His white voice, strangely distanced, associated with that, soulful and warm, of Neville Staple, on a background of jerky dances mixing Jamaican ska and punk urgency, had embodied within the Specials the most exciting musical contrasts born of the mixed England of the end of the 1970s. The English singer-songwriter Terry Hall, who was also the singer of groups such as Fun Boy Three or The Colourfield, died on Sunday December 18 at the age of 63.
Announced on December 19 by a tweet from the Specials, which Hall had reformed in the late 2000s with singer-guitarist Lynval Golding and bassist Horace Panter, his death prompted countless messages of condolence from artists from the British scene – Boy George, Elvis Costello, The Coral, Billy Bragg… –, recalling how much the singer marked his time.
If Jerry Dammers and Horace Panter, the co-founders of the Specials, had met in art school, their lead singer, the son of factory workers, had left school at 14. He was born on March 19, 1959, in Coventry, a gray city in the West Midlands, martyred by the bombings during the Second World War, then by the crisis in the automobile industry, where his mother and father of gypsy origin worked.
His parents could not afford his secondary studies, this football enthusiast, a time approached by the professional team of West Bromwich Albion and life supporter of Manchester United, lives odd jobs: bricklayer, assistant hairdresser… “My generation seemed to have no future, he recalled in 2019, in an interview with the World. The resentment was building up. On Friday and Saturday nights, we met downtown with neighborhood gangs. »
The impact of the punk movement
In the youth centers, Terry Hall discovers music of Jamaican origin. “I grew up with he explained, because it was the music played on the sound systems. They played very danceable old ska or rocksteady hits, like those of Prince Buster or the Skatalites, and also the slower-paced reggae, which had become the dominant style after the success of Bob Marley. Many Jamaicans had settled in the Midlands. I lived in an area of Coventry where there was a Caribbean community. There were also a lot of Indo-Pakistanis. In my school, there must have been 70% blacks and 30% whites. We were friends, no color problem. »
He also adores David Bowie, but it’s the uninhibited impact of the punk movement that releases his desire to start singing. He joined a first group, Squad, under Clash and Sex Pistols influences, before crossing paths, in 1977, with Automatic, the reggae-punk formation just launched by Jerry Dammers and Horace Panter. Became the Coventry Automatics, then The Special AKA and finally The Specials, the group focuses on the angular rhythms of ska and blue beat, ancestors of reggae popular with mods, skinheads and others. rude boys of the 1960s.
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