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Fun Boy Three – The Complete Fun Boy Three (Chrysalis Records)

In the early 1980s, education was unlikely to be the same again, or at least that was what my adolescent mind had thought. Like many of my contemporaries, a new awakening was on the horizon. Learning couldn’t have been further from my mind, as Terry Hall, Nevile Staples and Lynval Golding had following the break-up of The Specials, formed The Fun Boy Three. The Specials had brought so much joy during the unrest of the late Seventies, so to close this chapter was a shock; were the FB3 going to provide the same joy and cutting lyrics? These three musicians chose to reduce the ska sound Jerry Dammers had provided, to a more percussive one, with an emphasis on this and vocal delivery. The first single the trio were to release was ‘The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)’. This was in some ways very fitting, as by this point the UK had seen two years of a Thatcher government, and what better way to describe them? The three-piece was hitting their audience like a steam train, as shortly after this debut single, they would join with, Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey, and Keren Woodward, otherwise known as Bananarama to release their second single ‘It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)’. Like their first, which had reached the top 20 in the UK, they were in their ascendancy, as this saw it attain a chart placing in the UK at number 4. This band brought with them not just a sound, but a fashion, that I remember adopting, of a white t-shirt, slim trousers (leaving an inch, or maybe two, by the time I’d finished with them) of white socks showing at the foot, Dr Marten 1461s finishes the look. Although I don’t think I was quite as sharp a rude boy as my description would suggest. This was my tribe now and primary school was a distant memory.

I’m sure it’s not just myself who recalls these days with affection and hearing lead singer Terry Hall passed away last December, for me, was like the passing of a family member. To have had so much of my formative years spent in their company made this real, albeit by way of Hall’s music. But what a fitting tribute to Coventry’s greatest songwriter, I don’t think it would be unjust to call him that if not one of the UK’s greatest songwriters.

This set of the band’s work is presented as a box set, comprising 69 songs, with over 4 hours of music. Commencing with the album that started it off, Fun Boy Three as ‘Sanctuary’ begins. From my Panasonic music centre back in the day, the thump of the bass would drive my parents crazy, while the Latin lyrics would have them thinking I’d made the wrong stop and started attending the private school. An obscure start to an album from Coventry-born Hall, along with his fellow West-Milanders, Jamaican-born Staples and Golding. I was perhaps still a little too young to understand the lyrical content in the songs that followed, although undoubtedly I took these on board. The words in ‘The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum‘ later in life became very clear, as “Go Nuclear the Cowboy told us and who am I to disagree/Because when the madman flicks the switch/The nuclear will go for me.” I remember the feeling that we were all living under the threat of the bomb, a time when the Cold War was at its height. The cowboy was US President and former actor Ronald Reagan and the madman President of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev, a figure of a stern face, with a glint of madness in his eyes. The songs on the album gave this feeling of menace and the music, was something different from what we had been fed in the past.

So their debut had been a hit, not just personally, but reaching the top 10 was a fact, that when the full-colour sleeve to Waiting came along, it seemed something of a sell-out. On the face, of it, its content seemed similar, but their attire was smarter, possessing a less rude boy look and one that was more grown up. It looks like we had some catching up to do. Likewise, they appeared to have adopted music of a finer nature. Not that this was a bad thing, Hall’s lyrics brought us into a world that was changing, through race and religion, terrorism and death. That’s when the line “Does anyone know any jokes?” at the end of the song The More I See (The Less I Believe) attempts to break this feeling of desperation the country was feeling. Its content bridging the gap between adolescence and adulthood, growing up was something we were all going to have to do. So when the song, co-written with Jane Wiedlin, ‘Our Lips Are Sealead’ reached number 7 and was played on Top Of The Pops, it seemed to strike all the right notes. But after they had released this, they were gone, with Terry Hall travelling to new pastures, new bands, and even greater success.

So with only the first two CDs of this 6-disc set played out, where do we go now? A singles, B-sides and outtakes disc had to be featured, as this 19-track compilation takes up the next CD. Featuring not just the A-sides, but the B-sides too, some of these I remember buying and are most likely still in my collection. By now the audio on these may not be as it once was, but that’s what a collection such as this does very well, provide the sounds and the memories from 40 years ago. The B-side to ‘T’Ain’t What You Do‘, ‘The Funrama Theme’ is a very memorable number and many plays of this flip-side would’ve annoyed my parents late into the night. Bearing in mind that ‘late’ was perhaps nine o’clock at night – it was a school night. This set doesn’t forget the single that Fun Boy Three guested on, as Bananarama’s Really Saying Something’, takes centre stage. At the time these artists seemed inseparable and this original version is a welcome reminder. The Monitor Mix of ‘Our Lips Are Sealead’ shows just how good a vocalist Terry Hall was, the Urdu Version, representing just how multicultural society was becoming. ‘If Dogs Run Free featuring David Byrne demonstrates another facet of Hall’s knowledge. This obscure jazz number written by Bob Dylan and performed by the Talking Heads frontman, is a true wonder and probably worth the cover price alone.

I was doubtful they would fill a further four discs, but I was proven wrong. There seems to be enough to go around several turns of the wheel and then some. With dub-versions, extended mixes, and sessions recorded for Radio One’s Kid Jensen show, as well as a recording made in Hitchen in 1983 proves this point. But nothing for John Peel which led me to discover whether a session was recorded for the broadcaster. This appeared to have been the case but was made available for the Kid Jensen show. The Live in Hitchen performance is a lively show, with ‘The More I See (The Less I Believe)’ starting the set. This was a fitting tale of life in Eighties Britain, a vision of a country coming to terms with its future and the audience lapping this up.

The final disc is a DVD and features a wealth of videos, from those made as promotion, six Top of the Pops performances, or maybe mimes as we all know, as well as that for ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’, that I remember watching in 1983. A year earlier the BBC’s youth-targeted show Something Else featured the band and ‘The Telephone Always Rings’ and ‘The Alibi’ were featured. Finally, the visual presentation also includes 12 tracks, from an Old Grey Whistle Test special, some of this performance was featured in the audio form on the Live in Hitchen, fifth CD. To have had these recordings made available is fantastic and a commemoration of a band who had followed The Specials. Fun Boy Three had found themselves taking over the airwaves during the early 80s and raising a generation, on tolerance and understanding. Along with this CD set, both Fun Boy Three and Waiting albums have been re-released on coloured vinyl, tasty and full of flavour. We miss you Terry, but your message lives on.

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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.