Mark Hollis: 1955-2019 [part 2]

Mark Hollis in full flight at Montreaux Jazz Festival 1986 © photo edouard curchod

[…continued from last post]

A few years later while watching the MTV “New Video Hour,” I saw the next move that Talk Talk had made. Their third album, “The Colour Of Spring,” had been released and the lead single was the piano, bass, and acoustic drum [no more synthetic drums for this band…] led single “Life’s What You Make It.” The mesmerising rondo was remarkably similar to Tears For Fears’ megahit “Shout.” In fact, you can easily sing that song over the intro, which is at just the right tempo and vibe to do so. The Tim Pope video had the band playing the song at night in the woods with the keys of the piano damp with dew and every manner of insect and nocturnal animal becoming active.

The sound owed little to the synth rock of the band’s early days. I also saw the “Living In Another World Clip” later on and I noted that the band were moving on to a more acoustic sound. But I didn’t bite for some reason. Had I known that David Rhodes of Random Hold and Morris Pert of Brand X [both peter gabriel vets] were on the album it might have clued me in to where they were now going. Following that point in 1986, I can’t say that I ever heard another Talk Talk song until the 21st century. The last two albums by the band before breaking up went unheard by my ears.

<fast forward at least 20 years>

I really didn’t think about Talk Talk much in the ensuing years, but one of the first DVDs my wife got when we made the leap to the DVD format in 2000 or so was the film “Night Shift.” There’s a scene where Michael Keaton is in a dance club ca. 1982 where “Talk Talk” was playing. I suspect that might have been the impetus for my wife to pick up the CD of “Natural History” at Manifest Discs in Charlotte on a trip there in the early 21st century. Hearing the band again after decades of not having the debut album was interesting. I got to hear quite a lot of the band after their second album. The sound owed a lot to the similar excursions into acoustic jazz territory that David Sylvian had begun making at around the same time.

Over time, I read about how Mark Hollis had made a similar shift in his own writing. Their fourth album also used double bass player Danny Thompson who had added so much to Sylvian’s “Brilliant Trees” back in 1984. I became aware of how much further out Hollis’ vision had become over time with his output, with the last two Talk Talk albums being almost legendary affairs of many musicians improvising over many months before the results were carefully collaged into “Spirit Of Eden” and “Laughing Stock.”

It was 2011 when visiting Atlanta to see Sparks for the first time since their reformation, that a shopping trip to Criminal Records yielded the lone Mark Hollis solo album in their used bins. Given what I had read about it at that time, I unhesitatingly bought it. It’s not the sort of album one sees out in the wilds very often. The definitely abstract music on it was dramatically left field from anything I’d ever heard Hollis perform before. The minimal aesthetic had huge chunks of pregnant silence forming much of the music. It was as if Hollis was seeing how much he could pare away and still have a composition left. I swear that the last song ends with at least two minutes of silence. I need to pull that track into my wave editor to determine as such.

What does it say when a musician includes two minutes of silence within their composition? It means that he thinks there’s not enough silence in this world. And he won’t be responsible for breaking any further silences by his actions. Well, no one could accuse Hollis of making noise for its own sake. His careful and mindful approach to the power of silence not only informed his making of music, but also his not making of any music at all once he had released that solos album in 1998.

In 2003, No Doubt recorded a cover of “It’s My Life” that was the top ten worldwide smash that the original should have been in the first place. I have actually heard this song in the gym where I work out on the sound system. It’s the only No Doubt I can point to ever hearing to my knowledge. It is the essence of perfunctory. The band don’t do too much to the song except render it with some faithfulness. That’s because it was a winner from the start. The royalties from that cover version probably gave Hollis the financial security to remain out of the limelight until his untimely death last week. If so, then it was worth it.


As we careen towards 2020 there are two other musicians who seek to venture unafraid into the darkness ahead. David Sylvian, who has remained fairly active throughout his solo career, continues to release increasingly abstract albums informed by avant garde jazz. I have to admit that I have struggled with 2003’s “Blemish” but recent listening have begun to maybe crack that case. On the other hand, when thinking of Hollis, I am most reminded of Scott Walker, who was content to sit out the period of 1983-94 before returning dramatically in 1995 with the incredible paradigm shift that was “Tilt.”

Unlike Hollis and Sylvian, Walker seems to have looked towards classical music as a way forward. The last 25 years have seen a feast of seven releases by the formerly reclusive Walker, who has as high a profile as he’s had since the 70s. He’s had a documentary filmed about his career [“30th Century Man”] where he actually participated. He seemed tolerant of all of the fuss. He’s curated London’s Meltdown Festival and has grown into an elder statesman artist who is known and celebrated for his uncompromising approach to music. His story is having a final act worthy of King Lear, but Mark Hollis has left us on his own terms and that story has all wrapped up. It stopped being told over 20 years ago.


The reaction: Mark Hollis [2nd from L]

But Hollis’ story has a beginning that few might have heard. He was the younger brother of Ed Hollis, the manager/producer of Eddie + The Hot Rods, one of the early bands to sit on the razor’s edge that defined British Punk ca. 1976. Ed also managed his little brother’s band The Reaction and got them also signed to Island Records in 1978, just in time for New Wave. They had a single 7″ to their name: “I Can’t Resist,” but the band also had a loose track show up on a Beggar’s Banquet 1977 Punk/New Wave compilation called “Streets,” with a track produced by Steve Lillywhite. The band will now rip through the song “Talk Talk Talk Talk” which, yes, Mark’s band Talk Talk revisited five years later under radically different circumstances. All you have to do is press “play” below.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
This entry was posted in obituary and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Mark Hollis: 1955-2019 [part 2]

  1. JT says:

    “The royalties from that cover version probably gave Hollis the financial security to remain out of the limelight until his untimely death last week.”

    If Hollis is credited as the sole songwriter on the track, and if he didn’t get swindled out of his publishing royalties by his label, and if he doesn’t have to split the publishing royalties with an independent (non-label) publishing company, then he got precisely 9.1 cents for every sold copy of the No Doubt song (this excludes radio play, streaming services, and jukeboxes, but includes legally downloaded files, CDs, and vinyl).

    This 9.1 cents per copy is a federally mandated royalty rate for songwriters.

    That works out to $91k – minus income tax – for every million sold copies of the single. Not a bad little windfall in his later years, but hardly enough to make him wealthy… and one or more of the three “ifs” above are fairly likely to also be a factor.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      JT – You raise lots of “industry weasel caveats” there! But is that not an America-centric look at the royalty issue? As with every Talk Talk song from albums 2-5, he split the songwriting royalties with Tim Friese-Greene. The silent partner.

      I have heard that Nick Lowe made 7 figures from the cover version of “[What’s So Funny ‘Bout] Peace, Love + Understanding” by Curtis Stigers on “The Bodyguard OST.” Obviously with 45M sold worldwide, that’s a lotta scratch to spread around. And an extreme form of royalty bounty that’s … one in a million.

      Like

      • Duncan Watson says:

        I do not know if it is true or not but it is said that Noddy Holder makes around £1m per year from the royalties of Merry Christmas Everybody despite it not being formally re-issued; just played, streamed and downloaded. Whereas, and this is true because she says so every time I see her in concert, Hazel O’Connor wrote Will You and she has not made one single penny out of it because she had a really bad publishing deal. I think it is the deal which makes you rich – or not

        Like

        • postpunkmonk says:

          Duncan Watson – You are correct about publishing deals, sadly. One really has to have all of their ducks on a row to make a gainful living from pop music as the odds are always in the House’s favor. I will admit that as an American, I have been aware of Hazel O’Connor for almost forty years but have never heard the first note. I always associate her with Toyah Willcox as actress/singers plowing the New Wave field. Now Toyah” Dozens of releases for her in the Record Cell.

          Like

          • JT says:

            Look at the credits for Ure-era Ultravox records. Each guy in the band has his own publishing company. They’re doing fine. Now look at the songwriting credits. This is where Warren Cann had a really good attorney. He gets a writing credit on every track (all four of them do). So rare for a drummer! So that publishing money is being split four ways.

            Now look at the first Magazine album. Devoto and McGeoch share credit for most of the songs. Adamson, Formula, and Dickinson get one credit each, and Pete Shelley gets two. Drummer Martin Jackson gets squat. The guys who actually performed on the record split the PERFOMANCE royalty (a second, separate payment made for each record sold), but McGeoch’s kid and Devoto are splitting most of the PUBLISHING royalty, so they’re doing much better than the rest of the lads every time this record is bought…. assuming, again, that they own their own publishing (I’m not sure of Devoto or Formula’s deals).

            Like

            • postpunkmonk says:

              JT – I recall reading in early interviews with Ure-Vox that they intentionally went with a four way songwriting split. But Cann also wrote a lot of the lyrics on “Vienna.” If you look at certain songs after that album, you can sense which lyrics that Cann was likely responsible for. The more outré lyrical imagery. Midge Ure is incapable of dropping a line like “they shuffle with a bovine grace!” Once you realize this, you can see traces of Cann all over the place. He was not just a drummer in that band. Foxx shared songwriting credits, but he would not let any others write lyrics. The initial releases are credited to Ultravox but the reissues show breakdowns between each member on an as determined basis. Once Foxx was gone, Cann was way into the lyrical side of things like a kid in a candy store – as well as the rhythms of the songs.

              Like

            • Vlad says:

              > Now look at the songwriting credits. This is where Warren Cann had a really good attorney. He gets a writing credit on every track (all four of them do)

              They couldn’t afford to have attorneys in 1979 :) It was their joint decision, specifically to not argue over money, – that, by the way, Billy came to resent, grumbling about “Warren walking away with 25% for each song” even when he did nothing. Don’t know what was his reason – but I’d say Warren had every right to his share as he brought so much to the band. So much, in fact, that after his leaving they evaporated within months, both chartwise and as a working unit. Pity the guys didn’t realize they all were irreplaceable parts of the whole and without one of them this whole simply ceased to exist.

              Like

              • postpunkmonk says:

                Vlad – I agree. Warren’s rhythms were intrinsic to the Ultravox experience. ‘Vox benefitted from having both a world class drummer and keyboardist, Mr. Currie. What happened when Mark Brzezick sat on the stool?

                Like

      • JT says:

        Yes, this figure is for copies sold in the U.S. But since No Doubt are an American band and most of their fanbase is here, we can speculate that this is where most of the sales are coming from. This money would be sent to Hollis in the UK… where he’d probably also get dinged in the exchange rate. The royalty rate for copies sold in other countries is different, but the process is similar.

        These days, since so few people are buying music, the real money is in licensing. A savvy artist can pull in a one-time fee of – commonly – six figures for placing their song in a movie, tv show, or video game. This price is negotiated between the people who want to use the song, and the artist’s management and/or label.

        Like

      • JT says:

        One other thing… yeah, in the Nick Lowe case, the owner of the song would have received that 9.1 cents times 45 million(!!!) which comes to $4,095,000. Not bad. Subtract income tax and we’re down to $3m, and then consider that if Lowe had a 50/50 split with his publisher (a common scenario) and he’s down to $1.5m. That’s still a paycheck I’d happy accept. Also this rate of 9.1 cents gets adjust for inflation very few years, so it was probably closer to 7 cents when The Bodyguard came out. But still, as you say, likely seven figures.

        Like

  2. Tim says:

    I’ve revisited the last two albums since he passed and still like the same tracks I always have and feel meh about the rest. I agree with you a lot, especially on the Sylvian comparisons.
    Every track on Gone to Earth grabs me and engages me, a lot of the last two TT albums just aimlessly noodle around, I hear bits and pieces and think well this is interesting but it just doesn’t develop in a way that engages me viscerally. The Color of Spring hits that fantastic sweet spot where I can just listen to that one again and again and again.
    The second album has a lot to offer, too however I gravitate toward the non-single tracks. My favorite is Tomorrow’s Started, if they plow the same field anywhere as Ultravox this is their “Your Name Has Slipped My Mind Again.”
    I give him credit for doing what he wanted to do on his own terms, a lot of people don’t have the (literal) luxury to do that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – Yep. I’m thinking that once I get “The Colour Of Spring” it’s going to be my Talk Talk home. As solidly wonderful as “It’s My Life” is, once they ditched the synth acoutrements then things got even more interesting.

      Like

  3. brynstar says:

    Wow, I had no idea about The Reaction, or re-recording “Talk Talk …” Such (natural) history!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jon Chaisson says:

    I was the music director for my college radio station when Laughing Stock came out. I remember my first reaction was “I have no idea what I’m listening to, but it’s pretty frickin amazing.” I couldn’t put any of it on rotation, but I’d play a track or two when I could. Still one of my favorite TT albums.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Echorich says:

    Colour of Spring is Mark Hollis and Talk Talk taking a moment to musically breathe. It’s an album of experimentation as well as one where the band redefined their approach to Pop music.
    Opening with the delicate, yet widescreen beauty that is Happiness Is Easy, Hollis and compatriots explore a song built out from a simple drum pattern. It’s the musical equivalent of a wild rose blooming in the light of the first warmth of early summer. Warmth is all over Colour Of Spring. The album’s second single should have been huge hit. It remains one of my favorite tracks of the 80s. It is haunting, yet tender, filled willed with a sadness of loss.
    Life’s What You Make It takes the template of It’s My Life and deconstructs it into something that truly deserves the description organic. David Rhodes’ guitar emphasizes the emotional ecstacy of Hollis’ lyrics and delivery. Organ and Mellotron create a bed likes soft leaves and moss for the song to bounce off of.
    But there are two songs that point directly at the way of the future for Hollis. April 5th and Chameleon Day. The former celebrates the space between the music, between the instruments. Each instrument shines without outshining the others. The organ is the song’s constant, providing a landing pad for Hollis’ vocals and a taking off point for the interesting use of variophon. Robbie McIntosh’s dobro is beautifully sparse throughout the song.
    Chameleon Day is blatant in it’s avant garde Jazz influence. Again, the silence is fully part of the song. Most of this emotional track is Hollis and a piano and it is simply beautiful. If any song was a template for Talk Talk’s last two albums it is Chameleon Day.
    Colour of Spring ends with one of Talk Talk’s strongest songs, Time It’s Time. After the quiet and contemplative Chameleon Day, it is a bit of a shock but, a beautiful shock, layering sound on sound to build the melody as it climaxes with a choral singers leading into the final coda where the band and Hollis just seem to revel in the wonders of the music they are making.

    As much as I would love to wax lyrical on the wonders that are Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, I will never be able to justice to the beauty of the music and really explain how much these works have touched me for 20 years. They are albums of music that never cease to amaze and move me.

    Finally, Mark Hollis is an album that throughout seems to act as a final coda to the musical explorations of its maker. It is difficult for me to compare it to the work of Talk Talk, regardless of how much control Hollis had over Talk Talk’s sound and method as they progressed. The Mark Hollis album doesn’t seem to feel the need to reference any of that while it manages to reference so much of the past. It is a very personal sounding album and as much as it lets you in as a listener, it is obvious that is was made by and for its maker.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich/Tim – I have been listening constantly to “Natural History” since it has five of the eight tracks from “The Colour Of Spring” on it. These songs entrance me. How much poorer my life’s been for these last 33 years for not knowing this album intimately! I am currently obsessed with “Happiness Is Easy!” It only has one song, “Desire,” on that comp from “Spirit Of Eden” and it flies by for my listening as well. It’s 2:30-something before Hollis makes his appearance in the song with the most spartan of lyrics, and it always stuns me how quickly that passes. And then the song’s over! I obviously need those last three albums!

      As for his solo album, you did know that it was originally slotted in to be a Talk Talk release called “Mountains Of the Moon,” right?

      https://www.discogs.com/Talk-Talk-Mountains-Of-The-Moon/release/12661029

      Like

  6. SimonH says:

    I was interested to read recently that April 5th was Mark Hollis’ wife’s birth date.
    Colour of Spring must be one of my most played albums of the last 30 years. It’s worth saying that the live versions of these and earlier songs are really worth hearing. In fact often I’ll choose them instead.
    I’m forever grateful to the friend who bought me a ticket to see them at Hammersmith Odeon in May 1986. I was a fan but for some reason didn’t feel they would offer much live, hah! They were ridiculously good, little did I know I’d witnessed their penultimate UK gig…
    It’s also worth pointing out that it took a long time for them to get their critical just deserts, for a long time they were pretty much derided, and I recall struggling to get people to take interest.

    Like

  7. Andy B says:

    Just as a footnote. There is one other more recent Mark Hollis track out in the world. It’s called ‘ARB Section 1’ from 2012. It was used in the Stars TV series ‘Boss’.

    Apparently some years ago he was approached to record music for a film. However the music was never actually used in the film. I’ve read that the above mentioned track is originally from this project. It’s available on You Tube. It’s only 54 seconds long.

    Like

  8. jsd says:

    Mark Hollis’ passing has hit me really hard. I loved TT from the minute I saw “Talk Talk” on MTV back in ’82. Interestingly, those “acoustic” drums on “Life’s What You Make It” are a drum machine.

    “Spirit Of Eden” is obviously a watershed moment for music. So many bands now wouldn’t exist without it, and the list of musicians who namecheck it as a formative influence is a mile long. For me personally, it was the first time any of music writing ever got published (I wrote a review of it, dropped it off in my college’s newspapers “submission” box and it came out the next day. Whoo!)

    Not directly Hollis-related but the other two TT members, Paul Webb and Lee Harris had a short lived side project called O.Rang which is amazing. Only two albums but they are both 100% amazing from start to finish.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tim says:

      Oh! If I may play six degrees of Talk Talk separation, at the end of the month there is a new recording of Gorecki’s Third Symphony coming out.
      And you may ask yourself, what the hell is this guy talking about, where’s the connection?
      Beth (Rustin Man, Portishead) Gibbons is handling the vocals for this recording.
      I am so crazy geeked about this, one of my favorite pieces of 20th century music being married with the vocals of someone from one of my favorite 20th century musical movements.
      This is not only a day one essential purchase for me but I keep hoping that someone like Dangermouse or Alpha or Sakamoto snags a license to, um, respectfully wreck this in their own style.

      Like

      • postpunkmonk says:

        Tim – Um… What does Beth Gibbons have to do with Talk Talk? You lost me.

        Like

        • Tim says:

          She did vocals in the 1st Rustin Man album, the cowriter of which is Talk Talk alumnus.

          Like

          • postpunkmonk says:

            Tim – Sacre Bleu!

            Like

            • Tim says:

              It’s quite good, to boot.
              I suspect that if you asked them what it sounds like they’d say well it doesn’t really sound like either of our parent bands but it sounds like us.
              Very Nick Drake-y and I would suggest your 1st new TT purchase to be The Color of Spring and the 2nd this and then plunge into the some people like em some don’t last two albums.
              The first one is from 2002 and called Out of Season,
              There’s one that came out this year, just a few weeks ago actually, that’s only Paul Webb, and it’s called Drift Code. I haven’t heard it yet, I was very excited when I read about it and I sampled the album on Amazon and was disappointed. I realize that thirty second snippets can’t convey a whole song but none of them made me think oh wow these sound promising.

              Like

              • jsd says:

                I’ve listened to all of Drift Code (it’s on Apple Music) and it’s… well, it’s not my thing. If you don’t like it from the samples you won’t like the whole thing. They are an accurate representation.

                Like

          • jsd says:

            She’s also on the first O.Rang album Herd Of Instinct.

            Like

  9. negative1ne says:

    hey mr monk,
    you’ve already read my impressions on mark hollis and talk talk over at nwo forums.

    but just reiterating them here.

    i’m not sad that he’s gone, or that his passing has come about now.

    i doubt mr hollis would even care that people are commenting about
    the music he made, or would have made, it was not something he
    pondered.

    he did what he set out to do, and that was what he intended.
    he left a great body of work, many of which was influential, and many
    which people enjoyed to different degrees.

    he was done with music forever, and had no intention of every making
    more, or having anything to do with it. in fact from all the interviews, and
    information out there, he wasn’t bothered in the least bit with remembering
    or acknowledging the music he made in the past.

    yes, he was disenchanted with music, and the industry, just as many others
    are. look at thomas dolby’s dislike of the industry too. but others moved on
    and continued at times. mark did not, did not want to, and didn’t care.

    people might have a hard time accepting the reality that was how he was like.
    but thats how we wanted it, an uncompromising, unrelenting pursuit of his
    interest in presenting what he wanted in the way he wanted.

    and for that he has to be respected. he’s gone but not forgotten.
    i will always remember the great body of music he made for the first
    3 albums, and will continue to remember what inspired me from them.

    later
    -1

    Like

  10. Duncan Watson says:

    It seems that a gathering is planned in London on 22nd June 2019 to remember Mark & Talk Talk. Click here https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10158451037088902&id=12307963901 (you do not need a Facebook account to view it)

    Like

  11. I had NO idea of The Reaction and the Eddie & The Hot Rods connection … fanx!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.