Why Terry Hall was so Special


Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman recalls The Specials front man    








4 May '79, the morning after Thatcher's General Election victory. In an effort to cheer myself up I pop down to the independent record store tucked away beside one of the platforms at Hull railway station to pick up a debut single on the day it was released. In the pre-digital era of my late teens at Hull University rumours of a new band to listen out for would come via the New Musical Express weekly paper and John Peel's radio show. Both had been plugging The Specials for weeks. Gangsters, I wasn't disappointed.  

The first time I caught The Specials live was at London's Hammersmith Palais. A benefit gig for The National Council for One Parent Families. Back home from Hull, I'd travelled up from North Surrey into what at the time was for me a very different world: multicultural, rebellious, fashion-conscious big city youth culuure. Fellow 2 Tone artists The Selecter were on the bill too, the dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and all-girl band The Mo-dettes. Ska and reggae,  punked-up feminism, music we could dance to, songs we could sing our hearts out for, and at the centre of it all this almost motionless young man, not a lot older than me but infinitely more cool, Terry Hall, conducting musical proceedings with vocals that bordered on the spoken word.   

Back at university in the autumn the first 2 Tone Tour was announced and a bunch of us organised a minibus over to Sheffield to see The Specials with Madness and The Selecter. The Top Rank was packed out when we arrived, every bit as angry as punk but dressing, and dancing, in an entirely different manner, or as The Madness tour T-shirts put it ' Fuck Art, Let's Dance'.  However the South Yorkshire Police contingent present saw not a crowd out for a good time, but a mob, same as ten years  later they did at Hillsbrough, with tragic consequences. And so their commander marched on to the stage to announce they were cancelling the gig and instructed us all to leave immediately. Terry Hall's response? Ignoring the senior police officer's instructions Terry takes the stage too, encourages us all in a sit-down dancefloor protest and then leads the entire audience in chorus after chorus of ' Harry Roberts is our friend, he kills coppers!'  A tad impolite, and a half, the police beat a retreat, the gig goes on and don't we just dance, dance and then some more.  

The original Specials line-up only lasted two short years. Effectively led not by Terry but by Jerry Dammers who re-established the band as The Special AKA. Terry, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple left to form The Funboy Three. Some good tunes but in all honesty the split revealed the sheer musical genius of Jerry Dammers they'd left behind, showcased in The Special AKA's sole album In the Studio. Jerry and Terry would never work together again, musical differences have a lot to answer for.   

Before those differences finally erupted a last record all together it would be hard for any other break-up to top, Ghost Town. Uncannily released as inner-city England erupted in riots from Brixton to Toxteth and most places in-between and beyond the lyrics, the music and accompanying video captured the desolation and destruction early Thatcherism heaped upon us, a legacy we're still living with today.  The Specials' final gig was destined to be the big Leeds Rock against Racism Carnival. Still in Hull, I'd finished my degree a few weeks earlier, the plan was to travel over by means of a party before graduating. Then, an unforgettable telephone call, the news my mother had died. I was just 21 years old, I'd grown up with her Multiple Sclerosis since I was seven years old. One of our joys every Thursday night having supper watching Top of the Pops together, something my father, couldn't stand. So, no final gig, instead a long mournful journey home, but no regrets, on this occasion I knew where I needed to be. 

Years later I bumped into Terry Hall. Tottenham High Road, Spurs home to Man Utd. Terry had always been a red, hardcore, a travelling fan. And I was living in Tottenham back then, a Spurs fan back then too.  No, I didn't expect to meet Terry on the way to the game, but there he was all splayed out on the pavement, looking the very worst for drinking wear.  Shocked and surprised, I asked if he was alright, he slurred back something incoherent and clearly didn't welcome the intrusion. I moved on, it was all a bit sad, and even sadder now. 

Then 1993, I caught The Specials comeback tour at Brixton Academy.  As good as they ever were, all the memories of that 1979-81 moment came flooding back, dancing shoes on for the ska'd-up skanking, and never mind the expanding waistline, the receding hairline,  

Terry Hall most of us hardly knew you, but it felt like we did, you'll be missed just the same as anyone we were once close to would be, for the times and laughs we shared, what those moments still mean to us. And irreplaceable? For the sake of this generation and generations to come, the Ghost Towns that continue to blight our lives, lets hope not. 




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Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football