'Lugubrious' 'Deadpan' 'Saturnine' 'Cynical' 'Mr Misery'- These are the sort of words which frequently appear in reviews and profiles of Terry Hall. Undoubtedly Terry often exerts such characteristics however there is so much more to Terry Hall than these words intimate. With one of the most distinct singing voices and persona in pop, Terry has a substantial and impressive back catalogue with his most recent releases being amongst his best work.


A Q review once stated Terry was "a man who has had more bands than a short-wave radio" and despite the different music styles of each group, Terry's lyrics and persona have stamped a cohesiveness across them giving his fans a diverse and interesting path to follow with only the most limited of wrong steps. The Specials, the Fun Boy Three and, to a lesser extent, the Colourfield mixed political and social comment with everyday ennui whilst Terry's 1990s output has been more reflective, introspective and emotional.


Terry eschews the desire to put on an act for interviewers making him pretty unique and all the more impressive. The 'what am I doing here' demeanour puts interviewers on edge as they are usually faced with singers who feel the need to be an all round entertainment act (Jack of all trades, master of none). Terry doesn't play any instruments ("I find them quite petty") and therefore all his energies go into song writing and singing. It also means the musical backing to Terry's songs varies between his numerous song writing partners creating an interesting and diverse collection of songs.


There is already considerable documentation about the Specials and Terry's early career however in this biography I hope to run through Terry's post-Specials career from the Fun Boy Three to his most recent solo album 'Laugh'. Inevitability some of my own personal opinions creep in and feel free to use the message board to disagree (or to highlight anything I might have overlooked).


In the Specials Terry Hall became one of the most famous yet unique frontmen of British music. Michael Bracewell in his book 'England is Mine' states "fuelled by the tuneless voice and depressive vision of their singer Terry Hall, the Specials had less to do with Ska revivalism than they did with describing the world of mini-cabs and chip-wrappers which lurked behind the electro-pop glamour of their peers, Sheffield's the Human League." Bracewell goes on to quote from Terry's 'Friday night, Saturday morning' which appeared on the 'Ghost Town' EP. This track (one of the relatively few Specials songs written by Terry) gave a good indication of the direction Terry was taking and provided early evidence of the high quality song writing he would come to be associated with.


From a local band focusing on the issues of Coventry youth, the Specials became internationally famous. Terry recently said "What was the reason, the point in us trying to sing about the West Midlands in Boston or Japan? It was pointless." Terry has often stated how the whirlwind effect of such popularity adversely affected him. The 'Ghost Town' EP was at number one in the charts when the pressures within the Specials and the strains of touring finally resulted in vocalists Terry, Lynval Golding and Neville Staples departing to form the Fun Boy Three. The threesome revealed how long they had been considering leaving the Specials when their first single was released within such a short time of the break-up.


Their first single, 'The Lunatics (have taken over the asylum)' was a great start which continued the mix of everyday tales of mundane living with wider social and political messages. Terry's lyrical pessimism was encapsulated by the great line "so when the madman flicks the switch the nuclear will go for me". Terry managed to capture the political situation with deadpan humour making it a hundred times more effective than a Billy Bragg style dirge.


Terry's lyrics took a back seat for a while as the Fun Boy Three joined up with the then unknown female three-piece, Bananarama. A visual force to be reckoned with, the six piece released 'It ain't what you do (It's the way that you do it)' in 1982 which shot into the Top 5 and became one of the early 1980s most memorable hits. Bananarama's follow up release 'Really saying something' also featured the Fun Boy Three and had similar success. Often asked in more recent years why he teamed up with Bananarama, Terry once replied "Bananarama were as talentless as us, so it was a good reason to get together. It took them four days to sing three lines, but at least it was good fun". Whatever the reasons the resulting collaboration provides an enduring image of the early 1980s and brought a whole new audience to Terry's work.


The Fun Boy Three's own follow up to 'It ain't what...' saw the band return to the familiar themes of insecurity and uncertainty with Terry's vocals more ghostly than ever. 'The Telephone Always Rings' was released as the third and final single off the band's eponymous debut album (although strangely CD re-issues of the album give it the title 'Fame'). The album was produced by the band together with the late Dave Jordan. The album was generally recognised as a promising start although it has been considerably over shadowed by the second album since.


Between albums, the Fun Boy Three released a cover of Gershwin's 'Summertime'. Although there is nothing wrong with it, it nevertheless had the air of being a 'filler' and perhaps suggested a lack of direction and new ideas. However this idea was quickly banished with the release of the ten songs which made up the Fun Boy Three's second album 'Waiting'. 'Waiting' saw the band move more towards mainstream pop music yet with more subversive lyrics than ever. Terry was really becoming known as one of the most interesting and amusing pop lyricists of the time. The album was produced by Talking Heads' David Byrne and featured a sleeve with Terry in a checked suit with his trademark Fun Boy Three hair.


The first of three singles from 'Waiting' was the incisive 'The More I See (The Less I Believe)' about 'The Troubles' in Northern Ireland with Terry's vocals managing to capture exasperation, bewilderment and anger all in one. Two further hit singles came off the album 'The Tunnel of Love' and 'Our Lips are Sealed'. The latter being co-written by Terry and Jane Wiedlin, of the American group, the Go-Go's who had reached the top of the American charts with the song.


Rumours in the press began to circulate about the distance between Terry and the other band members. The shift in style between the debut album and 'Waiting' was clear and the Press increasingly presented it as Terry moving away from Lynval and Neville . There were stories about Terry's apathy towards touring especially in America. During Fun Boy Three gigs Terry met Toby Lyons (formerly a member of the Specials' contemporaries The Swinging Cats) and found they shared similar ideas about what direction they wished to follow. Whilst Lynval and Neville were in America, and the band seemed to be at their peak of popularity, Terry announced he was leaving. When asked a few years back by Jools Holland whether leaving was difficult, Terry stated that leaving was easy, it was being in a group that was difficult. A change in direction was also combined with a change in address as Terry left Coventry to move to Manchester - home of his beloved Manchester United.


Biography by: David Harley

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