was the only thing I could do with conviction and honesty.”

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Matt is a freelance journalist who has spent the last decade interviewing musicians for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk (opens in new tab), which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.