Tuesday 26 February 2019

Mark Hollis

Few bands meant more to me in the Eighties than Talk Talk, so I was very saddened to learn of the death of Mark Hollis, who was both the singer and the main creative force behind the group.

I took a interest in them around the time of their second album, but it was the third - 1986's The Colour of Spring - which really convinced me that there was something interesting and innovative going on:

I bought this album - the cover art is by James Marsh, who also did a slew of JG Ballard editions around the same time - within a day or two of its release in March, taped it, and then took the cassette back with me to university. I played little else that term, and the music was a perfect accompaniment to the gradual shift of seasons from winter into spring. Nobody else was making music that sounded anything like Talk Talk at the time. After the clever, driving synth-pop of their first two records, this album was a swerve into analog minimalism, weirdly forward-looking at the same time that it harked back to the musical textures of the sixties and seventies, evoking Traffic, Procul Harum and so on with Mellotrons and organs in sharp counterpoint to the typical sequenced excess of mid-eighties chart material. A great deal of music recorded at this time hasn't worn well, due to heavv-handed production and an over-use of drum machines, keyboards and assorted in-vogue effects, but Talk Talk's records still sound timeless. I bought The Colour of Spring against the advice of music reviewers, incidentally, who gave the album rather lukewarm notices. They couldn't have been more wrong.

I saw Talk Talk in concert in Newcastle town hall that same year, and I followed them through the rest of their career - into the increasing starkness of their subsequent two albums, and the almost unbearable melancholy of Mark Hollis's one solo record. And that was it. Talk Talk ceased to exist; Mark Hollis stopped making music almost completely, preferring the sanity of a family life over the serial indignities of the music business. I'd read the occasional interview or article over the ensuing years, and had come to the conclusion that it was very unlikely we'd ever see any more recordings from Hollis, under any banner. Six albums worth - plus a few extras - hardly amounts to an afternoon's listening. It would be churlish to complain, though, given the quality of the music, the care with which it was created, and the quietly influential reach it's had in the ensuing decades. We could have done a lot worse.

Oh, and I liked Talk Talk so much that one of their songs provided the last line of a novel.


  1. I was a casual fan of Talk Talk until yesterday when I listened to "Spirit of Eden" for the first time. Consider me converted; that record is amazing. I've just listened to "Colour of Spring", and I love it as well. They really had such a powerful knack for creating enveloping atmospheres and building a musical scene.

    For a while, I've nursed the hypothesis that 1986 may have been the greatest year for records, and now that I can add Colour of Spring to the list, I may have to upgrade it to a full blown theory. Here’s my evidence: Colour of Spring- Talk Talk, Graceland- Paul Simon, The Queen is Dead- The Smiths, Skylarking- XTC, Infected- The The, Tinderbox- Siouxsie & the Banshees, London 0 Hull 4 – Housemartins, So- Peter Gabriel, Evol- Sonic Youth, Life's Rich Pageant- R.E.M, and I’m probably forgetting a few others.

  2. I have nearly all of those albums. You can also list Born Sandy Devotional by The Triffids (who were all over the radio back then but never quite broke through), Bend Sinister by The Fall, and (a personal favorite of mine) Strange Times by The Chameleons.

    1. Oh I totally forgot about Strange Times, that definitely goes on my list. You're actually responsible for getting me into The Chameleons; you wrote a post on this blog back when John Lever died, and it was my impetus to explore them properly.

      I'm unfamiliar with the other two records, but I'll put them on in the coming week. For some reason, I've never been able to get into The Fall. I've tried on a number of occasions, but I've just never found 'that song' to rope me in. Bend Sinister seems intriguing, though - I didn't know they worked with John Leckie.

    2. I’ve been listening to the Triffids and Fall records.
      “Born Sandy Devotional” is great; the songwriting is very sharp, and the arrangements are really loose and lush. It’s an affecting contrast. I can’t really list favorites because every tune is great. It’s rare to come across a record so consistent. Definitely added to my 1986 list.
      “Bend Sinister” is interesting. I love Smith’s delivery and lyrics, the instrumental palette, and the general attitude of the music. It’s quite a murky record, which is something I enjoy. There are a lot of songs I like: R.O.D., Living Too Late, US 80s-90s, Terry Waite Sez, Shoulder Pads #2, and Auto-Tech Pilot are standouts. Terry Waite Sez reminds me of a much darker, more sarcastic version of The B-52s.
      I did, however, have trouble appreciating the album as an entity rather than just a collection of songs; I’m thinking that may be due to how completely Smith eschews the concept of vocal melody. I like his delivery on a song to song basis, and there’s plenty of music I love that doesn’t rely on vocal melodies (rap being the prime example), but something about Smith’s style made it difficult for me to stay engaged over the course of the whole album.
      In any case, regardless of whether I end up being able to appreciate the whole of Bend Sinister, I've come to really enjoy a number of Fall songs, which is not something I could have said before.

  3. For some reason I came across Talk Talk late in their career so I never bought any of the records...but I have been binge listening to them on YouTube - especially their live recordings - recently, even before Mark's untimely death. As AR has said, there are few bands from that era who have aged well, but TT are certainly one of them

  4. I applied to do a PhD at Durham, and would have enjoyed spending another three years in the North East.