Musician Terry Hall, who helped create some of the defining sounds of post-punk Britain as lead singer of The Specials, has died. He was 63.
The band announced late Monday that Hall had died after a brief illness. It called him “our beautiful friend, brother and one of the most brilliant singers, songwriters and lyricists this country has ever produced.”
Hall joined the band that would become The Specials in the English Midlands city of Coventry in the late 1970s, a time of racial tension, economic gloom and urban unrest. With its mix of Black and white members and Jamaica-influenced style of sharp suits and porkpie hats, the band became leaders of the anti-racist 2 Tone-label ska revival movement.
Their most iconic song in the United Kingdom, the foreboding Ghost Town, topped the charts in the summer of 1981, its depiction of urban decay hitting as Brixton and other British cities saw clashes between police and mainly Black youth.
While that song saw bandmate Neville Staple take lead vocals, Hall was prominent on band favourites Gangsters, Rat Race and Too Much Too Young. In North America, they were perhaps best known for their cover of the 1960s Dandy Livingstone song A Message To You, Rudy.
The Specials had seven U.K. Top 10 hits before Hall, Staple and Lynval Golding left in 1981 to form Fun Boy Three.
Of the breakup, Hall told Mojo Magazine in 2014, “because there were seven members, you’d drift into different little camps and they’d change, all the time.”
Fun Boy Three scored British hits including It Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It and The Tunnel of Love.
“This news has hit hard and must be extremely hard for Terry’s wife and family,” Staple said in a social media past on his wife’s account. “In the music world, people have many ups and downs, but I will hang onto the great memories of Terry and I, making history fronting The Specials and Fun Boy Three together. Rest easy Terry Hall”
Fun Boy Three also recorded a version of Our Lips Are Sealed, the song Hall co-wrote with Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go’s when the American band toured the United Kingdom in support of The Specials.
The Fun Boy Three rendition was top 10 in Britain, while the version by The Go-Go’s, their debut single, reached the top 20 on the Billboard pop charts in the U.S, and was top 5 in Canada.
Wiedlin remembered Hall as “a lovely, sensitive, talented and unique person.”
“Our extremely brief romance resulted in the song Our Lips Are Sealed, which will forever tie us together in music history. Terrible news to hear this,” she wrote on Twitter.
Gutted to hear of the passing of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/terryhall?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#terryhall</a>. He was a lovely, sensitive, talented and unique person. Our extremely brief romance resulted in the song Our Lips Are Sealed, which will forever tie us together in music history. Terrible news to hear this. ? <a href=”https://t.co/Fxxqr0p01T”>pic.twitter.com/Fxxqr0p01T</a>
Hall later formed The Colourfield, which released two albums and received airplay on alternative stations in North America with their cover of the 1960s song Can’t Get Enough of You Baby.
Through the years he collaborated with artists as diverse as Damon Albarn, Tricky and the DJ Mushtaq, the latter for a 2003 album featuring Middle Eastern sounds.
The Specials reunited in 2008, though without founding member Jerry Dammers, who had started the 2-Tone label. Hall and Dammers gave conflicting accounts in the press as to why breach occurred after they had gathered for rehearsals.
The Specials would stage a 30th-anniversary tour in 2009 and in 2019 released an album of new material, Encore, which became the band’s first U.K. No. 1 album. A follow-up, Protest Songs 1924-2012, was released in 2021.
Hall told Uncut magazine in 2019 he was heartened by the reception the band had received after regrouping. He was also open in discussing an abduction and sexual assault he experienced as a child. While Hall said he struggled at times through his life with depression, “it’s been so important for me to stress that there is a recovery, there is a route out of it.”
Singer-songwriter Billy Bragg also offered condolences on Monday.
“The Specials were a celebration of how British culture was envigorated by Caribbean immigration but the onstage demeanour of their lead singer was a reminder that they were in the serious business of challenging our perception of who we were in the late 1970s. RIP Terry Hall,” said Bragg.
Hall’s survivors include two sons.