Was The Colourfield’s Virgins and Philistines Terry Hall’s post-Specials creative peak? You know what, I think it was.
It’s hard not to think of Terry Hall as part of The Specials. Although Jerry Dammers was the creative hub of the band, every other member played a key role in the band’s success. And for many, Terry Hall’s presence and voice were the band’s calling cards.
But in terms of writing, Terry Hall wasn’t the main driving force. Outside of the covers and a few choice tracks, Dammers was the man who provided the material. Although personal issues led to the ‘split’ in the band and Hall’s departure, you sense that Terry Hall also wanted to break out on his own.
Not that it happened straight away. Most of Fun Boy Three’s debut was written by Lyndal Golding, with Hall taking more of a role in the second (and much better) follow-up. It was The Colourfield where he flourished – and only then in part.
The Colourfield wasn’t a solo project. It was a proper band, formed alongside ex-Swinging Cats members Toby Lyons and Karl Shale in 1984. Expectations were average at best, especially after a couple of low chart misses. But the debut album really hit the spot.
If you’ve ever heard Terry Hall DJing (and granted I haven’t for a few years) you might be surprised by what he plays/played. More 1960s and ‘70s pop than wall-to-wall ska. This album is Terry Hall wearing those influences on his sleeve.
Yes, you could argue there’s a bit of overproduction. After all, it was the middle of the 1980s. But musically, this is more ‘60s than ’80s. Hall’s voice and co-writing credits (on most tracks) make it very much his project and with lesser-known faces supporting him, the focus for The Colourfield was very much Terry Hall. There was no hiding. For better or worse. So it’s just as well that every track was a gem.
For me, this is Terry Hall at his best, musically and lyrically. It’s an album that bounces from optimism to despair (like many of us do), with something of a laid-back vibe throughout. The anger of The Specials is left at the studio door and when it hints at coming out, it’s usually with a barbed lyric than a raised voice.
Not that it does much. The majority of the album is sunny, easy-going pop, acoustic guitars battling it out with the organ and Hall’s distinctive tone telling the story. It’s an album for a summer’s day and as I look out of the window with the album playing in the background, I can’t think of much better.
Some of the tracks sound like they should be covers if you know what I mean. Castles In The Air and Thinking Of You sounds like rediscovered pieces of easy-ish pop from a couple of decades previous. In fact, there is one cover here, a rather wonderful take on Hammond Song – far better than the original in my book. But overall, this is Hall’s baby. Musically, lyrically and stylistically.
Not that it was greeted with open arms by everyone. I saw the band on the tour promoting this album and the reception was – you might say – mixed. A midweek night at Manchester’s Hacienda wasn’t perhaps the best place to showcase the music. And even worse, when the support was Frank Sidebottom and a jangly indie band.
Not just that, the crowd was made up of a number of Specials fans who wanted just that – Specials songs. Which meant a night of heckling as well as demands for ‘Rat Race’ and ’Too Much Too Young’.
Which is a shame as the songs that night sounded better than ever. Stripped of that heavy production and despite being played in a former yacht showroom, Virgins And Philistines came into its own. Shame no one has the foresight to record it.
Whatever the reception live, the album did quite well in the charts, enough for Terry Hall to record more material. Unfortunately, it was a couple of years before it actually saw the light of day and was effectively Hall and some session musicians. It wasn’t great and it wasn’t long before the band officially ended.
I’d go as far as saying largely forgotten too. Especially since Hall returned to his original role as the frontman of The Specials. Thankfully, Cherry Red gave it the reissue treatment a few years back and a vinyl reissue appeared too. Although I’m not sure either is still in its current range.
If you can find a copy (or have a streaming service), do have a listen. If you bought it back in ’85, dig it out again. Virgins and Philistines is a wonderful piece of work and one that deserves more acclaim than it gets. Be good if Terry went back and did more of this.