Written by: Alex Green
Mark Hollis, the singer of the legendary Talk Talk has died.
The Tottenham-born Hollis was 64.
Details are few, but his longtime manager has disclosed that Hollis died after a short illness.
Formed in 1981 out of the ashes of Hollis’ band The Reaction, Talk Talk’s first two albums (1982’s The Party’s Over and 1984’s It’s My Life) were synth-pop masterpieces that brought to mind the croon of early Roxy Music.
However, the band’s creative evolution went at warp speed and their third effort (1986’s The Colour Of Spring) marked an innovative leap forward that distinguished the band as true artists who were unconcerned about the trends around them.
Putting it simply, 1988’s Spirt of Eden and 1991’s Laughing Stock are unclassifiable gold standards that came across as post-rock classical music. Inventive, idiosyncratic and impossibly both spare and lush, the band emerged in this period as boldly experimental, ferociously imaginative and positively peerless.
A lot of people have said Hollis was the Thom Yorke of his generation, but it’s really the other way around. Hollis was a vocal contortionist, wrenching syllables from outer space and twisting them into controlled, chaotic beauty.
Hollis put out a solo album in 1998 and then withdrew from public life to raise his family. In an interview addressing his decision to return to civilian life, he said: “I choose for my family. Maybe others are capable of doing it, but I can’t go on tour and be a good dad at the same time.”
Hollis resurfaced on bass and melodica on Anja Garbarek’s album Smiling & Waving (2001) and he accepted a Broadcast Music Inc. award in 2004 for the composition of “It’s My Life,” but in spite of that rare appearance, he hadn’t been seen publicly since.
And in an age of social media, ubiquitous cameras and endless chatter, that Hollis hasn’t been spotted in almost 20 years remains a remarkable feat.
Notoriously private, the details of Hollis’ passing are unknown at this time. News of his death came from the British academic Anthony Costello, who tweeted earlier this morning: “RIP Mark Hollis. Cousin-in-law. Wonderful husband and father. Fascinating and principled man. Retired from the music business 20 years ago but an indefinable musical icon.”
Talk Talk’s bassist Mark Webb, who now operates under the moniker Rustin Man, wrote the following of his former bandmate: “I am very shocked and saddened to hear the news of the passing of Mark Hollis. Musically he was a genius and it was a honour and a 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.”
Former Talk Talk drummer Lee Harris posted this tribute to Hollis via the Spirt of Talk Talk Facebook page: “…have not been able to lift my head from the deep shock and grief of Marks departure…We were in contact to the end, but he never let on, just choosing to continue with our comic banter we both enjoyed…
That was the nature of the man, undramatic, uncompromising…Working with him all those years had created a deep bond…The laughs and fun we had making the albums, were as intense as the work..He was, of course, a genius…Imposing strict rules for musical construction, that few could understand at the time…But we thought it fun, and, became adept at using’ the red button’…Nothing was safe, not even his vocal..Creating ‘the new’ was the goal…”
“I like silence,” Hollis said in an interview with Danish Television in 1998. “I get on great with silence, you know. I don’t have a problem with it.”
Hollis is survived by his wife and two sons.