The music world has been paying tribute to singer Terry Hall, remembering The Specials frontman as “truly one of the greats” who had “a heart of gold”.
Hits like Ghost Town, Gangsters and Too Much Too Young soundtracked British life in the late 1970s and early 80s.
Tributes came from UB40, Boy George and Elvis Costello, who said his voice “was the perfect instrument for the true and necessary songs on The Specials”.
He added: “That honesty is heard in so many of his songs in joy and sorrow.”
Costello produced The Specials’ self-titled 1979 debut album.
The band spearheaded the Two Tone and ska scenes, and were groundbreaking for their multi-racial membership and how they used pop music to reflect an era of upheaval, unemployment and racial tension.
Billy Bragg recalled: “The Specials were a celebration of how British culture was invigorated 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.”
Hall’s friend and biographer Paul Willo told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the singer “was the instantly recognisable voice of a generation”.
“And he was a forthright character who stood up for what he believed in. Together with the band, he was very vocal about racism and injustice in general,” he added.
“There was so much turmoil going on in the country at that time… With the right material and the reasons to be angry, it made them more of a force and him more vocal, I suppose.”
Singer Frank Turner was born shortly after The Specials split up in 1981 but told Today their music remained relevant.
“It was talking about the fact that there are these tensions in society, there are these things that are worth being angry about, there are these divides, and there are things that we can do about them,” Turner said.
“That was important and relevant in the early 1980s but for me as a kid, it felt important and relevant and – I don’t want to say educational – when I first started listening to them.
“And I think the relevance of the music of The Specials and the words and music of Terry Hall remain completely vibrant and important today.”
Those praising Hall and his influence ranged from singer-songwriters to pop stars and dance acts.
Electronic duo Leftfield wrote on Twitter that Hall was “such an amazing singer”, adding: “He sang about real people and real issues. People I could identify with. Such a loss. A brave guy.”
Former Bros singer Matt Goss said The Specials were very important because they “made you feel alive” and Ghost Town was “a masterpiece”.
“The Specials represent my youth, they represent everything about my teenage years, they were THE BAND that got us out of our homes and into the school discos & clubs!” he wrote.
Strength and sensitivity
“And [they] turned us on to a trend that was an all encompassing movement of music and fashion SKA!!… The Specials gave you a sense of strength, while still allowing the sensitive side of artistry to run through your veins.”
Andy Bell of the bands Ride and Oasis also recalled the impact of The Specials’ songs and look.
“At 11 I suddenly wanted a Harrington [jacket] with red tartan lining, a Fred Perry shirt, black sta prest [trousers], white socks and black loafers with tassels, all because this man’s music had swept through my school like Elvis in ’56,” Bell said.
“Those 2 @the specials albums are pure genius.”
Former The Cure drummer Lol Tolhurst described seeing Hall live at two concerts – one in 1979 and another in 2022.
“Both times Terry Hall standing stock still at the centre of the storm, a melancholy counter point to the joyous energy of the band. Bringing the idiosyncratic and ironic songs to life beautifully.”
Squeeze’s Chris Difford described Hall as “a man of few words verbally but so many great words in song”, adding: “I always admired and envied his sweep of the pen. Take care on the steps above young man.”
The Specials came from Coventry, and Dave Wakeling of ska band The Beat – from nearby Birmingham – posted a photo of the pair playing football with the message: “Cryptic, droll, a heart of gold, and he could tackle like a donkey!
“Always a proper gent to The Beat, our condolences to family and friends.”
UB40, also from Birmingham, wrote: “Another one gone too soon! RIP Terry.”
Dexy’s Midnight Runners said they were “very sorry and shocked to hear the sad news about the lovely, and brilliant Terry Hall”.
Younger bands paying tribute included The Coral, who said: “Thanks Terry Hall for all the music, inspiration, and being kind to us when we were starting out. So sad.”
Reverend and the Makers said: “Absolutely heartbreaking. A true legend has gone.”
The Specials’ influence stretched across the Atlantic, with Canadian singer Ron Sexsmith remembering how he had “been a fan of their music ever since seeing them perform Gangsters on SNL [Saturday Night Live] when I was 16”.
He added: “It was a pretty exciting period for music and they were definitely a huge part of it.”
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