Mark Hollis 1955–2019

The news broke on Facebook yesterday that Mark Hollis had died, aged just 64. I was late to appreciate Hollis's work, including his extraordinary solo album from 1998 (above). But since Stephen Mejias turned me on to him, Mark Hollis's music, both solo and with the band Talk Talk, has been in heavy rotation. (You can find my review of Talk Talk's final album, Laughing Stock, here—scroll down the page.) Fellow fan, Michael Vamos of distributor Audio Skies, asked if he could share some thoughts.—John Atkinson

It's a day of mourning for music lovers everywhere—ingenious lead singer, songwriter and musician of Talk Talk is dead!!!

People may only remember Talk Talk from their hits, "It's My Life" and "Life's What You Make It," but Talk Talk's final two albums, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, are absolute musical masterpieces and something far beyond the norm.

This is an emotional homage to the great beyond that hopefully will reach Mark. Endless facts and stats can be sought out elsewhere.

Mark Hollis was Talk Talk's lead singer, main composer and songwriter and played a score of instruments. Talk Talk gained quick success as a Brit Synth pop band in the early 1980s, starting with their eponymous single "Talk Talk" from 1980. They released a total of five albums, each album becoming more complex and sophisticated. They gained widely critical and commercial success with their third album, The Color of Spring. After their success, their record label told them they could do whatever they wanted. They must have rubbed their hands together with a big grin and exhaled: "Finally!" because they took their label's words to heart and spent the better part of 1987 and 1988 recording the radically different Spirit of Eden.

They did not tour Spirit of Eden, there are no pictures on the albums, and the first track starts with several minutes of organ sounds—not a hit in sight. A new genre was born! A mix between jazz and rock, with pauses, tempo shifts and with Mark using his voice as an instrument as part of the soundscape, instead of the traditional lead singer role with the music as background. For their last album they changed label and went even further off the edge of the world, with the even better Laughing Stock in 1991. Mark Hollis released his self-titled solo album in 1998 and then retired completely from music and the spotlight to be with his family.

Talk Talk's last two albums served as a major inspiration for many current bands, including Radiohead and The Doves.

I remember hosting a gathering of drunk friends, and playing the track "Renee". Guests fell silent, stopped moving, mesmerized by his voice%#151;for a moment we felt like Renee—all listened in silence, mesmerized and hypnotized. Listen to Renee and marvel at his voice—hell, listen to any track by him and marvel.

A lot has been said about the brilliant music of their last albums, but Mark Hollis has (sorry, had) one of the most evocative and haunting voices I've ever heard. You can hear the quiet force of his voice, but regardless of how much air he moved, his voice never distorted. A raw force wrapped in warm flowing honey.

In an interview Mark said "Learn to play one note well, before you play two". His quiet insistence on only doing what he truly loved and not giving in to commercial concerns is inspiring and can be widely seen on their last two albums and his own solo album. These albums are filled with amazing musical treasures that might not come easy or be for everyone, but if you need a time-out, they will always serve you as a welcome oasis in a distracting and hurried world.

Good night sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

Audio Skies will be playing full album sides of Talk Talk's albums in all their rooms, several times a day at the upcoming AXPONA show, with special after-hour events to honor Mark Hollis.—Michael Vamos

Lars Bo's picture

Heartfelt words. It is a sad, sad day, and thanks for sharing to you both.

Though Mark hasn't shared any music for more than two decades, it is a comfort to lean on the unbelievable beauty he did leave behind.

New grass, Mark.

ok's picture

Mark Hollis’ life course, professional ethos and artistic aesthetics share fairly common ground with Syd Barrett and Scott Walker; all three have somehow been born at about the same dark days of January winter..

downunderman's picture

One of those fairly rare (and beautiful) artists that pretty much from the get go had a highly developed awareness of their own mortality.