Discovering Terry Hall

You’d think someone who’s worked with artists and bands ranging from Blur’s Damon Albarn, Tricky, The Lightning Seeds, Sinead O’Connor, Lily Allen, Gorillaz and a personal guilty pleasure of mine, Bananarama, would have made their way onto my musical radar some time ago, but it is only within the last week or so that I’ve been diving deep into the career of Terry Hall. He is my stumble upon artist of the moment. A dry, witty British singer whose best-known band, Coventry ska punk legends The Specials, have reformed for a 30th anniversary tour that sees them playing the opening day of the Coachella festival today, April 16 (Only founding member and chief songwriter Jerry Dammers is absent from this reunion).

It happens. It always does. There are singers and bands that slip through the cracks of your musical life. That said, Terry Hall wasn’t completely unknown to me. I’ve had passing encounters with The Specials through the years as well as his other bands The Fun Boy Three and The Colourfield. The Fun Boy Three and Bananarama would partner on each other’s early 80s singles “It Ain’t What You do (It’s The Way That You Do It)” and “Really Saying Something”, and if you have a fascination for early music videos, you owe it to yourself to check these out for the fashions alone.

Around this time in 1981, Hall would co-write a tune with the Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin, “Our Lips Are Sealed”. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It was the Go-Go’s first single and reached #10 on the Billboard chart in 1982. The Fun Boy Three released their own version of the song a year later and it made it to #7 on the UK singles chart.

I’m not rightly sure what it is about Terry Hall that’s caused my sudden interest. He’s got a pretty unique voice, I think the songwriting is pretty ace, and his stage persona, something akin to a bored karaoke singer, holds some bizarre and fascinating charm. He’s had an eclectic career and while I wouldn’t say I’m completely over the moon over all the songs I’ve heard, there are a handful that just strike a chord with me.

The tune that best represents this sentiment would be ‘Sense’ from his first solo album ‘Home’ which was released in the early 90s. ‘Sense’ was co-written with Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds, who, in a move that will sound familiar, also recorded the song for their album of the same name.

I much prefer Hall’s version, mainly due to the vocal delivery. The lyrics, a perfectly shimmering 90s pop sensibility, just seem to come across a little more sincerely. Hall’s backing band on ‘Sense’ and first solo album included Craig Gannon and Les Pattinson. Gannon you might recall was brought in as a second guitarist for The Smiths around the time of the band’s last album ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’. Pattinson was the long-time bassist for one of my top bands of all-time, Echo & The Bunnymen.

One of the YouTube clips I’ve included below includes the ‘Sense’ and ‘Forever J’ videos as well as a cheery and entertaining interview with a very self-deprecating Hall circa the release of ‘Home’. The second is a live performance of the song that sees Terry standing by for the cue to hit the drum beat on his boombox before launching into the tune. I don’t know why, but that moment cracks me up.

Terry Hall then. The music may not be new, but it’s new to me. Have a listen and let me know what you think. From The Specials through his solo stuff, it’s a pretty eclectic mix.

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