Masterclass: Terry Hall (The Specials)
Terry Hall is a musician who needs little introduction. As the frontman of seminal ska band The Specials, he was instrumental in bringing Jamaican music to a mainstream audience through an extensive list of exceptional hits, including Ghost Town, A Message To You Rudy and Gangsters. He is a true music icon.
Now, almost 40 years after the release of The Specials’ exceptional self-titled debut album, and the band are still selling out arenas up and down the country – a testament to their ground-breaking success and appeal to all generations, including many of our own BIMM students. In fact, we recently had the pleasure of welcoming Terry to BIMM Manchester to learn more about his decade-spanning career in music.
Sitting down with our Head of Careers & Industry, Damian Morgan, Terry regaled our audience of aspiring musicians and industry hopefuls with stories of The Specials’ early days and life in 70s Coventry. He also spoke of his connection to Manchester, having lived here in the 80s, and how seeing the Sex Pistols and The Clash inspired him to start a band.
“I just owned a mic stand, and that was enough,” he told our audience. “We just played and played… making music was an opportunity for us to have a voice.”
It soon paid off as well, as Terry Hall would later tour with The Clash at the height of their fame. However, he admits that The Specials weren’t initially well received by the broader industry and their influential Jamaican sound – especially in London.
“We didn’t even realise we were playing ‘ska’ – we grew up in a heavily Jamaican populated area, and we were referencing music we grew up with. We once played a gig to skinheads and found our audience by accident. We were recording in Coventry. We did venture down to London, but none of the record companies were interested – they didn’t know what we were – so we formed our own record label in Coventry. We were stuck in the Midlands, so that’s what we had to do. We joined forces with other bands from the Midlands like Dexy’s [Midnight Runners] and UB40. We all toured together. It didn’t matter who headlined or who went on first, we all had a voice together.”
Terry later opened up about his unique songwriting style – much to the delight of our students – and how The Specials’ lyrics were inspired by his tough surroundings in Coventry.
“They are a reflection on real life. It was a diary of how we lived – Coventry was a tough place to live – we grew up on a WW2 bomb site. We found our voice and could talk about our experiences – that resonated with a lot of people,” he explained.
After a round of questions from our host Damian Morgan – who also quizzed Terry about his collaborations with Fun Boy 3, David Byrne and Damon Albarn – the singer opened up to the floor to answer a few questions from our students. His best musical experience?
“Playing Mexico City,” he quipped. “It was a weird experience; the first time we had ever played there, so it’s like they had been waiting for us, it was like a religious experience.”
On dealing with negativity, Terry offered sound advice about letting things go and not making music for his critics. As for de-stressing, our guest spoke of painting and his subject matter of choice – the Jackson 5!
Inspiring and enlightening, it was a privilege and a pleasure to welcome the legendary Terry Hall to BIMM Manchester and an experience our students will remember for years to come! Thanks for stopping by Terry.