Tonic Trustee, Vicki Barwood, shares her memories of Terry Hall.
Growing up as a mod in Brighton I loved ska and 2 Tone. As well as the music, I connected with values of fighting social injustice and racism, and reflecting life in times of high unemployment with communities struggling economically under Thatcher. The Specials were one of my favourite bands and as a multi-racial group represented unity. I adored Terry and followed his music throughout his career.
I was so excited when The Specials announced their reunion tour in 2009. The first time I saw them live was at Manchester Apollo. Felix Hall and Trevor Evans were DJ'ing while we waited for them to come on stage. The excitement was palpable. There was the biggest disco ball that was lowered over the stage for Nite Klub. We all left buzzing and I immediately booked more gigs not knowing if they would tour again. Little did I know then that they would continue touring, produce two new albums, including Encore which entered the UK Album Charts at number 1, and had plans to record a reggae album last year. The Specials stayed true to their values and both albums, Encore and Protest Songs, reflected their social conscience by highlighting gun violence, racial discrimination, the civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter, and mental health.
I love live music and have seen The Specials play more than any other band. Over the years, I met so many Specials fans who became really good friends. We would travel from different parts of the country to go to gigs together. Our meeting point was always ‘Lynval's feet’ and we became experts at seamlessly moving through a packed crowd to find each other on the front barrier.
Over the various tours I got to know The Specials band members and crew - beautiful people who were always so friendly and grounded. I’d often bump into Terry; he was extremely approachable, had a really gentle manner and a knack of putting you at ease. He had the driest, quickest wit and his one liners had me in stitches. Never meet your heroes … unless they're called Terry Hall!
In between tours I'd meet the same friends at Terry's DJ sets. We would pick a random town to go to as an excuse to catch up with each other - from Newcastle to Northampton, Hebden Bridge to Hitchin. Terry always played eclectic sets where you could expect to hear anything from S'Express to Stevie, Talking Heads to Tupac, Janet Kaye to Ini Kamoze, David Bowie to Deee-Lite, or, on one occasion, Zorba the Greek! In Hertford, Terry had brought a newspaper with him and was cutting out a crossword puzzle ready to do on the train to the Man U game the next morning. After a set in Runcorn, we gave Terry a lift back to his hotel and all had a cup of tea in the reception. A couple of hotel guests approached us and asked if we were all out on a 'works do' to which Terry replied he was a Professor of Zoology in town for a conference. Never a dull moment and lots of fond memories. If you want to re-enact being at a Terry Hall DJ set here's a playlist of the songs he often played click here.
Terry indirectly introduced me to Tonic Music for Mental Health after he played a DJ set at one of their events in 2013. As a mental health nurse, Tonic reflected my passion for the power of music in promoting wellbeing and recovery. I got involved and more recently became a Trustee. Terry agreed to be Tonic's founding Patron, followed shortly afterwards by his friend Barry Ashworth, from Dub Pistols; both wonderful Patrons who have helped give Tonic a more prominent platform within the music industry for which we are so grateful.
I remember approaching Terry about the idea of having Tonic information stands at The Specials gigs. He agreed straight away and so in 2016, Tonic started 'touring' with the band. Gigs took on a new meaning; instead of being at Lynval's feet on the front barrier I would be on Tonic's ‘Never Mind the Stigma’ stands in venue foyers. People would come up and share their stories inspired by Terry's openness about his own mental health. Sometimes people struggling with anxiety would come and stand with us just to escape the crowd for a while. We would chat to venue staff and I remember spending an entire gig at the Troxy playing 'Flip the Bottle' with the security team! All of The Specials family have been so supportive of Tonic over the years - a really compassionate bunch of people - a huge thank you to them all.
Terry's passing in December was such a shock... I still struggle to grasp that he is no longer with us. The, almost unprecedented, outpouring of love and appreciation after his death was heart-warming. I hope he knew how much he was adored by both those in the music industry and by fans alike.
I feel extremely blessed to have known Terry; the coolest, most stylish, funniest front man with the best head of hair. I have made some life-long friends through him which I like to think reflects The Specials ethos of bringing people together.
It will be Terry's birthday this Sunday, 19th March. It's the same day as my Dad's birthday; he died a few years ago which left a massive hole in my life that can never be filled. I used to remind my Dad each year that he shared his birthday with Terry and he always replied jokingly "Terry who?" before humming Ghost Town. My Dad was a trumpet player with a love for Louis Prima so I'd play 'Enjoy Yourself', by Louis and Keely Smith, back to him. My Dad adored sunrise and sunsets, and after he died I embarked on a never-ending quest of chasing them. I find it really soothing walking on the beach, listening to the waves, waiting for the sun to come up or go down. Over time, I am slowly adjusting to life without him, and try to balance the sad memories with the happier ones. Importantly, through my Dad I learnt empathy, compassion and to celebrate diversity - and these values live on.
So on Sunday to mark the day, I will be sat on the beach waiting for sunset and, as well as thinking of my Dad, will also be thinking with fondness of Terry, his family and his Specials family at this incredibly difficult time for them all.
Terry - thank you for the music and the friendship through the years.
Love. Love. Love.