It's a pork pie hat for Terry Hall and large ones all round for his newly chart-bound '80s mates! Rescued in the nick of time from the dump bin of pop history by top notch pals Tricky, Damon Albarn and Ian Broudie, our Tez (CV: The Specials, Fun Boy Three, Colourfield) is leading the heartwarming Over 35s revival!

photos by NEIL COOPER

Listen to 'Fade Away' on Blur's 'The Great Escape' and you will hear the ghost of The Specials, the all-dancing cheeky-chap hat and loafers rude boy combo which haunts all males of a certain age whose heart first opened to music during the 2-Tone boom in 1979. A movement which managed to fuse ace pop thrill and usic of lasting substance, it was also political without the Billy Bragg effect. The apocalyptic Mecca ballroom skank 'Ghost Town' was number one when riots were going on in the summer of 1981; seeing it on Top Of The Pops was a zeitgeist moment to be relished.
   Now Terry Hall, dubbed 'Pop's Mr Misery' by The Sun at the height of his fame as frontman with The Specials 15 years ago, is back to take another shot at the gold in some very illustrious company on his new EP - namely Tricky reprising The Specials number one 'Ghost Town', and the omnipresent Damon Albarn, co-writing the EP's title track 'Chasing A Rainbow'.
   Hall's a wry, humorous geezer, if slightly guarded at first, looking very little changed from his first brush with fame ("There aren't any wrinkles around my mouth because I'm such a miserable bastard," he claims) and giving super-quick conspiratorial grins as he lights up another Silk Cut Ultra-Light. Tell us about the circumstances of your collaborations Terry...
   "I read this thing where Tricky put three or four singers down that he liked, saying I was nowhere near as good as Martine. So he rang me and we went to Bournemouth. We said nothing for about two hours until we found something funny to talk about... It was a real release, like when we used to record in the Fun Boy Three when we didn't really understand what we were doing and held it back for B-sides because we were embarrassed. I'd seen this film with three poets saying your initial thoughts should be your last thought, which coincided with Tricky's way of working; I did one vocal where I went out of tune and he said, 'That's alright'. It was good for someone to say that again.
"Tricky gets caught up in this thing where, maybe it's because he's black, but a lot of stuff he plays is like Nirvana or something. He's got a very odd slant to what he does and what he listens to. We can get very caught-up in this dance-rap whatever it is thing, but he's got a weird, really typically English slant which I quite like. Certain Specials songs were influential on him, too, but I don't know why... he just thought we were pretty honest. We've become friends, really, and we go off on these funny ideas that go nowhere fast, but we share a 'clueless' approach of not really thinking about things. And he takes the piss. Bristol and Coventry are very similar places, you're really nowhere and with nothing great to draw on, so you have to make these things happen yourself."
   It was Tricky though who instigated their collaboration.
   "I've been listening to Terry's stuff for years - since I was 15. I've got more in common with him than I have with most. He's very real, and there's not many real artists out there, is there? He relies mostly on talent and he'll only prostitute himself so much. I respect that. I didn't really get into 2-Tone - just The Specials. There ain't been real music since The Specials. Everybody's living a lie now. Everybody's pretending. Everybody wants to be a lad. Everybody wants to be street. Writing lyrics about stuff they couldn't even know about. I can see right through it. Why are these people so ashamed of going to art school and music college? Terry and The Specials wrote about things they knew. They came from those streets. Was 'Ghost Town' number one during the riots? That's amazing! I never knew that."
   Street knowledge? Terry and Tricky may not be automatic bed-fellows, but they've both got a thing or authenticity:
   "I just find it really hard to write about something I've got no knowledge of," Terry adds, "and I've got to face my family, y'know. It's like now, I couldn't write about being unemployed. I knew what it was like 20 years ago, but not now, and who gives a shit what I think about it anyway? Telling two kids what's right and wrong in the world is 

enough. You don't really want to tell everyone else.
   "It would have been impossible to stick to the original of 'Ghost Town,' it would have been like a cabaret thing, just sad, so I got Tricky to rip it apart and not keep anything of it. We did a version of 'Little Drummer Boy' as well, which is fucking mad..."

With regular pal Ian Broudie producing, 'Chasing A Rainbow' was co-written with another big 2-Tone fan. "It was the music of my teenage years. To me, the most influential pop music was when I was a kid," says Damon Albarn, fantasising about Fred Perry leisurewear and a pair of DMs when they still had exclusivity value.
   "I bought 'Modern Life' when Blur were unpopular, but I met Alex later on at some do, and he was like Bambi, so pissed and fragile," says Terry. "Through him came Damon. I knew he'd said he liked what I did, so it was pointless talkin' about records we'd made, so we just tried to write some songs. He'd finished writing for this new Blur album and he still had a lot of ideas left. Someone else might have worried whether it was a good career move, but he didn't. His style of writing's one that I recognised. Funny, isn't it, British music? It's always been there."
 As a proper grown-up person, with house, wife and children, do you ever feel estranged from dumb-ass pop songs at all?
   "No, it's good. My five-year-old bought 'Parklife' - which I told Damon about and I think he was worried for about a second that a five-year-old likes Blur...
   "He bought the Supergrass album as well, and the Oasis single, which I was sad about. But I'm aware of quite a bit through him. Quite weird."
   Why do all these youngsters seek you out?
   "It's 'cos I'm a genius. If I look back at what I've done I think there've been some real acts of genius there. And because I don't tell people at the time they don't recognise it. But I know I've touched on things that are really important

and quite unique. I used to think what career moves I should make, and now I don't think of it at all, and each day there is no limit... fuckin' 'ell I can't believe I just said that!"

Being a man of sober bearing and generally straight features Terry has often been tarred with the brush of melancholia, despite his recorded output. Does Tricky think he's a miserable sod?
   "Nah. What happens is, if someone tries to get you to do something that you're not into... you're called miserable. It's made up by people who want him to do silly things and think he's a prima donna 'cos he won't. Terry just talks about what he knows, and will only go so far."
   Terry offers self-knowledge: "That's just people who don't know me. People who do know that I'm not... but that's why I know them. I remember going on Top Of The Pops when I was about 19 and just shittin' myself. Try smiling when you're gonna fall over 'cos you don't know where you are... it was never my intention to be Sheena Easton."

Currently writing a musical on the life of Queen Victoria with cohort Dave Stewart, and toying with opening a sandwich shop (called 'Terry's Sandwiches'), Terry has not really returned from the dead. Rather it's the perennial story of fashion catching up with him; overviewing his career you see he's never given a hoot for style-vagaries.
   "With Vegas [Terry's Dave Stewart collaboration] we wrote this fantastic song called 'The Trouble With Lovers,' and met up with Barry Manilow and played it to him to see if he wanted to sing it. Such a fantastic fucking highlight.
   "I saw him the night before at the Albert Hall with all his fans and it was like Jesus. He's got a big nose y'know, but he doesn't write shit songs.
   Terry Hall; 36-years-young, able to square family man values and making music both crazed and classic. He may appear miserable but he doesn't write shit songs. 


1. 'Ghost Town' by The Specials
This band's list of top tunes is huge - and their influence remains in the importance of suits to modern dressing.
2. The Fun Boy Three 
Terry's post-Specials pop combo The Fun Boy Three are denied work permits for burning an American flag on live TV in protest at the invasion of Grenada. At the first gig in San Francisco, Terry gets another flag out and says, "You can stick this up your arse." He recalls: "We got bottled so heavily it was untrue. But it was just to wind everyone up."
3. Anouchka
He included Anouchka in the 1989 trio Terry, Blair and Anouchka 'cos "she had a good-shaped head which looked really good on the sleeve."
4. Vegas (1992)
Making good records with Dave Stewart. Some feat!
5. Colourfield (1983'87)
The sublime 'Hammond Song,' written by The Roches ("They're too good to ever sell any records") as covered by the Colourfield on 'Virgins And Philistines'.
6. The French connection...
Terry tackling Charles Aznavour's 'She' - twice! - in the studio.
7. 'God Only Knows'
Terry covering the Beach Boys classic - utilising the arrangement of cardigan king Andy Williams.
8. Sinead O'Connor
Giving Sinead her big break singing 'Monkey in Winter' in 1987.
9. That Bananarama collaboration
Doing 'it Ain't What You Do' with the Bananas. That was real genius!
10. 'Ghost Town' #2 (1995)
With Tricky; a huge black cloud of dread and deadpan humour.

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 photos: Neil Cooper