You are unlikely to ever see Terry Hall joining his fellow Eighties pop stars on the annual Here & Now Christmas tour. Whilst the likes of Paul Young and Howard Jones take a rather cheesy trip down memory lane, Hall is continuing to challenge the musical taste buds. Tonight, if anyone came to see Terry perform greatest hits from The Specials or Funboy Three, then they would have been sorely disappointed. He isn't here to satisfy diehard pop fans. But he does threaten to do a multi-ethnic cover of Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl", much to the amusement of the 300 capacity audience.
The new album, The Hour of Two Lights, is an inspired collaboration with ex Fun-Da-Mental cohort Mushtaq that mixes up traditional Arabic percussion and strings with jaunty East European Gypsy nuances, beefy hip-hop beats, and Gorillaz-style melodies. On the album Hall's voice is very much in evidence, but he's also content to take a back seat for a diverse array of musicians including an Algerian rapper, an Egyptian violinist, Hebrew vocalists, a Syrian flautist, a septuagenarian clarinettist and Damon Albarn. Tonight's show is the first live performance by this collection of global fusionists, and many are wondering if they can pull it off.
I always felt that Hall's singing voice, although distinctive, was prone to weakness. But tonight's performance proves me wrong. Hall is the last on stage dressed in a shabby blue suit with a roll-up stuck to his top lip. He doesn't acknowledge the audience, heads to the side of the stage, and sits down. Singer Abdul Latif Assaly takes centre stage with a haunting version of "The Silent Wail". The band could have consisted of Hall & Mushtaq with percussionist and a backing track, but here are an accordion and oud player, joined by a violinist, a flautist, and percussionist. While Hall's attention seems focused on the band, Mushtaq is far more effusive.
When Hall finally starts singing there's no doubt whose voice we are listening to. Hall's voice is indicative of an era. His voice sounds remarkably strong and assured on "A Gathering Storm". As the cheeky chappy gypsy groove of "Ten Eleven" kicks in, the band is joined by blind Algerian rapper Mohammed Oujdi. His high-pitch raps are a perfect combination for Hall's deeper melancholic tale of global distrust.
A highlight of this accom-plished and exciting live set is when Hall et al are joined by the Romany Rad singers for a rousing version of "This And That" in which the vibrancy of Jewish Gypsy music joins the dots between East European klezmer and Jamaican ska. Even though the set is short, the musical and cultural diversity is mind-bogglingly wonderful. Hall & Mushtaq made one of the best albums of 2003 and if this show is anything to go by, next year's tour will be a celebratory occasion.