Just says after the death of The Specials singer Terry Hall at age 63 after what the band described as a “brief illness,” the group’s bassist revealed the beloved singer’s cancer diagnosis, as well as the previously undisclosed album the group was preparing to record.
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“We had it all planned out. Make the album we were going to do in 2020 – a reggae album,” wrote Horace Panter, an original member of the second wave British two tone ska revivalist group of the sessions that were already booked in Los Angeles during the first winter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Panter said Aggrolites keyboardist Roger Rivas was set to co-produce the set and famed street artists Shepard Fairey was on board to create the cover.
With 8 songs prepped for the sessions by Hall, “confidence was high,” Panter wrote, noting that a revised plan called for them to hit the studio in September of this year. “Terry e-mails everyone and says he’s in bed with a stomach bug and can’t do the first week of pre-production sessions,” according to Panter. “No big deal, we can knock everything back a week. We’re not due to fly out until November 4th. The next week, Terry is no better and is in hospital. There’s not much we can do except wait for him to get better. Sunday October 2nd and I get a phone call from Manager Steve. And everything turns to s–t.”
Panter said that Hall’s illness was “a lot worse” than anyone thought, writing that the singer had been “diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas which has spread to his liver. This is serious. Like life-threatening serious.” At press time Billboard was unable to independently confirm the description of Hall’s illness and cause of death.
After the pancreatic cancer diagnosis, Panter said that Hall then developed diabetes, with chemotherapy going well, but pushing any potential plans to record vocals to March 2023 at the earliest. “He is in and out of hospital to stabilise the diabetes issue and also to manage pain. It then goes quiet,” Panter wrote. “Beginning of December and reports are not good. Terry has lost a lot of weight and is very frail. His friend Ian Broudie visits and phones Manager Steve. He fears that Terry is slipping away. 15th December and Manager Steve drives up to London to visit. He calls me on his return journey and says things are not looking promising. Terry is dying.”
The day after the visit, Panter said Hall was placed on morphine and was essentially unconscious most of the time. He described Hall’s wife holding the phone to the singer’s ear so he could say goodbyes to his bandmates and family, including to Panter. The bassist said the “Ghost Town” singer died on Sunday evening. “The world has lost a unique voice and I have lost a good friend,” he lamented.
One of the leading lights of the late ’70s British ska revival, The Specials (originally billed as Special AKA) formed in Coventry, England, in 1977, with Hall replacing original singer Tim Strickland in the group notable for its multiracial makeup. Coinciding with the burgeoning Rock Against Racism movement in the U.K. at the time, the band members made a statement in their rude boy two-tone suits and porkpie hats and blasted out of the gate on their Elvis Costello-produced self-titled debut on their 2 Tone label, which featured their signature cover of Dandy Livingstone’s 1967 single “A Message to You Rudy.”
The outpouring of grief over Hall’s death came in a torrent in the days after, with everyone from Elvis Costello (who produced the band’s self-titled 1979 debut), to Go-Gos guitarist Jane Wiedlin (who sang backing vocals on the group’s 1980s More Specials album) and dozens of other friends, peers and collaborators sharing their thoughts.
One of the most moving was a wordless, emotional piano performance of The Specials’ 1980s track “Friday Night, Saturday Morning” by Blur/Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn. “Terry, you meant the world to me. I love you,” Albarn wrote.
See Panter’s FB postand see Albarn’s tribute below.
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