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When the man from Talk Talk fell silent

15:00 18 October 2010

Talk Talk: A big noise in the 80s, but now it's all quiet

Talk Talk: A big noise in the 80s, but now it's all quiet


ON THE B-SIDE: MARK Hollis wasn’t the first pop star to “retire” from the music business. But, unlike many retired performers who have found it difficult to keep their heads down and stay out of the spotlight, it looks like he meant it.

It’s been 12 years since the former Talk Talk singer and songwriter released his debut solo album and then...nothing.

If you Google him, you’ll find precious few clues as to what he’s doing now and a handful of fans and writers lamenting the music world’s loss.

The web tends to find you somewhere under its vast net, but not in this case.

I find his disappearance fascinating; just as I do a veteran performer still slavishly plodding on decades after his or her 15 minutes has elapsed.

I’ve only recently any sort of interest in Talk Talk after buying their greatest hits for 50p at a car boot sale in Hasketon.

The music is instantly recognisable for its clumping 80s synthesizers but mostly for Hollis’s voice; a troubled, nasal yelping that makes it sound like he means every word – and that he’s not particularly happy. About anything.

But Talk Talk are much more than just another 80s band. Over the past couple of weeks, since that car boot sale, I’ve seen them namechecked in three or four places – most notably by Robert Plant, who is a huge fan. Theirs is certainly a complicated history.

Originally lumped in with the early 80s New Romantic movement (the cover of their greatest hits has them guilty as charged), the EMI-signed group achieved reasonable commercial success; even a couple of top 20 singles in the synth-pop classic It’s My Life and the magnificent, brooding Life’s What You Make It.

But over the course of a few albums their sound turned inward, favouring rhythmic experimentation and digital programming and unwittingly spawning what critics now call “post-rock” (a genre that can be loosely explained as “that looks like a rock band and those look like guitars, but that’s not rock music – and it’s not anything else either”).

They weedled their way out of their contract with an increasingly bemused, confused EMI before the record label sued them because their Spirit of Eden album was deemed “commercially unsatisfactory”. Thankfully, EMI lost – can you imagine the lawsuits that might have followed if a precedent had been set?

Talk Talk continued on their esoteric path, releasing one more album before splitting in 1991. Seven years later Hollis showcased more of the same moody, anti-mainstream music on his critically-acclaimed debut. Then he simply picked up his ball and went home.

I’m fascinated by what’s happened to him. So Mark, if you’re reading this – er, email me or something. I guess you’re not on Facebook?

But, before I launch the search party, I should consider that I’ve only just really discovered him and Talk Talk. There’s plenty of music to seek out first.

And the fact that Hollis is in hiding, on hiatus, whatever; makes it more intriguing.

I guess the clues are in his two biggest hits. It’s his life, he told us, and that life is what he makes it.

As interesting as it would be to see him make a comeback, I almost hope he doesn’t.


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