Terry Hall Q&A: “I'm happy to have reached 60. It's really no different to 20”

The Specials frontman on George Best, Fleabag and bumper-crossword books for the over-50s.

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Terry Hall was born in 1959 in Coventry. Having left school by the age of 15, he became an active member of the Coventry music scene. He is best known as the lead singer of the Specials.

What’s your earliest memory?

When I was six or seven I spent the day playing in a quarry fairly near where I lived, but I forgot to tell anybody where I was. I came home as it was getting dark. I just remember getting clipped round the head.

Who are your heroes?

In childhood, it was definitely George Best. I was nine when I first saw him and he left a massive impression. My adult hero is Leonard Cohen: how he conducted himself, how he viewed his career, how he’d wander off to a temple for nine years, then come back and make a record. I love that philosophy: if you’re a musician, or a writer, you are one for life. You can take your whole life to achieve things; there’s no rush.

What book last changed your thinking?

A bumper crossword book for the over-50s that I got in an airport. Before that point, I’d get to a hotel and switch on the internet. It reintroduced me to pen and paper.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Unfortunately, none of them. It’s about trust, and I’ve never trusted one enough to look up to.

What would be your Mastermind subject?

The clues of Ted Rogers in 3-2-1! No, it would probably be something football-related: Manchester United teams 1970-71.

In which time or place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I think I’d want to go a really long way back, with cavemen. I’ve always wanted to work out who came up with the wheel, or the brick. Who figured out how to blow glass? What a weird thing to do!

What TV show can you not live without?

Fleabag is my favourite show. It’s absolutely amazing. It’s the only TV show where I just sit there and laugh my head off.

Who would paint your portrait?

For the past ten years I’ve been really interested in outsider art – often made by people with mental health issues, drawing and painting things they can’t express in words – so I’d go for an outsider artist.

What’s your theme tune?

“Time Lapse” by Michael Nyman. It’s repetitive and monotonous, a bit like my life. It’s the most amazing piece of music.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Don’t use your mobile in a petrol station.” They used to say you’d blow up the garage. I’m still here, so it must be brilliant advice.

What’s currently bugging you?

People who walk along the street looking at their phone and not where they’re going.

What would make your life better?

A folding bike.

When were you happiest?

At my 60th birthday in March. We had a little party, I was surrounded by family and friends, and it made me feel really joyous to have reached 60. When I was 20, I couldn’t imagine what being 60 would be like. It’s really no different to 20.

In another life, what job would you have?

I’d have been a hairdresser. It was the first job I had, off the back of seeing Warren Beatty in Shampoo. I would love to one day own a little salon.

Are we all doomed?

You all are, but I’m not. 

The Specials’ latest album “Encore” is out now on Island Records. They are touring the UK until 18 May

This article appears in the 18 April 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Spring special