https://www.bbc.com/-By Mark Savage-BBC Music Correspondent
Terry Hall, the frontman of socially conscious ska band The Specials, has died at the age of 63.
Known for his dour image and sharp wit, the singer found fame in the 1970s and 80s with hits like Ghost Town, Gangsters and Too Much Too Young.
He left The Specials in 1981 to form Fun Boy Three with fellow-bandmates Neville Staple and Lynval Golding, scoring another run of hits.
The singer died after a brief illness, The Specials said in a statement.
“Terry was a wonderful husband and father and one of the kindest, funniest, and most genuine of souls,” they wrote.
“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.”
In a separate message, Staple told the BBC he had learned of his friend’s passing as he landed in Egypt for a holiday with his wife.
“It’s really hit me hard,” he said. “We fronted The Specials and Fun Boy Three together, making history.
“Terry, he surely will be missed.”
The band asked for respect for Hall’s family’s privacy. No cause of death was shared.
Abducted aged 12
The musician was born in 1959 and raised in Coventry, where most of his family worked in the city’s then-booming car industry.
But his life took a dark turn when, at the age of 12, he was kidnapped by a teacher.
“I was abducted, taken to France and sexually abused for four days,” he told The Spectator in 2019. “And then punched in the face and left on the roadside.”
Hall said the incident left him with life-long depression and caused him to drop out of education at the age of 14, after becoming addicted to the Valium he had been prescribed.
“I didn’t go to school, I didn’t do anything. I just sat on my bed rocking for eight months.”
Music was some form of solace; and Hall joined a local punk band called Squad, receiving his first writing credit on their single Red Alert.
He was spotted by The Specials’ Jerry Dammers, who recruited him as a frontman by deploying a terrible pun.
“He worked in a stamp shop” the musician told Mojo magazine. “I told him, Philately will get you nowhere'”.
After gaining a fearsome live reputation at home, the band rose to national prominence after Radio 1’s John Peel played their debut single, Gangsters, on his show.
The song – a tribute to Prince Buster’s ska classic Al Capone – established the band and their record label 2-Tone as a major force in British music.
They were a multi-racial group, documenting the turbulent Thatcher years by playing songs directly indebted to Jamaican ska – a pre-reggae style that remained popular in Britain’s West Indian communities.
But Hall, never one for hyperbole, said the band’s success was almost an accidental by-product of the punk movement.
“When I saw the Pistols and The Clash I realised it didn’t seem that difficult,” he told The Big Issue. “They didn’t seem like they could play very well either, so the thing was to form a band then work it out.
“We didn’t even know who was going to play what – we passed around all the instruments until we found what we were comfortable with. I wasn’t comfortable with any of them so I became the singer.”
Nonetheless, the band rode an extraordinary wave of popularity, scoring seven consecutive top 10 singles between 1979 and 1981.
That period culminated with 1981’s Ghost Town, an hypnotic, menacing song that seemed to predict and then soundtrack that summer’s riots on the streets of London, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham; a response to the police’s use of stop-and-search tactics.
Hall said his political awakening came in his teenage years “when I discovered that working men’s clubs had a colour bar on their doors”.
“That really shook me,” he said, and resolved to take a stand.
“When you see injustice, all you can do is think: what can I do to help, what can I say about this, how can I make people aware of this?”
Ghost Town spent three weeks at number one, and is widely regarded as one of the all-time great British pop songs.
But Hall – who was only 22 – found it hard to bridge the discrepancy between chart fame and the band’s political message.
“When we picked up a gold disc for Ghost Town, I felt really bad about it,” he said. “You are being told to celebrate this number one record that is about what is happening, the mess that we are in, and I felt very uncomfortable.”
Hall left the band to start Fun Boy Three with Golding and Staple, abandoning ska for a more experimental, skeletal pop sound.
Their debut single The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum) picked up where Ghost Town left off, and Hall wrote about his childhood abuse on the album track Well Fancy That.
But the band found more commercial success by teaming up with the era’s biggest girl groups.
They duetted with Bananarama on Really Saying Something and a cover of the jazz standard It Ain’t What You Do.
Hall also teamed up with Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Gos to write Our Lips Are Sealed, a song that both bands recorded and took into the charts separately.
After Fun Boy Three, Hall formed numerous other bands, including The Colourfield; Terry, Blair, and Anouchka; and Vegas, a collaboration with Eurythmics star Dave Stewart.
He launched a solo career in 1994 with the critically-acclaimed Home, by which time he was being cited as a key influence by artists like Massive Attack and Damon Albarn (who appeared on the song Chasing A Rainbow).
For new fans, he offered some listening advice: “The Specials and Fun Boy Three should be played loud with gay abandon and my solo/personal records need to be listened to with a healthy dose of melancholy & self-pity.”
He went on to record with trip-hop artist Tricky and Albarn’s hip-hop side project Gorillaz, before reuniting with The Specials for a tour in 2008, and performed at the 2012 London Olympics closing concert.
In 2019, the band released a new album, Encore, which gave them their first ever number one; and spawned gigs up and down the UK, before Covid put their comeback to an unexpected halt.
“The arrival of the pandemic affected me enormously,” Hall later told The Quietus. “I spent around three months trying to figure out what was going on. I couldn’t write a single word. I spent the time trying to figure out how not to die.”
The solution, he later decided, was to record an album of covers, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Released in October 2021, it featured new versions of Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up; and The Staples Singers’ Freedom Highway amongst others.
Simply called Protest Songs, it charted at number two, marking Hall’s final appearance in the Top 75 – and a fitting bookend to a legacy of powerful, meaningful music that defined an era of outspokenly political British pop.
Hall is survived by his wife, the director Lindy Heymann. They had one son, while Hall has two older sons with his ex-wife, Jeanette Hall.