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
story by IAN HARRISON
|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.
|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
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
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.
TEN TOP MOMENTS
1. 'Ghost Town' by The Specials
photos: Neil Cooper