The TERRY HALL Projects: The Colourfield (1983-1987)
“Old misery-guts is back,” declared Smash Hits in early ’85 as Terry Hall returned to the Top 40 for the first time in nearly two years with The Colourfield. He denied being miserable (although in later years confirmed a life-long suffering from depression), but it was an accusation often made against him by interviewers – somewhat unjustly, given the dry wit he usually demonstrated. The charge was inspired by his seemingly perpetual hang-dog expression; an old-before-his-time world weariness in some of his pronouncements about (in particular, but not limited to) the music business; and the rather plain vocal delivery style – flat, lugubrious – that featured on his records, whichever genre he was recording in. That he took some pride in his sheer ordinariness ironically made him stand out as much as those who employed attention-seeking antics to get publicity. He presented himself as a realist in an increasingly shallow and artificial world, and stood apart from his contemporaries by adopting a low-key, almost ‘take it or leave it’ attitude towards promoting his new band.
In 1983, Hall found he had more in common with Toby Lyons (guitar/keyboard), one of the touring musicians supporting him on a visit to America, than he had with the permanent members of his existing group. On their return to the UK later that year, Hall and Lyons formed The Colour Field (later The Colourfield) with Karl Shale (bass), whom Lyons had worked with before. “The Colour Field was a 60s art movement who specialized in painting canvasses one colour,” Hall explained to Smash Hits. “But that’s nothing to do with our music, we just like the name.” 1
From the outset, The Colourfield made records on their own terms. Most notable was the slow pace at which they delivered their mere seven singles and two albums over the four-or-so years they were in business. Their eponymous debut single, issued at the beginning of 1984, was followed by a six-month silence before the next, Take, appeared in the summer. When asked what they had been doing, Hall replied: “We’ve been putting together an LP, demoing round at Toby’s. Putting it on a four-track. Getting our songs and ideas together. The record company have been quite happy to leave us alone. They get something when they get it. If they make demands we don’t hear about it – they just talk to the manager.” 2 This was a luxury few bands were permitted in the 1980s, and Hall was happy that “nothing’s forced, just very easy going, no pressures, we don’t have to live up to anything,” adding that he hoped “not to be embarrassed about any of it” in the future, as he had been with his previous projects.
The main recording sessions for the album began in August 1984 and one more single was issued prior to the LP’s appearance in the shops the following year. ”We’d gone to a lot of trouble with Thinking Of You to do something which wouldn’t fall at the first hurdle as far as the radio format went,” said Lyons. “Because of Radio 1’s monopoly, we were determined not to find ourselves in that situation where you’re told, that doesn’t fit in because it slows down in the middle. We went out to get something heard on the radio which would be sung by lots of mums and dads.” It worked, and Thinking Of You was The Colourfield’s sole Top 40 hit, reaching #12, helped by that all-important airplay. “The most important thing about making records is to be heard on Radio 1,” said Hall. “It’s dead easy to be weird and alternative but it’s a good challenge to get on Radio 1.” 3.
Not that they were especially worried about how high the records went in the chart. “I’ve been reading about groups (Spandau Ballet) who can’t sleep on Monday night before the chart positions are released. It’s pathetic,” 2 said Hall. The Colourfield seemed entirely removed from the eager hopefuls otherwise to found on the pop scene at the time: “It’s not that we don’t want to be pop stars, more that we’re not capable of being pop stars. A lot of chart bands are making disco records now but I wouldn’t know where to start,” 1 he continued. Their lack of adherence to any current trends or fashions (musical or otherwise) made album Virgins and Philistines (Chrysalis CHR1480, 19 April 1985) almost impossible to market, so diverse were its influences. Enhancing the strong, contemporary pop songs featured there was a strong showing for the type of ‘lounge’ music found on 1960s ‘easy listening’ LPs, modern acoustic melodies, sophisticated string arrangements, and some downtempo synthpop elements that would become more prevalent on their next album.
In January 1986, some two years into the project, Record Mirror asked Hall if everything with The Colourfield had gelled now. “Yes,” he said, “because we’ve found a drummer [Gary Dwyer, who joined in 1985]. That’s the only ambition we ever had. We just couldn’t find anyone we liked we liked.” 3 Unfortunately it had all come together a little too late: their time as a chart act was over. None of their subsequent singles were hits; second album Deception (Chrysalis CHL1546, 23 March 1987) barely charted; and final single She (not the Charles Aznavour song, which Hall would later cover for his 1990s band Vegas) flopped.
1 Mills, Simon. “Old misery-guts is back”, Smash Hits, EMAP, 14-27 February 1985.
2 Reid, Jim. “Give and Take”, Record Mirror, United Newspapers, 7 July 1984.
3 O’Toole, Lesleee. “Field Work”, Record Mirror, United Newspapers, 11 January 1986.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Mar. 29
ABC Be Near Me (Neutron NT108)
The COLOURFIELD (Terry Hall) Castles In The Air (Chrysalis COLF4)