Mark Hollis

  1. The Colour of Spring
  2. Watershed
  3. Inside Looking Out
  4. The Gift
  5. A Life (1895 - 1915)
  6. The Daily Planet
  7. A New Jerusalem

Mark Hollis album cover

The Wire: January 1998

As the prime mover behind Talk Talk, Mark Hollis threw off the shackles of a pop existence to create the bleakest, yet most lyrical orchestral rock this side of Scott Walker. This year he breaks a seven year silence with a brand new solo album. Words: Rob Young,

Thrill has gone. Back from the wilderness, back to the circus. Film demands your image: photographers lead you into the cold. Writers keep you hanging around. You don’t want to be doing this. You cover your face with your hand.

“At the point when you finish an album,” Mark Hollis is saying, “the last thing in the world I could think of doing is start writing another one. At the point where you’ve made it, that says what you want to say at that point in time, so it’s not like the next day you can begin another one”.

Anyone whose ears were pruned and re-rooted by the last three Talk Talk albums should make the most of Hollis’s new, self-titled collection of nine songs. It’s been a long time coming - seven years, in fact, since the great white spaces of the fifth (and, it transpires, final) Talk Talk album Laughing Stock - but unquestionably worth the wait. Deceptively simple acoustic surfaces shimmer with all manner of spring-loaded detail, choked and wrenched vocal performances, miniature symphonies of wind instruments, and references to the recording process itself (at times, the creaking of Hollis’s guitar stool is louder than his singing; at others the oral noise from his mouth makes you wonder if he had the mic down his throat). Perhaps as a reaction to the big budget, commercial suicide productions of late Talk Talk - Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock - Mark Hollis was recorded with a minimum of flash.

“Yeah, well the thing about that is,” Hollis explains, “everything’s just recorded off this pair of mics at the front, vocally as well. The reason I like the idea of that is, you’ve got the whole geography of sound within which all the instruments exist, but if you listen hard enough, you can actually hear where my head’s moving in position as I’m singing. Because it does exist in a real room space.”

The musicians on the new album include pianist Phil Ramekin, guitarist Dominic Miller, drummer Warne Livesey and a wind quintet; while Phill Brown has taken over the producer’s chair from Tim Friese-Greene. They don’t add much to the model established on Laughing Stock - drummer Livesey provides deadringer equivalents to Lee Harris’s damped snares and ringing ride-cymbal mosaics, and the music palpably breathes - but there is a continuity here that leads back to the jagged edge at which Laughing Stock tore Itself off after 40-odd minutes. “Cor!” he replies (his response to any mildly heavy question), “well, all that I can really say is that from album to album, you want to actually make a development, otherwise what’s the point of recording it?”

Given that the majority shareholders in the future of music are those involved in offshore deals with dance music, Hollis’s new offering is a brave and unworldly return to active service. Press material sent out with the record fashionably namechecks Stockhausen and Miles Davis, but I hear neither: Morton Feldman seems a much closer presence. Hollis is not known as a volatile interviewee, but that observation hits the jackpot

“Yeah, Morton Feldman is a total winner,” he says, sitting on a park bench in West London - the only situation in which he’d allow himself to be photographed. “There’s one particular thing called The Viola In My Life Part 2 - what I really love with that is, for me, that’s the closest thing I’ve ever come across that I feel I identify with; not only for its Minimalism, but the actual level at which he hits the notes. He’s as much interested in the tonality of the instrument as he is with the note itself, and that’s really important to me.”

Many points on the album seem to achieve the ultra quiet ppppp dynamic that was Feldman’s speciality. “Yeah, it is extremely quietly recorded. On “Westward Bound”, that is without doubt the quietest I’ve ever done a vocal. I could barely even get a sound to come out. I really like instruments hit at low level, and like I say, given the point that everything is playing at that level, you’ve got to be in sympathy with it.”

The album is seasoned with weeping woodwind interruptions, testimony to Hollis’s exploratory listening habits over the intervening years since 1991. “There’s so much out there to listen to, and that takes all my time. For me, the best of that earlier bunch of composers that I’ve become aware of was Ravel, who I only ever knew for the Bolero, that hideous piece of work - and yet you’ve got stuff like his String Quartet, also his music for poems by Stephan Mallarmé, which are just a fantastic bit of writing and arranging. So it’s like meandering along these little avenues and listening to stuff. That’s how it works for me.”

Nothing on the album is electrified. “The minute you work with just acoustic instruments, by virtue of the fact that they’ve already existed for hundreds of years, they can’t date. When you’re looking at writing music, the ideal must be: I’d like to make music that can exist outside the timeframe. So your biggest chance of doing that, I guess, is working with instruments that by their nature don’t exist in a time period. So, no syndrums - great as they were ...”

“Saw the bridges that I burned “ - “The Colour Of Spring” (1998)

Routes to the loot, part one: allow a major label to hammer all your quirks, noise, mistakes, inspirational innovations, ‘uncommercial’ sounds, arhythmic breakdowns, unsummarizable sentiments, into a conveniently marketable musical krush. Let market forces be the sandpaper that stops you chafing. If that’s what pop groups are supposed to do, Talk Talk did it wrong. They began (in 1982) happy to be moulded as an airbrushed, prinking-and-preening pop outfit, but gradually extricated themselves via the committed pop of 1986’s The Colour Of Spring, which wheeled in Traffic’s Steve Winwood’s Hammond to burnish their granular grooves. Then came the big jump: Spirit of Eden, the album classed by some as an Astral Weeks for the 80s. In the climate of nostalgia, irony and postmodern mimickry that characterised the culture of the times, the record pricked the bubble economy of the Thatcher years like no other. But was it made for the same reasons that caused the group to form in the first place?

“Cor! No, no, at the point when I first started,” he says, “It was because I just loved records. And I really wanted to be in a band to make music. And then when we first started, the kind of stuff I was listening to was obviously very different to the stuff I’m listening to now. And you’ve got this thing where from album to album you want some kind of development, but at the same time in order to get development and not to hit repetition, you constantly come across things which you think, yeah, I can do that if I do It the way I’ve already done It, but I don’t want to do it that way. And that, I think, is what forces you into other areas. You see, through these albums, for me, each one has felt like a very natural progression from where the one before was. But from this one to the fIrst one, there’s no relationship there at all.”

Did something particularly significant happen between the making of The Colour Of Spring and Spirit? “No, I think at the point we got there, Spirit of Eden was very much felt like where it was always kind of heading, but no, nothing ... More than anything, it was just not wanting to repeat what you’ve done. All the time, you’re getting older and everything and nothing is static It feels far more bizarre to me that there should be no change. That feels really very weird to me.”

“Makes it harder more you learn “ - “The Watershed” (1998)

Look back over the lyric sheets in the very first Talk Talk albums, The Party’s Over (1982) and It’s My Life (1984), and you’ll find the word “change” repeated passim. Although stylistically those records are likely to remain locked in time, with their Simmons drum pads, bendy synth solos, guitar synthesizers, Fairlight sequencing and Athena poster-style paintings by James Marsh, there weren’t many pop groups at the time capable of confessional stanzas like “Happiness can often bleed/Beggars lay among the sheep/Let me take the choice/The sermon pleads”; “Take this punishment away Lord/Name the crime I’m guilty of/Too much hope I’ve seen as virtue/Name the crime I’m guilty of”.

Contemporaries like Duran Duran and ABC wrote puffed-up, straight-to-video poetic contrivances; TT were closer if anything to the earnestness of Tears For Fears, who later revealed they’d embarked on a pop career in order to fund their own psychoanalysis sessions.

Hollis and Talk Talk, though, never allowed themselves to slip into the smug certainties and flash lifestyles of the 80s pop nouveaux riches (they didn’t take part in Live Aid, for a start). Hollis’s early songs struggle with notions of fate versus faith, with imagery swinging from the Bible to Luke Rheinhardt’s cult novel The Dice Man. When the songs for which they’re best known, “Life’s What You Make It” and “Give It Up”, hit the charts in 1986, they sounded like Cassandra baying In the wilderness - a lone, moral voice railing against the backdating of experience by mass media exposure and the tragedies of drug abuse. On top of that, their own travelling circus became too much to bear, you could hear it in Hollis’s blasted shreds of vocal.

“Originally,” remembers HollIis, “I thought playing live was the best thing you could ever do. The problem when you hit nine month tours is, firstly, for nine months you’re dealing more with recreating the past than with looking into the future. You’ve also got this horrible thing where, despite the fact that you go through different countries and different cultures, you’re totally oblivious to them and you’re just shelled out against that. So that’s quite ugly; also within the day you’ve only got the one hour which is about performing and the rest which is obviously about very mundane things. The other problem when we hit that last tour was that the material was becoming increasingly hard, even with The Colour of Spring, to perform live. So even in that tour in 86, maybe two thirds of the material was based around the second album rather than the one we’d just finished making.

“And the other thing: I just think it’s really important if you perform that you actually mentally go where you’ve got to go, and to do that six nights out of seven is extremely wearing. The only way over a period of time, I could get to that, was to do a lot of drink. And I don’t think that is a good exercise” Were the anti-heroin songs inspired by personal experience? “No, not at all. But, you know, I met people who got totally fucked up on it.. Within rock music there’s so much fucking glorification of it, and it is a wicked, horrible thing, you know?”

“I don’t like to read the news/D’you know anything I’m going through?” - Have You Heard The News?” (1982)

After 1986, the three core members of Talk Talk became fathers. Hollis decamped to a farm near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk (don’t call it a ‘retreat’: “I see things in terms of pursuit rather than avoidance,” he tells me), where he surrounded himself with a menagerie of domestic animals “Tons of ‘em, 18 at the peak, all running loose,” he recalls with a wry smile. (He’s recently moved back to South London: “That was just because I’ve got children, and I just wanted my eldest one to be aware of the culture that exists.”)

In this rural setting work began on the music that would usher in the second phase of Talk Talk’s development Spirit Of Eden. When they emerged, blinking briefly in the light, the cosmetics had been kicked down the same chute as the synths, syndrums and trite rhymes. “The world’s turned upside down”, sang Hollis over a blaze of amped-up harmonica and Henry Lowther’s muted trumpet. With an augmented lineup that included Danny Thompson on double bass, percussionist Hugh Davies, classical clarinettist Andrew Marriner, Nigel Kennedy on fiddle, and the Choir of Chelmsford Cathedral, and tricked out with a humanist/ecological/holistic ‘message’, this was a full-scale rock Passion that picked up critical acclaim, but permanently destabilised the group’s relationship with EMI. Three years later, the company retaliated by shunting out History Revisited a quick-fix dance remix album assembled without the group’s consent.

Spirit closed with the line “Take my freedom for giving me a sacred love” - it sounded like Hollis had been boning up on the renegade, mystical Christianity of William Blake. The thread leads through to the new record, with its references to “A New Jerusalem”, redemption, purification, blood, repentance and atonement. Astonishingly Hollis cries ignorance of Blakels work. “I’m not a born again Christian, no,” he says. “But I would hope there’s a humanitarian vision in there, for sure”. So where does that elliptical imagery derive from? “If I think of favourite films of mine, what they deal with is character and virtue, they don’t deal with narrative. That’s a very secondary thing. The two films I would think of more than anything would be The Bicycle Thieves and Les Enfants Du Paradis.” Curiously I had seen The Bicycle Thieves only the week before. “It’s fantastic, isn’t it?” he says, animated. “What happens? A bloke gets his bike nicked. But it’s all there - just amazing. And the emotion in the end, with the little kid, when his Dad gets tugged [for stealing a bike]: it’s all there, really strong.”

Like the the film’s anti-hero Hollis had his most treasured possession stolen from under his nose when EMI remixed the soul out of his precious music. The writ that subsequently hit the fan 1et to the record being buried, but the process cost the group’s future. He says he’s enjoyed the two albums former members Lee Harris and Paul Webb have since released as .O.rang, but admits that they’ve stopped playing together. “I don’t see them any more,” he says. Why not? “I’ll tell you if you don’t print it.”

“The good has bled to dust” - “The Watershed” (1998)

Touch Hollis for an explanation of his new songs’ thematic content, and you’ll encounter a thick hide. He won’t be printing the lyrics on the sleeve, and If you can decipher more than a third of the words on the recording, I’ll sell my ears. Like the posthumously released, harrowing demos of Nick Drake, John Martyn’s Celtic psychedelia, or Robert Wyatt’s keening treble, Hollis possesses one of the great unrock voices. It’s all whisper and no scream: at times, the voice is little more than a thin parting of the air in the studio; the words are stretched out, torn apart, boiled down to consonant acoustics. “With lyrics,” he says, “they’re totally important in one way, but equally they’re not of any importance at all, because they’ve got to be secondary to the actual way the thing moves phonetically. When Malcolm Mooney was singing with Can, he invents his own language, and does it in a way that doesn’t sound contrived or Stupid. You don’t think he’s gone into Toytown land or something ...”

Like Mooney, Hollis loads elliptical verse with apocalyptic weight. The timescale referred to in the album’s incredible centrepiece, “A Life (1895-1915)”, spans the turn of the century 20 years in which the Victorian Age got trampled into the mud of the trenches. “The dates were taken from ... it is the First World War and it’s just that at the time I read a few books about that period, like All Quiet On The Western Front, Testament of Youth; and I think those dates - I might be wrong, but I’ve got a feeling they were Vera Brittain’s boyfriend. It was more that idea that you’re only one year into it and then you’re topped.” The reference to “A New Jerusalem”, meanwhile, is “much more tied up with two things, when I thought about it that was the way they talked about 1946; but equally, I thought: whether you’re back from Vietnam or whatever, it’s just that conflict between expectation and reality.” It’s an emotional state Hollis is adept at expressing in his music. Does he look for epiphany in such moments? “I don’t know I think of it being to do with compassion, if you like. It’s a tricky one. But you may well be right in what you say. You may well be right.”

Thrill has gone. The party’s over. And, once again, the future’s bright.

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Record Collector: January 1998

The ex-Talk Talk singer/songwriter has returned. This time he’s going it alone. But where has he been? Asks HAYLEY BARTLETT

Piano-pop gods Talk Talk jangled their way through the last decade with hits like ‘Today’ (1982) and ‘Life’s What You Make It’ (1986). After a seven-year break, frontman Mark Hollis has returned, with a self-produced and co-written solo album. File this one under your ‘Interesting Easy Listening’ section ladies and gentlemen. As an attempt to produce an eclectic hybrid of jazz, folk, and country, ‘Mark Hollis’ has come up trumps.

As a teenager in the 70s, Mark grew up with two great influences in his life. Older siblings are always influential and big brother Ed Hollis was no exception. As manager and producer for Eddie and the Hot Rods, he was to introduce his little brother to the wonderful world of music, as Mark confirms : “Ed was an extremely important influence, even before the Hot Rods. He was such an intensive collector of albums, he educated me in different forms of music.” The Hot Rods were also important because of their links with the phenomenal punk movement: “It’s the most important musical thing that has ever happened in my lifetime. There was so much emphasis on enthusiasm and energy - as opposed to ability. To me, the possibility of being in a band was so remote, but that whole movement opened it up.”

Hollis started his pop path in 1978 fronting new wave band the Reaction. A one-off 45, “I Can’t Resist” (Island Records), is now a modest hit with revival collectors. It was in 1981 that Ed introduced Mark to some session musicians he was working with - Lee Harris (Drums) and Paul Webb (Bass) - who, along with Simon Brenner on keyboards, formed Talk Talk. Stints supporting those glossy Duran Duran boys led to the gang gaining relative success with albums “The Party’s Over”, “Spirit Of Eden” and “The Colour Of Spring”.

For Hollis, the 80’s is a phase best forgotten. The electro-pop music of Talk Talk was recorded in what feels like a different lifetime. Sixteen years down the line, Mark has developed a passion for the quieter side of life. He’s also oblivious to what’s been going on music-wise for the past seven years: “With such an incredible wealth of music being made over the years, you don’t need to listen to contemporary music”. But what’s he been doing since the demise of Talk Talk ? Well there’s no saucy scandal, and no mammoth project to speak of, just a few woodwind pieces written for personal pleasure and a few years working on the new album.

The album is heavily influenced by jazz, and has a disjointed feel to it - a feeling that makes sense in an incoherent kind of way. Has he always been an admirer of the old jazz masters ? “I’m a real fan of the late 50s/mid 60s jazz, especially Miles Davis and Gil Evans. Two albums, “Porgy and Bess” and “Sketches of Spain”, were important to me. They had a good balance between looseness and careful structure.” Hollis acknowledges that during different periods you get into different areas of music and, as he explains, “elbow stuff along the way”. He wanted his solo work to have a very real sound to it :”I needed it to feel calm, to be absolutely minimal and to work with space, as much as you can work with space.” The theory behind the man is not to do anything unless there is a reason for it.

Hollis has co-written the album with pianist Phil Ramekin, guitarist Dominic Miller, and Warne Livesey, whose previous credits include Julian Cope, Midnight Oil, and Deacon Blue. With all these people approaching him for work, does he feel there was that sense of control missing with Talk Talk ? “Absolutely not, as a producing role didn’t really exist for me then. Where I am now is very distanced to where I began and I’m glad of that. Not because I’m bothered by anything that I have done, but I have moved on.”

There won’t be any live sets showcasing the new talents of Hollis, as it would apparently be impossible to perform live : “To get the instruments to balance, nobody would be able to hear them.” When asked about the first single from the album, Hollis smiled a knowing smile : “What is a single ? Something you boil an egg by ?” A fair point. So there won’t be any singles from Hollis, merely a delicate collection of laid-back vibes - the perfect musical accompaniment to a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Yes, Mark Hollis really does believe that life is what you make it. For him, it’s a quiet one, one filled with good music made with good friends, for no other reason than because he wants to. You get the feeling that it’s really quite an honour that we will ever hear it at all.

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Les Inrockuptibles: Janvier 1998

Avec Talk Talk, Mark Hollis traîna longtemps le boulet d’une jeunesse pop frivole et nunuche. Désormais en solo après sept années d’absence, il revient avec un premier album, Mark Hollis, à la beauté et aux silences assourdissants.

C’est beau, un type qui a signé la paix avec ses nerfs, paraphé un armistice sans déshonneur, sans fermer les yeux. C’est apaisant comme une aube de printemps, un type comme ça, allégé, dégagé de ce angoisses mesquines qui, ailleurs, gangrènent et grignotent la petite vie des homes. C’est rare et rafraîchissant, un musicien, après sept ans des silence, ne soupçonne même pas qu’on ait pu l’attende au tournant. Mieux; un musicien qui, d’un pas serein, sort de sa retraite sans imaginer un seul instant qu’il puisse y avoir là un tournant – et des embûches, risques de verglas, dérapages potentiels.

Mark Hollis est étonnant de simplicité et de bonhomie lorsqu’on lui apprend que des congénères aussi estimables que Divine Comedy ou Labradford, pour n’en citer que deux, ont épié son album comme d’autres guettent en tremblant le prochain atterrissage du Messie sur la Terre. Les noms de ses fervents admirateurs ne semblent pas lui évoquer grand-chose: “J’ignorais que tous ces gens avaient adoré Laughing Stock, qu’ils espéraient que je redonne plus vite signe de vie. Et vous êtes sûrement mieux placé que moi pour mesurer l’influence qu’a eue le travail de Talk Talk…Vous savez, je ne lis pas la presse musicale. J’ai bien quelques amis musiciens, mais...Enfin, je suis flatté, très heureux, d’apprendre tout ça”

Modeste sans afféterie, Hollis accueille les compliments avec un politesse exquise et une absence quasi totale d’excitation. C’est n’est pas pour récolter des tonnes d’éloges ou pour moissonner des champs de gloire qu’il est ressorti de sa tanière. Probable que l’accueil enthousiaste qui lui sera réservé ici ou là lui ricochera un peu sur le paletot. Surtout ne pas s’en offusquer, ne pas crier à l’ingratitude. Simplement, tout cela est loin du Cœur même de la musique, de cette région où Hollis, il y a quelques années, s’est efforcé de s’aménager un coin d’existence, à l’écart des courants de mode et des agitations de l’industrie musicale. Chez lui, le besoin maladif de reconnaissance, la course aux médailles en métal ou en chocolat, le souci de chiader son image sont autant de bêtises depuis longtemps parties en fumée, évaporées dans ce qui restera l’une des plus passionnantes métamorphoses et libérations musicales de ces dernières années.

En un peu plus de quinze ans, Hollis a réalisé un tour de passe-passe peu fréquent: se rendre à la fois essentiel et invisible. Ce que quelques commentateurs amis de poètes auront résumé par ‘suicide commercial’. Manière comme une autre, après tout, d’analyser l’atypique cheminement de Talk Talk. Ou comment, en moins de dix ans, un popband propre se sera associé benoîtement à la rumeur du monde (The Party’s Over 1982) fondu dans le grand concert des vanités (It’s My Life 1984) pour finalement s’en retirer progressivement (The Colour of Spring 1986), se jeter tout seul de l’établissement (Spirit of Eden 1988), se mettre définitivement hors compétition (Laughing Stock 1991) et finir en beauté, grillé, inclassable et ineffaçable. Cette marche en avant vers la plus irréductible des singularités, Mark Hollis en aura été le principal artison. Cet homme n’est ni un inconscient nu un ahuri tombé de la lune, encore moins un moine fou. Juste un chanteur-compositeur d’une calme lucidité, découvrant au fils des années qu’on gagne beaucoup a pratiquer des soustractions et a désapprendre certains certitudes.

Si l’on excepte le cas de Scott Walker – voire de Leonard Cohen ou de Robert Wyatt – il est rare que le besoin d’oubli, la quête de vide et la compagnie du silence nourrissent ainsi un homme, enrichissent autant son histoire, élargissent sa vision. Le résultant, c’est qu’aujourd’hui Mark Hollis, ce solitaire qui semblait ne plus y être pour personne, signe plus que jamais sous son nom une musique qu’aucune autre n’égale. L’Affaire, on s’en souvient, sera pourtant partie sous de bien pauvres auspices. Pas chanceux, Mark Hollis, Lee Harris (batterie) et Paul Webb (basse) créent Talk Talk à l’aube des années 80 : on est alors en train de ranger définitivement le joyeux foutoir des deux décennies précédentes et d’enterrer les derniers ossements punk.

L’époque, gonflée, se proclame sans rire new-wave. Le rock anglais, qui semble partagé entre deux épineux choix esthétiques  - se peindre l’âme en noir ou se teindre les cheveux en blond – tient autant du caisson réfrigèrent que du salon de coiffure. Sur leurs deux premiers albums, Hollis et les siens, nourris, peignés et habillés par leur maison de disques, moulinent une techno-pop au pompiérisme policé, plutôt engoncée dans ses vêtements synthétiques : c’est le temps de Such a Shame, de It’s My Life, sur lesquels le jeunesse d’alors use pas mal de mocassins. Malgré les textes mystérieux d’Hollis, de timides étincelles d’originalité et la présence aux manettes de Tim Friese-Greene, futur grand architecte du groupe, rien ne distingue vraiment Talk Talk des caniches néoromantiques qui jappent alors leurs chansons-bluettes dans les charts.

Avec The Colour of Spring, le groupe amorcera un premier (petit) virage sur l’aile. C’es un édifice au style encore un brin mastoc, bien assis sur un emboîtement de tubes en béton – Life’s What You Make It, Living In Another World – mais, où Hollis laisse déjà apparaître de belles fissures. Ainsi April 5th et Chameleon Day premières landes musicales d’inspiration plus minimalistes, sur lesquelles le silence tombe en flocons. Peu de temps après, le groups décide de ne plus se produire sur scène : manière d’annoncer qu’il va bientôt prendre congé de son époque.

« Notre dernier concert dates très précisément du 13 Septembre 1986, en Espagne… Je savais que c’était le dernier. J’avais deux enfants, il me paraissait totalement inconciliable d’être à la fois père et musicien en tournée. Mais c’était aussi un choix artistique. La formule album-concerts-album-concerts n’apportait que frustrations. Je ne voyais pas l’intérêt d’aller pendant des semaines rabâcher nos chansons sur scène. : une fois un disque achevé, mieux vaut bouger, avancer. Ou alors il faut avoir le génie d’un groups comme Can, capable de se redéfinir en concert, de bouleverser la donne chaque soi… Selon moi, Talk Talk a toujours suivi une évolution très logique. Mais c’est vrai qu’il y a eu une rupture à ce moment-là : nous sommes sortis d’un engrenage. Grâce notamment au succès de It’s My Life et de Life’s What You Make It, nous avons pu prendre nos aises et notre temps, et tenter l’aventure de Spirit of Eden.

On imagine les vertiges du fan découvrant ce dernier, se confrontant aux vingt-trois minutes de The Rainbow : c’est une crevasse que Talk Talk, aven une maturité dans l’audace inattendue, ouvre en plein milieu de son univers pop. Un gouffre dans lequel couplets, refrains, rythmiques trop carrées et arrangements trop pleins disparaissent corps et  biens. Deux ans seulement après The Colour of Spring, le trio solde brutalement le compte d’une jeunesse trop polie, abandonne définitivement toute corvée inutile et se dote d’un langage musical à la fois cohérent et joliment évasif, réfléchi et dicté par le hasard. Les synthés sont remplacés par des parents plus discrets et moins pauvres – piano, harmonium, orgue. La batterie d’Harris est démantelée, cesse de réciter son Encyclopédie en dix tomes, sauve ses cymbales in extremis et ne s’exprime quasiment plus qu’en sourdine, soupire, murmures. La guitare ne délivre que quelques timides impulsions électriques, la basse n’est plus en plastique. La voix, lézardée s’offre déjà en lambeaux. Des instruments à vent laissent entendre leurs premières respirations, un violon frémit. Et on renonce à asperger le son de laque,  à l’enfouir sous des couches de réverbération vernis. Le grand vainqueur, naturellement, c’est le silence : nouvelle éminence grise, il se tape là ‘lune de ces invisibles incrustes dont il a le secret, investit l’ombre et gagne l’avant-scène, semble prendre chaque note en sandwich, pose des coussins d’air derrière chaque instrumente et tire sans vergogne sur la corde du temps, ce vieil élastique incassable.

A l’époque, une rumeur idiote se répand : Hollis et les siens, dit-on auraient réveillé le fantôme de la musique progressive, ressorti du hangar la vieille machine à planer – un pur acte d’inconscience, en somme. En Angleterre, où l’on se redécouvre alors une passion pour les petits coucous de la pop, les chansons qui pètent le feu et les refrains loopings, les figures libres et amples de Talk Talk inscrites dans un ciel inédit, détonnent. Déjà isolé et pas malheureux de l’être, le groupe, qui a rompu avec son ancienne maison de disques, effrayée, largue définitivement les amarres avec Laughing Stock : un sommet de dépouillement et d’invention, bourré de nuances et de vitalité, brouillant les frontières entre l’écrit et l’improvisé, l’un de ces crimes parfaits, accomplis avec le calme des grands assassins. Est-ce encore du rock ? La question surgit, qu’on s’empresse du juger sans importance. Pour Hollis la vie est ailleurs, dans une constante redéfinition de la composition, du son et de l’interprétation, qui annonce déjà d’autres expériences sur la matière : a Chicago, à Bristol ou ailleurs, partout où l’on s’apprêtera à faire valser les étiquettes et trembler les vieux cadres, les noms de Talk Talk et de Mark Hollis circuleront bientôt comme autant de mots de passe, fédérant et stimulant les plus frondeurs des apprentis sorciers.

Après Laughing Stock, j’ai pensé que le groupe avait intérêt à se séparer et qu’il fallait mettre fin à la collaboration avec Tim-Friese-Greene. Je sentais que tous ensemble, nous avions atteint une limite : pur continuer le voyage, il fallait se relancer seul…Ensuite, des années ont passé avant que je ne m’attelle à cet album solo. Mais enregistrer un disque, au fond, ce n’est pas une ambition première. L’accomplissement, c’est quand même ce plaisir jamais entamé de jouer – le punk, auquel je resterai toujours attaché, m’a transmis cet enseignement très simple. He joue à peu prés tous les jours chez moi et je n’ai aucunement l’ambition de tout fixer. Je peux passer des heures devant mon piano, à explorer les propriétés acoustiques d’une pédale ou à caresser du doigt une touche. Ces moments d’intimité avec l’instruments m’a portent plus que si je m’astreignais à  un travail d’écriture régulier et à un petit album annuel. Au fond, ce que m’intéresse le plus, c’est ce qui se passe entre deux disques. Ces intervalles où vous vous demandez comment développer encore davantage votre musique, bâtir dans la différence sans vous renier…JE ne peux pas concevoir un album si je ne suis pas assuré qu’il me portera plus loin que le précédent. Chez moi, ce travail de réflexion peut prendre un temps fou. Plus les années passent plus il y a de choses que je ne veux plus répéter, de similitudes à éviter. Et puis il y a aussi de nouvelles écoutes, des découvertes – depuis des années maintenant, je me passionne pour la musique contemporaine, j’ai perdu tout contact avec l’univers du rock et de la pop. Alors il me faut attendre, passer par des creux et des bosses, visiter beaucoup d’endroits avant d’apercevoir une nouvelle direction à suivre. Petit à petit, une pertinence se dégage, la lumière se fait, il est temps de se lancer. Mais même après ça, je peux encore passer des jours entiers sur un passage qui, au final, ne représentera qu’une demi-seconde de musique sur le disque…’

On dirait que Mark Hollis répond à une force secrète. A une énergie indicible qui, depuis ses débuts, l’entraînerait irrémédiablement vers l’épure la plus radicale et la plus douce à la fois. Ainsi, à l’écart des fracas ambiants et des vocabulaires actuels, e-t-il décidé sur ce premier album solo d’explorer au plus profond la veine du tout acoustique et de visiter toute la gamme des silences musicaux. Sans préceptes de vieux sage chinois, sans leçons d’ancien combattant à la clé. Sa démarche, d’une fraîcheur et d’une finesse inouïes, n’est pas sans rappeler la magie pourtant sans exemple d’un Robert Wyatt : Comme sur Shleep, un artisan transmute en or pur des matières apparemment communes et bien connues, et nimbe d’une grâce nouvelle des gestes ancestraux. Le minimalisme de Mark Hollis ressemble à ces vielles gens qui, dans leurs masures délabrées, cache d’insoupçonnés trésors. Volontairement hors du coup, il réinvente et subvertit la chose musicale, la géographie des sons, la position du chanteur, parsème chaque pièce de grands écarts, dissonances, névralgies harmoniques. D’où une musique qui, sous des dehors familiers er sans obsession d’être à la page, semble déjà en contenir et en précéder d’autres.

« Je ne suis aucunement soucieux d’être moderne ou d’avant-garde. Je suis plus concentré sur mon travail que sur mon époque – c’est sans doute pour ça que j’aimeras qu’il lui survive. Il se trouve que l’électricité, l’amplification des instruments, ça ne m’intéresse plus. En revanche, j’ai toujours aimé la nature, la ‘voix’, la texture, l’infinie richesse des instruments acoustiques. Avec eux, par exemple, il sera possible de s’approcher de niveaux sonores démentiellement bas…avec Phil Brown, l’ingénieur  du son, nous avons accompli un énorme travail de ce côté-là sans artifices, simplement en jouant sur le positionnement des micros, des instruments dans le studio. J’ai aussi essayé d’appliquer ça à ma voix. L’idéal, ce serait de ne plus changer les mots, mais de les penser tellement fort qu’on puisse les entendre…Je voulais que, comme chez Morton Feldman, l’auditer ait intérêt à ne pas écouter ce disque trop fort s’il veut en saisir toutes les nuances. Ce Qui est aussi l’une des seules chances de rendre au maximum la dimension spatiale de la musique : je rêve d’un disque où les gens, chez eux, localiseraient exactement l’endroit où se trouvait chaque instrument au moment de l’enregistrement. »

Ceux qui ne voient dans cette œuvre que figures en apesanteur et beautés diaphanes en seront donc pour leurs frais. S’il est poète, Hollis, - par ailleurs très au fait des réalités de ce monde – est moins un Pierrot lunaire qu’un explorateur des profondeurs musicales les plus fines, les plus intimes. Comme toute aventure spirituelle, sa quête sans fin, aussi intérieure soit-elle, se nourrit également de rencontres, d’échanges et de plaisirs bien concrets – et entend célébrer la dimension charnelle, physique de la musique.

 « Comme beaucoup, j’ai un idéal de pureté : mais je ne le conçois que dans l’expression d’une vérité, d’une réalité concrète. Avec la musique, je palpe, je cherche, je sonde, j’interroge, peut-être pour essayer de traduire an mieux la matière même de l’existence. Dans le cadre d’un disque, ça signifiera intégrer aussi les erreurs, les détours inattendus, le tremblé, d’une voix ou le frottement d’un bras contre une guitare. Je ne cherche pas la perfection, qui m’ennuie, mais l’honnêteté. JE me fous par exemple des capacités techniques du musicien : son approche de l’instrumente m’intéresse davantage.  Sue cet album, le pianiste, par exemple, est le professeur de musique de mon fils. Techniquement, il est sûrement loin d’être parfait. Mais sa relation à l’instrumente a énormément apporté à l’ensemble. Il accrédite parfaitement cette idée selon laquelle il est bon, avant de jouer deux notes, d’apprendre à savoir en jouer une. J’aime que les musiciens, que je laisse toujours totalement libres dans leur interprétation, n’oublient jamais leurs relations avec l’ensemble, avec chaque élément de cet ensemble. Il y a là une sorte de…géométrie qui amène la poésie. Sur cet album, j’ai notamment  voulu explorer ça avec les instruments à vent. Des outils extraordinaires, auxquels je voue une affection particulière – et surtout la clarinette, qui est sans doute l’un des instruments les plus proches de la voix humaine. Sur cet album, il y a eu des moments de partage et de découverte incomparables…Dans ce genre de conditions, enregistrer ne peut être qu’une expérience apaisante, facile. Si le disque conne si calme, ce n’est pas seulement par choix esthétique : nous étions réellement, les uns et les autres, dans un grand état des sérénité. »

Après ça, qui osera prêter à cette musique des origines extraterrestres ?

Si ce disque semble détaché du monde, c’est surtout, qu’il est d’une implacable beauté, d’une cruauté inouïe pour ses contemporains. Sous son imperturbable tranquillité brûle un bûcher qui flambera pas mal de vanités : un art sans âge qui accélère le vieillissement déjà bien engagé de la majeure partie de la populations musicale. C’est aussi un disque qui, du coup, semble sans retour. A tel point qu’on demande finalement à Mark Hollis s’il ne craint pas d’avoir atteint là le bout d’une sublime impasse, un point final. Il sourit, répond sans ciller que oui peut-être, qu’il n’en sait rien. N’osant dire, sans doute, qu’il s’en fout un peu. Le temps ne joue plus contre Hollis et Hollis ne court plus âpres le temps. Comme si ces deux-là s’étaient rejoints, apprivoisés, mêlés, agissaient désormais dans le même camp, sur un même plan. Tranquillement souverains et pareillement insaisissables.

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NME: 17th January 1998

Before we get to the heart of the matter: Mark Hollis used to be the singer in Talk Talk, a group who began their career as tie-tucked-into-shirts Duran imitators at the start of the ‘80s and ended it ten years later as the moodiest practitioners of avant-pop since Roxy Music.

Pop will remember them for a handful of classic singles, including the unimpeachably great ‘Life’s What You Make It’, but an army of fans, hooked on the sort of intensity that makes Kevin Rowland look half-hearted, have dug in for the long haul. Their reward, a cool six years on, is an album that finds Mark Hollis armed only with an acoustic guitar, a bagful of free-jazz arrangements and a set of mood pieces that will have old fans striding through Elysian fields of delight and Aqua fans running screaming.

Let us not be shy: the mood throughout ‘Mark Hollis’ is as prickly and strangely foreboding as it ever was. Where once, it seems, there were the occasional shards of light in Mark’s world, even on 1991’s valedictory ‘Laughing Stock’ album, here he assumes the mantle of musical Luddite, shunning the illusory tricks of technology for a stripped-bare authenticity and a heart-rending self-absorption which allows him to have song titles like ‘A Life (1895-1915)’ without the merest thought for what non-fans may make of it.

Musically, an opening ‘Colour Of Spring’ boasts a twanging acoustic and huge orchestras of silence, while elsewhere we get the occasional midnight pulse of bass and sliver of harmonica (a positively epic ‘The Daily Planet’), the odd tumble of jazz-club sleaziness (‘The Gift’) and Mark’s ever-swelling voice, forever too intent on creating the necessary mood to ever afford more than the odd glimpse of a recognisable lyric.

So idiosyncratic is the combined effect that to liken the entire 47 minutes to anyone (or even a single genre) would be to do it a disservice, but in terms of mood; there are shades of the disembodied folk of John Martyn’s ‘Solid Air’, the pop desolation of Radiohead’s ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, and even the yearning spaciousness of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’, all enveloped in the sort of elegiac mood that quite clearly makes Mark a less than ideal candidate to organise the Millennium festivities.

Not so much a comeback album, then, after six years away, but a comedown album, free from the fleeting concerns of commerciality but built rather as a haunted symphony, as indefinable as time itself.

Be assured, then: this is strange and beautiful music.

(8 out of 10)

Paul Moody

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The Independent: 23rd January 1998

This may well turn out to be one of the albums of 1998, but as with all Hollis’s output since Talk Talk’s 1988 opus Spirit Of Eden, we won’t really be able to tell for another year or two, so diffuse is the music it contains.

That album and its follow-up Laughing Stock were often (erroneously) compared to Astral Weeks, a record whose textural depth they emulated, though not its passion. With Hollis’s first solo album proper, the process of diffusion continues further, with delicate, tentative settings based on acoustic guitar and piano, and serious, painfully sensitive vocals that often seem little more than prompts.

It certainly bears no relation to rock’n’roll, but instead seems to aspire to the condition of classical music, with the enigmatic, faintly quizzical wind arrangements of tracks such as “A Life (1895-1915)” and “The Daily Planet” particularly reminiscent of the open, asymmetric patternings of the American minimalist Morton Feldman.

Like Feldman, Hollis prefers to let his melodies accrete over time, like dust settling, rather than be forcefully stated. The results play strange tricks with time: though few of these eight tracks last under five minutes, they barely seem to have begun before they’re finished. 

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The Independent: 24th January 1998

The first album by the former songwriter and vocalist of Talk Talk - after a seven-year lay-off - isn’t quite what you’d expect. The full-blooded arrangements of oldies including “Life’s What You Make It” have given way to skeletal melodies, so Hollis’s emotional deliberations are very naked. Sometimes gospel power is with him, but mostly he appears very unsure of himself. 

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The Sunday Times: 25th January 1998

ANDREW SMITH meets the former Talk Talk singer whose haunting new album marks the next stage in an intriguing musical odyssey.

There have been stranger lives in pop, but few more peculiar musical journeys than Mark Hollis’s. Hunched over a pint in a pub on a cold afternoon in Wimbledon Village, south London, his high voice will strike anyone who ever turned on a radio in the 1980s as familiar - this despite the fact that it has scarcely been heard in public for seven years. For Hollis began that decade as singer with the synth-pop group Talk Talk, the poor new romantic’s Duran Duran, and ended it as singer/composer with a combo powerful and imaginative enough to make The Spirit of Eden, a wholly new kind of rock album that owed more to Miles Davis than Madonna, or even Prince. Bizarrely, that combo was also called Talk Talk and the price of their post-rock adventures was forfeiture of their enormous commercial success   and an acrimonious dispute with their record company.

On the other hand, few records made in that era have endured so well as The Spirit of Eden, just as few current albums will endure so well as Mark Hollis’s new, eponymous solo album. In its quiet way, Mark Hollis, the record (out on February 2), is as radical and innovative as anything by Goldie or Spiritualized. What’s more, seldom has such a successful “pop” record been less rooted in its time. Like Radiohead’s OK Computer, there is nothing to tie this music to 1998. Modern classical buffs will recognise something in the structure, instrumentation and shifting harmonic content of the pieces here, while jazz fans will be drawn to the lithe, lingering, free spirit of the playing. Those raised on pop will warm to the soul in Hollis’s surging, melancholic voice and the compactness of the arrangements. And if such a description makes Hollis’s project sound drily academic, now is the time to point out that the chief virtue of his work is its striking, understated beauty. There is no question but that it will be in my top 10 albums of the year, come December.

Looking thinner and more frail than he last did, dressed in a blue jumper of the type junior school boys wear with shorts, the reasons for Hollis’s absence soon become clear. Softly spoken, with his broad Tottenham accent sounding as fruitily at odds with the rarefied nature of his music as it ever has, he describes sitting at a piano hitting a single key for four days on end, listening intently to the special cadences of the sound draining from a dying string. He will also enthuse about dissonance and Miles Davis and Ravel and Can and John Cage and Ornette Coleman and fail to mention a single other “pop” artist at any stage of our discussion. Surprisingly, he doesn’t see the unorthodox trajectory of his career as anything other than logical, even inevitable. Surely, you’ll suggest, as the first hit singles were spilling from Talk Talk’s strangled debut album, The Party’s Over, he would never have seen himself ending up here? But no. “The thing is, those records were just driven by wanting to not to repeat ourselves,” he almost whispers. “To me, it doesn’t look odd.”

After that maiden album, things improved rapidly for Talk Talk, partly through the addition of producer/collaborator Tim Friese-Greene. Their second offering, It’s My Life, was still in the synth-pop mould, but hits like the title track and Such a Shame were imbued with a shimmering depth and subtlety their labelmates Duran Duran would never get anywhere near. By The Colour of Spring (1986), the group had shrugged off the earlier perceptions of them, ditching synths, trading their catchy but clever four-minute pop songs for more expansive, intricate ones. The best-known tune from that period, Life’s What You Make It, was predicated on a four-note piano bassline that stayed constant from start to finish, allowing Hollis’s voice and the other instruments to swirl around it - especially guest musician Steve Winwood’s swelling organ and the monumental guitar hook contributed by Pretenders guitarist Robbie MacIntosh. Not only was this a rousing number, it was devilishly clever. Talk Talk were now big stars on both sides of the Atlantic.

It is easy to see how EMI’s accountants might have been a tad peeved when they heard The Spirit of Eden two years later, inspired though it was. Hollis and Friese-Greene had reached the end of what they could do within a standard pop format. They had decided to move beyond it.

“The Spirit of Eden was definitely the album where I thought, ‘This is it. This is what we’ve been reaching for,’ “ Hollis now says. “Two things came together. First, because we’d previously sold so many records, we had a very large recording budget, which we decided to use to give us freedom to experiment. And second, digital recording had just come in.”

Most artists were fired by the clarity of the sound that could be produced in digital studios, but Talk Talk saw further ways of harnessing the new technology. Now music could be recorded, then moved around - cut and paste if you like - without the degeneration in quality that would occur with traditional tape recording systems. The Spirit of Eden was the first album to test the limits of this development. The idea was to improvise, as a jazz band would, then take the elements and arrange them into an album structure afterwards. Thus, the playing was fluid and exploratory (“A musical idea will never be as good as the first time it’s expressed,” Hollis notes), while at the same time being subjugated to the requirements of the piece as a whole. The mood was sombre, reflective, but with an elegiac afterglow that drew you back again and again. And still does.

Talk Talk made one more fine album, Laughing Stock, in 1991, before going their separate ways. “There was no big split,” Hollis shrugs. “By the end, everything was so loose that walking away didn’t seem like a wrench. We’d reached an end point.” In execution, Mark Hollis, the album, turns The Spirit of Eden on its head. In the intervening years, its maker had learnt to read and write music and had been composing short pieces for woodwind and piano (“just for the sake of it, not with any notion that it would be heard by anybody else”). He put his new skills to good use: the delicate tendrils of woodwind and brass that lead into the bluesy track A Life (1895-1915) or the spare, brilliantly evocative piano figures that underpin Inside Looking Out and the opening spiritual, The Colour of Spring, would probably have been beyond him previously.

“The idea was to have carefully worked-out structures, within which the musicians would have a lot of freedom. I’d just say to them, okay, we’re here , we want to get there - now let’s play. And I wanted there to be no more than four or five things happening at any one time. Over the course of the record, there are probably 20 musicians involved, but I wanted it to feel like a small combo from start to finish.”

This combines with the fact that everything has been recorded acoustically - almost unheard of nowadays - to create a rare, passionate, intimacy, a stillness of a type that many pop-inclined listeners may never have experienced before. “It’s nice to take your hearing down a step,” Hollis remarked recently. “There are ways of listening rather than just hearing, if you’re prepared to make the effort.” On the evidence he presents, few would deny that it’s an effort worth making.

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The Times: 30th January 1998

The former mainstay of Talk Talk, singer and guitarist Mark Hollis moves in a leisurely way his wonders to perform. Seven years since the last Talk Talk album he emerges with the first offering under his own name, a collection of quiet, still and scrupulously sculpted pieces played entirely on unamplified acoustic instruments: piano, guitar, a wind quintet, harmonica, harmonium, double-bass, percussion and occasional drums.

With his distinctively high, pleading tone, and a style of enunciation so approximate that it makes Van Morrison sound like Vera Lynn, Hollis sings with a heartbreaking purity of emotion, while the music unfolds like ripples spreading on the surface of a pond. The result is frequently mesmerising.

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Der Spiegel: 26th January 1998

REDUZIERT: Die Wandlungen des Mark Hollis finden viele seiner Fans äußerst merkwürdig: In den achtziger Jahren hatte er mal eine Band, die Talk Talk hieß; ihr größter Hit war "Such A Shame". Weil Hollis trotzdem nicht zufrieden war, veränderte er Talk Talk ständig. Genauer gesagt: Er reduzierte radikal. Erst die Songs, dann die Band. Deshalb ist sein erstes Soloalbum auch ein Meisterwerk der Stille geworden. Leise, fast behutsam erklingen da Bläser oder ein Klavier, und immer wenn seine Stimme zu hören ist, möchte man die Luft anhalten, um sie nicht zu vertreiben. Daran sollte er vorerst nichts ändern

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Gaffa: 26th January 1998

Syv år er der gået siden det sidste livstegn fra Mark Hollis, hvor hans band Talk Talk udgav værket Laughing Stock. Et album, der ligesom forgængeren, et af firsernes absolut bedste albums Spirit of Eden, var kendetegnet ved sin blanding af pompøs og orkestral opsætning, hvor skingre udladninger blev afbrudt af pauserne mellem taktslagene - sekvenser, der befandt sig på grænsen til det selvudslettende. Albummet satte nye standarder, for hvordan morderne rockmusik kunne komponeres. Samtidig var det den største ko-vending i engelsk rock nogensinde, et kommercielt selvmord af de helt store.

Fra at have spillet hitorienteret synthrock på de første to albums skiftede bandet spor musikalsk, så eftertrykkeligt, at pladeselskabet opsagde kontrakten. Men for Mark Hollis var ambitionerne større end bare at befinde sig på hitlisterne og se kasseapparaterne snurre. Efter at have brugt år på at studere nodeopsætning og komponere musik for træblæseinstrumeter, skal forventningerne nu skal indfries med hans første soloudspil Mark Hollis. Og det bliver de, albummet ligger i umiddelbar forlængelse af Talk Talks to sidste udgivelser, men adskiller sig ved at være komplet akustisk, helt indtil sidste tone klinger ud. Væk er de pludselige dissonante udbrud, hvor guitaristen Tim Friese-Greenes guitar gennemhullede pauserne i det yderst komplekse lydbillede.

Mark Hollis er indspillet med Phil Ramekin (piano), Dominic Miller og Warne Livesey (guitar) og produceret af Hollis selv. Åbneren The Colour Of Spring er såre smuk kun med et regnvejrsdryppende piano, hvor hver tone for lov til at klinge helt ud, inden Hollis' skrøbelige stemme sagte sætter ind med en fornemmelse af, hvordan han smager på hvert eneste ord. The Watershed kunne ligeså godt være Talk Talk med det piskesmældsagtige percussion i forgrunden og en skinger blæser, der bevæger sig tæt på smertegrænsen. På The Gift og The Daily Planet nærmer opbygningen sig musikalsk en moderne form for jazz, hvor skæve vinkler og strittende forløb slår om sig i bedste Miles Davis-stil.

Det bemærkelsesværdige ved de fleste numre er stilheden mellem tonerne, hvor resonansen får lov til at klinge helt ud. Mark Hollis er hverken hit eller pop, men snarere moderne kompositionsmusik med klassisk tilgang, hvor eneren Mark Hollis endnu engang viser sin enorme musikalske begavelse og sjælelige instinkt på grænsen til genistregen.

5 stjerner *****

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Financial Times: 30th January 1998

It is always something of a risk to leave the comforting surrounds of a successful pop band and decide to go it alone. The post-Beatle careers of John Lennon and Paul McCartney are only the most famous, indeed near- mythical, examples of what happens when group chemistry is tampered with. For every Sting or George Michael who has successfully shed his early group persona, there are many more who have foundered in the attempt to go solo.

Take the sharply contrasting fortunes of two new solo debutants: on the positive side, there is Mark Hollis, former front-man of Talk Talk who, on his eponymous Polydor album, has produced an unexpectedly delicate, introspective work.

From the first silent moments of the opening ‘The Colour of Spring’ which has you checking the volume control, Hollis establishes a fragile, haunting mood which is sustained throughout. His voice is not the easiest to get on with, frequently striving for diminuendos for which he is technically not well-enough equipped, but there is plenty of expressiveness. He is aided by the album’s sparse acoustic accompaniments which make intelligent use of rare (in pop) instruments: a bassoon next to a harmonica, cor anglais, woodwind ensembles; all add to the sense of dislocation.

The work’s centrepiece is ‘A Life (1895-1915)’, inspired by Hollis’s reading of Vera Brittain, a plaintive lament which flirts with dissonance but never slips out of control. Here, the wide spaces in the music and wistful piano chords have us thinking of 1880s Impressionism rather than 1980s New Romanticism. A further couple of minutes of ambient silence at the end of the album intensifies the ghostly mood. Not one to play before a night out on the town.

You might, on the other hand, try Ian Brown’s Unfinished Monkey Business (Polydor) to liven things up a bit: the former Stone Roses man kicks off his solo debut with a crashing, home-made introduction of assorted noises-off which augurs well, particularly when followed by the cheerful cosmic bop of the new single ‘My Star’.

Sadly, the spirit of relaxed experimentation turns into cacophonous self-indulgence: things get bad with the inaptly-named ‘Sunshine’, which sounds like a rejected J.J. Cale demo, and worse still with the abysmal ‘Lions’ and its irritating refrain.

Where Hollis has used the detachment from his band to turn inward and explore terrain which is often neglected in pop music, Brown has thrashed around in several different directions, but made no progress. Even in such a notoriously unfettered art as pop, the first lesson of going solo is the need for discipline. Hollis has understood that; Brown has yet to get there.

Peter Aspden 

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Melody Maker: 31st January 1998

Book-ended by silence “Mark Hollis” is a quiet album on a silent place, recorded with just a couple of microphones strategically placed to pick up every nuance and texture of a few musicians gently stepping their way through Hollis’ painfully delicate songs.

Which is a million miles away from most people’s memories of Talk Talk, the studio-bound multi-layered creation responsible for some of the Eighties’ finest and most satisfying pop moments. It’s tempting to say that with this solo album, Hollis has stripped out the Eighties from his songwriting, and what we’re left with are the bare bones, the skeletal trees of melodies and songs, standing alone deep in uninhabited landscapes.

And there are the occasional echoes of Talk Talk here and there. Obviously, there’s them man’s voice. But where it was once fulsome and powerful, now it’s cracked and quiet. Words are swallowed and underplayed, like the tremulous woodwind which breathes across much of the album. There’s a hint at the fine, driving piano of the sublime 1986 hit, “Life’s What You Make It” - the song which for most people is Talk Talk - and the temptation to bellow: “Babe! Life’s what you make it” over the top is strong.

But the idea of “Mark Hollis” is just a stripped version of Talk Talk is hopelessly inaccurate. This is a whole new approach for him, the culmination of a couple of years’ worth of writing for a woodwind quintet and the gradual winding down of Talk Talk from the full-blown Eighties lush pop act to the increasingly personal and understated beauty of 1991’s “Laughing Stock”. While that record was somewhat undermined by EMI’s rehashing of old Talk Talk material and releasing a ghastly remix album, this one is emerging in a vacuum, naked and trembling.

Some of the arrangements might stir memories of animated Czechoslovakian folk tales and jar slightly to the ear tuned to the standard generic needs of the Nineties (guitars, drum machines, verses and choruses, please), but anyone who owns a Miles Davis album, has a soft spot for Led Zeppelin’s earlier acoustic dabblings and likes a change of pace from time to time will find a gem which will keep unravelling on every listen. Tracks like “The Daily Planet”, a brushed jazz cymbal-led tune of spine-tingling chords and some raw harmonica breaks, and “The Gift” - the first two bars of which will be sampled and turned into the template for a huge international rap hit before the millennium’s out - lodge into the memory while somehow remaining deliciously fleeting.

Oh sorry, did I come over all “Jazz Club” there? Well, erm, nice.

Mark Roland

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Magic: Janvier 1998

Sept ans. Sept années sans doute passées tapi dans l’ombre, protégé contre toutes les révolutions technologiques, avançant à tâtons en tentant de résoudre ses équations musicales. C’est ainsi qu’on a imaginé à l’époque Mark Hollis, peaufinant le moindre changement d’accord, dirigeant à la baguette les seize musiciens chargés de l’accompagner dans l’accomplissement de son premier album solo. Entre notes d’une justesse rare et silences à la musicalité exacerbée, ce reclus iconoclaste avait pris le parti de se dévoiler, en janvier 1998, dans une nudité absolue, poursuivant le grand œuvre initié avec son groupe Talk Talk. Un groupe au parcours sidérant, débutant sous les auspices du néoromantisme et d’une vague electropop très prisée à l’époque de sa formation, en 1981. Signé sur la major EMI, le quatuor formé par Hollis (chant, guitare), Lee Harris (batterie), Paul Webb (basse) et Simon Brenner (claviers) obéit alors au diktat de son label, qui impose look, producteur et direction musicale afin de mieux profiter de l’air du temps, alors que le jeune leader prend son mal en patience. Le succès britannique est au rendez-vous à la sortie du très synthétique (1982), porté par les deux hits mineurs Talk Talk et Today. Mais pour Mark, demain est un autre jour. Déjà mutique, il commence sa mue à son rythme, sans vouloir effrayer ses employeurs et avec l’appui de sa section rythmique. Brenner débarqué, le néo-trio explore de nouveaux horizons.

Les compositions s’étirent, lorgnent vers l’acoustique et le groupe se trouve en la personne de Tim Friese-Greene son George Martin, son Martin Hannett, son Dave Fridmann. À l’aune de son deuxième LP, It’s My Life (1984), il se met certes à dos la Perfide Albion, mais trouve un chic public sur le Vieux Continent, conquis par la ritournelle mélancolique Such A Shame. Surtout, dissimulé derrière ses lunettes rondes et noires, Hollis prend confiance et conscience de ses possibilités. Il ouvre le pan de ses influences, parle musique concrète et classique, jazz et dub. Il élargit ses champs d’action, à l’image de l’ambitieux The Colour Of Spring (1986), laissant s’échapper malgré une certaine complexité un hit qui reconquiert le Royaume-Uni, puis franchit l’Atlantique, Life’s What You Make It. Une belle déclaration d’intention que Talk Talk semble prêt à appliquer à ses ambitions artistiques. Fort de ces succès populaires, le groupe pense pouvoir agir en toute impunité. Alors, sur Spirit Of Eden (1988), il tourne définitivement le dos à d’éventuelles velléités commerciales. Après avoir jeté le terme pop aux oubliettes, sa tête pensante, épaulée dans “l’écriture” par un Friese-Greene omniprésent, préfigure le “post-rock, The Verve et Radiohead”, comme l’écrit, en avril 2009, Alan McGee dans The Guardian. Cette musique improvisée, enregistrée dans l’obscurité puis agencée en studio par ces véritables sculpteurs sonores, déplait à ce point au label que ce dernier va jusqu’à traîner la formation et son leader devant les tribunaux pour avoir conçu un disque anticommercial.

Débouté, EMI va se venger en réalisant, en 1990, le best of Natural History, puis, l’année suivante, une compilation d’abominables remixes, History Revisited, commandités sans l’aval d’un Mark Hollis outré. Il claque d’ailleurs la porte de sa maison de disques, qu’il… attaque à son tour en justice, toujours en quête de sa liberté artistique absolue. Ce que lui promettent Polydor et la légendaire enseigne de jazz Verve, sur laquelle voit le jour Laughing Stock (1991), fort de six compositions au charme crépusculaire et aux tensions obsédantes, où se croisent les ombres de Miles Davis, La Monte Young ou Tim Buckley, entre inflexions free et accents folk. On ne le sait pas encore, mais ce cinquième chapitre plongé dans un clair-obscur rayonnant sera le chant du cygne de Talk Talk. Muets, certains de ses membres ne le restent pas bien longtemps puisque Harris renoue avec Paul Webb (futur metteur en son de l’échappée solitaire de Beth Gibbons, en 2002) et prend ses quartiers au sein de O’Rang, dont la musique abstraite se décline sur deux albums au charme onirique – Herb Of Instinct en 1994, puis Fields & Waves deux ans plus tard. Influence absolue de bon nombre d’ambassadeurs du post-rock (à commencer par Labradford et Bark Psychosis) et autres représentants d’une faction du trip hop (le premier LP d’Archive, entre autres), l’ombre de Talk Talk plane sur la fin du XXe siècle.

Hollis, lui, s’en moque, préférant donc peaufiner la suite logique de son épopée sonore. C’est pour lever le voile sur cette œuvre monochrome et faire la lumière sur ces années de silence que l’on était partis à Londres dans les frimas de l’hiver 1997-98, afin de rencontrer un homme que l’on pensait taiseux et timide, avant de découvrir un musicien accueillant et plus bavard que son art. Certes, au terme d’une interview réalisée dans un bureau de Polydor aussi dépouillé que les compositions de ce disque funambule, Mark Hollis s’était montré incapable d’évoquer son avenir musical. Quelques mois plus tard, sa présence au piano sur l’album épouvantail de UNKLE, Psyence Fiction (1998), laissait penser que l’homme avait de la suite dans les idées et des envies concrètes. Pourtant, douze ans plus tard, ce sont les paroles de A New Jerusalem qui résonnent ad libitum : “Heaven burn me/Should I swear to fight once more…”

Magic : Vous aviez disparu de la circulation depuis 1991, et la sortie de l’album de Talk Talk Laughing Stock…

Mark Hollis : Après un disque, il s’ensuit toujours pour moi une période pendant laquelle j’éprouve le besoin de faire le vide… Personnellement, au terme de l’enregistrement de Laughing Stock, j’étais arrivé à un stade où il fallait vraiment que je prenne du recul. De toute façon, je refuse de me sentir obligé de composer dans un cadre précis. Je ne supporte pas l’idée que des compositions doivent obligatoirement former un disque. Ce qui ne signifie pas pour autant que pendant ce temps, je ne fais plus de musique, bien au contraire… À une époque, j’ai surtout écrit des pièces instrumentales, certaines très simples mais d’autres plutôt fragmentées, que je destinais à des quatuors à cordes.

Et cette période a-t-elle influencé votre approche musicale pour ce disque ?

Oui, énormément. Pour Spirit Of Eden et Laughing Stock, nous avions imaginé des arrangements impliquant un nombre incalculable d’instruments. Cette fois-ci, au contraire, je voulais diminuer leur nombre. Je souhaitais revenir à une certaine simplicité tout en arrivant à suggérer les mêmes impressions, les mêmes émotions. Pour arriver à matérialiser ce qu’on a en tête, il faut savoir parfois prendre son temps… Effectivement, six années, ça peut paraître énorme. Mais pas pour moi. (Sourire.) Tu commences à composer parce que tu aimes la musique, un point c’est tout. Et cet amour doit rester la seule raison valable, il ne doit pas y en avoir d’autres. Mais il finit par arriver un moment où tu en as marre de trouver encore et toujours la même solution à un problème mélodique que tu as déjà résolu dans le passé… Tu te lasses à force de retomber toujours sur un même son, une même note, une même approche. C’est ce qui m’est arrivé. Et il a donc fallu que je trouve d’autres issues. (Sourire.)

L’un des aspects primordiaux semble être votre utilisation du… silence, parfois à l’intérieur même de la composition.

Tout à fait ! Mais il existait deux autres notions essentielles… La première était que l’album soit entièrement réalisé à l’aide d’instruments acoustiques. Ça peut paraître prétentieux, mais j’aime l’idée d’une musique pouvant exister hors d’un cadre temporel précis. Je souhaiterais que l’époque à laquelle j’enregistre ne soit pas “perceptible”. Et je crois que seule l’acoustique peut offrir une telle possibilité. En plus, elle te permet d’utiliser à merveille la résonance des notes, surtout lorsque tu joues à un niveau sonore assez faible. Je suis toujours impressionné par cette nature si fragile de la musique… Quant à la seconde notion, elle est liée avec les problèmes que j’évoquais tout à l’heure et cette obsession de ne pas les résoudre de la même manière. D’ailleurs, pour cela aussi, l’acoustique s’imposait… Car il était ainsi bien plus difficile de trouver des solutions. (Sourire.)

Dès lors, est-ce que votre travail sur le son ne prend pas le pas sur la chanson ?

C’est une question piège… (Il sourit et réfléchit.) Aujourd’hui, il est évident que ma façon de composer tient plus compte du son que de la chanson. Ceci dit, je suis convaincu que les compositions doivent tout de même épouser une certaine forme, accepter un cadre. Maintenant, pour moi, le terme même de chanson implique une structure bien trop définie. Je préfère laisser “voyager” mes morceaux et voir par instant s’ouvrir des portes qui permettent de continuer le voyage. Mais il ne faut pas tomber dans le travers inverse et se dire que dans ce cas, tu es libre de faire tout et n’importe quoi…


Après avoir enregistré pendant dix ans au sein d’un groupe, est-il facile de réaliser un disque sous son propre patronyme ?

En fait, si je sors cet album sous mon nom, ce n’est ni par volonté, ni par caprice… Mais en toute honnêteté, je ne pense pas que ce disque puisse être envisagé comme une œuvre de Talk Talk. Cela aurait été mentir que de l’avoir crédité au groupe. D’autant que l’une des pièces maîtresses en était Tim Friese-Greene. Et le simple fait qu’il ne soit pas impliqué dans ce projet m’interdisait l’utilisation de ce nom…

À quel moment, avez-vous su que vous n’alliez pas retravailler avec Tim Friese-Greene : dès que vos compositions ont pris forme ?

Oui, c’était alors une évidence. Mais déjà avant… À la fin de Laughing Stock, j’avais deviné que l’approche que nous avions adoptée était arrivée à son terme. Nous ne pouvions pas aller plus loin ensemble. Je ne voulais pas que notre esprit d’expérimentation se transforme en routine.

Le premier morceau porte le même titre qu’un album de Talk Talk, The Colour Of Spring…

La raison principale en est assez simple, en fait : je trouvais que ce titre illustrait parfaitement les paroles que j’avais écrites. Et puis, j’aime bien croiser les références. Je me suis déjà amusé à le faire… Le dernier single extrait de The Colour Of Spring s’intitulait I Don’t Believe In You et celui qui a suivi, le seul que l’on ait sorti de Spirit Of Eden portait comme titre I Believe In You. (Sourire.)

Sur votre disque, on trouve ce long morceau, A Life (1895-1915), dont le titre reste assez énigmatique…

Il évoque une personne qui meurt à l’âge de dix-neuf ans, une année après le début de la première guerre mondiale. Et dans ce cours laps de temps, elle a connu un changement de siècle, toute l’hystérie qui a régné avant la déclaration de cette guerre, la propagande puis la triste réalité… Je ne suis pas du tout un passionné d’Histoire mais j’étais très intéressé par cette période aussi ai-je lu beaucoup d’ouvrages la concernant.

Vous vous intéressez à la scène musicale actuelle ?

Sincèrement, ce n’est pas qu’elle ne m’intéresse pas, mais je n’ai pas le temps ! J’écoute énormément de musique mais surtout du jazz de la fin des années 50 ou du début des sixties, ainsi que de la musique classique des années 20 : ce sont les deux époques que je préfère… Et il me reste encore plein de choses à découvrir. Alors, je consacre tout mon temps libre à rattraper mes lacunes. Mais je ne cherche pas du tout à éviter la production moderne.

D’ailleurs, la production est très proche du jazz…

(Il sourit.) Quand tu te tournes vers le passé, tu t’aperçois qu’il existait une approche de la production complètement différente… Aujourd’hui, en particulier en Angleterre, on a l’impression que le terme “production” est devenu un gros mot. Dans les années 60, sur les disques de jazz en particulier, mais aussi dans le rock, le résultat était souvent l’œuvre d’un boulot en commun. Prends quelqu’un comme Jimmy Miller par exemple : il bossait toujours avec Glyn Johns et les deux étaient complémentaires. L’un était là pour prêter attention aux arrangements alors que l’autre était complètement obnubilé par le son. C’est pourquoi Phil Brown a joué un rôle essentiel dans la conception de mon disque… Ce travail mutuel est pour moi fondamental. Au jazz, j’ai aussi voulu emprunter cette sensation de live, même si tout le monde ne jouait pas en même temps, mais par petits groupes… En fait, nous n’utilisions que deux micros pour enregistrer.

Vous avez fait appel à beaucoup de musiciens ?

Seize personnes jouent sur le disque, des gens avec qui j’avais déjà travaillé, comme Robbie McIntosh, et des personnes qui m’ont été recommandées, comme Ian Dickson… Il fallait que je sois sûr que tout le monde puisse comprendre où je voulais en venir.

Vous leur avez-vous laissé une certaine liberté ?

Liberté ? (Il prend son temps.) Oui, en quelque sorte, dans le sens où je laisse à chaque musicien la possibilité d’opter pour plusieurs interprétations possibles. On enregistre souvent plusieurs versions… Plus rapides, plus lentes, plus mélancoliques. J’ai toujours considéré comme primordial le fait d’utiliser la personnalité d’un musicien, afin qu’il apporte sa touche, son interprétation ou plutôt sa vision au morceau. Mais il n’y a aucune forme d’improvisation sur le disque. Enfin si, deux : la trompette et l’harmonica The Watershed… Mais pour le reste, on s’en est tenu à ce qui était écrit.


Votre musique a une dimension très visuelle. Vous seriez attiré par l’exercice de la bande originale de film?

J’adorerais ça. J’aime énormément le cinéma, en particulier l’école européenne… Mes deux films favoris sont Les Enfants Du Paradis et Le Voleur De Bicyclettes. Dès lors, le problème se poserait pour moi de trouver un long métrage aussi fort. Sans oublier qu’il faudrait que quelqu’un ait envie de faire appel à mes services… (Sourire.) Il y a très longtemps, on m’avait demandé de composer un thème pour un documentaire. J’avais demandé toute latitude et j’avais prévenu que le résultat serait très différent de ce que je pouvais faire alors avec Talk Talk. Comme de bien entendu, on m’avait laissé carte blanche, mais une fois que les gens ont écouté le résultat, ils m’ont demandé si on ne pouvait pas rajouter un peu de batterie, faire quelque chose de plus enjoué… J’ai donc tout foutu à la poubelle !

Il vous arrive d’écouter vos anciens disques…

Non, jamais ! Dès que le mixage est terminé, je ne réécoute plus rien. Pendant l’enregistrement, tout est encore fluctuant, tu peux faire évoluer tel ou tel détail… Mais au mix, les morceaux prennent leur forme immuable : tu es arrivé à la fin de ton travail et dès lors, il faut savoir passer à autre chose pour essayer d’avancer.

Vous pensez qu’il vous faudra encore un septennat avant de finaliser un nouveau disque ?

C’est impossible à dire ! Il faut savoir que j’avais l’intime conviction de tenir mes derniers enregistrements en Spirit Of Eden, puis en Laughing Stock, alors… (Sourire.) Tout ce que je sais, c’est que je vais continuer à composer. Je veux utiliser le piano avec une approche très minimaliste. J’ai envie de jouer sur la résonance des notes, essayer de retrouver une certaine innocence. Mais aujourd’hui, personne ne peut savoir quelle sera la finalité de ces travaux. Même pas moi…

Christophe Basterra

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Magic: January 1998

Magic: You had disappeared from circulation since 1991, and the release of the Talk Talk album Laughing Stock ...

Mark Hollis: After a record, there always follows for me a period where I feel the need to create a vacuum  ... personally, after the recording of Laughing Stock, I had reached a stage where it was I ready take a step back. Anyway, I refuse to feel obliged to compose within a specific context. I can’t stand the idea that compositions are obliged to be made into a record. That does not mean that during this time, I didn’t make any music, far from it ... At one time, I mostly wrote instrumental pieces, some very simple but others rather fragmented, which I intended for string quartets.

And this time influenced your musical approach for this record?

Yes, very much. For Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock, we imagined arrangements involving countless instruments. This time, however, I wanted to reduce their number. I wanted to return to a certain simplicity while achieving the same impressions, the same emotions.

In order to materialize what I had in mind, it is necessary you know to sometimes take some time ... Indeed, six years, it can seem overwhelming. But not for me. (Smiles.) You start to compose because you love music, and that’s all. And this love must remain the only valid reason, there should not be others. But eventually there comes a time when you’re tired, again and again trying to find the same solution to a melody problem that you have already solved in the past ... You’re weary through always falling down on the same sound, the same note, the same approach. This is what happened to me. And therefore I had to find other outlets. (Smiles.)

One primary aspect seems to be ... your use of silence, sometimes within the same composition.

Absolutely! But there were two other key concepts ... The first was that the album was created entirely with acoustic instruments. It may sound pretentious, but I like the idea of music that  could exist outside of a specific time frame. I wish the time I record is not “visible”. And I believe that only acoustic instruments can offer such a possibility. In addition, it allows you to use the wonderfully resonant notes, especially when you play at a fairly low noise level. I am always impressed by this kind of so fragile music ... As for the second concept, it is linked with the problems I mentioned earlier and this obsession does not resolve the same way. Moreover, for this too, the sound was needed ... Because it was so much harder to find solutions. (Smile.)

Therefore, does your work on the sound not take precedence over the song?

This is a trick question ... (He smiles and thinks.) Today, it is clear that the way I compose mostly reflects the sound of the song. That said, I am convinced that the compositions still need to marry a certain form, accept a connection. Now, for me, the very term ‘song’ implies a too well defined structure. I prefer to let my pieces “travel” and see how they open doors that allow you to continue on a journey. But one should not fall into the opposite extreme and think that in this case, you’re free to do everything and anything ...

After recording for ten years in a group, it is easy to make a record under your own name?

In fact, if this album is released under my name, it’s not through choice or caprice. It’s because I honestly don’t think this record can be considered a Talk Talk work. It would have been dishonest to have credited it to the group. Especially as one of the centerpieces was Tim Friese-Greene. And the simple fact thatwas that he was not involved in this project, so I fobade the use of the name ...

At what point did you know that you were not going to work again with Tim Friese-Greene: As soon as your compositions took shape?

Yes, it was so obvious. But even before ... At the end of Laughing Stock, I guessed that the approach we had adopted was at an end. We could not go further together. I did not want our spirit of experimentation to become routine.

The first song on the album has the title of a Talk Talk album, the Colour of Spring...

The main reason is quite simple really: I thought it was a perfect illustration of the words I had written. And then, I like cross-referencing. I’ve had fun doing that... The last single from The Colour Of Spring was called I Don’t Believe In You and the one that followed, on Spirit Of Eden was titled I Believe In You. (Smiles.)

On your record, there is this long piece, A Life (1895-1915), whose title remains quite enigmatic ...

It’s about a person who dies at the age of nineteen, one year after the start of WWI. And in that short time there’s a change of century, all the hysteria that prevailed before the outbreak of the war, propaganda and the sad reality ... I am not a history enthusiast at all but it was a very interesting period and I’ve read many books about it.

Are you interested in the current music scene?

Honestly, it’s not that it doesn’t interest me, but I don’t have time! I listen to a lot of music but especially jazz of the late 50’s or early sixties, and the classical music of the 20s: these are the two times I prefer ... and I still have plenty to discover. So, I spend all my free time catching up with my shortcomings. But I’m not trying to avoid modern music at all.

Moreover, the production is very close to jazz ...

(He smiles.) When you turn to the past, you realize that there was a completely different approach to producation ... today, especially in England, it seems that the term “production” has become a dirty word. In the ‘60s, in jazz records in particular, but also in the rock, the result was often the work of a job share. Take someone like Jimmy Miller for example: he was always working with Glyn Johns and the two were complementary. One was there to pay attention to the arrangements while the other was completely obsessed by the sound. That is why Phil Brown played a key role in the design of my disc ... this mutual working is fundamental. As in jazz, I also wanted to borrow this feeling of being live, even if everyone didn’t play together at the same time, but in small groups ... In fact, we only used two microphones to record.

You called upon many musicians?

Sixteen people are on the record, people with whom I’ve already worked such as Robbie McIntosh, and people who were recommended, such as Ian Dickson ... I had to be sure that everybody could understand where I was coming from.

You did you give them some freedom?

Freedom? (He takes his time.) Yes, somehow, in the sense that I leave to each player the option of several possible interpretations. There are often several versions ... Faster, slower, more melancholy. I’ve always considered important the fact of using the personality of a musician, so he brings a touch, an interpretation, or rather his vision to the piece. But there is no form of improvisation on the disk. Actually there are two: the trumpet and harmonica on The Watershed ... But otherwise, they were held to what was written.

Your music has a very visual dimension. You would be attracted by the idea of doing a soundtrack?

I’d love that. I absolutely love movies, especially the European School ... My two favorite movies are The Children Of Paradise and The Bicycle Thieves. Therefore, the problem arises for me to find a film as strong. Not to mention that someone should want to use my services ... (Smiles.) Long ago, I was asked to compose a theme for a documentary. I asked at every opportunity and warned that the result would be very different from what I would do with Talk Talk. As ever, I had been allowed free rein, but once people heard the result, they asked me if we could not add a little drumming, do something more upbeat ... so I threw everything in the bin!

Do you sometimes listen to your old records?

No, never! Once mixing is complete, I never replay anything. During recording, everything is still in flux, you can evolve this or that detail ... But after the mixing, the songs have take shape, are immutable: you have arrived at the end of your work and therefore must know to move on to try to advance.

You think that you will take another seven years before finalizing a new recording?

It is impossible to say! You should know that I was convinced I’d make my last recording at Spirit Of Eden and then Laughing Stock... (Smiles.) All I know is that I will continue composing. I want to use the piano with a very minimalist approach. I want to play on the resonance of the notes, try to find a certain innocence. But today, nobody can know what the purpose of this work is. Not even me ...

Christophe Basterra

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Magic: Janvier 1998

La dernière fois qu’on entendit Mark Hollis, c’était en 1991, une éternité. A l’époque, Talk Talk publiait Laughing Stock, un disque dont on ignorait alors le caractère testamentaire.

Par contre, il était définitivement acquis que Mark Hollis, à des années-lumière de l’auteur de Such A Shame, s’affirmait comme un compositeur hors norme, quasi-inclassable, quelque part entre Tim Buckley et Charlie Mingus. Son génie incomparable n’en finissait pas d’interloquer. Un septennat plus tard, Mark Hollis réapparaît à la surface musicale, sans crier gare. Pourtant, son premier album solo est absolument unique. Sa singularité dépasse même l’entendement.

Comment peut-on, en 1998, écrire une telle musique ? Soit huit morceaux hors mode et hors du temps, fruits d’une totale liberté artistique. Dans un univers ultraformaté, ces pièces d’une huitaine de minutes sont une belle et heureuse incongruité. Véritable ovni dans le cirque rock contemporain, l’acrobate Hollis plane dans l’exercice de haute voltige. En atteignant la plénitude, il plonge l’auditeur, coi d’admiration, dans une douce béatitude.


Franck Vergeade

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Magic: January 1998

The last time we heard Mark Hollis was in 1991, an eternity. Back then, Talk Talk released a record, Laughing Stock, and one was unaware of its final testamentary character.

On the other hand, it was definitively established that Mark Hollis had emerged as an extraordinary composer, light years ahead of the author of Such A Shame,  virtually unclassifiable, somewhere between Tim Buckley and Charlie Mingus. His incomparable genius is disconcerting. And seven-years later, Mark Hollis returns to the musical surface, without warning. Yet his first solo album is absolutely unique. Its singularity surpasses understanding.

How can one write such music in 1998? Eight timeless and out-of -fashion pieces, fruits of total artistic freedom. In a world ultra conformity, these pieces are about eight minutes of beautiful and happy incongruity. A genuine alien in the contemporary rock circus, Hollis is an acrobat undertaking some high wire act. Upon reaching its peak, it plunges the listener into speechless admiration, and sweet bliss.

5 stars out of six

Franck Vergeade

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Mojo: February 1998

Six years after the final Talk Talk album, Hollis’s first solo release.

The six albums over 15 years featuring Mark Hollis have documented a most remarkable transformation. Talk Talk’s The Party’s Over (1982) and It’s My Life (19084) are as ‘early 80s’ as the beads in the hair of Kajagoogoo’s bassist, all New Romantic bombast, ugly synthetic percussion, buzzing, bleary keyboards and a singer, Hollis, seemingly from the same declamatory, pained vocal school as Le Bon, Hadley et al.

The Colour of Spring (1986) was a commercial and credibility breakthrough, featuring the hit, Life’s What you Make It, a compelling piano-driven groove with transcendental Mellotron, howling guitar and Hollis, in his new context, sounding like one of the great white soul singers. Chameleon Day, however, was the signifying track. A random-sounding, synthesized wind ensemble bookend Hollis alternately murmuring (“Only of the night/ My relief in it’s falling) and igniting (“Killing time / I cradle fire) over skeletal, impressionistic-gospel piano and Samuel Barber strings.

If on Colour of Spring it was the strange track, by Spirit of Eden (1998) and especially Laughing Stock (1991) this kind of intense, near abstract soundscape was what Talk Talk did – the extreme delicacy of an organ chord offsetting searing, distorted harmonica or guitar with dobro, cor anglais, a cathedral choir and a dozen other texture providing flecks of colour and whispers of meaning. And somewhere in there, over rambling, subtle song structures, Hollis’s fragmented, virtually incomprehensible vocal wearily cracking, carrying the very weight of the world.

This remains the familiarly elusive territory of Mark Hollis, but attuned ears will make much of the chamber-sized ensembles, the relatively controlled quality (It was nearly all pre-scored), the enchanting wind quintet sketches, the absence of amplified instruments, the intimacy, the sounds of human interaction with acoustic instruments, the creak of a chair, even a pre-music sigh, all take their relevant place in this uniquely haunting soundworld. And a few listens in the splashes of sound start taking elegant shape, like staring at clouds and seeing faces.

Opening track The Colour of Spring (no connection to the 1986 album) is typically fragile. Accompanied only by piano and barely-so8udned clarinet, Hollis intones what sounds like the host of an ancient gospel tune, with beautiful Ravelian chords in the middle (courtesy of pianist Phil Ramacon, who along with Warne Livesey and guitarist Dominic Miller is the latest collaborator to be sucked into the Hollis aesthetic.). The Gift has a rolling jazz vamp supporting wracked harmonica. The eight minute A Life (1895-1915) beings with a halting, fragmentary wind which gives way to a minimal piano and guitar motif over which float three female voices, whisper chanting in French. Starting with 17 seconds and ending with two full minutes of room ambience and tape hiss, the extraordinary atmosphere in Mark Hollis is one of awed respect for holy silence and a profound reluctance to break it.

Advocates will consider this to be among the most beautiful music ever made; critics (which usually include his record companies) will complain of increasingly rarefied minimalism that no one has any se for. Hollis, an artist to his bones, can only make the music he considers needs to be made, in his own time. Long may he.

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Mojo: February 1998

Tape hiss, barely-audible lyrics, no amplification... Mark Hollis has ended a six-year hiatus with possibly the quietest record ever made. By Chris Ingham.

Why all acoustic?

Acoustic instruments cannot be dated to any period. Also, I love very small things at work in classical music and jazz, and I wanted the idea of hold music, so it was what instruments could operate in small formats and make the crossover, weave in and out of those areas. I liked the idea of a bassoon operating alongside a harmonica. And clarinet has got to be the best instrument that exists.

The record is very much the sound of musicians and their instruments in a room.

It’s going back to the most basic way to record. When acoustic instruments generally get recorded people want to make the sound bigger than they are. I like their fragile nature and intimacy.

There’s a definite sense of continuity from the last two albums. Where does Talk Talk end and Mark Hollis begin?

With Time [Friese-Green, producer and con-songwriter] not being involved, this couldn’t be a Talk Talk album. It felt it would have been working on a name rather than on truth. Even with Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, I thought of Talk Talk just being a name they go out under. Also there’s been so much pre-Eden stuff reissued, it’s almost bastardised the real way the band developed.

This must be one of the quietest records ever.

With instruments there’s a level when they’re played extremely quietly, where you get great resonance from them which doesn’t exist at a higher level. If you’re going to try something like that, you might as well try it with the voice.

But the words are barely audible, as if to hear anything too clearly would literalise things. Was this conscious?

Not at all. I took a long time writing them and it would nice to hear them, but in a musical sense it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s important that the voice sits in with the other instruments. Lyrics are very important, certainly from a singing point of view, they enable you to focus the reasons why you’re singing. At the same time I’ve always felt that singing could sound much better if you could just work phonetically rather than lyrically. Take Malcolm Mooney from Can, where he actually invented his own language. I always thought that would be great to do, if you could get away with it.

Anything you’ve heard recently that you feel an affinity with?

I’m not actually aware what is going on in rock. There is a piece by an American composer called Morton Feldman, a string quartet with a clarinet played by Ensemble Recherché – a remarkable track, operating with space and at a really low level. My album was finished, but to hear this was quite amazing for me because it really does equate with where my head’s at. Also little chamber works by Ravel and a Delage piece. Superb writing and arranging.

What is A Life (1895-1915) about?

It’s basically looking at moving into the new century and the First World War. At the time the life is terminated, the person would have been 19, one year into the war. I read All Quiet on the Western Front and Vera Brittain’s autobiography, and I think the dates relate to her boyfriend. When you’re writing you’re not looking for anything literal, just trying to get a feeling for what was going down. And when you sing it, you try to get a perspective on it.

Why are you so against presenting this live?

It’s impossible, you couldn’t do it really. It would be wrong. What this album is about for me is calm. I don’t think you get calm, in a TV studio or in a concert hall. To perform this properly everything would have to be heard at a phenomenally low level with some instruments completely annihilating others in the balance. You’d have more noise coming from a murmuring audience than from the instruments themselves.

So no live shows, no broadcasts – what next?

Some solo piano. And I want to do production work with Phil Brown. I have no idea who for, but I guess we’ll get sent stuff and see if we can relate to it. It’s really important, if you can, never to work just for the sake of it. I don’t think I can do that now. 

Time Out: February 1998

Hollis was the front man of Talk Talk for ten years. The first time I came across the band, they were about to release their eponymous single and were playing in support of ‘Planet Earth’ era Duran Duran. It wad hard to see where a bunch of blokes who looked like Split Enz fitted into Duranworld. But as other great singles like ‘Life’s What You Make It’ discreetly slipped out over the following years (despite that support slot, their label seemed quick to realise that tasteful restraint better suited Hollis’s songs), perhaps what they did have in common with those Brummie Brummels was an ability to make lovely pop music that often got misunderstood. Admittedly, Duran quite never made anything as consistently inspired, daring and lovely as 1988’s Talk Talk album Spirit of Eden, but increasingly late-80s interest in matters acidic left both behind.

Ten years on, and Hollis’s first solo album strips his undoubted songwriting talent right down in the bared acoustic fragility of ‘Inside Looking Out’ and in the windwood and piano weave of the eight-minutes plus ‘A Life (1895-1915), both far more new classical than new romantic. And while Hollis has made the most of this opportunity to explore his deep love for arrangement and tone, his lyrics, whether you take them on first listen or look deeper, still seem to burn with emotion as he allows his voice to crack with the words. Lovely, grown-up stuff (Laura Lee-Davies)

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The Guardian: February 1998

From 1980s synth-pop with Talk Talk, Mark Hollis is now a solo artist of rare contemplation… It’s all gone quiet over here. Mark Hollis has made an album that is not that far away from silence. Hollis, as one of the guiding spirits of Talk Talk, took his band through a strange metamorphosis, from brash eighties synth pop that made them contemporaries and possible rivals of the likes of Tears For Fears, to the lush, immaculate and perfectly detailed colourbook that was Spirit of Eden. Now he’s come up with a record that’s barely there at all. But what there is of it is wonderful.

Not that everyone shares my opinion. When I put it on in my office, my co-workers started throwing first abuse and then Rice Krispie squares at me. This is not a record to play to a room full of people. They’ll take it personally. It’s a record to so contemplative and slow-moving that an audience of more than one seems somehow inappropriate. It would be a bit like going to see that actress who lay around in a box in a London gallery for days on end last year. Very challenging and all that, but the whole notion struck me as futile and embarrassing. Now try to imagine something similar except actually a good idea. That’s Mark Hollis for you.

Looking down the list of musicians it surprises me that there are so many instruments on here. Most of the time Mark Hollis sounds as if it was recorded on a single microphone at the far end of a large, empty room. Where are the bassoons? What’s this about a cor anglais? Even on ‘The Daily Planet,’ which positively rocks out compared to the rest of the album, the players seem to be competing to see who can make the least noise, with the harmonica man the undisputed loser.

As any minimalist can tell you, the less that’s on offer, the more attention you pay to it. Which is why most minimalist music sounds so rotten – it’s not worse than other music, you’re just listening more carefully. Mark Hollis is rare in that it repays the effort. In style it’s very similar to John Cale’s The Academy in Peril and Scott Walker’s Tilt - both of them brilliant pieces of work. Hollis’s album is warmer but no less austere. Sung in his weak, plaintive voice, the words are so far stretched out that they lose any meaning of their own, which is probably for the best as reading the lyric sheet will make you wince

But then Hollis isn’t writing poetry, he is (thank Christ) writing songs, yet even so you start to wonder if the songs weren’t written so much as they wondered along looking for a big white space to inhabit. This is, no doubt, the sort of album that makes you worry you don’t own enough Scandinavian furniture. It just happens to be an unusually good one. A very sober record, which I wouldn’t usually consider a recommendation, but that’s what gives it its clarity, reveals it as elegant, thoughtful, impassioned. In his poor, deluded, befuddled dreams, this is what Sting sounds like.

Album of the Week

David Bennum

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The Daily Telegraph: February 1998

As the voice and chief songwriting talent behind the now defunct Talk Talk, Mark Hollis had already begun to move towards a more minimalistic approach. But on this album it sounds as though he has stripped down the music to its bones, and the result is captivating.

Stylistically, it's a magpie's nest: gentle jazz rhythms, bluesy harmonica, muted Miles Davis-esque trumpet, hesitant piano motifs, avant-garde English classical woodwind - and lots of silence. Meanwhile Hollis's voice, which wailed so passionately on songs such as Life's What You Make It, is mostly reduced to ruminative whispers and aching yelps. On 'The Daily Planet', all the elements hitherto hinted at burst forth and coalesce into something beautiful, although it's still so understated you'd have trouble hearing it on the car stereo. Definitely one for the headphones. (David Cheal)

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L'indic: Fevrier 1998

Difficile ‘d’imaginer qu’au début de sa carrière, Mark Hollis ait pu écrire quelques tubes volubiles et décoratifs. Au fil du temps, il a réussi a se débarrasser des scories pop qui ternissaient Talk Talk pour suivre un parcours dénué de toute compromission. Musicien de la vieille école, grand teint et pure laine, il réapparait après sept années de silence, suscitant a priori plus de curiosité que d’intérêt. Il s’aventure, entoure de clarinettes, de cors anglais et de bassons, bien au-delà du seuil de sa boutique et ose jouer avec les silences. Pour la réhabilitation définitive de Mark Hollis.

Au temps des nouveaux romantiques. Mark Hollis, star en marinière et bonnet de laine, s’époumonait sur des titres synthétiques calibrés sur le standard alors en vogue. Duran Duran. Such a shame ou This is my life coulaient des postes de radio comme le rhum des babas. Les affranchis qui surent affronter le barrage pop new-wave pour s’atteler à la carrière de Talk Talk, découvrirent alors des merveilles qui laissaient deviner que le groupe n’entrerait pas en concurrence avec leurs amis en chemise à dentelles. Quinze ans plus tard, aucune trace de l’exténuante démonstration de pyrotechnie, critère impitoyable des années 80s, ne persiste. Avec ou sans son complice Tim Friese-Greene, Mark Hollis n’a pas vraiment un goût démesure de la compétition. “Je n'ai pas vraiment écrit de chansons durant la période qui a suivi Laughing Stock (1991). Je joue de la musique chaque jour, je compose mais je n’ajoute pas systématiquement de paroles. Si je n’y arrive pas, ce n’est pas un problème pour moi. Même chose si je n’avais jamais eu la chance d’enregistre à nouveau. Je suis déjà suffisamment chanceux entant que musicien d’avoir la possibilité de jouer pour moi chaque jour. Les médias que je n’ais pas côtoyés pendant sept ans, ne m’ont pas manqué. C’est agréable de ne pas être attendu. J’ai eu tout mon temps pour faire ce disque dans la plus grande tranquillité. Personne ne savait que je travaillais. Hors du groupe”

L’inclassable Mark Hollis a chopé avec Spirit of Eden (1988) la sale manie de l’épuré et, depuis, s’acharne à dégraisser ses mélodies suivant les préceptes de maîtres qu’il admire, les surdoués de la musique classique des années 20 ou du jazz des années 50. “L’album Mark Hollis n’est que la suite logique du travail entamé sur mes albums précédents (ndr: qu’il n’écouté jamais!). C’est un développement naturel pour moi. Avec cet album, j’ai essaye faire ce que je n’ai jamais réussi a faire avec le groupe. En ce sens, c’est un pas en avant. Mais le véritable progrès par rapport à Laughing Stock, c’est l’utilisation de ‘acoustique. C’était mon propre challenge.

Les instruments acoustiques ont toujours existé, ils ont traversé les siècles. Alors, je voulais faire un disque où personne ne serait capable de deviner l’époque a laquelle il a été enregistré. Je voulais aussi écrire de maniéré minimaliste et enregistrer les instruments à un niveau très bas. Choisie les instruments a un pur ce qu’ils sont, saisir la réalité grossière de chaque instrument et ne pas perdre l’idée que tour les instruments installés dans une seule pièce reproduisent un certaine géographie. Et le son de cette pièce, même si personne ne joue, est aussi très important.

  “J’aimerais que l’auditer écouté ce disque et s’imagine là où le disque a été enregistré. Qu’il sente le son autour de lui donner l’impression qu’il participe à l’enregistrement live de cet album” Seuls quelques jazzmen aussi intrépides que Miles Davis (in a silent way) ont réussi ce genre d’exploit. Avec humilité, Mark Hollis, affublé des casquettes de compositeur-arrangeur-guitariste-chanteur-producteur, a relevé le défi avec des gestes précis et les idées claires. Il insiste donc pour débarrasser ses huit nouvelles chansons à la beauté plaintive de leur abominable sticker album solo de l’ex-leader de Talk Talk.

« Je ne joue pas plus en solo sur cet album qu’auparavant. Je travaille toujours de la même maniéré. Un disque, c’est 50% de partage, un vrai travail en commun avec les musiciens qui m’accompagnent. Si je prends l’exemple de Laughing Stock, les arrangements ont été faits par Tim et moi, mais aussi par tout un collectif de musiciens. La confusion est d’autant plus facile ici avec cet album qui prote mon nom. Donc, les gens penseront que c’est un album solo. Mais pour moi, seul le processus de l‘écriture est un travail solitaire. L’enregistrement est toujours un travail de group, mais le travail que nous venons de finir n’a rien à voir avec celui de Talk Talk.

Dans un group comme Talk Talk, tu dois donner tellement d’énergie pour arriver à finir un album. Désormais, je ne fais que ce que j’ai dans le cœur. C’est difficile et en même temps, il y a toute une éducation musicale à parfaire. J’apprends beaucoup encore. Et quand je vais en studio, j’apprécie vraiment ce moment parce que c’est comme si le travail commençait. Jusque-la, le challenge consistait a travailler de la maniéré la plus confortable possible, sans stress, et d’obtenir de bonnes performances de chacun. C’est déjà une grande satisfaction quand tu y réussis. Parce que même avec les années, c’est toujours difficile de s’accorder et de parvenir à la satisfaction tous ensembles.

Treize musiciens souscrivent à la petite entreprise de Mark Hollis. Choisis pour leur capacité à comprendre le bonhomme avec un minimum d’explications, vieux amis et jeunes recrus ont été sélectionnes. C’est ainsi qu’en misant sur l’intimité, Mark Hollis évite la claustrophobie grâce a Robbie McIntosh, le guitariste des Pretenders, et Lawrence Pendrous, son ancien professeur de piano (ndr : désormais responsable de l’apprentissage du fils de l’ingénieur du son, Phil Brown). Mark Hollis sait partager ses aventures musicales et reconnaître les qualités professionnelles de ses plus proches collaborateurs.

 ‘Je ne connais personne qui sache mieux que Phill Brown donner une impression de calme et laisser entendre, juste avec un micro, le bruit du studio, ce qui pour moi est devenu une partie importante du son. C’est ce travail que Phil Brown à déjà expérimente sur le disque Laughing Stock. Il a beaucoup de talent et il est en partie responsable du son des nouvelles chansons. La relation entre producteur (Mark Hollis sur cet album) et ingénieur est toujours particulière. Le producteur est la pour faire comprendre ce que le musicien désire. Il est le seul a savoir le formuler tandis que l’ingénieur du son est totalement impliqué dans la capture du son’.

Mark Hollis, ascète aux grandes oreilles, a réussi à insuffler âme et chaleur à ses compositions minimalistes. Il les a badigeonnées d’émotions intemporelles, repères qu’apprécieront les fans égarés au cœur de son envergure intellectuelle. Couleurs mélancoliques et rythmes acoustiques sont les seules balises admises par Mark sur son chemin spirituel. Car, il ne faut pas se laisser éconduire par l’idée séduisante que la chanson The Colour of Spring (Ndr : comme le titre du troisième album de Talk Talk) qui ouvre cet album magique serait un clin d’œil au fan observateur. ‘Ce titre The Colour of Spring résume assez bien les paroles de la chanson. J ‘aime les référencés croisées dans tous les domaines. Je n'ai pas peur de la réaction des fans. J’accepte le fait qu’en sept ans le public qui aimait mes albums a change. Je n’attends rien, les circonstances ne sont plus les mêmes’ (Sabrina Silamo)

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L'indic: February 1998

It’s difficult to imagine that early in his career Mark Hollis could write a few decorative and voluble tunes. Over time he managed to get rid of the pop dross that tarnished Talk Talk, to follow a path devoid of any compromise. A musician of the old school, pure wool and colourfast, he reappears after seven years of silence, sparking a priori more curiosity than interest. He ventures, surrounded by clarinets, English horns and bassoons, well beyond the threshold of his stall and dares to play with silences. For this is the final rehabilitation of Mark Hollis.

At the time of the new romantics. Mark Hollis, a star in striped woolen cap, shouted himself hoarse over synthetic tracks in a style then in vogue. Duran Duran, Such a shame, It’s my Life all ran through radio stations like rum babas.

Good people who were able to face down the dam of new-wave pop to tackle Talk Talk's career, then discovered wonders which left them guessing that the group would not enter into competition with their friends in frilly lace shirts. Fifteen years later, there’s no trace of a grueling demonstration of pyrotechnics, a merciless test of the 80s. With or without his partner Tim Friese-Greene, Mark Hollis didn’t really have a taste for the outrageousness of the competition.

 "I didn’t really write songs during the period following Laughing Stock (1991). I played music every day, I made music but didn’t systematically add words. If I can’t do it, it's not a problem for me. Same thing if I’d never had the chance to record again. I’m lucky enough as a musician to have the opportunity to play for myself every day. I’ve not rubbed shoulders with the media for seven years, I’ve not failed. It's nice not to be expected. I had plenty of time to make that record in the greatest tranquility. Nobody knew I was working. Outside the group "

The unclassifiable Mark Hollis has escaped with Spirit of Eden (1988) the dirty habit of sanitised pop, and is eager to degrease melodies following the precepts of masters he admires, the gifted classical musicians of the 1920s or 1950s jazz. "The album Mark Hollis is the only logical continuation of work started on my previous albums (note: that he’s never listen to!). It’s a natural development for me. With this album, I tried to do what I never got to do with the group. In this sense, it’s a step forward. But the real improvement on Laughing Stock is the use of acoustics. It was my own challenge.

 “Acoustic instruments have always existed, they have crossed the centuries. So I wanted to make a record where no one would be able to guess the time at which it was recorded. I also wanted to write and record in a minimalist manner and record the instruments at a very low level. Instruments were chosen for their purity, to understand the reality of each instrument and not to lose the idea that all the instruments installed in one room reproduce a certain geography. And the sound of this piece, even if nobody plays, is also very important.”

 "I'd like the audience to listen to this record and imagine where it was recorded. Let him feel the sound around him, giving the impression that he is participating in the live recording of the album.” Only a few jazzmen as intrepid as Miles Davis (In a Silent Way) have managed this kind of feat. With humility, Mark Hollis, wearing a composer-arranger-guitarist-singer-producer hat, rose to the challenge with precise gestures and clear ideas. He is therefore urged to rid his plaintive solo album and eight new beautiful songs of the abominable sticker stating ‘from the former leader of Talk Talk’.

 "I played no more on this solo album than before. I still work the same way. A record is 50% shared, a real work in common with the musicianso accompanying me. If I take the example of Laughing Stock, the arrangements were made by Tim and me, but also by a whole group of musicians. The confusion is even easier here with this album that bears my name. So people will think it's a solo album. But for me, only the process of writing is a lonely job. Recording is always a group work, but the work we just finished has nothing to do with the Talk Talk.

In a group like Talk Talk, you have to give so much energy to finish an album. Now, I do what I have in my heart. It’s difficult and at the same time, there is a whole musical education to perfect. I’m still learning a lot. And when I go into the studio, I really appreciate the time because it is as if the work has begun. Until then, the challenge was to work as comfortably as possible, without stress, and get good performances from everyone. There’s a great satisfaction when you succeed. Because even after all these years, it’s always difficult to agree and achieve satisfaction all together.

Thirteen musicians subscribe to small business that is Mark Hollis. Chosen for their ability to understand the man with a minimal amount of explanation, both old friends and young recruits were selected. Thus, in focusing on intimacy, Mark Hollis avoids claustrophobia thanks to Robbie McIntosh, guitarist of the Pretenders, and Lawrence Pendrous, his former piano teacher (note: now responsible for teaching the son of sound engineer, Phil Brown). Mark Hollis knows how to share his musical adventures, and recognizes the professional qualifications of his closest collaborators.

“I don’t know anyone who knows better than Phill Brown how to give an impression of calm and suggest, just with a microphone, the sound of the studio, which for me has become an important part of the sound. It’s this work that Phil Brown has already experimented on on the Laughing Stock record. He's very talented and is in part responsible for the sound of the new songs. The relationship between producer (Mark Hollis on this album) and engineer is always special. The producer has to understand what the musician wants. He is the only one to know what sounds to make, while the engineer is fully involved in the capture of that sound.”

Mark Hollis, an ascetic with big ears, has managed to infuse soul and warmth into his minimalist compositions. He has brushed with timeless emotions, benchmarks that will be appreciated by fans lost in the heart of his intellectual stature. Melancholic acoustic rhythms and colours are the only tags allowed by Mark on his spiritual journey. Because, do not let yourself be swayed by the seductive idea that the song The Colour of Spring (Editor's note: the title of the third album by Talk Talk), which opens this magic album is a a nod to the observing fan. 'This title The Colour of Spring pretty much sums up the lyrics. I like that it’s cross-referenced in all areas. I'm not afraid of the fan reaction. I accept the fact that the public who loved my albums seven years ago has changed. I expect nothing, the circumstances are not the same '

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Okay Tone: Danish Channel DR2: 22nd February 1998

Q: February 1998


Talk Talk have shut up, but - hurrah! - they live on through their leader, Mark Hollis.

Standout Tracks:

  • The Watershead
  • A Life (1895-1915)
  • The Daily Planet

From disposable synthpop dandy crying out “everybody Talk Talk” on Top Of The Pops in 1982 to intense minimalist explorer of space and noise, truly Mark Hollis’s career arc has been unique.

Outstripping even The Stone Roses, it’s been seven years since his last album, Talk Talk’s fifth and final outing, Laughing Stock, and it marks the return of someone who has had more influence (Bark Psychosis, Spiritualized, anyone vaguely freeform) than sales.

This time around, he’s using solely acoustic instruments which rules out the possibility of the sudden explosions of single note guitar noise that cropped up on the last album. But this isn’t some hollow exercise in MTV Unplugged, rather it’s a culmination for someone who is as fascinated by the spaces between the notes as much as the notes themselves. Sometimes jazz, sometimes pop and sometimes classical but never quite any of them, Mark Hollis the album could equally be filed next to The Modern Jazz Quartet, quieter Radiohead or Erik Satie.

Rather than doing the pop star thing of hanging out with supermodels and checking into rehab, he’s spent the seven absent years re-learning composition. This, coupled with dissolving his songwriting partnership with Talk Talk’s producer Tim Friese-Green and severing the loose ties which bound Talk Talk, has resulted in a radical change of method for Mark Hollis.

Gone are the Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock days of recording hundreds of hours of material and then searching for elusive magical musical moments to pare down to a CD-friendly size. Every note, recorded on a mere two microphones, was written by Hollis and various partners before he entered the studio.

His verge-of-tears voice, only rivalled in its appealing emoting by Tindersticks’ Stuart Staples, remains unchanged while the music itself is more sparse than before. Rhythms are tapped out on cymbals, guitars gently caressed, woodwind stalks the background and the piano becomes an instrument of pure atmosphere. The closest he gets to rocking out is The Daily Planet, as a single harmonica threatens to burst the bubble of serenity.

This exploration of space is, paradoxically, an introverted experience. Understated and moody this is, perhaps predictably, the accompaniment to 3am and a bottle of red wine but there are many worse crimes.

*** out of 5

Anthony Thornton

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Uncut: February 1998

For six years, former Talk Talk frontman Mark Hollis has maintained a public silence. 1991’s Laughing Stock turned out to be the last ever Talk Talk album. Rhythm section Paul Webb and Lee Harris went their seperate musical ways, through the experimental thickets of Orang - and now Hollis emerges with his own, rather more minimal post-Talk Talk offering.

‘Mark Hollis’ is the fruit of years of Hollis’ experimenting with sounds, learning notation and trying out new musicians. The result is an album as far removed from the blaring imperatives of pop as it’s possible to be. Recorded purely acoustically, it’s a thing of quiet, transparent beauty, floating free of genre and time period. On initial hearing it seems unnervingly sparse and barely there - woodwind, guitars, harmonica, and Hollis’ own quivering vocals ebb and flow, surface dramatically then subside. Stockhausen once devised a piece wherein he instructed his musicians not to play until they had “stopped thinking”. Musical noises seemed to arise naturally like steam off still water. Hollis’ methods aren’t the same but the effects are similar. This is music that’s unforced yet essential, a music that reveals itself slowly but surely on repeated playings as the required climate change takes place in your head.

“The Colour Of Spring”, set around a skeletal piano riff, is as limpid as Erik Satie. But this is not ornamental background music. Hollis’ vocals swell with an urgency that demands undivided attention, though his syllables slither and slide on the emotional surfaces of the songs. The feeling is disquietingly intimate, the actual words indistinct. “The Watershed” and “The Gift” are faintly jazzy, but this is jazz as it might have been performed by 19th-century folk musicians. “A Life (1895-1915)” sounds like a piece of early 20th-century chamber music played by woodsprites. “A New Jerusalem” ends the album with perfect, tremulous poise, before drifting back into the silence where it came. You’ve never heard music like this before, you probably never will again.

David Stubbs

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Uncut: February 1998


When we finished Laughing Stock, there was no way I could get my head around doing another album because what we’d just done was so complete an expression of what I wanted to do, that the idea of writing something different just seemed impossible at the time.


I have this love of jazz and contemporary classic but the area I’d never really looked at before was folk music, which I know very little about but wanted to capture the spirit of. So I was thinking of what instruments might be common to small units of folk, chamber music, and jazz - so that you can weave in and out of the different genres.


Some solo piano work, maybe. The other thing I want to do is some production work with Phil Brown. When you look at partnerships like Jimmy Miller and Glyn Johns, that’s what a production partnership should be about - one person who has an understanding of sound and the other who is there for direction, spirit, arrangement and approach. This idea of production’s become totally fucked up through the 80s, this idea of a big, brash, ‘produced’ sound.

Interview and review by David Stubbs

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The Wire: February 1988

The spotlight falls on a singer at the piano marking out restrained emotional chords. Not a million miles from the start of any moody romantic rock ballad - whether Joni Mitchell or Elton John. But the eight songs here drift into strange melodic expansions. Woodwind and other acoustic instruments obliquely touch in spectral emotional expressions round the singer’s halting whispers. A Miles Davis-inspired trumpet line interjects a muted emotional comment, a harmonica creates faint kaleidoscopic flares out of the merest shiver. Only acoustic instruments are used and these are miked to catch the breathiest tremor of sound. This first solo release by Mark Hollis after his days as front man for Talk Talk represents the timbral and melodic expansion of the rock ballad into a symphonic tone poem. REM for Radio 3 listeners.

I hate to use the word ‘haunting’ to describe a piece of music, because I don’t believe in ghosts. And yet, there are ghosts that can dog the feedback loops of self-expression; ghosts of past events that call up familiar, resigned responses; ghosts of unfulfilled wishes, feared and longed for, that rise every time one veers from a habitual path. These are the kind of sirens that hover over the music here. The disc has so many twists and turns you think you’re on track 20 by the time you’ve reached number five. The sounds are thick and warm, but there’s enough Satieseque pause and poise for it not to turn lush. No sentimental mush. On tracks like “The Watershed” and “The Gift” a greater stridency comes not from the pomp of rock but subtly sidewinding beats, undulating double bass notes, and jangling ride cymbals.

Otherwise, the phrases are so tentative and full of unexpected transpositions and returns, it’s impossible to predict where each chord will settle. Indeed, the music regularly disappears altogether. Strummed riffs peter out into atonal woodwind specks. “A Life (1895-1915)” winds out a line of crisp but folksy pathos, reminiscent of Tom Waits’s orchestrations, but what’s sketched in around it are the barest fragments of melodic phrases - almost Cagean flutterings and random emphases.

And throughout the album, underpinning its emotional explorations, are Hollis’s vocals - as quavery as a bamboo flute, and so self-effacing and inward he could be singing the lyrics backwards. If you caught the last two Talk Talk albums you’ll have some idea of what to expect. If not, Hollis’s haunted soul is worth checking out by anyone ever touched by the voices of singers such as John Martyn or David Sylvian.

Matt Ffytche

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Vox: February 1998

This is an edited copy of the review. Vox was forced to publish the following apology in its following edition in March 1998.

We wish to make a full and unqualified apology to Mark Hollis for a statement made on page 41 of issue 88 of Vox and in the review of his new album in the same issue. We completely accept that at no time has Mark Hollis ever been a heroin addict, nor has he ever used or experimented with heroin. We very much regret that this totally untrue and uniquely harmful libel was published by us, and we are pleased to take this opportunity to apologise unreservedly to Mark Hollis and confirm that the libel will not be repeated.

Since TALK TALK’s final album, Mark Hollis has been hidden away. Now the ‘anti-pop star’ is back with a new solo LP. From reluctant New Romantic to musical innovator, it’s been a long, strange journey.

VOX has only been in the pub on Wimbledon Common for ten minutes when Mark Hollis grabs his coat, gets up and shoves his chair under the table. Leaving already? Hollis’ reticence in interviews was legendary in his Talk Talk days but... er, this interview hasn’t started yet.

“I thought we could move round the corner,” suggests Hollis in his quiet, diffident way, indicating a dingy little annex between the lounge and the tap room, “Get away from the noise.”

It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon and the pub lounge is deserted except for an elderly couple in the corner nursing a half of lager each and staring catatonically at the horse brasses on the opposite wall. But Hollis is right, there is noise. Piping out of the ceiling are the bland, fulsome tones of the ubiquitous bloody M People. Hollis has no idea who M People are. He lived a hermit-like existence in Suffolk for several years after the release of 1991’s ‘Laughing Stock’, the last Talk Talk LP. And, with admirable, almost perverse high-mindedness, he only moved back to London because he wanted his kids to experience the busier cultural life there. Mark Hollis knows nothing of M People, but he dislikes them and is prepared to move to the grottiest part of the pub to remove himself from their aural intrusion. I like him already.

So we settle at a table that tilts dramatically to starboard every time you put your pint on it, Hollis on a low stool, VOX on a cushion on a window ledge about a foot above eye contact level. Moreover, the radiator is unremittingly belching out a sequence of drones, clanks and wheezing noises reminiscent of the electronic experiments of Stockhausen, Pierre Henry and Ligeti in the ‘50s. That’s fine by Hollis.”I’ve always loved dissonance,” he remarks. “It’s so fantastic, when you listen to some of the stuff that was written in the ‘50s, it’s so incredibly left-field. Decades ahead of anything in pop music...”There’s only a single hint of Mark Hollis’ remote past - a donkey jacket cum-tunic, with big, brassy buttons which has a New Romantic air about it. He’s travelled a long way from 1981 and Talk Talk. Hard to imagine that this slight, unassuming, early fortyish fellow contains the strength of will and undeflected courage to have made the journey.

Hard to imagine what he had in common with the gel and mascara set, either. For back in 1981 Talk Talk seemed like a poor man’s Duran Duran (who they supported on tour), a Let Loose to Duran’s Take That. One expected them to evaporate like a burst of cheap hairspray from an aerosol: tacky and annoyingly pungent for a moment, then gone. They stuck around, however, and treated the success of each album as an excuse for taking greater artistic liberties on the next. By the time of ‘The Colour Of Spring’ they had drafted in such guest musicians as Danny Thompson and Steve Winwood to enhance their hand-painted musical visions, and 1988’s ‘Spirit Of Eden’, released to critical adulation and a lukewarm public reaction, was a melted, free-flowing, improvisational classic. Other pop artists bullshit piously about doing what Mark Hollis has done, protest they’re in it ‘purely for the music’; promise they’ll break boundaries, ignore commercial factors. Then comes their next LP and, for reasons of expediency, spinelessness or poverty of imagination, they end up trotting out the same tried and trusted fare.

Other pop artists bullshit, but don’t deliver. Mark Hollis has delivered and carries on delivering. Nobody, but nobody, in pop music has journeyed so far from the neon-lit safety of pop mediocrity out into the fearful wildernesses of the rock avant-garde.

Talk Talk reached, in Hollis’ words, an “end point” after 199l’s ‘Laughing Stock’, an album still more fluid and free of the four-square conventions of pop than ‘Spirit Of Eden’. He and ‘silent’ creative partner Tim Friese-Greene decided to call it a day.

“Both of us felt that we didn’t just want to repeat what we’d done in the past, but develop,” says Hollis, always obliging in tone but choosing every word with great care. “That gets harder the longer you work. It was good that after ‘Laughing Stock’ he was of a like mind that that was it. It was hard to see where we could have gone from there.”

Talk Talk’s rhythm section, bassist Paul Webb and drummer Lee Harris, carried on Talk Talk’s spirit with O Rang and the torrid stream of musical consciousness that was ‘Herd Of Instinct’.

Hollis, meanwhile, after six years has finally re-emerged with his eponymous new album. It’s one further step removed from his pop origins and is a distillation of his new-found enthusiasm for classical music, his desire for the conditions of a small jazz unit and an imaginary take on the spirit of folk music. Recorded with a variety of unfamiliar names, such as pianist Phil Ramekin, Dominic Miller and Warne Livesey, and engineered by Phill Brown, it’s a beautiful, fragile amalgam of piano, guitar and woodwind arrangements, with, of course, Hollis’ surging, tremulous vocals.

It’s a unique record, arising from entirely natural conditions; from months, turning into years of, as Hollis puts it “experimenting - not towards any particular end - studying notation, writing for writing’s sake, without any concerns for drumbeat or anything like that”, and without the record company snapping at his heels to meet a deadline.

“It’s a great position to be in. In an ideal world, everyone should work that way,” he says.

Whereas ‘Spirit Of Eden’ and ‘Laughing Stock’ were built up from improvisations, ‘Mark Hollis’ was written in advance and is more restrained and minimal. Hollis’ lyrical diction, as on ‘The Watershed’, is often dissolved in the emotional ebb and flow of his vocals.

“Sometimes I’m listening to arrangements by Ravel and I don’t even know what language it’s in, but that’s not what’s important - the sentiment is what’s important. Then again, lyrics are very important to the singer because you have to mean what you’re saying.”

Talk Talk, incidentally, were unique in that their lyrics were often indecipherable, even with a lyric sheet, as this was always rendered in Hollis’ tiny fastidious but barely legible handwriting.

“I should have spent more time in school!” he laughs.

Though it’s not always clear what Hollis is saying through the hazy film, this is a remarkably, achingly intimate record, an effect achieved by recording the album purely acoustically. Every note hangs in the air as palpably as a dewdrop on the end of a twig.

“You look at blues music, Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker, and there’s total honesty in the way it’s recorded,” enthuses Hollis. “What’s so great with an acoustic instrument is that it’s not only the note that exists, it’s the friction, the creaking on the neck of the double bass. And when a lot of acoustic music gets produced, they fuck it up, they glob out all the great charm of the instrument, in order to make it seem ‘polished’.” He spits out the word.

A drop-out from a child psychology course at Sussex University, Mark Hollis began musical life with his first group The Reaction. They only lasted for one single on Island records, ‘I Can’t Resist’, but Hollis had been sufficiently hooked by punk to drop out of college.

“Before punk, I never believed there was any way I could get involved with music. Punk was all about enthusiasm,” recalls Hollis, eyes misting nostalgically. “And access. Suddenly, there were places all over the place where you could play. It didn’t matter that 90 per cent of it was crap: the energy was what was important. And record companies didn’t have a clue what to do with it.”

The single was dodgy New Wave, but he then formed Talk Talk, who EMI signed on the back of sessions for Kid Jensen’s show and demos recorded with Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller. They released their debut album, the seemingly aptly titled ‘The Party’s Over’ in 1982.

“You always make what you believe is the best album you can, given the circumstances. And that was the case with the first album,” is all Hollis will say about that one today, distinctly less misty-eyed.

Undermined by the trappings of dodgy New Romantic coiffure and shiny white suits, sharing the same producer as Duran Duran at the behest of EMI, their singles were characterised by the boxy rhythms and naff syntherama of the time, and you imagined they’d be blown away by the next gust of fashion. Yet there was something about the band - Hollis’ nervy, tenacious vocals, perhaps - which kept them in there. Even from the beginning, he was talking about Coltrane in interviews, about writing pop songs as an academic exercise, anticipating future musical directions.

The follow up album, ‘It’s My Life’ saw songwriting partner Tim Friese-Greene come aboard, and the title track, bursting with a sort of sanguine, embattled passion, hinted at evidence of a racing pulse within this particular synth beast. The single was popular Europe-wide and Talk Talk were established as a serious musical concern.

“Through economic necessity, we had to use synthesisers to get the arrangements,” says Hollis. “We’d have preferred to have brought in individual musicians, but we couldn’t afford to. When it came to ‘The Colour Of Spring’, we’d had quite a bit of success and we had more money to make that album, so it was closer to what we wanted.”

‘The Colour Of Spring’ was the first indication that Talk Talk were genuine craftsmen. Reminiscent of Traffic at their finest, it was adorned with virtuoso contributions from the likes of Steve Winwood and Pretenders guitarist Robbie McIntosh and contained potentially stadium-swelling songs such as ‘Life’s What You Make It’ and ‘Happiness Is Easy’. Already enjoying substantial success on both sides of the Atlantic as well as both sides of the commercial/critical divide, Talk Talk could have gone on to rule the world.

‘Spirit Of Eden’, the daringly beautiful Talk Talk album of 1988 was an untrammelled expression of the purity of musical intention. Commercial suicide, in other words.

“‘Spirit Of Eden’ was the LP where I felt ‘This is where we’re heading’ and really felt ‘yeah, we’ve got it’ - in terms of the totality of mood.”

EMI’s mood was pretty total, too, when the album came through to them. They totally freaked out. Hollis refused to release a single from it and refused to take it on the road, arguing that it was “impossible to recreate the essence of it live”. The album barely scraped into the Top 20. To EMI it was the equivalent of U2 deciding to become a barber shop quartet. In 1990, in a desperate attempt to salvage something from what they saw as the ‘wreckage’ of the ‘Spirit...’ episode, they put out ‘History Revisited’, an album of Talk Talk’s greatest hits remixed. Enraged, Talk Talk sued EMI for tampering with their work without their permission. They won the first round of the case and eventually EMI agreed to withdraw and destroy all copies of the album.

Hollis doesn’t like to talk about this episode. He won’t talk about anything that doesn’t appertain to the pure pursuit of music-making. What Simon Le Bon was really like, backstage anecdotes from the early days on TOTP, the general state of pop? Forget it. His most common response to that sort of enquiry is an actually quite sincere: “Oh, I wouldn’t know about that.”

It’s still possible to raise his hackles a little over the subject of EMI.

“It always seemed they preferred the LP before to the one they were given at the time, only they never liked that when it first came out, either.”

Even so, he’d rather not pursue the grievance.

“It’s...immaterial, really. We were always fortunate to make the records we wanted to make and that’s the only consideration. When artists have some sort of grief with the record company, the whole journalistic side of things just concentrates on that antagonism.”

This might seem a little precious, but Hollis conveys the rebuff to the nosey profession of which VOX is a part with such gentle courtesy it’s impossible to take it the wrong way. Hollis doesn’t give much away, but he speaks with the air of one only too willing to be of assistance. But if he seems unjaded by age or cynicism that’s because he’s taken the trouble to ensure both he and his work remain unsullied. It’s his refusal to become distracted that has allowed him to get from where he was musically to the quiet brilliance of where he is now. Oh, and it should be pointed out that Hollis isn’t entirely the delicate aesthete. He’s a football fan; always a sign of humanity. A Spurs fan, indeed, which may account for the sparse, melancholic undertow of the new LP.

In the press notes accompanying his new album, Hollis says : “I love sound. And I love silence. And in a way, I like silence more.” One of the many great things about this album is that, like Hollis’ hero Miles Davis at his eclectic best, it approximates to the condition of silence - perfect stillness. Each track is buffered by several seconds of silence, arises from silence then disappears back into it (you can be sure a journalist likes an LP when he starts praising the gaps between the tracks - Ed).

Hollis himself is careful to make the distinction between what he does and Ambient. “That’s not the same thing because you’ve always got this wash of sound in there. Whereas silence is something most people are afraid of. It gives them an opportunity to think and people aren’t at all comfortable with that.”

Silences of the awkward variety are a frequent feature of a chat with Hollis. Conversation is occasionally halting, but on the subject of his sound he starts to flow a little.

“It’s important to create the right vibe. On ‘Spirit Of Eden’, there are a couple of soundless gaps, as if to say, ‘What’s the hurry? Let your head settle out, then move into the next piece’.”

Unlike Brian Eno and Erik Satie, the 20th century godfathers of Ambient, Mark Hollis does not regard his music as constructed for the background.

“It’s nice to take your hearing down a step. There are ways of listening rather than just hearing, if you’re prepared to make the effort.”

“In general, people are oblivious,” he snorts as the landlord helpfully boosts up the sound on M People round the corner. “People just let all this crap go past and exist. It’s like with televisions, like with radios, it’s easy just to leave them on as background noise.”

Ultimately, the musical trick Hollis has pulled off a chemically impossible one he’s made an element from a compound. His ‘purity’ is one of approach rather than an imitative adherence to a single style.

“That’s bad terminology,” he says. “There’s no such thing as ‘pure’ jazz or ‘pure’ blues. The best way to be original is to be as eclectic as you can and the best way to do it is with belief. It’s as simple as that.”

Mark Hollis is as anti pop as it’s possible to get. Yet he could never have got to where he’s at except via pop. It’s a paradox, But don’t worry about it. Just listen.

Now that’s what Mark Hollis calls music

MILES DAVIS “That Miles Davis/Gil Evans period is one of the most important things musically to me. With his ‘Sketches Of Spain’, there’s this great feeling of space, and that feeling of being extremely tight in the way it’s put together, and yet also extremely loose, which is very rare. A great achievement.”

RAVEL “It’s a great tragedy that most people only know him for ‘Bolero’ when you’ve got things like his small chamber pieces. His settings of poems by Stéphane Mallarmé are superb.”

CAN “‘TagoMago’ is an extremely important album.”

DONATONI “He’s an Italian composer. I always get him mixed up with the Italian centre forward [What? Zola? - Ed].”

JOHN CAGE “I haven’t time to listen to what’s happening now. I’m still working through his ‘Orchestral Works’.”

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Gaffa: February 1998

Stjernen i Talk Talk glimter i et nyt musikalsk univers, Mark Hollis soloalbum vender popscenen endeligt ryggen og trykker jazzguruen Miles Davis i hånden. Af Mette Castbak.

Jeg tænker meget over tingene, men jeg handler ud fra mit instinkt. Det gjaldt også, da vi skulle indspille denne plade. Da vidste jeg ikke præcist, hvor vi ville ende, men fulgte intuitivt en retning, her syntes at give mening. Man kan forestille sig at være et vandmolekyle, der bliver udsat for stærk varme, og på et tidspunkt ved man, at man bliver til luft. Man spiller sig igennem denne overgang, der skal gøre en væske til en luftart.

Sangeren, sangskriveren og pianisten fra det nu opløste engelske band Talk Talk sidder i sin spinkle figur, ret op i stolen, med alvorlige øjne, der lyser opmærksomt, over de tunge, dunkle furer, der når langt ned i kinderne. Efter ti år som primus motor i et konstant selvudviklende gruppeprojekt, der var et af 80’ernes mest avancerede bidrag til popscenen, har mark Hollis udgivet sit første soloalbum. Som noget nyt er hele albummet akustik. Det er meget eksperimenterende i sin stil, men bygget op som i et klassik arrangement. Mange blade er blevet vendt siden hitsangen Life’s What You Make It fra 1986.

For mig har alle mine plader været nye kapitler. I årene mellem, at man laver plader, går man igennem en masse forandringer. Jeg ville aldrig forvente, at en person, der kunne lide ét album også kan lide det efterfølgende. Men det er klart, at dette album skiller sig ud fra resten, idet min ambition har været at arbejde akustisk med en meget mere minimalistisk struktur. At indspille på et indelukket, intimt niveau, hvor man på en måde eksistere i selve indspilningsrytmen. Og a forsøge at bygge broer mellem forskellige musikalske områder, Jeg tror, jeg befinder mig et sted mellem jazz-, funk- og den klassiske sangskrivning. Jeg ser ikke mig selv som en sangskriver, men mere som én, der søger at lave et album som en lang oplevelse, mere end som en række numre. Og jeg tager det for givet, at der er folk, som ikke vil have noget med det nye album at gøre på grund af den akustiske form. Men om jeg betragter pladen som et skridt væk fra Talk Talk…Nej, det gør jeg ikke. Der er altid noget, man savner på sin forrige plade, og som man så vil have med på den næste, og det gør sig også gældende i dette tilfælde. Jeg glæder mig over at have lavet en plade ud fra mit eget hoved, smiler en tilfreds Mark Hollis.

Efter Talk Talk

Men kan man ikke sige, at det kapitel, du nu har taget hul på, er større end de foregående?

- På sin vis der det vel det. De sidste ti års kapitler har jeg skrevet sammen med Tim Friese-Green (tangentspiller og medproducer i Talk Talk, red.) og hverken han eller jeg havde lyst til at ændre på det. For når man har et forhold til en person, udvikler man sig sammen, og det er ikke så ligetil at bryde det mønster og sige: ”Nå, nu vil jeg hellere arbejde med en anden!” Så selvfølgelig må man finde en anden fremgangsmåde, når det vante kompositions-samarbejde hører op, men, så andre personer, man kan skrive sange med. Men at få nye mennesker at arbejde sammen med er sidste ende den største forandring, da det er af virkelig afgørende betydning for éns sangskrivning.

At Talk Talk blev opløst, var imidlertid ikke den store omvæltning for Mark Hollis.

- Indtil de sidste par timer var det et meget løst forhold. Vi havde arbejdet sammen i en lang periode og havde også fået gode ting ud af det. Hele pointen med vores sidste par albums var, at vi ikke ville have den dér bandfornemmelse, hvor man føler sig presset til at møde op og spille sammen. For Tim og mig handlede det om, at vi havde arbejdet med hinanden i så lang tid, at vi til sidst ikke følte, vi havde nogen ny retning at gå i. Vi havde altid sagt, vi ikke ville gentage os selv, men det var vi kommet til, hvis vi var forsat. Desuden havde Lee (Harris, trommeslager i Talk Talk, red.) købt sit eget studie og bevæget sig ud i fuldstændigt andre musikalske løbebaner, hvor jeg ikke kunne følge med. Jeg er bare glad for, at vi alle har fundet os til rette.

Musikalsk ambition

Dit soloalbum skiller sig meget ud fra resten af den moderne musikscene. Var det hensigten?

- Det er meget anderledes, ikke fordi det absolut skulle være sådan, men jeg synes, det er indlysende, at det må skille sig ud, eftersom mine ambitioner for denne plade ikke har det fjerneste med den moderne musik at gøre. Jeg har ikke opfattet mig selv som en del af popscenen siden 1986. Of siden vi holdt op med at turnere, har vi aldrig været med i radio- og TV programmer eller noget i den stil. Jeg er bare en musiker. Der spiller med andre musikere, forklarer Mark Hollis.  

Heller ikke begyndelsen på en solokarriere kan få mark Hollis til at give koncerter. Han mener ikke, det er muligt at opføre musikken i dets eget akustiske miljø. Soloudspillet består af træblæsere, perkussion, mundharpe, akustik guitar foruden klaver og orgel.

 - Jeg elsker lyden af de instrumenter, når de er omgivet af fysiske lyde som knirkende træ og luft, der passerer gennem rørene. De lyde er næsten lige så vigtige som tonerne. Jeg vil vise den reelle side af, hvad det vil sige at spille akustisk. Det er også en grund til, at albummet er så stille. En anden grund er, at jeg holder af den afslappede ro, der fylder musikerne, forklarer Mark Hollis med enkle, bløde håndbevægelser til at give en fornemmelse af det stille sus.

 ’Men indholdsmæssigt synes jeg, at musikken er ret voldsom mentalt set. I alle sange, man komponerer, har man flere forskellige slags stemninger, som man prøver at få ind i en sameksistens. For mig er lyden og følelsen i én selv et rum, som man eksisterer i. Men jeg synes, at i ét øjeblik kan man være i et rum, der er optimistisk, for så pludselig at have bevæget sig over i et helt andet slags rum. På samme måde, som når man musikalsk skal finde en akkord, der er motiveret af den forrige akkord, gælder det om at lade musikken afføde teksten og følelserne.

Under det blotte øje

 Musikken indeholder en samling af forstyrrede følelser, der på forunderlig vis er bragt i en vis form for orden, selvom man får indtryk af, at du gennemgår en proces, hvor du først får samlet trådene undervejs?

- Det er korrekt i den forstand, at jeg har lavet et ledende arrangement, hvor alt har sin tænke plads, men når det kommer til fremførelsen, er hele tilgangen til musikken meget løs og fri.

Jeg synes, de to ting hører sammen, hvad enten arrangementet er noget præcist og kompakt, eller at selve indholdet er det modsatte af, hvad det giver sig ud for at være. Det er lidt i retning af, hvad Miles Davis og Gil Evans gør på mine to yndlingsplader Sketches of Spain og Porgy & Bess: De var særdeles omhyggeligt arrangeret, men inden i arrangementerne lå en følelse af en improvisation, som vedholdende udviklede sig. Mit nye album er kompliceret, hvad angår alle sindsstemningerne, men jeg synes, at den indholdsmæssige balance bryder ud i være ægte i både arrangement og fremførelse. Mark Hollis’ sorte slips er forsvundet ind under den lige så sorte jakke, men nu flytter han det tilbage, midt på den hvide skjorte.

- Hvis du spurgte mig om, hvilket billede jeg ville se på, mens jeg lyttede til pladen, ville jeg sige noget i retning af et billede med kun to farver, for eksempel lilla på sort, sort på rød. Det skulle være noget ekstremt simpelt at se på, uden noget narrativt indhold, og alligevel besidde rigeligt med sammensætninger. Billedet ville fungere inden i ens egen fantasi og ville fortælle en ny historie, hver gang man så på det. Det ville være et gensidigt engagement mellem den, der så på det, og billedet salv. På samme made som i et forhold. Ved første, umiddelbare øjekast synes billedet ikke af ret meget andet end de to farver. Men jo mere man er på det, eller lytter til musikken, jo mere får man igen.

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Gaffa: February 1998


The star of Talk Talk glistens in a new musical universe. Mark Hollis’s solo album finally brings him back to the pop scene and with jazz guru Miles Davis to hand. By Mette Castbak.

“I think about a lot of things, but I act on my instinct. This was true even when we were recording this album. I didn’t know exactly where we would end up, but intuitively followed a direction that seemed to make sense. One can imagine being a water molecule which is exposed to excessive heat, and at some point you know that you get turned into air. You play through this transition, to make a liquid into a gas.”

The singer, songwriter and pianist from the now defunct British band Talk Talk sits right up up in the chair, a slender figure with serious eyes that light up attentively over heavy, dark furrows that reach far down his cheeks. After ten years as a prime mover in a constantly evolving group project, which was one of the most advanced contributors to the 80s pop scene, Mark Hollis has released his first solo album. And the new album is fully acoustic. It’s extremely experimental in its style, but built up as in a classical arrangement. Many magazines have been produced since the hit song Life's What You Make It in 1986.

“For me, all my records have been new chapters. In the years between making records you go through a lot of changes. I would never expect someone who liked one album to also like the following one. But it’s clear that this album stands out from the rest because my ambition has been to work with a much more minimalist and acoustic structure. To record on a confined, intimate level, in a way which exists during the actual recording. And to try to build bridges between different musical areas; I think I find myself somewhere between jazz, funk and classic songwriting. “

“I don’t see myself as a songwriter, but more as someone who seeks to make an album as a whole experience, rather than as a series of numbers. And I take it for granted that there are people who don’t want anything to do with the new album because of its acoustic form. But do I see the record as a step away from Talk Talk ... no, I don’t. There’s always something you miss on the previous record, that you’ll take with you on the next one, and it’s also true in this case. I’m delighted to have created a record out of my own head”, smiles a satisfied Mark Hollis.

After Talk Talk

But can one not say that the chapter you now have embarked upon is greater than the previous ones?
- In a way , yes. The last ten years of records I wrote with Tim Friese-Green (keyboard player and associate producer at Talk Talk, ed.) And neither he nor I wanted to change that. Because when you have a relationship with someone, you develop together, and it’s not easy to break the pattern and say, 'Well, now I’d rather work with someone else!" Then of course you have to find a different approach, when the familiar compositional collaboration ends, so you can write songs with other people. But to get new people to work with is ultimately the biggest change, because it’s really essential for one's songwriting.

The dissolution of Talk Talk, however, was not a great upheaval for Mark Hollis.
“Until the last few hours, it was a very loose relationship. We’d worked together for a long period and also got good things out of it. The whole point of our last few albums was that we would not have that ‘band’ feeling where you feel pressured to meet up and play together. For Tim and me it was that we had worked together for so long that finally we didn’t feel we had any new direction to go in. We had always said we wouldn’t repeat ourselves, but it was where we would have got to if we’d continued. In addition, Lee (Harris, drummer of Talk Talk) bought his own studio and moved in a completely different musical direction where I couldn’t follow. I'm just glad that we’ve all found ourselves a home.


Musical ambition

Your solo album differs much from the rest of the modern music scene. Was it intentional?

“It is very different, not because it absolutely had to be that way, but I think  it’s obvious that it must stand out, since my ambitions for this record don’t have the slightest concern with modern music. I’ve not seen myself as part of the pop scene since 1986. Since we stopped touring, we’ve never been involved in radio and TV programs or things like that. I'm just a musician. Playing with other musicians” explains Mark Hollis.

Nor will this beginning of a solo career result in Mark Hollis staging concerts. He doesn’t believe it’s possible to recreate the music in its own acoustic environment. The solo record consists of woodwind, percussion, harmonica, and acoustic guitar as well as piano and organ.

“I love the sound of the instruments when they are surrounded by natural sound like creaking wood and breath passing through wind instruments. The sound is almost as important as the notes. I want to show the real side of what it means to play acoustic. It’s also one reason why the album is so quiet.  Another reason is that I love the relaxed calm that fills the musicians”, explains Mark Hollis with simple, gentle hand movements to give a sense of the quiet hissing.

“But in terms of content, I think the music is pretty mentally violent. In all the songs you compose, you have several different kinds of mood, as people try to get into a co-existence. For me, sound and feeling is exist as one in a room. But I think that in one moment you can be in a room that’s optimistic, and then suddenly have moved into a completely different kind of space. In the same way as when one must find a musical chord that’s motivated by the previous chord, it’s important to let the music generate words and emotions.

Under the naked eye

The music contains a collection of disturbing emotions, which in some miraculous manner are put into some kind of order, even if one gets the impression that you go through a process where you first gather together the threads along the way?

 “It’s true in the sense that I’ve created a lead arrangement where everything has its imagined place, but when it comes to the performance, the whole approach to music is very loose and free.”

I think the two things go together, whether the arrangement is precise and compact, or that the content itself is the opposite of what it purports to be. It's a bit like what Miles Davis and Gil Evans do on my two favorite records Sketches of Spain and Porgy & Bess: They were extremely carefully arranged, but inside the arrangements was a sense of improvisation, which consistently developed. My new album is complicated in terms of its mood, but I think the the substantive balance that erupts is genuine in both its arrangement and performance.” Mark Hollis' black tie has disappeared under the equally black jacket, but now he moves it back into the middle of the white shirt.

“If you asked me about which picture I’d look at while listening to the record, I'd say something along the lines of an image with only two colors, such as purple on black, black on red. It would be something extremely simple to look at, with no narrative content, and yet possess plenty of configurations. The picture would work within one's own imagination and would tell a new story every time you looked at it. It would be a mutual commitment between the person looking at it, and the anointed image. In the same way as in a relationship. At first glance, the immediate picture seems little more than two colors. But the more people work on it, or listen to the music, the more you get back.”


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The Times: 7th February 1998

Mark Hollis made his name fronting Talk Talk, a band whose work frequently explored beyond the traditional, limiting structures of pop music. Hollis pushed the band to increasingly experimental efforts and his debut solo album continues this approach. It is a completely acoustic work, recorded using only microphones placed around double bass, drums, guitar, piano and woodwind instruments. Sometimes he just sings accompanied by piano.

In some ways it’s a very polite record which wipes its feet and sits timidly in the corner, begging you to uncover its special qualities, in others it is bold and assured. Comparisons are hard to make: Miles Davis’s In A Silent Way (The Daily Planet) and Chopin’s Nocturnes (The Colour Of Spring) come to mind.

Tastefully minimal without being cold.


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The Times: 13th February 1998

With his new album, Mark Hollis says goodbye forever to his life as a reluctant pop star. Jason Cowley reports.

For a musician, Mark Hollis is unusually interested in silence, in the gaps between notes. To listen to the last two albums by Talk Talk, the band he fronted for more than a decade, was to hear a music of fragments and dissolution, his murmured vocals fading into the ether, into nothing. His new, self-titled work extends further what Hollis describes as his fascination with the “geography of sound within which all the instruments exist”.

The work has a cathedral hush. Listening carefully you can sometimes hear another kind of music, a sigh, the creak of a guitar stool, the hiss of tape and the shuffle of footsteps: the peripheral sounds of musicians working together in a room. It’s hard to think of anything quite like it.

The record is entirely acoustic. There are long compositions for a woodwind ensemble, loose, jazz-inflected improvisations and skeletal piano, percussion, harmonica, hamonium and acoustic guitar. Listening to Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain was famously likened to the experience of walking on eggshells. So with Hollis: there is a fragility in his work which runs counter to the white noise of contemporary life.

He sings so quietly and with such trembling hesitancy that it is as if he is inventing his own language as he goes along, pushing at the limits of the sayable. Without a lyric sheet it would be impossible to know what he was singing about; that he is singing songs of faith and devotion.

A shy, wary man, Hollis finds talking about his music difficult. Again and again he flounders against the wall of how to discuss something that defies representation without collapsing into  abstraction. Or pretension. For he is gently self-mocking, laughs often and responds to my attempts to offer a reading of his  lyrics with “Cor, or something like that.”

The motivation for the album, he says, was “to produce a piece of music so that it was impossible to know in which year it was recorded. I have a strong affinity with acoustic sound and with the natural characteristic of instruments. I wanted this to become part of the soundscape of the room. It was recorded veryquietly. There were times when, vocally, I felt I could hardly make a sound.”

Mark Hollis is his first solo work since Talk Talk broke up in 1991. The  band’s journey from being electropop New Romantics, stablemates of Duran Duran, to avant-garde experimentalists in less than a decade  has no parallel. Their musical development was smoothed by a fabulous advance from EMI, reward for a series of hit singles on  the Continent and in South-East Asia.

Hollis never enjoyed being a conventional pop star. Endless touring bored him, as did the short, sharp songs and the 4/4 pop format. But he is grateful for his early success. “Because we were successful in Europe, with the exception of England, we had absolute freedom in terms of our recording budgets and in retaining a degree of anonymity in this country.”

The split with EMI followed the release of The Spirit of Eden, a shimmering, devout six-track composition of loose, fragmentary arrangements that prefigured many of the innovations on his  new album. The band had already signalled their seriousness with The Colour of Spring (1986), a work that, although adventurous,  offered no clue of what was to come. For, like all great work, Spirit assumed its own form in the very process of composition.

The band’s paymasters at EMI were completely baffled. After such  investment they expected something, well, more commercial , something they could market aggressively. “We had some kind of split,”  Hollis says, evasively. Later, he adds: “I think they wanted us to produce something along the lines of our earlier hits.  But we felt strongly that we shouldn’t repeat ourselves, that we had to keep progressing.”

Hollis has spent the past ten years listening to anything but pop.  He cites as influences, among others, Ornette Colman, Messiaen, Ravel and John Lee Hooker. He lives quietly with his wife, a  teacher, and two children in Wimbledon, his life disciplined by a willingness to learn. He never thinks about who, if anyone, might buy his records.

“I have enough money to live on, which is great,” he says. “In this sense, I feel a bit like a student whose grant allows him to spend his time reading, listening to and playing music, and getting a bit of sport in. Yeah, it’s a good life.”

* Mark Hollis is released by Polydor

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NME: 14th February 1998

Radiohead, The Verve, Spiritualized....yup, everyone loves being miserable these days. So what better time for the spiritual uncle of new grave, former Talk Talk frontman Mark Hollis, to break his seven- year silence? By Mark Beaumont

Fame stings, the spotlight scorches. No matter how fast you run, or how well you hide, the wasp spike of celebrity will skewer you in the end. And for the recluse, the camera-shy artiste who wants publicity like they want their tonsils removed with a jack-hammer, the spikes cut deeper.

Mark Hollis hears the click of Dictaphone shutting down, and sighs relief. Having survived another hour of explaining that his unexplainable music can only be explained by its sheer inexplicability, he downs the last of his Pepsi and rubs his forehead. That old nervous pounding again.

It’s been a decade since his previous band, the now defunct Talk Talk, leapt bravely out of the cheesy synth-pop whirl of the mid-’80s into darker , more entrancing waters. Ten long years since he grabbed all the tinsel trappings of The Pop Star Life (Offered to him by the successes of ‘Life’s What You Make It’ and its mother album ‘The Colour Of Spring’), flushed them gleefully down the nearest bog and started exploring the stark sounds and swirling silences that would become the 1988 opus of weirdie, ‘Spirit Of Eden’. Some 120 months out of the limelight, cultivating the general demeanour of a startled tumble dryer mechanic and still, every time he pokes his head out of the comforting studio haze, the demons of celebrity come to piss in his ears again. “I’m sorry if I was a bit uptight at the start there” he says, grabbing his coat from beneath a palm tree in the luxury conservatory of a South Kensington hotel, “but I’ve been a bit worried about something today...”

Last time, when he was dragged into the spotlight to promote the final Talk Talk album ‘Laughing Stock’ in 1991 (a press jaunt which would have been much less strenuous if he’d had the phrase ‘Look, The Bloody Music Speaks For Itself, Alright ?’ tatooed on his forehead), it was his legal wrangles with his ex-record company over the release of a shoddy greatest hits remix album, ‘Natural History Revisited’, that caught the press’ imagination far more than the obtuse, improvisational jazz patchwork he came to tout. And now, after seven years spent letting his band quietly disintegrate (“It just sort of ended, I suppose. We’d reached a way of working that’d got to an end point”), composing avant-garde woodwind symphonies and ‘getting down’ to the sound of dust settling, he re-emerges with his most evocative and luxuriant album to date, only to find old lies and rumours hawked up and spat in his face. This morning he read a national magazine feature which implied that he was using heroin during the final years of Talk Talk. He is horrified. His wife is furious. Off the record he denies it emphatically. On the record, uh, he’d rather we didn’t mention it, actually. The spotlight scorches, fame stings. And you bother to ask him if he regrets leaving pop stardom behind. “No, no” he snorts. “The only regret I’d have had is if I didn’t feel I’d progressed in what I was doing or I’d done them for the wrong reason.” From the piped PA, the gentle, vapid slush of a Simply Red tape filters in. The ghost of careers past. A vision of what might have been. Mark grins. “You leave everything behind.”

So there’s Nicole Kidman, right, and she’s floating down the Suez Canal on a lilo when she’s suddenly attacked by a savage pygmy tribe of bassoon players. She’s dragged off to the tribe’s jungle hideaway, where the savages are torturing Nicole with their experimental close harmony lute improvisations when there is a sudden hush and, from deep in the jungle there’s the faint bellow of Dustin Hoffman, swinging to the rescue in his role as the world’s first asthmatic Tarzan....

Ahem. Excuse me readers, just attempting to immerse myself in Mark’s forthcoming eponymous solo album using the Mark Hollis Cinema In Your Own Head Method.

“Music works in lots of different ways,” Mark fidgets by way of explanation, “as much as you want stuff that you can have a riot to you also want stuff where you can close your eyes and visually journey. I don’t see it as a mental journey where you find out about yourself, I see it more that you create a film in your head that takes you somewhere.”

Alrighty then ! Lights dimmed ? Patchouli oil sprinkled on your cerebral popcorn ? Kaftan donned ? Elaborate mirror system set up so that you can inspect your own arsehole for the next 45 minutes ? Then let’s dive into the album’s epic centrepiece ‘A Life (1895-1915)’.

“That was someone born before the turn of the century,” Mark relates “and dying within one year of the First World War at a young age. It was based on Vera Brittan’s boyfriend. It’s the expectation that must have been in existence at the turn of the century, the patriotism that must’ve existed at the start of the war and the disillusionment that must’ve come immediately afterwards. It’s the very severe mood swings that fascinated me.”

‘A Life (1895-1915)’ sounds like the apes from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ having their first clarinet lessons. It is essentially eight minutes of atonal woodwind chirping, a gentle piano groove and a tambourine player slowly falling asleep three miles away. The ‘lyrics’ consist of a slight moaning, like a rather damp hangover around the two-minute mark and a vague whispering like a disgruntled undertaker, at 7mins 15 secs. Yet, remarkably, you can totally understand what he’s on about. For this is emotive and evocative music rooted in the ancient jazz ethic : ‘It’s not what you sing, it’s the way that you sing it’.

“The lyric is always last,” Mark says, “the inflection and the phonetics must come first. The importance of the lyric is that in order to sing the thing properly you’ve got to mentally get yourself into what the subject is about. The lyric is extremely important in a performance point of view, but it’s of secondary importance to the whole.” So that’s why you can’t hear any of the bloody words then ? Hur hur. “No” Mark deadpans, “I just sing how it feels right to sing.”

Mark Hollis, it transpires, is one of the last surviving members of the endangered Muso Wankonaboutshiteus species. He is on Style Police records as having used the phrase “geography of sound” in a built-up area. He recorded ‘Mark Hollis’ with only one pair of microphones so that there was a ‘space’ to the record that you can ‘locate yourself in’. He worked entirely acoustically for two reasons. “One is because they exist out of any time frame, and secondly, when you hit them at a very low level they have an area of tonality and a degree of fragility within them which is very special.” He is Ocean Colour Scene’s dad and I claim my dreamscape of sonic resonance.

Except ‘Mark Hollis’ transcends any petty journalistic sniping through its sublime quirkiness and delicate dynamics. The sweeping silences of ‘Westward Bound’, the piano minimalism of ‘Colour Of Spring’ and the kooky flutiness of ‘The Daily Planet’ stretch so far beyond our blinkered rock parameters in the inner sense-tickling stakes that us whining indie tosserscan only turn to the camera in awe and whisper ‘niiiiiice’.

And what’s more, it’s cool! Introspection is ‘in’, daddio ! Mark Hollis has stumbled unwittingly into the left-field of the New Misero Revolution ! So does he feel venerated at last ?

Mark : “No, because I’m not aware of what that is.”

You haven’t heard The Flaming Lips’ new album then ? Spiritualized ? Er, Radiohead ?

Mark : “...........”

Blimey. Well to put you straight you are the semi-mute weirdo uncle of new grave.

Mark shrugs. “Right.”

Hmmmmm. Unsurprisingly, Mark takes a far more cultural reference point for his muse than, say, ‘Urban Hymns’.

“If you look at a film like ‘The Bicycle Thieves’,” he says, “from a narrative point of view nothing exists at all but from an emotional point of view everything exists. That’s where its strength is. I think music is the same. The way I think about it is to try and make an album that is unique. To try and make an album that could exist outside if the period in which it’s written or recorded. That’s the aim.”

With which, he grabs his coat, furrows his brow and calls for his taxi. There will be no single from this album and no tour ever. Just the soft shuffle of a maverick and visionary melting back into the shadows. And elegantly licking his scars.

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NRC Handelsblad: 23rd February 1998

Mark Hollis, voormalig zanger van de Britse groep Talk Talk, maakt een bescheiden begin met een solocarriere, waarbij de stiltes van ruisende luchtmoleculen die zijn titelloze cd omlijsten, een vervolg lijken te zijn op het stille gezoem van de laatste Talk Talk-plaat. Talk Talk maakte nog bombastische nummers. Hollis nu: 'Waarom drie noten spelen als een volstaat?

AMSTERDAM, 23 FEBR. 'Stilte is een essentieel onderdeel van mijn muziek,' zegt Mark Hollis terwijl de trams voorbij razen aan het balkon van zijn hotelkamer. 'Voor de innerlijke kalmte van een muziekstuk is het belangrijk dat er stiltes vallen. Waarom drie noten spelen als een volstaat?'

Nog niet zo lang geleden was Hollis de zanger van de Engelse popgroep Talk Talk, bekend van bombastische en melodramatische popsongs als Such A Shame en Life's What You Make It. Begin jaren tachtig werd Talk Talk met Ultravox en Duran Duran gerekend tot de 'new romantics', een modieuze stroming die de popmuziek na het destructieve nihilisme van de punk weer groots en meeslepend moest maken. Als trend was het geen lang leven beschoren, maar Talk Talk ontwikkelde zich op eigen kracht tot een oorspronkelijk popfenomeen dat sfeervolle albums als The Colour Of Spring en Spirit Of Eden naliet.

Vorig jaar verscheen een verzamelalbum van het in 1992 opgeheven Talk Talk, met op de verpakking een afbeelding van een gekooide vogel. Kan Hollis zich vinden in de bijbehorende symboliek? 'Talk Talk is een afgesloten hoofdstuk. Ik bemoei me op geen enkele manier met de heruitgavenpolitiek van de platenmaatschappij en ik heb geen idee wat ze met die hoes duidelijk willen maken.

'In het begin heb ik onder druk van het hitparadesucces nog wel eens artistieke beslissingen moeten nemen waar ik niet helemaal achter stond, maar zeker in de laatste jaren van het bestaan van Talk Talk vond ik de financiele armslag om in alle rust te werken. In wezen is mijn soloplaat het logische vervolg op de platen die ik toen maakte, ook al gebruik ik geen elektrische instrumenten meer en zul je me niet zo snel nog eens in Top of the Pops aantreffen.'

Het slotakkoord van Talk Talk op de cd Laughing Stock begon met een stilte van vijftien seconden, waarin alleen het zoemen van de gitaarversterker hoorbaar was. Ook Mark Hollis, het titelloze solodebuut van de zanger met de karakteristieke snik in zijn stem, begint en eindigt met niets anders dat het ruisen van luchtmoleculen door de kamer waarin de muziek werd opgenomen, aan het eind zelfs minutenlang. Met hulp van een drietal producer/arrangeurs schreef Hollis vooraf de partijen uit voor het volledig akoestische instrumentarium, live gespeeld door een veertienkoppig kamerorkest van pop-, jazz- en klassieke muzikanten.

'In de popwereld is het een standaardpraktijk om gebruik te maken van meersporenrecorders, waardoor een opname tot in het kleinste detail kan worden bijgeschaafd, overgedubd en opgepoetst. Ik hou van de toevalsfactor die ontstaat als je een groep muzikanten samen in een kamer zet. De wisselwerking tussen de muzikanten, ook bij van tevoren uitgeschreven muziek, levert een magie op die bij zo'n overgeproduceerde popplaat verloren gaat.'

Zelf speelt Hollis nog wel een enkele partij (akoestische) gitaar, maar klarinet, harmonium, fagot en cor anglais zijn minstens zo belangrijk in het klankbeeld. 'De klarinet is het mooiste muziekinstrument dat ik ken,' zegt Hollis, 'nauw verwant aan de menselijke stem en zeer geschikt om emoties te verklanken. Bij Talk Talk werd de dynamiek van de hardere passages altijd gedicteerd door het volume van de drums. Nu ben ik in de gelegenheid om een cd te vullen met muziek die zo zacht is, dat de adem van de houtblazers en het schuiven van vingers langs de fretten van de gitaar hoorbaar zijn. De hele plaat is opgenomen met twee microfoons, zoals dat in de jazz gebruikelijk is. Wat je hoort is alleen de ambiance van de kamer waarin we ons bevonden, plus de interactie tussen de instrumenten.'

Zijn onverminderd weemoedige stem is niet altijd even goed verstaanbaar en aan zijn teksten moet geen overdreven waarde worden gehecht, zegt Hollis, zelfs niet als hij rept over 'the bridges that I burnt' in het nummer met de onmiskenbaar aan Talk Talk referenende titel The Colour Of Spring. 'Mijn stem is niets meer en niets minder dan een van de instrumenten die me ter beschikking staan. Bij een songtekst vind ik de klank van de woorden het belangrijkst. Daarna denk ik pas na over de betekenis en de beelden die ik ermee wil oproepen. The Colour Of Spring is een mooi beeld, kleurrijk en optimistisch.'

Nu hij de reguliere popwereld achter zich heeft gelaten, lijkt Mark Hollis eenzelfde plaats in te nemen als de legendarische Scott Walker: een alom gerespecteerde Einzelganger die onder dreigt te gaan in de schoonheid die alleen door een klein publiek wordt herkend. Hollis voelt zich daar niet door aangesproken, want 'ik ben het stadium voorbij dat ik mijn muziek pas geslaagd vind als er veel mensen naartoe worden getrokken. Er is een plaats voor deze muziek in de wereld. Als dat een kleine plaats is, stel ik me daarmee tevreden. Ik ben allang blij dat ik niet meer met zo'n kunstmatige stroming als 'new romantics' word vereenzelvigd. Laat mij maar een kluizenaar in de popwereld zijn. Of ik een romanticus ben, moet elke luisteraar voor zichzelf uitmaken.'

Vooralsnog kan dat alleen door middel van de cd, herkenbaar aan de intrigerende hoesfoto van een brood in de vorm van een dierengestalte. 'Een Italiaans paasbrood dat een lammetje moet voorstellen. Dat leek me toepasselijk', zegt Hollis zonder een spoor van ironie. Optredens behoren volgens de zanger niet tot de mogelijkheden. 'Deze muziek is zo zacht en zo afhankelijk van de juiste sfeer, dat de essentie verloren zou gaan met een publiek erbij. Als er iemand kucht, klinkt dat al harder dan de hele groep bij elkaar. Popmuzikanten blijven doorgaans te lang hangen bij muziek die al lang en breed voltooid is en die door de tredmolen van tournees volledig wordt doodgespeeld. Ik vind het geen straf om op dit lawaaiige hotelbalkon over mijn muziek te praten, maar in mijn achterhoofd ben ik alweer met een nieuw project bezig.'

Door Jan Vollard

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NRC Handelsblad: 23rd February 1998

Mark Hollis, former singer of the band Talk Talk, makes a modest start with his solo career where the silences of rushing air molecules frame a self-titled CD, a record that seems to be a sequel to the quiet hum of the final Talk Talk record. Hollis: “Why play three notes when one is sufficient?”

AMSTERDAM, 23 FEBR. 'Silence is an essential part of my music, ' says Mark Hollis while trams whiz by the balcony of his hotel room. '”For the inner tranquility of a piece of music, it’s important that there are silences. Why play three notes when one is enough? '

Not so long ago Hollis was the lead singer of the English rock band Talk Talk, known for its bombastic and melodramatic pop songs as ‘Such A Shame’ and ‘Life's What You Make It’. In the early 80s, Talk Talk, along with Ultravox and Duran Duran were among the New Romantics, a fashionable movement to make pop grand and compelling again after the destructive nihilism of punk. The trend was short lived but Talk Talk developed under its own power into an original pop phenomenon with atmospheric albums such as The Colour of Spring and Spirit of Eden.

Talk Talk disbanded in 1992 but last year a compilation album was released with a cover of a caged bird on the cover. Could Hollis find any symbolism? “Talk talk is a closed chapter. I am in no way involved with the reissues or record label politics and I have no idea what they wanted to say with the cover.

"In the beginning I was the under pressure of having to have music chart success with regard to artistic decisions, but certainly in the last years of Talk Talk’s existence I found the financial muscle to work in peace. Essentially my solo album is the logival continuation of the records I made back then, even though I no longer use electric instruments and you won’t see me on Top of the Tops anytime soon.

The final chord of Talk Talk Laughing Stock CD began after a silence of fifteen seconds, in which only the hum of the guitar amp was audible. Mark Hollis the self-titled solo debut of the singer with the characteristic sob in his voice, also begins and ends with nothing but the sound of air molecules in the room where the music was recorded, at the end for several minutes. With the help of three producers / arrangers, Hollis composed the fully acoustic parts in advance, which were then played live by a fourteen-member chamber orchestra of pop, jazz and classical musicians.

"In the pop world, it’s standard practice to use multi-track recorders, allowing a recording to be refined, polished and overdubbed down to the smallest detail. I love the random factors that arise if you put a group of musicians together in a room. The inteaction between the musicians, even with music written in advance, delivers a magic that is lost in over-produced pop records. "

On the record itself Hollis plays a single (acoustic) guitar, but clarinet, harmonium, Bassoon and cor anglais are at least as important to the field of sound. '”The clarinet is the most beautiful musical instrument that I know of, "says Hollis, '”closely related to the human voice and very suitable to express emotion. With Talk Talk, the dynamics of the more complex passages were always dictated by the volume of the drums. Now I'm able to fill a CD with music that is so soft, that the breath of the woodwind players and the sliding of fingers along the frets of the guitar can be heard. The whole record was recorded with two microphones, as is common in jazz. What you hear is just the ambiance of the room we found ourselves in, plus the interaction between the instruments. '

Without prejudice to Hollis, his wistful voice is not always well understood, and he does not wish to attach too high a value to the lyrics, even when he mentions ‘the bridges that I burned’ in the song which unmistakably references Talk Talk, ‘The Colour of Spring’. My voice is nothing more and nothing less than one of the tools available to me. As for lyrics I find the sound of the words more important. Then only afterwards I think about the meaning and the images I want them to call up. The Colour of Spring is a beautiful image, colourful and optimistic.

Now he has left the mainstream pop world behind, Mark Hollis seems to be in the same place as the legendary Scott Walker: a widely respected loner who threatens to retreat into creating the beauty that is only recognized by a small audience. Hollis feels unconcerned becuase 'I’m at the stage beyond where I think my music is only successful if a lot of people are going to be drawn to it. There is a place for this music in the world. If that’s a small place, I imagine I’m satisfied. I'm just glad that I’m no longer identified with such artificual concepts as ‘new romantic’. Let me be a hermit from the pop world. Whether I’m romantic, each listener must decide for himself. "

For the time being that can only be decided through the CD, recognisable by the intriguing cover photo of an animal-shaped bread. 'It’s an Italian Easter bread of a lamb I should imagine. That seemed appropriate”, says Hollis without a trace of irony. Live performances are not possible according to the singer. "This music is so soft and so dependent on the right atmosphere, that the essence would be lost with an audience there. If someone coughs, that sounds louder than the entire group. And pop musicians usually stay too long with music which is already completed, and is completely deadened by the touring treadmill."

"I find it a joy to talk about my music on this noisy hotel balcony but in my mind I’m already working on a new project."

Jan Voolard


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Dagbladet: 24th February 1988

Stille, poetisk, vakkert og latterlig ukommersielt. Ikke forvent å høre dette på P4

Heldigvis. Tidligere Talk Talk-frontfigur Mark Hollis' musikk krever nemlig noe av lytteren. Musikk som er mer egnet til stille ettertanke, tedrikking og det som verre er. Popmusikk er det nemlig ikke.

Femten år etter at han begynte å lage pop-perler for Talk Talk beveger Hollis seg enda lengre bort fra oppbyggende vers og allsangvennlige refreng. Her plukker Hollis opp den magiske stemningen som Talk Talk utviklet på kultalbumet «Spirit of Eden». Med noen forskjeller.

Solodebuten er 100 prosent akustisk og holder seg oppe takket være en slags Nick Drake-aktig folkjazz. Ikke for alle, men tilhengere av introspektiv og poetisk musikk kan sette på vannkokeren med én gang.
For maksimal effekt; spill lavt. Alene og uforstyrret. (Thomas Strzelecki)

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Dagbladet: 24th February 1998

Quiet, poetic, beautiful, and ridiculously uncommercial.

Do not expect to hear this on P4 [Norway’s main pop music radio station]…fortunately. Former Talk Talk frontman Mark Hollis' music demands something of the listener. It’s music that is more suited to quiet contemplation, tea drinking and worse. Pop music it isn’t.

Fifteen years after he started making pop pearls for Talk Talk, Hollis moves even further away from the uplifting verses and sing-along friendly chorus. Here Hollis picks up the magical atmosphere that Talk Talk developed with the cult album Spirit of Eden. With some differences.

His solo debut is 100% acoustic and holds up thanks to a sort of Nick Drake-like folk jazz. Not for everyone, but fans of introspective and poetic music can put on the kettle at once.

For maximum effect, play low. Alone and undisturbed. (Thomas Strzelecki)

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Rolling Stone: März 1998

Ex-Talk Talk-Vorsteher Mark Hollis will mit seinen Solo-Debüt Jazz, Klassik und Folk gleichermaßen repräsentieren. Von Christian Buß

Okay, seine Eckdaten gibt es im Schnelldurchlauf: Mark Hollis ist Engländer, lebt mit seine zwei Kindern im Westen Londons, und altere Leser werden sich womöglich noch daran erinnern, wie er mit seiner Pop-Band Talk Talk Anfang der Achtziger ziemlich verrückte Playback Auftritte fürs Fernsehen absolvierte. Er schmunzelte immer ein bißchen narkotisiert – und vergaß schon mal das Singen.

„Yeah, that was fun“ schmunzelt Hollis noch einmal, obwohl er heute eigentlich nicht mehr so viel schmunzelt: dafür ist er immer hellwach. Und seine riesigen roten Ohren leuchten lustig, wenn er Satze wie die folgenden sagt: „Wenn ich ein Album produziere, stelle ich mir immer vor, es sei mein allerletztes. Ich liebe es, Musik zu machen, aber es muss nicht gleich eine Aufnahme entstehen. So ein Album braucht unendlich viel Zeit."  Wenige haben überhaupt damit gerechnet dass noch einmal etwas von Mark Hollis erscheint.

Schon zwischen den letzten Werken von Talk Talk lagen gigantische Intervalle – analog zu den noch gigantischeren Intervallen zwischen den Tönen auf diesen Werken. 1988 erschien „The Spirit of Eden“, 1991 „The Laughing Stock“ in dem Spannungsfeld von Jazz und Pop riß Hollis hier Akkorde und Rhythmen auf, bis nur noch ein ganz selbstgenügsames Schwingen im Klang übrigblieb Der Künstler der bis zur Veröffentlichung seines Solo-Debüts im Februar sieben Jahre lang geschwiegen hat, musizierte schon immer an der Grenze zur Stille. „Etwas wie absolute Stille gibt es nicht“ erläutert Hollis „Weshalb ich das Geräusch, das in jedem Raum herrscht, als kompositorisches Element mit einbeziehe. You have to feel the room!“

Aber für einen wie Mark Hollis ist Feeling auch eine Frage der Organisation. Und so verwundert es nicht, dass seine uneingeschränkte Bewunderung dem Freejazz-Propheten Ornette Coleman, gilt „er ist ein Meister der Improvisation, die sich bei ihm aber erst aufgrund eines Plans entfalten kann. Bevor ich ins Studio gehe, organisiere ich alles nach sehr strengen Maßstäben, um mich dann um so mehr einer bestimmten Stimmung hingeben zu können.“

Hollis, der nie behauptet hat, bescheiden zu sein, will gleichermaßen Jazz und Klassik und Folk repräsentieren. Also alles oder gar nichts, Es spricht auch für sein selbstbetiteltes Debüt-Album, daß man ihm nicht anhört, mit welcher strategischen Schärfe er diesem Anspruch nachkommt. Das Verhältnis der Instrumente zueinander hat er genau austariert „Das Piano ist in allen drei Bereichen zuhause, es läßt sich also universell einsetzen. Die Klarinette ist ein Bindeglied zwischen Jazz und Klassik, wahren die Flöte sowohl in der Klassik als auch im Folk zu Hause ist.“ Undsoweiterundsofort. Aber man hört die opulente instrumentale Ausstattung nicht heraus, weil im Studio stets nur kleine sinnstiftende Ensembles aus dem Orchester herausgelost worden sind.

Wie gesagt, hier werden Töne an der Grenze zur Stille gesetzt. Und an der Grenze zur Zeitlosigkeit. „Ich will, daß meine Songs sich nicht auf ein bestimmtes Jahr datieren lassen.“ Doch Zeitlosigkeit ist so wenig zu haben wie Stille, weshalb Mark Hollis scheitern Muß. Ein grandioses Scheitern ist das – du also das Gegenteil vom piefigen Sieg des Mittelmaßes.

Wer kommt schon auf die Idee, einen Song mit dem Titel „A life (1895-1915)“ zu komponieren? Mark Hollis natürlich, der zwar hier und jetzt lebt, aber einfach nicht einsehen will, welchen Einfluß diese Tatsache auf seine Kunst haben soll, „Mann muß sich das mal vorstellen: Der Mensch, von dem ich da singe, wurde um die Jahrhundertwende geboren – und starb bereits zwei Jahrzehnte später. Aber was für Umbrüche es in dieser Zeit gegeben hat! Aufbruch, Nationalismus, Krieg. Also Hoffnung. Wirklichkeit, Tod. „Natürlich geht es ihm hier nicht um historische Wahrheit, sondern um psychosoziale. Wirklichkeit, weshalb er einen Haufen Bücher - darunter das von ihm geliebte „Im Westen nichts Neues“ – verschlang, „um Lyrics zu verfassen, für die weniger als 20 Worte reichen“.

So knapp und still und zeitlos wie möglich muß die Musik von Mark Hollis sein. Wird sie jemals live auf geführt werden? „Um Gottes Willen, stell Dir doch mal vor, wenn da jemand hustet!“.

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Intro: März 1998

Wir sind gleichgeschaltet. Die Musikwelt ist nur scheinbar disparat. In Wirklichkeit ist es alles das gleiche – Will Oldman, Pearl Jam, Nick Cave, Mark Eitzel, Smashing Pumpkins, Low, Radiohead, Portishead, das gesamte ‘4AD’ label, Triphop, Postrock, überall tobt der kulturelle Fallout, den Blues und Country gelegt haben und der von unserer gefühlsterroristischen Mediengesellschaft verstärkt wurde.

Wir leben in der Zeit des Jammerns. Klagen, Wehleiden. Melancholie, Trauer, Verzweiflung, Gebrochenheit had insbesondere den vermeintlich tiefgründigeren Rest – Underground so sehr im Griff, daß man mit Nena oder der elterlichen Nachkriegsgeneration Disziplin und Relationwahrung einfordern Møchte.

Auch Mark Hollis gehort auf den ersten Blick in diese Kultur. Sein nasals Timbre changiert zwischen zittrigem Forte und minimalem Wispern, ist dabei klagend und flehend zugleich. Daran konnte auch der archestrale Pop den Hollis in den 8oern mit Talk Talk produzierte, ebensowenig ändern wie die darauf gebetteten autosuggestiven Mantras a la ‘Happiness is Easy’. Mit Pop und dem dazugehörigen Business war es ab 86 aber endgültig vorbei.

Danach schenkten Talk Talk der Welt ‘Spirit of Eden’ und ‘Laughing Stock’, zwei unglaubliche Tondokumente, Die Van Morrison, moderne Klassik, Ornettte Coleman, und den heiligen Geist in herzerweichenden Einklang brachten und den Aliens, die irgendwann diesen Planeten von unserer sündigen Spezies befreien, zeigen werden, daß hier nich alles Scheiße war.

Sieben Jahre nach diesen Niederkünften, die Tonnen von Pfund verschlangen und selbstverstandlich kommerzielle Katastrophen waren, erhebt der unscheinbare Genius wieder die Stimme, dismal akustisch und noch viel leiser als sonst.

Sieben Jahre hat er Musik gehort und sich mit Meditations – un Kompositions – übungen auf diese unter eigenem Namen veröffentlichte Platte vorbereitet, die so zerbrechlich zwischen Minimalismus, Jazz und Romantik morpht, daß die Welt drum herum in Ehrfurcht erstarrt. Und natürlich jammert Mark Hollis nicht. Er fleht, tonmalt, ästhetisch, um Klang und Kunst willen. Er ist ein kleiner, leicht gebeugter Mann mit abstehenden Ohren, bedächtig, leise, aber mit Nachdruck. Ein Entrückter.

? Nach ‘86 sind TALK TALK nie wieder aufgetreten?

! Nach ‘86, ja.

? Das ist ganz schön lange.

! It’s a little time, ja.

? Gibt es jetzt irgendwelche Ideen, live zu spielen?

! Nein, keinerlei. Erstens wäre es vollkommen unmöglich, diese Musik live aufzuführen, und außerdem verspüre ich überhaupt kein Verlangen, Musik, die ich gerade aufgenommen habe, ein Jahr lang zu reproduzieren. Lieber schreibe ich neue Sachen.

? Das Problem ist nicht der Kontakt mit dem Publikum, sondern die Soundfrage.

! Ja, absolut.

? Aber was wäre mit Räumen für klassische Musik?

! Ja sicher, aber sieh mal, selbst auf einem klassischen Konzert hast du Lärm, bei wirklich leisen Passagen wird im Publikum gehustet.

So was zerstört meine Konzentration total. Bei Rockmusik ist der Live-Aspekt etwas Wichtiges und Eigenständiges, aber Klassik höre ich lieber von Platte, weil Stille dabei ein extrem wichtiger Aspekt ist. Mit meiner Musik ist es genau das gleiche, alles ist so unglaublich leise, daß jegliche Störung fatal wäre.

? Hast du irgendwelche schlechten Erinnerungen an die Zeit mit TALK TALK?

! Nein, überhaupt nicht. Eher lustige. Es gibt ein paar Sachen, die wir hätten besser machen können, als wir den Deal abgeschlossen haben, aber sonst waren es viel Spaß und schöne Momente. Und wenn es um die Platten geht, so sind sie alle so gut geworden, wie es zu der jeweiligen Zeit möglich war.

? Und was ist mit der kommerziellen Seite? Waren die letzten beiden Platten nicht insofern problematisch, als daß sie sehr teuer waren und gefloppt sind?

! Ja, aber ... you know. Ich liebe diese Platten, also was soll’s. “Spirit Of Eden”, “Laughing Stock” und diese neue Platte sind miteinander verbunden und mir alle gleich lieb. “Spirit Of Eden” war das erste Album, das ohne jeglichen äußeren Druck entstand.

? Aber wie war es, als du damals die Bänder bei der Plattenfirma abgegeben hast?

! Damit habe ich mich nie beschäftigt. Ich habe mich immer nur auf das Album konzentriert, und Keith, mein Manager, hat das andere Zeug gemacht. Ich habe immer versucht, diese Bereiche getrennt zu halten und die Musik durch nichts zu beeinträchtigen.

? Und die Remix-Platte?

! Absolut jenseits meiner Kontrolle. Ich kann dazu überhaupt nichts sagen. Ich habe die Platte nie gehört. Wir waren nicht mehr auf dem Label, und es ist geschehen, ich konnte es nicht aufhalten.

? Hast du jemals selbst über so etwas wie Remixe nachgedacht?

! Nein, niemals. Wenn eine Platte gemischt ist, dann ist es das. Ich höre es mir nicht noch mal an oder denke: “Das hätten wir besser oder anders machen können.”

? Nach dem großen Bruch zwischen “Colour Of Spring” und “Spirit Of Eden” wirkte “Laughing Stock” eher wie ein zweiter Teil. Welche Entwicklung habt ihr darin gesehen?

! Der Unterschied zwischen “Spirit” und “Laughing Stock” bestand nur in zwei Bereichen. Wir haben immer noch mit arrangierter Improvisation gearbeitet, aber die Musiker als voneinander getrennte Zellen behandelt, die in ihren Zeitzonen leben, als würden sie im Orbit kreisen und manchmal miteinander kommunizieren, dann aber wieder völlig voneinander getrennt sein. Der eine hat das für den Off-Beat gehalten, was für den anderen der On-Beat war.

? Habt ihr das im Mix gemacht?

! Nein, schon in der Komposition. Das andere neue Element war, die Stücke weiter zu dehnen, als wir es jemals zuvor getan haben. Das erste Stück zum Beispiel, “Myrrhman”, da war der Ansatz, einen Song zu machen, der sich an keiner Stelle wiederholt, bei “Ascencion Day” hatten wir zwar drei Verse, aber jeden mit weniger Takten und dazu gleichbleibende Vocals. Es ging alles um die Veränderung von Songkonstruktionen.

? Eine sehr intellektuelle Herangehensweise.

! Jaja, das stimmt. Als wir die Aufnahmen abgeschlossen hatten, waren wir durch damit, wußten, wie es geht, und wollten nicht damit weitermachen. Wir waren mit dem Songwriting so weit gekommen, wie es geht, also dachten wir: “Jetzt ist der richtige Moment, um aufzuhören.” So war das Ende, sehr vage, wenn du verstehst.

? Heißt das nicht auch, daß ihr wieder zusammenkommen könntet?

! Oh nein, so geht das nicht. Alle sind in verschiedene Richtungen gegangen und haben unterschiedliche Felder erforscht ...

? War es eigentlich problematisch, einen Deal für “Mark Hollis” zu bekommen?

! Nein, diese Platte lief noch unter dem letzten Deal. Der Vertrag, den ich vor “Laughing Stock” geschlossen habe, umfaßte zwei Platten, ohne zeitliche Vorgaben.

? Und wie ist es finanziell? Mußt du Platten machen, um zu überleben?

! Nein, eigentlich nicht. Ich habe mit alten Lizenzen genug verdient, um zurechtzukommen.

? Und was hast du in diesen sieben Jahren gemacht? Musik?

! Ich habe unglaublich viel Musik gehört und auch viel geschrieben. Aber ich fühle kein Verlangen, alles aufzunehmen. Ich spiele Klavier, um Klavier zu spielen. You know ... [Pause], ... die ersten paar Jahre habe ich Arrangements für Holzbläser geschrieben, vier- oder fünfköpfige Gruppen. Das ist es, was mich nach der letzten Platte interessiert hat - für kleine Besetzungen zu schreiben, ohne Perkussion und ohne Songstruktur. Ich habe dabei überhaupt nicht an eine Platte gedacht, und es sind auch nur ein paar kleine Teile, die auf dieser Platte zu hören sind. Das meiste existiert nur auf Papier.

? Du sagst, du hörst sehr viel Musik. Ist darunter auch moderne oder aktuelle Musik?

! Nein, überhaupt nicht. Das heißt, es gibt einige moderne Klassik, aber nichts Populäres.

? Und die paar Vergleiche, die aus dem Rock- oder Pop-Bereich herbeigezogen werden, ROBERT WYATT oder SCOTT WALKER - fühlst du dich denen irgendwie verwandt?

! Ja, nein ..., also ROBERT WYATT habe ich immer bewundert, schon zu SOFT MACHINE-Zeiten ein großartiger Schlagzeuger, und ich liebe seine Stimme. Ich weiß zwar nicht genau, worum es ihm geht, aber ich habe großen Respekt für ihn. Was SCOTT WALKER angeht, so kenne ich nur “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” und “Tilt”, und ... was soll ich sagen - er ist offensichtlich jemand mit einer Mission, wofür ich ihm alles Gute wünsche.

? Du könntest niemanden benennen, dem du dich nahe fühlst?

! Was Pop angeht, nein, aber es gibt einige Ideen, zu denen ich einen Bezug spüre, zum Beispiel MORTON FELDMAN, ein amerikanischer Komponist, der auf wahnsinnig ruhigem Level arbeitet, wo die Schwingungen extrem wichtig sind, wo es um jede kleine Note geht. Zu dieser Herangehensweise an Sound spüre ich eine große Affinität, aber solche Beispiele gibt es sehr viele aus allen möglichen Bereichen. Für mich waren zum Beispiel CAN sehr wichtig, aber ich wollte nie wie sie sein oder das gleiche machen, es war einfach nur ein großer Einfluß auf meine musikalische Wahrnehmung. Allein der Drummer: Ich kann mich an kein Lied erinnern, wo er jemals ausgesetzt hätte. Was für eine großartige Technik.

? Ich habe gelesen, daß du nach “Colour Of Spring” aufs Land gezogen bist. Lebst du immer noch dort?

! Nein, ich bin seit zwei Jahren wieder in London.

? Stört dich der Lärm nicht?

! Ja und nein. Ich brauche einen Raum, im dem es sehr ruhig ist, aber was ich auch brauche und vor allem für meine beiden Söhne möchte, ist eine kosmopolitische Gesellschaft, eine lebendige Kultur, die es auf dem Land nicht gibt.

? Und du hast auch nichts dagegen, wenn deine Kinder Hardrock oder HipHop hören?

! Sie können hören, was sie wollen. Von Zeit zu Zeit spiele ich ihnen was vor, aber nur, um zu sehen, wie sie reagieren, nicht um sie zu erziehen.

? Ist Musik wichtig für sie? Wie alt sind sie?

! Sieben und zehn. Nein, Musik ist nicht sehr wichtig für sie. Sie lernen beide Instrumente, Klavier und Gitarre, aber total entspannt und ohne Zwang.

? Die Platte beginnt mit “The Colour Of Spring”. Eine Referenz an vergangene Zeiten?

! Nein, ich dachte nur, daß es ein guter Titel für den Text wäre. Daß es sich daneben auch zurückbezieht, ist in Ordnung.

? Die Verbindung von dem Titel zu dem Text, wo du von “verbrannten Brücken” sprichst, ist schon sehr auffällig.

! Aber es ist absolut kein autobiographischer Song. Worum es in dem Stück geht, sind Menschen, die absolut materialistisch denken, alles nur für Geld machen, keinerlei Moral haben, dir aber etwas über die Schönheit der Natur erzählen. Dabei können sie das überhaupt nicht verstehen, da dies vollkommen gegensätzliche Ideen sind. Und dann kommt eine recht romantische Idee hinein: daß du, wenn du diese Wahrnehmung von Schönheit hast, über die hinter dir verbrannten Brücken fliegen kannst ...

? Würdest du sagen, daß du vor der Welt fliehst? Eskapismus?

! Ja, sicherlich. Musik ist eine Flucht. Aber gleichzeitig auch das genaue Gegenteil davon, etwas, das deine Sinne schärft und deine Wahrnehmung der Dinge - also dein Leben - prägt.

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Intro: March 1998

We are brought into line. The music world is only seemingly disparate. In reality, it’s all the same - Will Oldman, Pearl Jam, Nick Cave, Mark Eitzel, Smashing Pumpkins, Low, Radiohead, Portishead, the entire ‘4 AD ‘label, trip hop, post rock, everywhere raging cultural fallout, reinforced by our emotional terrorist media companies.

We live in an era of constant complaints. Complaints, melancholy, sadness, despair, brokenness in particular, supposedly more profoundly under control what with Nena and the parental post-war generation who demand discipline and maintaining good relations.

Mark Hollis also heard, at first glance, in this culture. His nasal timbre changes between loud and a minimal tremulous whisper, while at the same time complaining and begging. Not even the central archetypal pop Hollis produced in the 80s  with Talk Talk, made little change to the embedded auto-suggestive mantra a la ‘Happiness is Easy’. With pop and its related business from 86 it was finally over.

Then Talk Talk gave the world ‘Spirit of Eden’ and ‘Laughing Stock’, two incredible sounds; Van Morrison, modern classical, Ornettte Coleman, and brought the holy spirit into heartbreaking line, and the aliens that someday rescue this planet from our sinful show, will see that not everything was shit here.

Seven years after this labour, swallowed up in tons of books and commercial catastrophes of course, the unassuming genius elevates his voice again, full of dismal acoustics and much quieter than usual.

For seven years he has meditated on music – and compsed –songs to be published in a record under his own name, which morphs between such fragile minimalism, jazz and romance, that the world around them awestruck. And of course, Mark Hollis never complains. Aesthetic, he creates sound for art’s sake. He is a small, slightly stooped man with protruding ears, speaking slowly, quietly, but forcefully. Rapt.

Q: After ‘86 Talk Talk never toured again?

A: After ‘86, yes.

Q:That’s pretty long.

A: It’s a little time, yes.

Q: Is there now any plan to play live?

A: No, no. First, it would be totally impossible to perform this music live, and besides I feel no desire at all to reproduce music that I’ve just taken a year to create. I’d rather write new stuff.

Q: The problem is not the contact with the audience, but the issue of sound?

A: Yes, absolutely.

Q: But what about classical music?

A: Yes, but look, even in a classical concert you have noise in quiet passages, or in the audience. So my focus would be totally destroyed. In rock music the live aspect of bands is something important and original, but I’d rather hear classical records, because silence is an extremely important aspect. With my music, it is exactly the same, everything is so incredibly low that any disruption would be disastrous.

Q: Do you have any bad memories of the time with Talk Talk?

A: No, absolutely not. That’s rather funny. There are a few things we could have done better when we completed the [record] deal, but otherwise it was great fun and good times. And when it comes to the records, they were as good as it was possible to be for the respective period.

Q: And what about the commercial side? Were the final two albums  problematic in that they were very expensive and flopped?

A: Yes, but ... you know. I love these plates, so what the heck.  “Spirit Of Eden”, “Laughing Stock” and this new album are connected to each other and are all equally dear to me. “Spirit Of Eden” was the first album, which came without any outside pressure.

Q: But what was it like when you delivered the tapes to the record company that time?

A: So I’ve never been employed in that. I concentrated only on the album, and Keith, my manager did the other stuff. I’ve always tried to separate these areas and not affect the music in any way.

Q: And the remix record?

A: Absolutely beyond my control. All I can say is nothing at all. I’ve never heard the record. We were no longer on the label, and it happened, I could not stop it.

Q: Have you ever even thought about something like remixes?

A: No, never. If a record is mixed, I don’t hear it again or think “we could have done it better or differently.”

Q: After the great break between “Colour Of Spring” and “Spirit Of Eden” “Laughing Stock” worked more like a second part. What developments have you seen?

A: The difference between “Spirit” and “Laughing Stock” existed only in two areas. We still worked with arranged improvisation, but treated as separate cells, the musicians who live in their own time zones, they revolved in the orbit and communicated with each other sometimes, but then completely separated. The one that held for the off-beat, which was for the other an on-beat.

Q: Have you done this in the mix?

A: No, in the composition. The other new element was to stretch the songs further than we have ever done before. The first piece, for example, “Myrrhman”, had the approach of making a song that never repeats itself at any point and in “Ascension Day” although we had three verses, each one had fewer cycles, and constant vocals. It was all about changing song structures.

Q: A very intellectual approach.

A: Yeah, that’s true. When we had finished recording, we were through with it, knew how to do it, and did not want to go further with it. We had come with the songwriting as far as it could go so we thought “now is the time to stop.” The end [of Talk Talk] was very vague, if you understand.

Q: Does this not imply that you could get back together?

A: Oh, no, not that. They’ve all gone in different directions and have explored different fields ...

Q: Was it really difficult to get a deal for “Mark Hollis”?

A: No, this record was still under the previous deal. The contract I had entered before “Laughing Stock”, comprised of two albums, with no time frame.

Q: And what about financially? Do you have to make records in order to survive?

A: No, not really. I have been using old royalties and earned enough to get by.

Q: And what did you do during those seven years? Music?

A: I heard a lot of incredible music and a lot of writing. But I feel no desire to include everything. I play the piano to play the piano. You know ... [Pause] ... the first few years I wrote arrangements for woodwind, four-or five-person groups. That’s what interested me after the last record - writing for small ensembles, with no percussion and no song structure. I have not thought about recording it, and there are only a few small parts that can be heard on this record. Most exist only on paper.

Q: You say you hear a lot of music. Is including modern or contemporary music?

A: No, absolutely not. That said, there’s some modern classical music, but not Popular.

Q: And the few comparisons that can be made from rock or pop music, Robert Wyatt, Scott walker - do you feel that somehow related?

A: Yes, no ..., Robert Wyatt I’ve always admired, Soft Machine too – at times a great drummer, and I love his voice. I don’t know exactly what it is about him, but I have great respect for him. As for Scott Walker, I only know  “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” and “Tilt”, and ... what can I say - he’s obviously someone with a mission, for which I wish him well.

Q: You could nominate anyone whom you feel close to?

A: As for pop, no, but there are some ideas to which I feel a connection, for example, Morton Feldman, an American composer who is working on insanely quiet level, where the vibrations are extremely important when it comes to every little note. For this approach to sound, I feel a great affinity, but there are many such examples from all walks of life. For me, for example Can are very important, but I never wanted to be like them or the same, it was just a big influence on my musical perception. And the drummer: I cannot remember a song where he had ever been left exposed. What a great technique.

Q: I’ve read that after “The Colour of Spring” you moved to the country. Do you live there still?

A: No, I’m back in London for two years.

Q: The noise does not bother you?

A: Yes and no. I need a space in which it is very quiet, but what I need and want, especially for my two sons, is a cosmopolitan society, a vibrant culture that does not exist in the country.

Q: And you don’t mind when your children hear hard rock or hip hop?

A: They can hear what they want. From time to time I play them something, but just to see how they react, not to educate them.

Q: Is music important to them? How old are they?

A: Seven and ten. No, music is not very important to them. They both learn instruments, piano and guitar, but totally relaxed and without coercion.

Q: The record begins with “The Colour Of Spring”. A reference to past times?

A: No, I just thought that it would be a good title for the song. That it also relates back is secondary.

Q: The combination of the title and the lyric where you talk about “burned bridges” is very striking.

A: But it’s absolutely not an autobiographical song. What it’s about is people who think absolutely materialistically, do everything just for money, have no morals, and to tell you something about the beauty of nature. They cannot understand at all, since these are completely contradictory ideas. And then comes into a very romantic idea that you, if you have this perception of beauty, you can flee burning bridges behind you ...

Q: Would you say that you flee from the world? Escapism?

A: Yes, certainly. Music is an escape. But at the same time, the exact opposite of something that sharpens your senses and shapes your perception of things - that is your life.

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Musikexpress Sounds: März 1998

Sieben Jahre bastelte Mark Hollis an seinem Soloalbum. Nun meldet sich der ehemalige sänger von Talk Talk eindrucksvoll zurück.

Mark Hollis war einmal ein Popstar, ein ganz großer sogar. Talk Talk heiß seine Band, die vier Jahre lang ihre New Wave-Hymnen in die Charts trug, bevor sie 1986 den Kontakt zur Pop-Welt abbrach. In diesem Jahr standen Hollis und sein Partner Tim-Friese-Green auf der Höhe ihre Erfolgs, lief eine neunmonatige Welt-Tournee, erschien, ‚Life’s What You Make It’ der größte Hit der Band. Doch auf dem begleitenden Album ‚The Colour of Spring’ war der Wandel schon eingeschrieben, fanden sich im gleichen Maße Evergreens wie auch Stücke, welche die im Pop zulässige Spieldauer deutlich überschritten und sich in ambiente, experimentelle Bereiche vorwagten.

Daß dies tatsächlich der Anfang vom Ende war, ahnte damals noch niemand. Doch Talk Talk kehrten niemals wieder in die Charts oder auf eine Bühne zurück. Die Musikpresse erklärte diesen Umbruch gern mit Drogenexzessen, worüber Mark Hollis nur müde lächeln kann und jeder, der sein waches, ausgeglichenes Wesen erlebt, mit ihm. Nein, die Merkwürdigkeiten dieser Gruppe sind nicht in dem üblichen Rock-Kontext zu bringen. Hier ging es um Vergeistigung und den Rückzug aus der Öffentlichkeit. Hollis wurde Vater, ließ sich auf dem Land nieder und bastelte an „Spirit of Eden“ und „Laughing Stock“ den beiden letzten Veröffentlichungen von Talk Talk, für die mit 20 Musikern und verschiedenen Chören auf 64 Tonspuren ein Aufwand betrieben wurde, der produktionstechnisch gesehen schon fast Titanic-Dimensionen hatte.  Als „ arrangierte improvisation“ beschreibt Hollis die damaligen intellektuellen und kompositorischen Höchstleistungen, in deren Verlauf 10minütige Stücke, in denen sich kein Takt wiederholt, als Song funktionierten. Unnötig zu erwähnen, daß derlei Töne nur bedingt als Musik für den Mainstream taugten.

„Wir wollten und nicht wiederholen und hatten das Gefühl, alles gesagt zu haben“ meint Hollis im Rückblick auf Talk Talk. Also ging jeder seinen eigenen Interessen nach. Gerade deswegen sieht Hollis keine Chance für eine Wiedervereinigung. Zu verschieden sind die eingeschlagenen Wege verlaufen. Das Erbe der Band weiterzuführen, liegt allerdings in Hollis Händen. Schließlich war es eine brüchig-nasale Stimme, die den Stücken ihre einzigartige Wehmut gab.

Diese Stimme ist es auch, die Hollis jetzt vorgelegtes Soloalbum („Mark Hollis“) trotz aller feinsinnigen Experimente wieder zu einer melodischen, herzerweichenden Erfahrung macht. Gleichzeitig verbreitet die Platte eine fast überirdische Ruhe, die aus ihren siebenjährigem Entstehungsprozeß resultiert. „In den ersten Jahren habe ich einige Arrangements für Holzbläser geschrieben“ erzählt Hollis, „nur weil es mich interessierte und nicht, um etwas davon zu veröffentlichen.“ Als es dann aber an die Aufnahmen der Solo-CD ging, stellte sich heraus, dass kein einziges Arrangement umsonst geschrieben worden war. Merkte man der beinahe unheimlichen Perfektion der letzten beiden Talk Talk-Alben schon die Bedeutung einzelner Töne an, so hat Hollis dieses System jetzt auf die Spitze getrieben.

Diesmal ist die totale Transparenz oberstes Gebot – vom sekundenlangen Ausklingen eines einzelnen Tons bis hin zum Knarren des Klavierstuhls. Eine live-Darbietung dieser zerbrechlichen Kunst wird es nicht geben, nicht mal vor Klassikpublikum.“ Wenn ich ein klassischen Konzert besuche, stört mich das Rascheln und has Husten“ räumt der sensible Hollis ein, „und meine Musik würde von jedem Geräusch zerstört werden.“

Völlig fern von dieser Welkt ist der englische Klangkünstler trotzdem nicht. Er lebt sogar wieder in London – weniger, um ins dortige Nightlife einzusteigen, als vielmehr, um seinen beiden Söhne ein kulturell lebendiges Umfeld bieten zu können. Und was, wenn sie Hardrock-Fans werden? „Oh, sie Können machen, was sie wollen“ sagt Hollis, und sein Gesicht nimmt den Ausdruck weiser Güte an.

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Musikexpress Sounds: März 1998

Es gibt gute und schlechte Musik. Innerhalb des deutlich kleineren Anteils der guten Musik wiederum gibt es sehr viel wohlklingende, aber inhaltlich arme Musik und wenig tiefe, bedeutungsvolle Musik. Stellen wir nun die Maximalforderung und fragen nach beseelter, wohlklingender und womoglich sogar zeitloser Musik, dann wird die Liste bedenklich klein. Zwei der Platten, die sort bleiben dürfen, sind von Talk Talk: Spirit of Eden und Laughing Stock. Hier entsagte das britische pop-quartett ebenso uberraschend wie radikal der Jugendkultur und ging dementsprechend kommerziell unter.

Danach herrschte sieben Jahre Schweigen, genug Zeit, um diese gradiosen Wave-Sinfonien in ihrere vollen, 64-spurigen Große zu erkennen. Mit dieser platte nun steht fest, was zwar alle ahnten, aber nie offiziell verkündet wurde: Talk Talk ist nicht mehr.

Doch niemand muß um die Band trauern, denn Mark Hollis’ gleichnamiges Album zeigt, daß seine Stimme, sein songwriting die Essenz der Band war. Und nichts weniger als eine Essenz ist dieses Werk geworden – zarte, schmerzvoll-schone Musik an der Grenze zwichen E und U, im stillen, melodischen Niemandsland.

Gab es auf den letzen Stücken von talk Talk noch ein paar instrumentale Verdichtungen, so ist dieses Album eine kontemplative Ubung in Disziplin und Ruhe, ein Beweis dafür, wie weit abseits vom Pop-Geschehen Mark Hollis mittlerweile steht “ich mag lieber Stille als Klang”, sagt er und “ein richtiger Ton ist besser als zehn falsche”. Dementsprechend hat er den Stecker aus der Wand gezogen und eine kleine Gruppe Musiker zum gepflegten akustischen Tone-Austausch gebeten, mit dem Ergebnis der Luftigsten Platte aller Zeiten. Musik, die wirkt, als wåre sie auseinander-genommen, von allem Unrat befreit und mit kleinen Atempausen wieder zusammenge-setzt.

Dazu Hollis’ einzigartiger nasal-brüchiger Gesang, der, obgleich noch entrückter und vermurmelter als früher, den Stücken Richtung und Drama gibt.

Eine Platte die die Zeit anhält und die Wahrnehmung verandert. Nicht von dieser Welt.

6 stars - phånomenal

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Musikexpress Sounds: March 1998

There is good and bad music. Within the much smaller proportion of good music again, there’s lot of good sounding but content-poor music and little deep, meaningful music. If we now ask for the maximum and demand soulful, melodious music, and if possible, even timeless music, then the list is small concern. Two of the recrods, which are allowed to stay in the list are by Talk Talk: Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. Here the British pop quartet, surprising radical renounced the youth culture, and accordingly commerciality.

Then there was silence for seven years, enough time to recognize these gradiosen symphonies in their full, 64-track glory. This record is released now, and what all suspected, but was never officially announced: Talk Talk is no more.

But no one should mourn for the band, as Mark Hollis’ self-titled album shows that his voice and his songwriting is the essence of the band. And nothing less than an essence, this work has become - tender, painful, beautiful music at the border between E and U - in the quiet, melodious nowhere.

If the last records of Talk Talk gave up a few instrumental densities, then this album is a contemplative exercise in discipline and peace, a proof of how far away from the pop happenings Mark Hollis now is “I prefer silence to sound” he says, “a real sound is better than ten false”. Accordingly, he has pulled the plug from the wall and invited a small group of musicians to an elegant acoustic tone exchange, with resulting in the airiest disk of all time. Music that looks as if it ware taken apart, freed of all debris and small breaths and put together again.

As for Hollis’s unique nasal-fragile vocals, although still as rapt and beautiful before, it is the songs which add direction and drama.

A record that stops time and changes the perception. Out of this world.

6 stars - phenomenal

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Zillo: März 1998

Wer Mark Hollis sieht, denkt sofort an den vielzitierten, gesichtslosen ‚British Airways’  - Angestellten – mit verhärmtem Gesichtsausdruck, geschlechtslos, die Frisur stets korrekt gescheitelt. Der Anzug ist ganz schrecklich langweilig, die Krawatte schlottert um den zu dünnen Hals, die klobigen Halbschuhe sind korrekt gewichst. Ein Dutzendtyp in einer Dutzendwelt, würde man meinen.

Mark Hollis – funkt’s da nicht in der Erinnerung? Leuchtet da nicht gar ein gleißend helles Feuer auf beim Klang dieses Namens? Mark Hollis stand für zehn Jahre der Formation Talk Talk vor, mit der er in den 80er Jahren drei halbwegs wichtige und zwei grandiose. Alben einspielte. Wobei es erneut eine ironische. Bestätigung für die oberflächliche Pop-Szenerie ist, sich die drei ersten halbwegs wichtigen Alben von Talk Talk großartig verkauften und etlichen Single-Hits abwarfen, während die beiden letzten grandiosen Meisterwerke „Spirit of Eden“ und „The Laughing Stock“ von der Öffentlichkeit weitgehend ignoriert wurden. Und Wie dem so war, hat der 43jährige Londoner, passenderweise ein ehemaliger Psychologiestudent, ‚92 das Kapitel Talk Talk endgültig zu den Akten gelegt. Hollis erklärt sechs Jahre später ganz ohne Passion: „Ich mag zwar die ersten Platten von Talk Talk ganz gerne, aber die letzten beiden liebe ich nun mal. An die will ich fortan mit meiner Musik anknüpfen, denn Pop-Star war ich lange genug, mein Songs heben die Charts zur Genüge erobert. Solch eine Bestätigung brauche ich also nicht mehr. Es ist Höchste Zeit, genau das zu tun, was ich tun will.“

Deshalb hat er introvertierte Songschreiber der die letzten sechs Jahre von allem damit verbrachte, klassische Kompositionstechnik zu erlernen und sich um seine beiden Kinder zu kümmern, jetzt sein erstes Solowerk mit dem schlichten Titel ‚Mark Hollis’ auf den Markt gebracht. Ganz klar, es knüpft beinahe nahtlos an „Spirit of Eden“ und „The Laughing Stock“ an. Und ist damit schon heute eine der wichtigsten und dabei ergreifendsten Platten des Jahres eine Miles Davis, den rudimentären Blues eine John Lee Hooker und die wildgewordene Avantgarde eine Karlheinz Stockhausen in ein fragiles Pop-Gewand zu stecken. „Nein“ bestätigt Hollis diese Einschätzung seiner Arbeit, „ich wehre mich nicht dagegen, ein Pop-Musiker zu sein. Mir ist es inzwischen vielmehr völlig egal, wie die Welt da draußen mich kategorsiert. Es geht mir einfach nur darum, daß ich meine innere Welt auf ein Stück CD banne. Ich will dieses Zeug nicht millionenfach verkaufen. Ich will der Menschheit nur mitteilen, daß es mich noch gibt und daß ich in der Lage bin, originäre Musik zu kreieren. Das ist, ganz schlicht ‚Mark Hollis’ wurde im Gegensatz zu den frühen Talk Talk-Platten vollständig mit akustischen Instrumenten eingespielt. Ingesamt satte 15 Mann standen Hollis bei der Produktion zur Seite, darunter auch eine stattliche Anzahl der von ihm so geliebten Virtuosen auf Holzblasinstrumenten.

„Ich habe weiterhin nichts gegen Synthesizer oder Sampler“ erklärt Mark sein aktuelles Konzept,  „aber derzeit haben sie in meiner Musik nichts zu suchen. Es geht mir darum, ‚natürlich’ Gefühle auszudrücken – also muß ich auch ‚natürliche’ Instrumente verwenden. Doch wer weiß, vielleicht sehe ich das bei einer nächsten Platte schon wieder ganz anders, Wichtig ist ja nur, daß ich mich stetig weiterentwickle.“

Hollis’ Entwicklung weg von stromlinienförmigen Pop-Mechanismen hin zu manchmal erschreckenden, meist jedoch überwältigenden Free-Hand-Formen, die keinen Vergleich kennen, ist immens. Weniger ist mehr, lautet sine schlichte Devise, und weiterhin: Die Stille bietet bei weitem die intensivste Atmosphäre für einen Komponisten.  „Ich muß mich“ formuliert Mark scheu, „in die Stile hineindenken. Sie ist mir sicherlich die wichtigste Freundin auf dem Weg, ein neues Lied zu schreiben. Weil die Stille eine Herausforderung ist. Wer die Stille als dramatisches Moment in seine Lieder integrieren kann, der hat garantiert zumindest die sensiblen Menschen damit auf seiner Seite.“ Fragt sich nur, wie ein zweifacher Familienvater, der Hollis nun mal ist, sich genug Raum für die Stille in seinem Alltag einrichten kann. „Oh“ grinst Hollis, „diese Freiheit gestehen mir sowohl meine Frau als auch die Kinder zu. Wir besitzen ein Haus am Stadtrand von London, in dem ich mir ein Zimmer eingerichtet habe, in dem nichts zu finden ist außer einem Stuhl und einem Tisch. Dort sitze ich dann, starre aus dem Fenster und meditiere. Und wenn mir irgendetwas Wichtiges einfällt, halte ich Stift und Zettel parat und notiere das. Natürlich, das ist die Sicht eines Mönchs. Aber neben meinen Tätigkeiten als Vater und Pop-Star steckt in mir wohl auch der Mönch. Wie sonst soll man in identitätslosen Zeiten wie diesen die Kraft finde, Musik mit Identität zu schaffen? Ich glaube, daß nur der Mensch, der weiß, wer er ist, und der mit der Stille umgehen kann, wirklich neuartige Kunst schaffen kann.“ (Michael Fuchs- Gamböck)

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Zillo: March 1998

Who is Mark Hollis? One thinks immediately of the much-quoted, faceless ‘British Airways employee’ – a careworn expression, pretty sexless, hair always correctly parted. The suit is terribly boring, a tie attached to a thin neck, the chunky shoes properly polished. One of a dozen types in a dozen worlds, you would think.

Mark Hollis – nothing sparks your memory? Not even a small fire flared up at the sound of his name? For 10 years Mark Hollis headed the band Talk Talk, with whom in the 80s he recorded three reasonably important and two magnificent albums. And here’s the irony. As confirmation of the superficiality of the pop scene, the first three half-way important albums of Talk Talk were top-sellers and spawned several hit singles, while the last two great masterpieces ‘Spirit of Eden’ and ‘Laughing Stock’ were largely ignored by the public.

And this was how the 43-year-old Londoner, fittingly a former psychology student, closed the final chapter of Talk Talk. Six years later Hollis explains dispassionately “Although I like the first Talk Talk records, I love the last two. I want to build on that from now on with my music, because I was a pop star long enough, my songs conquered the charts enough. I no longer need such confirmation. It’s high time to do exactly as I want to do.”

That’s why the introverted songwriter has just put out his first solo album, simply titled ‘Mark Hollis’, having spent all of the last six years learning classical composition techniques and taking care of his two children. Clearly it builds almost seamlessly on from Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock.

And is already one of the most important records of the year, as poignant as the Miles Davis record, with the rudimentary blues of a John Lee Hooker, and the avant-guard wildness of Karlheinz Stockhausen in a fragile pop wrapper. "No," Hollis confirms this assessment of his work, "I refuse to care about being seen as a pop musician. It really doesn’t matter to me how the world outside categorises me. What I’m doing is banishing my inner world onto a CD. I don’t want this record to sell millions of copies. I just want to say to the human race that I exist and that I am still able to create original music.”

In contrast to the early Talk Talk records, Mark Hollis was simply recorded entirely with acoustic instruments. Overall, a full 15 people worked on the production with Hollis, including a number of virtuoso musicians playing his beloved woodwind instruments.

"I still have no synthesizers or samplers" says Mark explaining his current work, "at present, they’ve no place in my music. My concern is, of course, to express ‘feeling’, so I had to use ‘natural’ instruments. But who knows, I may see the next record quite differently, it’s just important to me that I’m continually developing.

Hollis' evolution from streamlined pop mechanisms towards sometimes frightening, but mostly stunning, free forms that have no comparators, is immense. Less is more, is the simple and continuing motto: Silence offers by far the most intense atmosphere for a composer.  "I must" Mark says shyly "empathise with the music. Silence is certainly the most important friend on the way to writing a new song. Because silence is a challenge. If you can integrate silence as a dramatic moment in the song, you at least have the sensitive listener on your side.

I wonder how Hollis, a father twice-over, can set up enough room for silence in his everyday life. "Ahh," grins Hollis, "the opportunity to confess to both my wife and the children! We have a house on the outskirts of London, where I've set up a room in which there’s nothing except a chair and a table. I sit here, staring out the window and meditate. And if I think of anything important, I’ve a pen and paper ready and jot it down. Of course, that's the habit of a monk. But in addition to my job as a musician and father, there’s probably a monk in me. How else can you find the strength in faceless times like these to create music with identity? I believe that only the person who knows who he is, and who can deal with silence, can create really amazing art. "


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Leeuwarder Courant: March 6th 1998

Mark Hollis was tot zeven jaar geleden de ietwat huilerige stem van Talk Talk. Deze groep evolueerde in de loop der jaren van een wat wee klinkende synthesizerpopvariant naar een meer akoestische stijl. Nu Hollis uiteindelijk zijn solo-debuut op de markt gooit, blijkt dat hij helemaal is doorgestoken naar een verstild, herfstig en akoestisch geluid. Hollis noemde eerder Miles Davis als belangrijke invloed, en inderdaad duikt hier en daar een gestopt trompetje op. Maar het openingsnummer `The colour of spring' (dat net zo heet als een van de Talk Talk-platen) lijkt, op de karakteristiek klaaglijke stem na, zo geknipt uit een van de zeer lange pianowerken van de moderne componist Morton Feldman. Je kunt je helden slechter kiezen. Diezelfde verstilling houdt Hollis knap over de hele plaat vol, ook al duiken er meer instrumenten op. Harmonium, akoestische gitaren, hout- en koperblazers spinnen een prachtig, transparant weefsel waarin Hollis' stem mooi gedijt. Een onverwacht goede comeback

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Leeuwarder Courant: March 6th 1998

Mark Hollis was, until seven years ago, the somewhat whiny voice of Talk Talk. This group evolved over the years from their synth-pop self-titled debut LP towards a more acoustic-sounding style. Now Hollis has finally thrown his solo debut onto the market it appears to he is completely hitched to a hushed, autumnal and acoustic sound. Hollis previously mentioned Miles Davis as a major influence, and indeed a trumpet pops up here and there. The opening number ' The Colour of Spring ' (that's the title as one of Talk Talk’s albums) appears, with the characteristic plaintive voice , so cut out from one of the very long piano works of the modern composer Morton Feldman. You can choose your heroes worse. That same stillness holds Hollis pretty much throughout the entire record although there are other instruments ultilised. Harmonium, acoustic guitars, woodwind and brass, all spinning a beautiful, transparent tissue in which Hollis’ beautiful voice thrives. An unexpectedly good comeback.

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Algemeen Dagblad: Mar 10 1998

Amsterdam - Hij weet de datum nog steeds uit zijn hoofd: 13 september 1986. Dat was de dag dat Mark Hollis, als zanger van de groep Talk Talk, voor het laatst op een podium stond. "Ik herinner mij ook nog heel scherp dat de laatste noot die ik zong een valse was', vertelt hij, met hoorbaar plezier in zijn stem.

"Een van de muzikanten in de band had kennelijk iets te veel naar Stravinsky geluisterd. Juist op het moment dat ik moest gaan zingen, propte hij met zijn synthesizer een vreemd akkoord in de muziek waarvan mijn oren dubbelsloegen. Ik was even van mijn stuk gebracht. Kwaad ben ik niet geworden, ik moest alleen vreselijk hard lachen. Dus de laatste keer dat ik op een podium stond, ging ik er weer schuddebuikend vanaf.'

Talk Talk ging door na die avond in september, maar dan alleen als studiogroep. Met de cd's die volgden, dreef Mark Hollis steeds verder weg van de stijl van bevlogen liedjes als Such a Shame, It's my Life en Life what's you make it, ook in Nederland grote hits. Hij had inmiddels jazz en klassieke muziek ontdekt en verwerkte die invloeden in zijn eigen werk, met uitzonderlijk resultaat. Vorige maand verscheen - zeven jaar na Laughing Stock, de laatste cd van Talk Talk - de eerste soloplaat van Hollis, waaruit blijkt dat zijn muziek zich nog verder heeft ontwikkeld.

Simon & Garfunkel zongen ooit The Sound of Silence. Hollis lijkt de daad bij het woord te hebben gevoegd: door middel van heel zachte, verstilde klanken van louter akoestische instrumenten legt hij een verbinding tussen klassiek, jazz en folk.

Is er, nu de nieuwe cd in de winkels ligt, wellicht kans dat hij weer concerten zal geven? Hollis: "Nee, bedankt. Ik ben gestopt met optreden toen mijn vrouw en ik kinderen wilden. Ik geloof niet dat een gezin en tournees kunnen samengaan. Daarom was het voor mij een eenvoudige keuze. En tevens een definitieve.

"Bovendien is touren in feite niets anders dan reproduceren en daar zie ik het nut niet van in. Die laatste tournee van Talk Talk was ontzettend zwaar, vooral voor mij. De rol van een zanger in een band is het nog best te vergelijken met die van een acteur in het theater. Negen maanden lang, zes dagen per week telkens dezelfde teksten opzeggen, wordt op den duur een veel te grote geestelijke belasting. Ik ben erg tevreden over de nieuwe cd, maar ik kijk liever naar de toekomst dan dat ik avond aan avond het verleden laat herleven.'

De rol van popster heeft Hollis nooit erg gelegen, ook niet in de glorietijd van Talk Talk in de jaren 80. Gekleed in een broek en een trui die zelfs een kantoorklerk te saai zou vinden, komt de 43-jarige Engelsman nu over als een schuchter, bescheiden en intelligent heerschap. Vijftien jaar geleden was hij dat waarschijnlijk ook al, maar toen ging de echte Mark Hollis nog verborgen achter lang haar en een zonnebril. Als je hits hebt en dus in de belangstelling staat, word je vanzelf claustrofobisch, zegt hij. "Je hebt constant het idee dat je wordt bespied. Dat gevoel heb ik nog steeds als iemand een camera op me richt.' Hollis maakt een wegwerpgebaar: "Niets voor mij.

"Toch besef ik als geen ander dat wij met Talk Talk ontzettend veel geluk hebben gehad. In Engeland werden we nooit op straat herkend. Het was een goede balans: tijdens tournees kon je vol in het spotlicht staan, maar er was altijd een ontsnappingsroute. In Engeland waren we anoniem, waardoor wij ondanks het succes een normaal leven konden leiden. Bovendien verkregen we door alle hits van Talk Talk in Europa volledige vrijheid in de opnamestudio. En daar pluk ik nog steeds de vruchten van. Anders had ik deze nieuwe cd waarschijnlijk nooit kunnen maken.'

Als Mark Hollis praat over de inspiratiebron voor zijn cd, gaat er nauwelijks een naam van een popmuzikant over de tafel. Vooral klassieke muziek uit deze eeuw inspireert hem. Hij roemt werken van Satie, Ravel en Debussy. Een componist in het bijzonder kan op zijn enthousiasme rekenen: de in 1987 overleden Morton Feldman, een leerling van de veel bekendere John Cage. "Tegen het eind van de opnamen van de cd, zag ik op de Britse televisie een programma over Amerikaanse componisten van de laatste 50 jaar. Feldman was een van hen. Zijn muziek was een openbaring voor mij. Zoals hij het geluid van de klarinet wist te integreren in zijn composities: verbluffend! Bovendien sloot zijn muziek goed aan bij de nummers van de cd die ik aan het maken was. Een bizarre ervaring: ik had zojuist een geestverwant gehoord.'

Met zijn muziek probeert Mark Hollis te bewijzen dat er geen grenzen tussen genres bestaan. Zijn cd beslaat grofweg drie stijlen: klassiek, jazz en folk. "Die verschuiven voortdurend in het spectrum van de luisteraar, bewegen in en uit het klankbeeld. Ik heb een dozijn instrumenten uitgekozen om de hele cd kleur te geven, maar ik laat er nooit meer dan vijf tegelijk horen. Zo wek je de indruk dat je altijd met een kleine groep muzikanten bent.

"De muziek moest zo intiem mogelijk worden. Ook daarom heb ik alleen maar voor akoestische instrumenten gekozen die ook nog eens extreem zacht zijn opgenomen. Op de cd speelt zelfs de ruimte waar alle muziek is gemaakt een rol. Vandaar dat je aan het begin en aan het eind een lange stilte hoort. Die is bedoeld om de luisteraar een plaats te geven. Als je de cd draait, moet het lijken alsof de muzikanten om je heen spelen.'

Het mag duidelijk zijn dat iemand die er dergelijke filosofieen op na houdt, niet langer past in de wereld van de popmuziek. De vraag is alleen: waar dan wel? Mark Hollis moet het antwoord schuldig blijven. "Het is altijd prettig als mensen je muziek waarderen, maar ik denk nooit na over mijn publiek. Ik kan niet verwachten dat de fans van Talk Talk mij zullen blijven volgen, in welke richting ik ook ga. Met deze muziek zal ik weer veel mensen van me vervreemden, maar daar kun je als muzikant geen rekening mee houden. Het enige dat ik wil, is een cd maken met muziek die ik zelf niet kan vinden in de winkel.'

Door David Kleijwegt

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Algemeen Dagblad: Mar 10 1998

Amsterdam-He knows the date off by heart: 13 September 1986. That was the date that Mark Hollis, as the lead singer of the group Talk Talk, was last on stage. I still also remember quite clearly that the last note that I sang was a false one ', he says, with audible pleasure in his voice,

"One of the musicians in the band had apparently listened to Stravinsky a little too much. Just as I was about to sing he struck a dischordant note with his synthethiser which made me hear a double beat, and I was really unsettled. I wasn’t angry, I had to laugh. So the last time I was on a stage I was shaking with laughter.

Talk Talk continued after that night in September, but only as a studio group. With the CDs that followed, Mark Hollis moved ever further away from the style of inspired songs as Such a ShameIt's my Life and Life what's you make it, all big hits in the Netherlands. He had by now discovered jazz and classical music and incorporated these influences his own work, with exceptional results. Published last month – seven years after Laughing Stock, the last CD of Talk Talk - the first solo album of Hollis appeared, proving that his music has developed even further.

The Sound of Silence sang Simon & Garfunkel. Hollis seems to have joined the action to the word: through very soft, quiet sounds of purely acoustic instruments he establishes a connection between classical, jazz and folk.

With the new CD in stores, is there perhaps a chance he will give live performances again? Hollis: "No thanks. I quit when my wife and I wanted children. I don’t believe that a family and tours can go together. Therefore, it was an easy choice for me, and a final one…

"Moreover, touring in in fact nothing more than reproduction and I don’t see the point in that. That last tour of Talk Talk was incredibly hard, especially for me. The role of a singer in a band is best compared with that of an actor in a theatre. Working for nine months, six days a week on the same texts eventually results in far too much mental stress. I’m very happy about the new album, but I’d rather look to the future than spent night after night reviving the past.

Hollis never really settled into the role of pop star, not even in the glory days of Talk Talk in the 80s. Dressed in a pair of trousers and a sweatshirt that even an office clerk would find too boring, the 43-year-old Englishman now comes across as a timid, modest and intelligent gentleman. Fifteen years ago he was probably was the same, but then the real Mark Hollis was hidden behind long hair and sunglasses. “If you have hits and thus the subsequent interest in it, you'll naturally become claustrophobic”, he says. "You constantly feel that you're being spied on. I still have that feeling if someone is pointing a camera at me” Hollis makes a dismissive gesture: "It’s not for me”.

"However, I realize that we were very fortunate with Talk Talk. In England we were never recognized on the street. It was a good balance: during tours you could stand fully the spotlight, but there was always an escape route. In England we were anonymous, so we could lead a normal life despite the success. In addition, due to all the Talk Talk hits in Europe, we obtained complete freedom in the recording studio. And I still pluck the fruits of that. Otherwise I probably would never have been able to make this new CD.

As Mark Hollis talks about the inspiration for his CD, hardly a name of a pop musician is mentioned. Classical music from this century inspires him especially. He praises the work of Satie, Ravel and Debussy. One composer in particular can count his enthusiasm: the late (he died in 1987) Morton Feldman, a disciple of the much more famous John Cage. "Towards the end of the recordings of the album, I saw a program on British TV about American composers of the last 50 years. Feldman was one of them. His music was a revelation to me. As he knew how to integrate the sound of the clarinet into his compositions - amazing! In addition, his music fitted well with the songs of the album I was making. A bizarre experience: I had just heard a kindred spirit. '

With his music, Mark Hollis is trying to prove that no boundaries exist between genres. His CD covers roughly three styles: classical, jazz and folk. "They are constantly shifting in the spectrum of the listener, moving in and out of the overall sound. I had chosen a dozen instruments to give the whole CD colour, but I never let you hear more than five at a time in there. What way you always give the impression that there’s a small group of musicians there.

"The music had to be as intimate as possible. Another reason why I chose only acoustic instruments is that they can be recorded extremely quietly. On the CD, even the room in which the music was created plays a part. That’s why at the beginning and end you hear a long silence. This is meant to give the listener a place. If you are playing the CD it’s meant to seem like the musicians are playing around you.

It is clear that someone who holds such a philosophy, no longer fits into the world of pop music. The only question is: where does he fit? Mark Hollis answers "It's always nice when people appreciate your music, but I never think about my audience. I can’t expect the fans of TalkTalk will continue to follow me in whatever direction I go. With this music I probably alienate a lot of people, but as a musician you can take this into account. All I want is to make a CD of music that I can’t find to buy.

By David Kleijwegt

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Orkus: März 1998

Ich werde den Moment nie vergessne, als irgendwann im Frühjahr 1984 ein Lied in seinen Bann zog, wie es bis dahin in meinem noch jungen Leben kein zweites getan hatte: ‚Such a Shame to believe in escape...’, verkündete die klagende Stimme des Sängers und traf damit mein (damaliges) Lebensgefühl – wohl nicht nur meins: für die englische Gruppe Talk Talk bedeutete dieser Song den kommerziellen Durchbruch. Bis auf Platz 2 der deutschen Single-Charts kletterte ‚Such a Shame’ und auch das dazugehörige Album ‚It’s My Life’ sowie die gleichnamige Nachfolgesingle verkauften sich weltweit wie geschnitten Brot.

„Another Word’ vom 82er Debut „the Party’s Over“ fand sogar als Titelmusik in einer „Tatort“ – Episode Verwendung. Allein der ehemalige Psychologiestudent Mark Hollis, der führende Kopf der Band, schien so gar nicht zwischen damalige Teenie-Idole wie Duran Duran oder Depeche Mode passen zu wollen und verkörperte eher die Rolle des melancholisch-introvertierten Anti-Stars. Zwei Jahr später versteckte er sich stets hinter einer John Lennon-Sonnenbrille, die man jedoch nur zu Gesicht bekam, wenn seine wild vor die Augen gewaschenen Haare dazu den Blick freigaben.

Den durchschlagenden Erfolg des dritten Albums ‚The Colour of Spring’ das zwar bereits den Rahmen konventioneller Popmisok sprengte, mit „Life’s What You Make It’ und ‚’Living In Another World’ aber erneut zwei massive Single-hits abwarf, konnte dies jedoch nicht verhindern. Das gelang erst 1998 mit „Spirit of Eden“; Mark Hollis hatte sich von jeglichen Formen traditioneller Songstrukturen gelöst und sechs ruhige Endlos-Epen erschaffen, die die Suche nach musikalischen Vergleichen erfolglos gestaltete.

 Unterlegt von jazzigen Percussions, begleiteten neben Gitarre und Bass eine Vielzahl klassischer Instrumente wie Klavier, Geige, Klarinette, Flöte, Oboe, Fagott und Cello Mark’s schwermütigen Gesang, aus dem die pure Depression zu sprechen schien. Kritiker kürten dieses Werk, dessen Harmonien immer wieder von dissonanten Klängen attackiert wurden, zu einer der wichtigsten Neuerscheinungen des Jahres.

Der breiten Käuferschicht (und damit wohl auch der Plattenfirma) lag dieses Album hingegen schwer im Magen. „Laughing Stock“ perfektionierte 1991 den eingeschlagenen Kurs, sollte jedoch auch die letzte Platte von Talk Talk bleiben. Mark Hollis Ließ seitdem nicht mehr das geringste von sich hören – er habe es nicht für nötig gehalten, eine neue Platte aufzunehmen, erklärt er heute. Ende Februar ist es nun aber doch erschienen, sein SoloDebut, schlicht ‚Mark Hollis’ betitelt (plattenkritik s. Orkus 3.98)

Das folgende Interview offenbart einen kleinen Teil der komplexen Gedankenwelt eines etwas schüchtern wirkenden Mannes, dem Star-Allüren fremd zu sein scheinen (obwohl er sie sich erlauben könnte) der sich einen Dreck um konventionelle, geschweige denn kommerzielle Vorgaben schert, und der stattdessen ein einzigartiges, faszinierendes Musikverständnis unter Beweis stellt, das er kompromißlos auslebt.


Orkus: Sieben Jahr sind seit dem letzten Talk Talk-Album vergangen im schnellebigen Musikgeschäft unserer Tage eine halbe Ewigkeit. Wieso kommt erst jetzt eine neue Platte von dir, hängt das mit dem Split von Talk Talk zusammen?

Mark: Nein, sicher nicht. Wenn ich die Arbeiten zu einem Album beendet habe, dauert es immer eine Weile, bis ich mir Gedanken über ein nächstes machen kann. Nach „Laughing Stock’ habe ich aber auch einfach keinen Grund dafür gesehen, eine neue Platte zu machen – es schien irgendwie alles gesagt zu sein, und es gab andere Dinge, die mir wichtig gewesen sind..


 O: ...zum Beispiel?

M: Ich habe einige Zeit damit verbracht, Musik für ein Holzbläser-Quintett zu schreiben: außerdem habe ich eine Frau und zwei Söhne, zehn und sieben Jahre alt, denen ich mich verstärkt gewidmet habe.


O: Es fällt auf, daß du mit Talk Talk über einen langen Zeitraum hinweg mit den selben Leuten zusammengearbeitet hast, von denen die meisten auf deinem Solo-Debut jedoch nicht mehr mitwirken. Neben den ehemaligen Bandmitgliedern Paul Webb und Lee Harris ist dabei wohl vor allem Tim Friese-Greene zu nennen, der seit „It’s My Life’ als Produzent und Co-Songwriter fungiert hatte. Nichtsdestotrotz schien Talk Talk aber doch immer dein Baby zu sein; warum hast du den Namen nicht einfach für dich behalten?

M: Nein, das kam für mich nicht in Frage. Tim hat tatsächlich einen maßgeblichen Einfluß auf die Musik van Talk Talk gehabt, und auch Lee’s Rolle war dabei alles andere als unwichtig...


O: Warum hast du dann die Zusammenarbeit mit Tim beendet?

M: Das hatte eigentlich keinen bestimmten Grund. Auf vier Talk Talk-Alben hatten wir versucht, unsere musikalischen Vorstellungen weiterzuentwickeln, nach  ‚Laughing Stock’ hatten wir aber das Gefühl, an einem Punkt angekommen zu sein, wo das nicht mehr ging, ohne daß wird anfingen, uns zu wiederholen.


O: Wo liegen denn die hauptsäschlichen Unterschiede zwischen den Aufnahmen zu deiner Solo-Platte und dem Arbeiten mit Talk Talk?

M: Im Gegensatz zu ‚Spirit of Eden’ und ‚Laughing Stock’ wo die Songs alle sehr spontan im Studio entstanden sind und u.a. eine Ergebnis dessen waren, was die Musiker aus meinen Vorgaben entwickelten, habe ich diesmal die Stücke schon vor den Aufnahmen geschrieben und dann dazu aufgefordert, diese Arrangements zu interpretieren. Eine weiterer Unterschied ist, daß die Instrumentierung nun vollkommen akustisch ist. Ich mag die Art und Weise, wie eine akustisch gespieltes Instrument reagiert, wie z.B eine Gitarre knackt und knarrt, wenn man an ihren Saiten zupft. Deshalb war er mir sehr wichtig, die Töne in ihrer reinsten und ursprünglichsten Form einzufangen. Als Ausgangspunkt diente dazu ein leerer Raum, in dem absolute Stille herrschte. Darin wurden dann di Musiker in einer ganz bestimmten Anordnung platziert. Ich habe die Anzahl der dabei beteiligten Instrumente bewußt niedrig gehalten und ihre Auswahl davon abhängig gemacht, ob sie für die Stilarten, die ich meiner Musik zugrunde lege, kompatibel sind...


O:..die da wären?

M: Zum einen die Klassik, zum anderen der Folk und schließlich der Jazz. Voraussetzung war also, daß jedes Instrument in zumindest zwei dieser drei Bereiche verwendet wird. Die Klarinette z.B findest du in der Klassik und dem Jazz, die Flöte hingegen in der Klassik und dem Folk, das Klavier letztendlich kommt universell zum Einsatz.


O: Wann hat dein Interesse für diese Art von Muik begonnen, und inwieweit hat has den Stilwechsel von Talk Talk beeinflußt, der sich zwischen ‚The Colour of Spring’ und „Spirit of Eden’ vollzogen hat?

M: Nun, klassische Werke – z.B von Debussy oder Ravel – sowie Platten von Lauten wie Miles Davis haben mich schon immer fasziniert und waren natürlich auch zu jener Zeit eine Quelle der Inspiration für mich. Die Verwirklichung der daraus resultierenden Ideen machte jedoch erst letzten beiden Talk Talk-Alben habe ich ja vorhin schon was gesagt: Tim und ich luden die Musiker ins Studio ein und ließen ihnen weitestgehend freie Hand in ihrem Spiel. Danach haben wir aus den einzelnen Fragmenten die Songs arrangiert. Dies wiederum konnten wir und nur erlauben, weil uns nach den vorangegangenen Erfolgen die nötige Zeit und das Geld, und damit auch die erforderliche Technologie, zur Verfügung stand. Es kam vor, daß wir einen Tag im Studio verbrachten und nur mit ein paar Sekunden verwendbarem Material wieder herauskamen...


O: Deine letzten drei Veröffentlichungen sind ja nun alles andere als kommerziell. Interessiert es dich eigentlich, wie viel Platten du verkaufst oder machst du deine Musik nur noch für dich selbst?

M: also, während ich an einem Album arbeite, verschwende ich keinen Gedanken daran, wievielen Leuten das vielleicht sonst noch gefallen könnte. Wenn es dann allerdings fertig ist, muß ich gestehen, ist es schon ein schönes Gefühl, positive Resonanzen darauf zu erhalten.


O: Nach dem Weggang von eurer ehemaligen Plattenfirma EMI Electrola Wurden das Best-Of-Album „Natural History“ und kurz darauf eine Platte, auf der einige Talk Talk-Hits remixtechnisch vergewaltigt wurden, auf den Markt geworfen. Im letzten Jahr gab’s dann noch mal eine Best-Of-Compliation. Was hältst du von dieser kommerziellen Ausschlachtung deiner Werke?

M: Ich denke, jedes Album lebt von seiner konzeptionellen Geschlossenheit – ein Aspekt, der bei Best-Of-Zusammenstellungen natürlich vollkommen verlorengeht. Von der Remix-Platte weiß ich nur, daß die existiert hat, ich habe sie aber nie gehört (eine Aussage die ich einem Mann wie Mark Hollis ohne weiteres abnehme – Anm.D.Verf). Gluucklicherweise ist sie aber ja auch schon eine ganze Weile nicht mehr erhältlich.


O: Was kannst du mir über den Menschen Mark Hollis sagen? Deine Musik war schon immer sehr melancholisch – ich denke dabei vor allem an Songs wie ‚Renee’, „Tomorrow Started’, ‚Give It Up’ oder ‚I Don’t Believe In You’ – doch in videos wie ‚Such A Shame’ und ‚Dum Dum Girl’ hat man dich auch schon sehr fröhlich und ausgelassen gesehen. Jede neue Platte scheint allerdings sine Potenzierung der schwermütigen Stimmung des Vorgängers zu sein...

M: nun, kein Mensch ist wohl permanent fröhlich oder permanent traurig – viele verschiedene Gefühle existieren in jedem von uns, die einen mehr, die anderen weniger. Letztendlich hat die neue Platte meiner Meinung nach aber einen eher meditativen als melancholischen Charakter. Es ist wie beim Yoga: du nimmst eine bestimmte Position ein, so wie wir das in diesem Studioraum getan haben, bringst deinen Körper zur Ruhe und reduzierst deine Gedanken auf das Wesentliche, in unserem Fall repräsentiert durch die Reinheit der Töne, die die Stille durchdringen. Vielleicht ist dir aufgefallen, daß die CD mit 20 Sekunden beginnt und 2 Minuten endet, in denen gar nichts zu Hören ist: das soll die helfen, deinen Geist auf diesen Zustand vorzubereiten und ihn danach wieder in die Realität zurückzuholen.


O: Hast du dir eigentlich schon überlegt, ob du mit diesem Album deine Musik endlich auch mal wieder live präsentieren willst? Deine letzte Tour muß doch schon Ewigkeiten zurückliegen...

M: ...ich kann dir ganz genau sagen, wie lange das her ist: mein letztes Konzert habe ich mit Talk Talk am 13 September 1986 in Spanien gegeben. Wie ich aber ja eingangs schon erwähnte, habe ich eine Familie und damit auch eine Verantwortung...und ich denke, wochenlang zu touren und seine Kinder alleine zu lassen, ist alles andere als verantwortungsvoll..(das bedeutet dann wohl ein klares „Nein, ich gehe nicht auf Tour“ – Anm. d.Verf)


O: Aufgrund deiner Äußerung am Anfang gehe ich auch mal nicht davon aus, daß du schon Pläne bezüglich eines nächsten Albums hast?!

M: Nein, das habe ich tatsächlich nicht! Plattenaufnahmen interessieren mich zur Zeit meiniger, ich werde zunächst weiter daran arbeiten, meine Musik in einen räumlichen Zusammengang zu stellen.


O: Heißt das es könnte wieder sieben Jahre dauern, bis ein neues Album erscheint?

M: Das ist durchaus möglich.

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Courier Mail: 12th September 1998

MUSICAL eccentrics, British division, we salute you. We need them now more than ever. Joe Meek, Syd Barrett, Brian Eno, Richard Thompson, Robert Wyatt, Elvis Costello's "difficult years", XTC, Radiohead . . . these are just some from a long list of artists with a restless, creative spirit and a wilfully non-commercial streak.

For every Radiohead, dozens more pursue their muse before a small but devoted audience.

All countries have musicians who prefer to go their own way rather than pursue fame and fortune but Britain seems to have record companies willing to let them release their records despite the financial risks.

Another of these square-pegs-in-round-holes is Mark Hollis, whose career curve has taken him from commercial pop to the outer limits of acoustic minimalism on his first solo album, Mark Hollis (Polydor).

Hollis used to be the singer in English band Talk Talk, who started life in the early '80s as competitors of the likes of Duran Duran and sold a lot of records with their album Colour of Spring.

The story goes that when Hollis played the tapes of the majestically intense follow-up to his record company, the A&R man broke down and cried. The influence of the classical avant-garde such as Stockhausen and Cage was not quite what he was expecting.

It only reached No. 19 in Britain and flopped elsewhere but Spirit Of Eden is still regarded by critics as one of the great albums of the '80s.

Seven years on from the last Talk Talk album, Hollis returns with an album stripped bare of technological trickery, with just his acoustic guitar or piano aided by splashes of cymbals, gently pulsing bass and the occasional free-jazz extrapolation featuring clarinet and cor anglais.

The music flows by as serenely as a babbling brook observed from the shade of a nearby oak.

This is yearning, haunting stuff, and some _ most _ will find its aching slowness too desolate and mournful.

But Hollis's voice is a thing of rare beauty, and there are those who will find it just the antidote to a world where technology provides too much of everything and not enough of anything.

Mark Hollis is a record that sounds like very little else, although in mood it brings to mind two cult classics from the '70s by Robert Wyatt, Rock Bottom and Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard, both now available on CD through Rykodisc's Hannibal label, distributed by Festival.

Wyatt was one of that breed of English innovators who emerged from the Canterbury scene and had been a drummer and occasional singer and songwriter with Soft Machine and Matching Mole.

He had been working on the songs for what became Rock Bottom when tragedy intervened.

After a fall from a window at a party in 1973, he was paralysed from the waist down.

After months on his back in hospital and coming to terms with life in a wheelchair, Wyatt resumed work.

Amazingly, the mood of the music is not traumatic but calming, matching the floating feel of the cover by Wyatt's wife-to-be Alfie, a painting of teenagers swimming among tropical fish in a deep, green ocean.

Even now the music sounds "new", with its swirling keyboards, faint, shifting rhythms and Wyatt's quivering vocal.

It still beggars description, although freeform-ambient-jazz-pop-electronica at least suggests the sense of adventure.

The following year's Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard was more of a collaborative effort with musicians including Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno (playing "direct inject anti-jazz raygun", according to the cover credits).

Solar Flares retains the same elusive, floating quality of Rock Bottom, while Soup Song is a playful bluesy tune and others are closer to Wyatt's earlier jazz explorations.

Wyatt, like Hollis, is an acquired taste, but making music that sounds like almost nothing else is no small feat, then or now.

Beware: Celine Dion fans might explode on contact.

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The Sunday Times: 20th December 1998

To help you with your choice of musical gift, The Sunday Times team of critics select the Top 10 rock, jazz and classical recordings of the year The former Talk Talk singer’s intense solo debut is the first record I’ve heard that merits being described as “post-rock”. Full of longing and space and ravishing musicianship, this is a timeless-ly beautiful record, a stunning achievement.

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French TV: 1998

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