HALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
It’s been a long haul for Terry Hall but, as Patrick Brennan finds out, he’s now on the Home stretch.
As a regular reviewer of the singles page in Hot Press, I can testify that one of the more delightful and refreshing releases of the year was definitely Terry Hall’s ‘Forever You’, co-written with ex-Aztec Camera, Colourfield and Smiths member Craig Gannon. It was a great return to form from the man who, as a raw faced teenager, had fronted the hugely successful and provocative The Specials and then gone on to reincarnate himself numerous times over in such poptabulous combos as Funboy Three, and Colourfield, and via brief collaborations with Blair Booth, Anouchka Groce and Eurythmics man Dave Stewart. After that, though, there was an ominous silence.
“It was quiet weird really because I spent three years pretty much at home not wanting to write a song,” the comeback man explains. “I just needed a break. I’d spent nine years in and out of studios and whatever else and I really needed a rest. So I took three years off. Then I signed a new publishing deal because I’d started to write songs again. I met up with Dave Stewart. We wrote a song for The Ramones which was sort of okay. Sometimes you hit it off for whatever reason and we just made each other laugh a lot. Good enough reason to get together. He was halfway through a project which he was about to finish off and I was brought in at the last minute to write and sing.
“But because of that chance meeting it set off I don’t how many years of his label and the idea of having a label boss like that – someone I had a personal relationship with was pretty good. And it’s worked out that way. Dave’s attitude is different to a major label’s. The set up I’ve got now has taken me quite a while. I just wanted a firm base to start my solo projects. And it’s taken me three years to get that with the right band, management and label. But it’s worth waiting for because when you make records you feel good about it.”
Terry Hall has, indeed, managed to assemble quite a band. The aforementioned Craig Gannon is there on acoustic and electric guitars, as well as co-writing five of the ten songs on Hall’s new disc Home. Ex-Echo and the Bunnymen bass player Les Pattison and Chris Sharrock of World Party drummerdom form the rhythm section. However, it’s in the field of songwriting that things really reach supernova, as opposed to just mere superstar, proportions. For aiding and abetting Hall is a trio of the best British popsmiths of the last fifteen years: Andy Partridge (XTC), Nick Heyward, and Ian Broudie.
“I’m totally an admirer of Andy Partridge,” Terry enthuses. “I thought I’d draw up a list of favourite English writers I appreciated for quiet a long period and he was top of the list for me. His work with XTC and stuff over the years has been fantastic. There’s something uniquely English about him and the way he lives really appeals to me. We wrote about ten or fifteen songs but because I wanted to mix the writers up I just used two. I’ve done that with everyone I’ve written with on this record. Out of that we’ve pinned down about twenty songs and ideas for another album.
“Andy lives in a very simple way. I respect the fact that people can do whatever they do and yet remain very much how they’ve been. It’s like I can’t stand the idea of moving to a city like London. As far as I’m concerned the only reason I’ve been able to make records for the past fifteen years is because I’ve never moved there. I’ve never got caught up in this thing called the music business. Besides, it’s so much easier to deal with the music business out of London. When you give yourself a distance you realise how petty most of it is. None of the people I work with live in London. It’s just a sense that we can carry on quite well without that, you know. “
Terry Hall admits that, at thirty-five he isn’t easily phased by anything anymore, not even the changes that have occurred in the way in which the music business works nowadays.
“My lifestyle has been dictated since seventeen,” he says. “Eighteen years may not seem like much but in a thirty-five year lifetime it’s quite lot of time really. Because of the nature of what you do and the way you live you experience a lot so you tend not to get phased by all that much. You just accept it and get on with what you do. To do this job you have to have a thick skin otherwise you’ll crumble. Especially the way the business has turned round in the last ten years. It’s very much accountancy led nowadays. If you value yourself as an artist it’s pretty difficult sometimes. But things that used to wind me up just don’t anymore.
“When I signed my very first deal it was quite a good time. There was a lot of different sorts of music and lot of different types of bands were breaking through on a different level. Groups like The Pistols and The Clash had opened up different areas. People were accepting greater diversity. It was obviously still all geared up to money. It always is. There’s no getting away from that. But I noticed a massive change through the mid-’Eighties. Nowadays, in particular, you’re either in or you’re out. Whereas I’ve always been pretty much on the edge of in or out. It’s not such a bad place to be sometimes. It gives you a lot of freedom by choosing that. As long as you split a group up before it gets out of hand.”
Was it the case with The Specials split that you didn’t want to become another boring old rock band?
“I don’t think The Specials had that sort of danger because the band was developing. Side two of the second l.p. was like the groundwork for a third album. A band like that is built on more than just chords. There was a lot of luggage with it in the way we dealt with things. It wasn’t unique but it was different to a career group where you know what you’re gonna get with their fifth album. That type of career band will often split up. It’s like Oasis. Or Happy Mondays is a good example. It has to go. It’s weird but it really needs to go. There’s just no way they can carry on what they’re doing.”
While The Specials were renowned for their political commitment, Home is much more of a personal meditation for Terry Hall. His father died last year and the album is dedicated to his memory.
“Within five weeks of my father being diagnosed as having cancer he was dead,” he explains. “It’s often the best way. Would you want a three-year illness, you know. The last day I was with him I spent seventeen hours in the hospital. It was quite weird because I was the only person there with him when he died. But it helps the grieving to do that I think. But also they’re not great memories. You have to find a space for it and not get full of self-pity cause obviously it’s desperately sad but if you can find a place for it there where you can have fond memories then it helps I think.”
Given all the changes Terry Hall has gone through it seems incredible that Home is his first fully fledged solo effort. It’s also the first release under his own name. What’s the real difference this time round?
“The difference this time is down to control. It’s not some power trip or anything. Just control in a very simple way where I feel free to do what I want to do. Because of that freedom I’ve started to play live again just because no one has told me to. And you don’t have to sit round and discuss things and talk about what you’re going to do next. It’s pretty much up to me what I want to do next and it’s a fantastic thing. I don’t like the idea of discussing every move and every step. It should be a natural progression sometimes without too much thought. There’s also a sense of growing up.
“As a solo artist you can develop and do anything. The perfect scenario for me would be to do cabaret when I’m sixty-three,” he concludes. “I’d like that a lot but you’ve got to shake off the rock thing along the way, do it gradually and build into something that would be so distant from what you started out as, it’s untrue. I’ve grown to really admire the likes of Burt Bacherach and Andy Williams probably because they were so despised by my generation but I think Williams was very sincere and those people have so many great songs. I definitely feel that’s where I’m heading. Not in any big way, perhaps, but I feel it’s happening all the same.”
As it is Home places Terry Hall well and truly in the dizzy heights of pop royalty so Tony Bennet and Frank Sinatra had better watch out. Ole black eyes is back and he’s after your crown.