If scrolling down your timeline on social media gives you a sense of what’s happening in your sphere of interest, then the 25th of February 2019 was a very focussed one. Rumours of Mark Hollis passing were for me, confirmed by The The’s Matt Johnson.
Having the sad news delivered by Johnson only made the whole thing more poignant as both The The and Talk Talk had made up a monumental chunk of my listening in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I’d just met the girl that became my wife, got seriously into mountain biking, built up my confidence with art and had started my immersion in incredible music. This was the time I think that significantly formed the person I am today.
Talk Talk’s early albums had floated around my brain and my mum was a fan. 1986’s Colour of Spring had more of the weird touches’ I’d started to look for. I remember finding and buying Spirit of Eden at a record shop in Kirkcaldy in the spring of 1989 without much of an idea about what was within.
Staggeringly, 30 years later, that very same piece of music and 1991’s Laughing Stock, remain, on a sunny mild February, floating unanchored masterpieces. With the benefit of a bigger historical viewpoint, grouped with 1998’s solo Mark Hollis, they form a unique creative arc from awkward Top Of The Pops regulars into architects of gorgeous drifting ambience. Those 3 albums’ sweeping twists and incredible avant garde and psyche dustings are welcomingly seared into my brain forever.
In a world where we are surrounded by product, these 3 albums have always seemed like a deliberate attempt to say it all. There isn’t going to be a Christmas album or a re-hash of the big band classics. There’s no single, no promotion, no explanation or any need for anything other than the experience of letting the music wash over you. Three immaculate pearls in an ocean of plastic.
The music constructed by Hollis, alongside Lee Harris, Paul Webb and Tim Friese Green and a host of others, remains unlike anything before or since. A strange re-filtered, fragmented ambient rock, peaking and troughing itself into a beautiful tapestry. A soundtrack to the forest floor, the waves, the creaking chairs, the empty spaces threaded together with the fabric of actually existing.
And rather than some convenient bundling, they all feel like superb whole album experiences. A beautiful triptych made from the same thoughtfully selected building blocks. Albums that play out uninterrupted over their entire durations every time. The Rainbow creating a gentle rippling spiral. The spiders webbed I Believe In You, slowly evolving into a soaring choir. Ascension Day’s satisfyingly primal thrash and the vertical cliff edge of it’s ending. Taphead feels like a storm coming in over the sea. The Colour Of Spring carves a space in sound that makes everything else feel needlessly bloated. The seesawing motion of The Daily Planet creating an intoxicatingly creative groove. New Grass tapping out a spellbinding rhythm before tiny flourishes spotlight individual words. Whatever you believe, there’s something built of pure sparkling beauty in the tinkling instrumentation around the word ‘heaven’. Even lingering on it now, the effect tickles my brain.
It’s easy to see much of this as places to hang tributes to Hollis. It’s also true that whilst it’s perhaps a dark thought, one of the truest gifts of art is a lifespan separate from that of its creators. There is something both measured and beautiful in the silence that Hollis created after delivering these musical statements. For the loss to his family, and those that knew him, I raise a glass.
For those that continue to be touched by his music or those yet to discover it, the ever-expanding silence around them, only makes these singular pieces of art all the more perfect.