Mark Hollis, Talk Talk lead singer, dead at 64

Hollis co-founded the influential band which had hit singles including ‘It’s My Life’

Talk Talk singer Mark Hollis in London in 1990. Photograph: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

Talk Talk singer Mark Hollis in London in 1990. Photograph: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

 

Mark Hollis, the founder of Talk Talk, one of the UK’s most influential electronic/ambient groups, has died at the age of 64.

The news was first reported on Monday by Anthony Costello, a relative of Hollis, and subsequently confirmed by Hollis’s former bandmate Paul Webb, who posted, “I am very shocked and saddened to hear the news of the passing of Mark Hollis. Musically, he was a genius and it was an honour and privilege to have been in a band with him. I have not seen Mark for many years, but like many musicians of our generation I have been profoundly influenced by his trailblazing musical ideas. He knew how to create depth of feeling with sound and space like no other.”

Tributes have poured in from his peers, colleagues and fans. Matt Johnson, of contemporaneous group The The, said Hollis made some of the best albums of the late 1980s. “Very sorry to hear the news that Mark Hollis of Talk Talk has died. He was behind some of the finest albums of the 1980s/early 1990s. R.I.P,” he wrote on Twitter. Yannis Philippakis, of rock group Foals said: “I always wanted to meet Mark Hollis & say thank you for his music. Hope he knew how much he meant to so many of us. R.I.P.”

Although he had retired from recording over 20 years ago – “I choose for my family,” he said of his decision, “I can’t go on tour and be a good dad at the same time” – the music he helped to create through sophisticated art rock albums such as 1988’s Spirit of Eden and 1991’s Laughing Stock continued to be held up as early milestones of post-rock. Music acts such as Radiohead, Sigur Rós, and Portishead would openly admit their debts to Talk Talk.

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Born in London in 1955, Hollis formed Talk Talk in 1981, steering the group through two distinct musical phases. The first was as a mainstream synth-pop group, with hit singles such as Today, and Talk Talk (both 1982), It’s My Life (1984) and Life’s What You Make It (1986).

The second phase was something much closer to Hollis’s creative mindset – a contemplative and improvisational approach to writing music, away from the glare of television studios and the inquisitiveness of the media.

Pop music absented itself with the group’s third album, 1986’s The Colour of Spring, and was further shoved aside by Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. The recordings of the latter two albums, in particular, were beset by obsessive attention to detail: Hollis sequestered himself in rooms with no clocks, interrupted only by guest musicians that were requested to play segments of unrehearsed music for which they were given no context.

No matter how they were achieved, the end results (including his vocals) were remarkable.

Talk Talk, 1982: Simon Brenner, Mark Hollis, Lee Harris and Paul Webb. Photograph: Michael Putland/Getty Images
Talk Talk, 1982: Simon Brenner, Mark Hollis, Lee Harris and Paul Webb. Photograph: Michael Putland/Getty Images

Hollis’s improvisational work practices, however, proved Talk Talk’s undoing in that they made touring an album – and replicating the music – impossible. Following the release of Spirit of Eden, he said that he could never play the music because he wouldn’t know how. “To write it down and then get someone to play it would lose the whole point, lose the whole purity of what it was in the first place.”

Talk Talk disbanded in 1992. Hollis’s final recordings included a self-titled solo album in 1998, and a contribution in the same year to the UNKLE album, Psyence Fiction. Due to a firm desire for privacy, he had asked for his name not to be entered into the album credits.

Hollis leaves behind a legacy perhaps unnoticed by the broader population, but which typifies a musician (who admitted he could be “a difficult geezer”) who refused to bow to commercial pressures. The exact cause of his death is not known.