Spirit of Eden

  1. The Rainbow
  2. Eden
  3. Desire
  4. Inheritance
  5. I Believe in You
  6. Wealth

The Colour of Spring album cover

Spirit of Eden

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Record Mirror: 17th September 1988

Once upon a time Talk Talk were a ‘pop’ band, now they’re a law unto themselves, unconstrained by narrow ideas of ‘what will sell’. Lead man Mark Hollis and producer/co-writer Tim Friese-Greene have assembled an album which refuses to fit into any pigeonholes.

Side One is constructed in a classical mode, with three ‘movements’ blending into one, the songs building around orchestral arrangements which range from single, lingering notes to huge, crashing crescendos, with the delicate strum of an acoustic guitar in between. It’s the sort of music in which the silences are as important as the notes themselves.

You know you’re in for something uncompromising from the opening bars of “The Rainbow”, which hardly kicks right into the chorus. Its intro is an ambient soundscape reminiscent of Eno, featuring almost subliminal sounds you can only hear on headphones. And then “Desire” builds into a frenzy of sub-metal guitars matching the emotion of the title. The most haunting track, “I Believe In You” (about heroin), even features the Choir of Chelmsford Cathedral; and the use of organ elsewhere often gives the songs a semi-religious feel.

It is almost impossible to fully describe the sound or feel of these songs - after all, how could you review a Mozart album? Just listen, and decide.

Betty Page

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NME: 24th September 1988

Oh god. Art. Six meandering, aimless tracks. 16 musicians mixing the Mexican bass, dobro and Shozygs with trad rock’n’roll essentials such as the oboe and clarinet, PLUS a cathedral choir - Mike Oldfield, come on down! ‘Spirit Of Eden’ can only be a wretched excretion from the bowels of conceptualism. (0 out of 5)

Easy, eh kids? Far too bloody easy. From the sleeve’s lyrical scrawls, to the record’s tremulous drawls - a handwriting analyst’s nirvana and Art Garfunkel on valium respectively - Mark Hollis sets himself up. Ripe for ridicule, waddling across the journalists’ firing range. Maybe he’s got bulletproof feathers, or perhaps I’m just too fond of ducks - either way, I just can’t bring myself to pierce his plumage.

Talk Talk have extended the atmospherics of ‘The Colour Of Spring’, their last LP. They’ve multiplied its morosity, further exploited the sound of silence. Once a drinking man’s Duran Duran, they’re now experimenting with freaky orchestral manoeuvres. The hooklines of old curve up from tranquil shadows, flurried but no longer hurried.

‘Inheritance’ is impudently discordant with brushed drums, wind collective and wayward piano. ‘Eden’ is liquid, almost vapid, until speared by a jagged guitar. It’s nigh-on inhuman: not in any cold, callous sense, but in the unfamiliar pattern and uninhibited formation. When so desired, ‘Spirit Of Eden’ simply stands still, as expansive and elusive as a tropical dawn.

Talk Talk straddle the thin line between painful and pathetic, between attempted comprehension and sneering dismissiveness. Yet they’re resolute and determined, flaunting commercial rules with fascinating disregard for understanding or acceptance.

‘Spirit Of Eden’ is the very antithesis of a Top 40-obsessive A&R man’s best friend. And that’s enough. So (7 out of 10)

Simon Williams

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Sounds: 24th September 1988

Talk Talk, of course, don’t. Ever since their initial, spurious labelling as a constituent of bosun Le Bon’s ‘New Romantic’ master race, the ironically titled Talk Talk have evolved into contemplative muso-techs with a communication capability every bit as impressive as top Jock master rhetorician Kenny Dalglish.

Invoking that most sacred of imprecations (“the music speaks for itself”), Talk Talk are, nonetheless, in a comfortable position. For while Spirit Of Eden is hardly full of burbling eloquence, it’s an impressively resonant stanza.

From the word go, Eden calls up ambassadors of ambience from Eno to Satie, but the way it avoids any feeling of pastiche, absorbing rather than succumbing to these influences, is crucial to its achievement. The first side’s three songs blend into a continuum, propelled by a relentlessly gentle drive. But the whole thing is pulled taut by the continual melancholy tension - this bursts through on The Rainbow’s staggering chorus. Beneath Eden’s surface there’s often a glimmer of meshed feedback-riven guitar that recalls the best of the Mary Chain and AR Kane.

Desire comes alive with another guitar glisten, before breaking up in bona fide axe-wielding mayhem. First they chew up ‘Last Train To Clarkesville’ then we have max-grunge, Zep-style wig-out as the ghost of ‘When The Levee Breaks’ is ruthlessly exorcised. Quiet returns with a closing Satie-esque tinkle.

The second side, unsurprisingly, falls short of this magnificence. And, while never intrusive, lines like “lilac glistening foal” remind that words are not this bands forte. But with three distinct songs, as opposed to the opener’s seamless flow, the flip is not short of brilliance. Notably, the closing, drifting refrain of I Believe In You and the spectral Wealth.

Talk Talk revive the ghoul of monkish muso endeavour and, against the odds, Spirit Of Eden is uncommonly beautiful.

****½ (out of 5)

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The Times: 24th September 1988

Talk Talk, the group which has maintained its near invisible profile despite flirting with the lower reaches of the charts since 1982 returns to the fray with Spirit of Eden.

It's an engrossing, modern "head" album, the kind of recording that Pink Floyd never became heavy enough to make, and features a varied cast of dozens, including jazz alumni such as Danny Thompson (bass), and Henry Lowther (trumpet) together with Nigel Kennedy (violin) and the choir of Chelmsford Cathedral.

The six tracks are strung together in a way which suggests a "concept" may be involved, although the pretentious and mostly inaudible lyrics make it hard to judge whether this is the case.

It begins with the tense, minimalist quiet of "the Rainbow", which is shattered by harsh gusts of bluesey sound from Mark Feltham's over-driven harmonica.

Peaks of crystaline noise and troughs of near-silence ensue as the group deploys the many instruments, though principally guitars and drums, with meticulous control and patience, gradually chiselling out a grand musical sculpture from the cold granite rockface.

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Countdown, Holland

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Oor: 24 September 1988

In wat voor wereld leef jij, Mark?

“Jeetje, dat is me nogal een vraag”


Hij is toch al geen radde prater maar nu is Mark Hollis helemaal met stomheid geslagen. Een volle minuut gaat voorbij. Achter hem klinkt het geklater van een fontein. Tintallen flamingo’s doen luid snaterend hun beklag over het druilerige weer dat zo kenmerkend is voor Nederland en waar ook het tropische deel van de bevolking van dierenpark Artis tegen heug en meug mee moet leven. De zonnebril die zich vroeger te allen tijde tussen Mark Hollis en de buitenwereld bevond is thuisgelaten en ook de hippe paardestaart heeft het loodje gelegd, ten faveure van een kortgeknipt bloempotkapsel. Verlegen en met zijn smalle schouders afhangend is Mark Hollis alles wat een beetje popster niet is. Hij is waarlijk de verpersoonlijking van de anti-popheld. Living in Another World, zoals hij zelf twee jaar geleden op The Colour of Spring zong. De vraag is alleen: Welke wereld? ‘Wel eh…’. Het is weer stil…’Geestelijk, bedoel je?’. Geklater en gesnater, Een klein regiment mussen fladdert neer op het tafeltje tussen ons. De kleine balletjes zijn goed doorvoed. Dat weerhoudt ze echter niet om brutaal de aanval op mijn ontbijt in te zetten. Mark drinkt cola.

“Dat is een behoorlijk moeilijke vraag, weet je? Geef me drie maanden, drie maanden en dan stuur ik je een antwoord”

Mark Hollis haast zich zelden. Alleen met zingen was hij er snel bij. Tien was hij en vijf jaar later ‘ongeneeslijk verslaafd’. Onder invloed van zijn oudere broer Eddie (van Eddie and the hot Rods) raakte Mark vertrouwd met het werk van vele vroegere soul en blueszangers. Daarbij was Otis Redding zijn absolute favoriet. Maar ook klassieke componisten Als Debussy, Satie en Beethoven hadden zijn interesse, evenals vele van de Britse groepen die aan het einde van de jaren zestig et het begin van de jaren zeventig populair waren, zoals Traffic, Pink Floyd en King Crimson. Toen het vorige decennium tijdens de laatste stuiptrekkingen nog even de punkexplosie voortbracht veranderde ook Mark van een passieve in een actieve muziekliefhebber. Het uiteindelijke resultaat daarvan was in April 1988 de geboorte van Talk Talk.

Naast Hollis, die behalve de zang tevens de meeste gitaarpartijen voor zijn rekening neemt, maken bassist Paul Webb en drummer Lee Harris deel uit van de groep, evenals producer en medecomponist Tim Friese-Greene. Deze laatste wordt weliswaar officieel nooit als bandlid opgevoerd, maar een Talk Talk produkt waar hij niet op een of andere wijze enorm zijn stempel op heet gedrukt is tot op heden nog niet gemaakt.

De groep debuteerde in 1982 met de elpee The Party’s Over en werd naar aanleiding daarvan, zeer tegen de zin van Mark Hollis ingedeeld in de categorie modieuze synthesizerpop. “Niet serieus te nemen dus”. Maar Talk Talk sloeg terug. Bij de opnamen in 1984 van de opvolger It’s My Life werden de synthesizers voor een flink deel vervangen door akoestische instrumenten, It’s my Life leverde drie hitsingles op, behalve de titelsong ook nog Such a Shame en Dum Dum Girl Via uitgebreide concerttoernees brak de groep datzelfde jaar door naar het grote publiek. Daarna werd het echter stil rond Talk Talk. Hollis, Webb, Harris en Friese-Greene bivakkeerden ruim een jaar in de studio.

 Het voorjaar van 1986 zag de release van het sfeervolle werkstuk The Colour of Spring. De muziek hierop wordt grotendeels bepaald door de akoestische piano als spil waar alles om draait afwisselend bespeeld door Hollis en Tim Friese-Greene. The Colour of Spring is een muzikaal kleinood, vol breekbare emotie en melancholieke sfeerbeelden die verpakt zijn in acht juweeltjes van compositie en arrangeerkunst. Daaronder de hitsingles Life’s What You Make It en Living in Another World.

Met Spirit of Eden gaat Talk Talk weer een stapje verder. De popinvloeden zijn bijna in hun totaliteit verdwenen. Spirit of Eden valt op door arrangementen die in hun ruimtelijkheid refereren aan het wek van jazzcomponist Gil Evans, uit de tijd dat deze intensief samenwerkte met trompettist Miles Davis. Maar ook de klassieke impressionisten klinken door op Spirit of Eden de werken van Debussy, Satie, Massenet en Faure, in klankbeelden die meestentijds een sfeer van romantiek en zachte pastelkleuren ademen, Het verschil met de heftigheid van de punk, de beweging die Mark Hollis zijn eerste stappen op het muzikale pad deed zetten, is groot, een kloof, gapend en onoverbrugbaar zo lijkt het. Echter niet voor Mark:  “voor mij straalt Spirit of Eden nog steeds dezelfde mentaliteit uit als de punk vroeger Voor mij had punk niet zozeer te maken me de soort van muziek die er werd gemaakt maar meer met een bepaalde houding, de overtuiging dat de basis van het muziek maken het plezier erin is, Daarbij doet de techniek niet terzake. Het is het enthousiasme dat voor alles gaat. Vanuit die houding is Spirit of Eden gemaakt.”

 Veertien maanden is er in de studio aan Spirit of Eden gesleuteld en toch slaagde Hollis erin de begeestering van het begin al die tijd vast te houden. “We werken aan iets dat steeds in beweging was. Al die veertien maanden waren we constant nooit genoeg van. Je wordt pas depressief als je de zaak gaat afmixen. Dat is een frustrerend moment. Je geeft het geheel dan een bepaalde vorm waar later niet meer aan te veranderen valt. Maar ik ben tevreden over hoe Spirit of Eden nu is. Er zit niets in waarvan ik het gevoel heb dat het er eigenlijk niet thuishoort, Het is absoluut een album geworden waarvoor we totaal geen compromissen hebben hoeven sluiten.”

Ondanks de lange studiotijd is Spirit of Eden geen overgeproduceerd werkstuk geworden. Een groot deel van het materiaal is zelfs door improvisatie tot stand gekomen. Daarbij speelden digitale opnametechnieken een belangrijke rol. “Met dat soort apparatuur is het heel gemakkelijk om overbodige stukken uit de muziek te halen zonder dat dit ten koste gaat van de geluidskwaliteit. Een van de dingen die me enorm aangespreekt in de muziek is die aan het einde van de jaren zestig werd gemaakt is de vrijheid in de manier waarop er gespeeld werd. Een van de eerste dingen die ik ooit in de studio heb geleerd was dat een spontaan opgenomen demo altijd beter klinkt dan die track die steeds maar weer opnieuw wordt ingespeeld.

Bij de demo is het het nieuwe dat het ding waarde geeft. Op het moment dat je op een bepaald stuk gaat zitten studeren verliest het die waarde. Voor Spirit of Eden hebben wij van een hele hoop mensen gebruik gemaakt. Die hadden de absolute vrijheid om te spelen wat de wilden. Daar namen we dan een bepaald gedeelte van, soms zelfs maar een paar seconden, en pasten dat in bepaalde tracks in. Alles heeft op die manier zijn definitieve vorm gekregen vanuit een basis van improvisatie.

De teksten van Hollis vallen op door hun compactheid. Toch kostte het de zanger maar liefst drie maanden om ze uit te broeden en op papier te zetten. “De reden waarom ik zoveel tijd voor de teksten nodig had was juist hun compactheid. Het is zoveel moeilijker om iets in tien woorden te zeggen dan waneer je duizend woorden tot je beschikking hebt. In die teksten zitten drie maanden van mijn observaties en representeren de waarden waarin ik geloof, op et humanitaire vlak.”

 “Take my freedom” heet het in Wealth, waarmee Hollis’ klagende stem op emotionele wijze Spirit of Eden afsluit. “Vrijheid bekent voor mij dat je geen enkel compromis hoeft te sluiten, bij alles wat je doet. In een volledig vrije maatschappij zou ieder de keuze hebben zijn eigen weg te kiezen, niet gedreven door arrogantie en egoïsme maar met respect en mededogen voor de mensen om hem heen.”

Drugs. In hun pogingen om te ontsnappen grijpen mensen naar steeds weer andere roesmiddelen. “I’ve seen heroin for myself, on the street so young laying wasted” zingt Hollis in het aangrijpende I Believe In You, dat inmiddels ook op single is uitgebracht. “Ik heb de ellende gezien die heroïne kan veroorzaken. Ik heb zoveel mensen gekend die dachten dat het spul nooit vat op ze zou krijgen en die uiteindelijk met een totaal geruïneerd leven zaten. Ik heb gezien wat het kost om ervan af te komen. Ik vind het een afschuwelijk iets.

Hij kijkt lang voor zich uit als ik hem vraag wat Eden voor hem is, Dan: “Ik weet het niet. Ik vind het gemakkelijker om te zeggen wat Spirit of Eden voor mij betekent. Spirit of Eden gaat over opbouw en vernietiging, facetten van het leven die gelijktijdig plaatsvinden. Spirit of Eden is alles wat ons omgeeft, zowel datgene waarvoor wij respect hebben als datgene wat we verfoeien”.

Als je zolang in de studio verblijft als jij doet, Mark weet je dan nog wel wat er buiten in de wereld, in het leven gebeurt?


Later, als we op weg naar de uitgang van het dierenpark de onderkomens van enkele bewoners passeren blijft Mark Hollis plotseling achter. Hij staart verrukt naar twee exemplaren van het hoogste dier dat deze aarde kent: de giraf. “Prachtig, he? Dat zoiets kan bestaan!”

Mark Hollis houdt van het leven, van alles wat kruipt, zwemt, loopt en vliegt. In de periode waarin hij aan Spirit of Eden werkte werd hij vader van een zoon: Freddie.

“Iedere keer als ik een plaat opneem gebeurt er iets belangrijks in mijn leven. Tijdens de opnamen voor The Colour of Spring ben ik getrouwd. Misschien word ik de volgende keer wel grootvader.

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Oor: 24th September 1988

In what kind of world do you live, Mark?
"Wow, that's quite a question"

He’s already not a glib talker, but now Mark Hollis is completely dumb struck. A full minute passes. Behind him sounds the murmuring of a fountain. Tinted flamingos loudly complain about the drizzly weather that is typical for the Netherlands and the place where the tropical part of the population at Artis Zoo reluctantly live. The sunglasses that used to stand at all times between Mark Hollis and the outside world have been left at home and also the hip ponytail has largely disappeared, in favor of a flowerpot close-cropped haircut. Shy and with his narrow shoulders drooping, Mark Hollis is everything a little pop star is not. He is truly the personification of the anti-pop hero. Living in Another World, as he himself sang two years ago on The Colour of Spring. The only question is: which world? "Well ... eh.”  It's quiet ... "Spiritually, you mean? '. Splashing and quacking, a small regiment of sparrows flutters down on the table between us. The little balls are well fed. However that doesn’t prevent them from brutally attacking my breakfast. Mark drinks cola.

"That's a pretty tough question, you know? Give me three months, three months and I’ll send you an answer "

Mark Hollis rarely hurries. Only with singing, he’s quick. Fifteen years earlier he was "terminally addicted." Influenced by his older brother Eddie (Eddie and the Hot Rods) Mark became familiar with the work of many old soul and blues singers. Otis Redding was his absolute favorite. But even classical composers such as Debussy, Satie and Beethoven held his interest, as well as many of the British groups who were popular at the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies, such as Traffic, Pink Floyd and King Crimson. In the previous decade during the last convulsions of the punk explosion, a change was produced in Mark, turning him from a passive to an active music lover. The final outcome is seen here in April 1988, with the birth of Talk Talk’s album.

In addition to Hollis, who as well as vocals accounts for most of the guitar parts, bassist Paul Webb and drummer Lee Harris make up the group, as well as co-composer and producer Tim Friese-Greene. The latter has never officially performed as band member, but a Talk Talk product on which he hasn’t performed in one way or another, or doesn’t have his stamp on it, has not yet been made.

The group debuted in 1982 with the album The Party's Over and was, consequently, much against the wishes of Mark Hollis, categorized as fashionable synthesizer pop. "Not so seriously." But Talk Talk struck back. In the recordings of the successor, It’s My Life, in 1984 the synthesizers were for a large part replaced by acoustic instruments.  It's My Life produced three hit singles, as well as the title song also Such a Shame and Dum Dum Girl. Through extensive concert tours, the Group broke through in the same year with the general public. Then it all became quiet around Talk Talk. Hollis, Webb, Harris and Friese-Greene camped out for over a year in the studio.

The spring of 1986 saw the release of the atmospheric The Colour of Spring. The music here is largely determined by the acoustic piano, alternately played by Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene, as the focal point around which everything revolves. The Colour of Spring is a musical jewel, full of fragile emotion and melancholic atmospheres that are packaged in eight gems of composition and artful arrangement including the hit singles, Life's What You Make It and Living in Another World.

With Spirit of Eden Talk Talk go one step further. The pop influences are almost totally gone. Spirit of Eden is characterized by arrangements whose spaciousness refers back to the work of jazz composer Gil Evans, from the time he worked closely with trumpeter Miles Davis. But also the classic impressionists resound through Spirit of Eden; works by Debussy, Satie, Massenet and Fauré, in sound images that create and breathe an atmosphere of romance and soft pastel colours, the difference being the added the fervor of punk, the movement in which Mark Hollis made his first steps on his musical path; the chasm is large, yawning and unbridgeable it seems. But not for Mark: "Spirit of Eden shines for me with the same mentality as formerly punk did; not so much for me to make the same kind of music that punk created, but more a certain attitude, the conviction that basis of music is having fun in creating. The technique is not important. It’s the enthusiasm that counts for everything. From that attitude Spirit of Eden was born. "

Fourteen months was spent tinkering in the studio on Spirit of Eden and still Hollis managed to hold onto the enthusiasm of the beginning all that time. "We are working on something that is always in motion. All the fourteen months we consisntly never had enough. You will only be depressed when you’re mixing the thing. That's a frustrating time. You give the whole a certain form which is later changed. But I’m satisfied with how Spirit of Eden is now. There is nothing in there which I feel that really doesn’t belong, it’s definitely one album that we have needed to make absolutely no compromises. "

Despite the lengthy studio time Spirit of Eden did not become an overproduced piece of work. A large part of the material was created by improvisation. Digital recording techniques played an important role. "With that type of equipment it’s very easy to eliminate unnecessary items from the music without sacrificing sound quality. One of the things that spoke to me enormously in music made at the end of the sixties was the freedom in the way it was played. One of the first things I ever learned in the studio was that a spontaneously recorded demo always sounds better than that track recorded over and over again.

The demo has a specific value. The moment you sit down to study a particular piece it loses value. For Spirit of Eden we used a lot of people. They had the absolute freedom to play what they wanted. We then took a certain portion of it, sometimes only a few seconds, and applied it to certain tracks. Thus everything in its final form was shaped from a basis of improvisation.

The lyrics of Hollis are distinguished by their brevity. Yet it took the singer as much as three months to incubate them and put them on paper. "The reason why I needed so much time for the lyrics was precisely their compactness. It’s much harder to say something in ten words when you have a thousand words at your disposal. In those lyrics are three months of my observations and represent the values in which I believe, on a humanitarian level. "

"Take my freedom" is sung on Wealth, in Hollis' plaintive voice and emotional way, on Spirit of Eden’s closing track.  "Freedom is to me when you have no need to compromise anything you do. In a fully free society, everyone would have the choice to choose his own way, not driven by arrogance and selfishness, but with respect and compassion for the people around him. "

Drugs. In their attempts to escape the grabbing public there is the risk of turning to other resources.  "I've seen heroin for myself, on the street so young laying wasted" Hollis sings in the poignant I Believe In You, which has also been released as a single. "I’ve seen the misery that heroin can cause. I’ve known so many people who thought the stuff would never get hold of them and end up with a totally ruined life. I've seen what it takes to get rid of it. I think it's a horrible thing.

He stares in front of himself for a long time when I ask him what Eden is, then: "I don’t know. I find it easier to say what Spirit of Eden means to me. Spirit of Eden is about construction and destruction, aspects of life that occur simultaneously. Spirit of Eden is all that surrounds us, both what we respect and what we detest.”

 If you are staying in the studio as long as you do, Mark do you know what is happening outside in the world, in life?

Later, as we head for the exit of the animal shelters, some residents suddenly pass behind Mark Hollis. He stares delightedly to two versions of the tallest animal that this earth knows: the giraffe. "Nice, huh? That something like that can exist! "

Mark Hollis loves life, everything that crawls, swims, runs and flies. During the period when he worked on Spirit of Eden, he became father of a son, Freddie.

"Every time I record an album something important happens in my life. During the recording of The Colour of Spring I got married. Maybe the next time I’ll be a grandfather.

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Haagsche Courant: September 1988

“Ik praat nooit over mijn teksten”, zegt Mark Hollis verontschuldigend als hem gevraagd wordt naar de lyrische inhoud van de nieuwe Talk Talk-elpee Spirit of Eden. Het enige dat de Britse componist en zanger over de opvolger van The Colour of Spring kwijt wil, is een positief antwoord op de vraag of termen als hoop, verlangen en vertrouwen de lading dekken.

Twee jaar geleden deed Talk Talk een eerste geslaagde poging om met hun muziek de kwalificatie ‘pop’ te ontstijgen. De critici strooiden en masse met verwijzingen naar het werk van componisten als Debussy, Delius en Bartok. Niet in de laatste plaats aangegeven door Hollis zelf, die zijn bewondering voor deze klassieke componisten niet onder stoelen of banken stak. Na een desastreuze ontmoeting met de talentvolle zanger twee jaar geleden in een door Belgische en Franse journalisten onveilig gemaakte tourbus in Leuven, vinden we Hollis nu terug op een bankje in een sereen hoekje van Artis.

Geen slechte locatie, want na de vlinders op de hoes van The Colour of Spring is de omslag van Spirit of Eden voorzien van een fraaie illustratie met vogels, zeedieren en schelpen. In het reptielenhuis van Artis zijn we net op tijd om het voederen van de slangen bij te wonen. Het Artis-personeel houdt met lange metalen klemmen levenloze en met bloed besmeurde ratten boven de bekken van de schijnbaar apathische boa’s. Af en toe spert een gifbek zich wijd open om tergend langzaam de maaltijd te verorberen. Gefascineerd kijken de toegestroomde bezoekers toe, Hollis incluis. “Afschuwelijk, walgelijk... Laten we naar buiten gaan en praten”, fluistert Hollis wat ontdaan. Maar we zijn niet gekomen om letterlijk over koetjes en kalfjes te praten. Spirit of Eden is een te gewichtig album om lichtzinnig aan voorbij te gaan. Hollis en zijn mannen (bassist Webb en drummer Harris completeren het oorspronkelijke trio dat ook nu weer aangevuld is met componist, toetsenspeler en producer Tim Friese-Greene en een groot aantal sessiemuzikanten) hebben met Spirit of Eden een conceptelpee afgeleverd. Een album, dat op het eerste gehoor tamelijk ontoegankelijk lijkt door het introverte karakter, maar dat door de universele strekking een groot publiek mag aanspreken.

Met jullie vorige lp plaatste Talk Talk zich een stapje buiten de categorie ‘popmuziek’, Spirit of Eden, jullie vierde lp, gaat nog een stap verder? Mark Hollis: “Absoluut! Al onze platen laten een verschuiving zien, alhoewel er overeenkomsten zijn met de voorgaande lp’s.”

Kun je ‘Spirit of Eden’ nog popmuziek noemen?  “Nee, maar ik heb onze muziek ook nooit als zodanig gezien. Talk Talk maakt geen popmuziek.”

Er is op deze plaat eerder sprake van een klassiek stramien. De eerste plaatkant, The Rainbow, vormt één geheel waarin afgeweken wordt van de traditionele popstructuur van refrein, brug, refrein etc.

Hollis: “Het woord conceptalbum is nu niet bepaald een gezonde term; er is in het verleden nog al eens misbruik van gemaakt. Ik vond het belangrijk om er één geheel van te maken met veel dynamische verschillen en terugkerende thema’s. Of deze manier van componeren moeilijker is? Verandering is het belangrijkste, zonder dat is er voor mij geen reden om verder te gaan.”

Hollis vertelt dat de groep bijna twee jaar aan de plaat gewerkt heeft en dat die lange produktiegang vooral met de werkwijze te maken heeft gehad. “Deze plaat is een combinatie van twee zaken: totale spontaniteit wat betreft het merendeel van de opgenomen muziek, tegenover een uiterst zorgvuldige constructie. Ik heb bijvoorbeeld de sessiemuzikanten laten spelen wat ze wilden om daar vervolgens onze eigen arrangementen van te maken en het in te passen in ons idee. Dat kost tijd, maar er is geen andere manier om dit uiteindelijke resultaat te krijgen. Daarnaast hebben we geen electronica gebruikt en is het meeste opgenomen met veel ruimte tussen de instrumenten en de microfoons, waardoor je een natuurlijker ambiantie krijgt.”

“Thema? Verlangen, hoop, vertrouwen. Iets universelers kan ik me niet voorstellen. Voor de mensen die deze waarden in het leven onderkennen behoeft de plaat verder geen uitleg, zij zullen het intuïtief begrijpen. De anderen zal ik het nooit kunnen uitleggen.”

Als hem gevraagd wordt naar de betekenis van een bepaald tekstfragment antwoord Hollis: “Ik zou het je kunnen zeggen, maar ik verklaar mijn teksten nooit. Als ik uitleg, wat kan iemand er dan nog in ontdekken?”

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Haagsche Courant: September 1988

“I never talk about my lyrics,” said Mark Hollis apologetically when asked for the lyrical content of the new Talk Talk album Spirit of Eden. The only thing the British composer and singer on the successor to The Colour of Spring wants to discuss, is a positive answer to the question of whether terms such as hope, desire and faith are fairly represented.

Two years ago, Talk Talk made a first successful attempt to take their music and transcend the term ‘pop’. En masse the critics sprinkled reviews with references to the work of composers like Debussy, Delius and Bartok. Not least referenced by Hollis himself, whose admiration for these classical composers is not hidden under a bushel. After a disastrous encounter with the talented singer two years ago Belgian and French journalists made an unsafe tour bus in Leuven, where we find Hollis back on a bench in a serene corner of Artis [Zoo].

It’s not a bad location, because after the butterflies on the cover of The Colour of Spring, the cover of Spirit of Eden has a beautiful illustration with birds, sea creatures and shells. In the reptile house in Artis, we are just in time to see the feeding of the snakes. The zoo staff take long metal clamps and hold lifeless and bloody rats above the pit of the seemingly apathetic boas. Occasionally a poisonous mouth opens wide to slowly and provocatively consume a meal.

Fascinated visitors flocking to watch, including Hollis. “Disgusting, disgusting ... Let’s go outside and talk” whispers Hollis somewhat upset. But we have not come to shoot the breeze. Spirit of Eden is an album too weighty to frivolously ignore. Hollis and his men (bassist Webb and drummer Harris completing the initial trio, once again supplemented by composer, keyboard player and producer Tim Friese-Greene and a host of session musicians) have delivered a concept album in Spirit of Eden. An album which at first hearing seems fairly inaccessible by its introverted character, but through its universal scope should appeal to a wide audience.

With your previous album Talk Talk stepped outside the category of “pop”. Spirit of Eden, your fourth album, goes one step further?

Mark Hollis: “Absolutely! All our records show a shift, although there are similarities with the previous records.”

Can you still call ‘Spirit of Eden’ pop music?

“No, I never viewed our music as such. Talk Talk isn't pop music. “

There is on this record talk of a more traditional groundwork. The first side of the record, The Rainbow, is a song which deviates from the traditional pop structure of chorus, bridge, chorus etc.

Hollis: “The word concept album is not exactly a healthy term and in the pat there has quite often been abuse of it. I thought it was important to have a whole lot to do with dynamic differences and recurring themes. Is this way of composing more difficult? Change is the key, without it there is no reason to continue. “

Hollis says the group spent nearly two years on the record and that the long production work was mainly due to the working methods he had to face. “This album is a combination of two things: total spontaneity as regards the majority of recorded music, compared with a meticulous construction. For example, I had the session musicians play what they wanted to then make our own arrangements to fit around our ideas. This takes time, but there is no other way get this final result. In addition, we used no electronics it was recorded with lots of space between the instruments and the microphones, so you get a more natural ambiance.”

“The theme? Desire, hope, faith. Something more universal, I cannot imagine. For the people who recognize values in life, they need no further explanation of the record, they will intuitively understand. For the rest I will never explain.”

When asked about the meaning of a given lyric fragment Hollis answers: “I could say, but I never explain my lyrics. If I explain, what can one then still discover?”

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Q: October 1988

Stylists have thrown in the towel, promotional persons have blanched, record execs have shed real tears as, over six years, Talk Talk have been increasingly impervious to the selling machine. The new album is a glorious indulgence - defiantly downbeat, relentlessly demanding, and “free form” ...

“No” says Mark Hollis stubbornly, he will not look directly into the camera as this, apparently is compromise tantamount to soul-selling. “No,” he says, he doesn’t see why he should have to explain his music to anyone. It speaks, he reasons - dusting down the superannuated cliché - for itself. “No,” he explains, he will not read this article. He’s been stitched up in the press so many times before, it will probably happen again.

The trouble is that Mark Hollis and his band, Talk Talk, have just released their fourth LP, Spirit Of Eden, and there are promotional duties to reluctantly perform. Had Spirit Of Eden been an unremarkable pop record, none of this would have been necessary. However, this is not the case. For Spirit Of Eden is a quite remarkable, possibly even significant work that makes their powerfully dense and emotional 1986 set, The Colour Of Spring, sound not unlike a Rubettes demo.

It is the fourth stage in Talk Talk’s intriguing metamorphosis from the quirky singles band who appeared at a time when Duran Duran were considered the ultimate role model, to a collective of almost painfully intense musicians who are much given to name-checking Satie, Bartok (“a great geezer”) and Debussy.

Mark Hollis, in what occasionally seems to be a strained attempt to appear enigmatic, is keen to dismiss his past, his flunked university degree in child psychology, his five years of fruitless toil with punk band The Reaction, even the “diabolical” treatment of Talk Talk when they first hopped aboard the pop carousel in 1982. Hollis’s co-writer and producer, Tim Friese-Greene, is similarly reticent to reminisce. “As far as I’m concerned,” he says, “this began in 1984 with It’s My Life and nothing else is particularly relevant.”

Both Hollis and Friese-Greene will happily discuss “vibe”, “feel”, and how they achieved Spirit Of Eden’s brittle and brooding atmospheres, harsh dynamic extremes and constant mesmeric pulse. But amid heavy-shouldered shrugs and staunchly monosyllabic pleas of ignorance, neither seems vaguely interested as to who will buy the record, how it will be made available or the effect it will have. They leave this to Tony Wadsworth, Capitol and Parlophone Record’s General Manager who is responsible for the marketing of among others Queen, Pet Shop Boys and Morrissey.

“Talk Talk are not your ordinary combo and require sympathetic marketing,” he explains diplomatically. “They’re not so much difficult as not obvious. You’ve just got to find as many ways as possible to expose the music. The standard marketing route is whack out a single, try to chart the single, and then hopefully on the strength of that, sell some albums. With the way the media is angled, the room you’ve got to expose adult music - for want of a better term - is very restricted. We’ve got to do what I believe to be a very heavy campaign on Talk Talk. We’ve got to go out very bullishly and tell people that this is an album for 1988. That will be the sales pitch - An Album For 1988.”

Similarly. Spirit Of Eden could be An Album for 1972. It boasts just six songs, three of which seamlessly comprise one side of the LP. No one track appears to exceed 15 beats per minute smooch-limit. The instrumentation is predominantly acoustic and Hollis’s anguished Steve Winwood-registered voice seldom rises above a whisper. The lyrics abstractly embrace such thigh-slapping subject matter as moral decline, drug addiction and that perennial party-starter, death. Commercially, it is hard to envisage the album as “a goer”.

“When I heard it first in it’s finished form,” says Tony Wadsworth, “I thought, Mmm, this is interesting, then got into it very quickly. Technology aside, it could have been made 20 years ago. I see it as even earlier than that. It’s like a cross between classical music and jazz with a modern perspective. I don’t see it as directly related to acid house but I see the phenomenon as having the same sorts of roots. There’s common interests. They’re both free-form with an insistent rhythm. I think it’ll be well received. People are looking something a little more open-minded.”

“Pace is of the essence,” says Friese-Greene of the albums refusal to break into a brisk stroll, “even if it is a pace that approaches vanishing point at times. The more relaxed the pace, the more importance everything that happens assumes. You have to be careful and not overstep the line from being relaxed to being tedious and I think we’ve kept on the right side of that.”

“The dynamics are a little bit hard to take at first,” he continues. “There were times during the mixing when I thought, I’m not sure about this, but it scrapes through. Again it had to strike the right note between intensity and irritation. But we’re not being naive about it. Some people could definitely be put off by the pace of it or the level of intensity and if people are uncomfortable with that maybe, with respect, they should listen to something else.”

Talk Talk’s image has, throughout their six-year career, moved nonchalantly between the poor and the non-existent. Despite having been “styled” upon their signing to EMI (“We were under terrible pressure,” says Hollis. “It’s a very ugly thing. Things went down that I was very unhappy with. It was ridiculous. Disgusting. But I don’t regret it they just made me more adamant never to get caught like that again”), the band soon went their own sartorial way, growing unkempt normal-to-greasy hair, wearing clothes that could only have been bought with a War On Want charge-card and sporting footwear which invited the expression “hush puppies”.

“The image,” laughs Tony Wadsworth, “or lack of it, doesn’t bother you when you have Pink Floyd on your label. Look at Dire Straits. Hardly the most fashion-conscious group, and yet they’re the biggest band in the world. Talk Talk have always seen that side of things as a distraction from the music.”

Hollis’s rocky relationship with the press swiftly gained him a reputation as being something of a surly, self-obsessed character.

“You can understand that, though.” argues Friese-Greene. “When Mark started up he was sometimes doing 12 interviews a day. That just drives you mad after a while and you have to do something, wind the journalist up or whatever, to remain sane.”

“It doesn’t worry me that Mark is seen as uncooperative,” says Wadsworth. “It worries me more that we might put him in a situation that might compromise him. I can fully understand that a serious artist like Mark does not want to go on Saturday morning children’s television and have 10 gallons of sludge poured over him and then be presented with a giant inflatable banana. I mean this man is a father!”

Mark Hollis is aware that he is perceived as “a difficult geezer” at times. This, he says, is because he won’t “play that game” of handshaking and pleasantry-exchanging. But rather than giving the impression of being a terse, rapier-tongued weasel, he comes over more as a nervous, pensive individual with a few ideas of great import to unleash upon the populace. He is motivated, he says, by the need to make great and “increasingly personal” music. “Money is not a worry,” he sniffs. “I’ve got all the money I need.” Indeed, the sales of Talk Talk’s three LPs to date have been mightily respectable. The Party’s Over - promoted by two hit singles and a sizable American tour supporting Elvis Costello - sold over a quarter million copies, their second album; It’s My Life, went gold in every European country except Britain, selling particularly well following exhaustive live work, in Italy (“I couldn’t tell you why that was,” mutters Hollis. “You’d have to ask everyone in Britain and then everyone in Italy, I suppose”); The Colour Of Spring aided and abetted by the Top 20 single Life’s What You Make It, also went gold. Split the net profits and divide between Hollis, Friese-Greene, drummer Harris and bass player Paul Webb who comprise the group’s - hey! - floating nucleus and it doesn’t take long to fathom out how Hollis can afford to sit in his Suffolk village rectory and “just do music, really.” Ask Tim Friese-Greene if Hollis is he most boring person in the world, he will pause and reply, “No ... he’s probably the second most boring person in the world, because, according to him, there is no-one more boring than me.”

One wonders how they mustered the energy to produce such a reaction-provoking record. “Well, it’s certainly a reaction to the music that’s around at the moment “‘cos most of that is shit,” deadpans Hollis. “It’s only radical in the modern context. It’s not radical compared to what was happening 20 years ago. If we’d have delivered this album to the record company 20 years ago they wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.”

Would you recommend any particular situation in which to listen to it?

“Late at night definitely. In a very calm mood with no distractions.”

You don’t think it would make rather pleasant background music at, say, a dinner party?

“No I don’t. Maybe after the dinner party. But you have to give it all your attention. You should never listen to music as background music. Ever.”

Talk Talk’s original plan of action was not to release a single or a video from the album. Neither did they intend to tour. Although they still won’t be playing live, (“People would just want to hear the songs as they are on the album and for me that’s not satisfying enough,” Hollis frowns) they have since reconsidered, with a little record company pressure, and edited the track I Believe In You down to airplay length.

“It’s purely in order to help the record company promote this album,” says Hollis. “Purely that.” He has also, now, recorded a promotional video to accompany the single.

“I really feel that was a massive mistake.” he grimaces. “I thought just by sitting there and listening and really thinking about what it was about, I could get that in my eyes. But you cannot do it. It just feels stupid. It was depressing and I wish I’d never done it.”

“See,” he spits, “that’s what happens when you compromise.”

Adrian Devoy

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Q: October 1988

Talk Talk’s fourth LP is the kind of record which encourages marketing men to commit suicide. Mark Hollis’s outfit are nicely poised for major success this time around after spending the best part of a decade gradually building up a ground swell of support for their quirky, sophisticated pop. 1986’s The Colour Of Spring had the obligatory hit single in the shape of Life’s What You Make It and contrived to go gold on Britain while expanding their substantial European following. But two years later Mark Hollis has designed a record whose six songs flow into one another like one long mood piece without a hint of a single and with a peculiarly old world feel to the subdued orchestral mutterings that accompany his faltering high-pitched musings.

Spirit Of Eden strives for a totality of mood in the manner of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, or Neil Young’s On The Beach. Like the Young LP, these six songs are largely downbeat and drowned in introspection. Fragments of keyboard lines or sudden bursts from a guitar or an oboe break through the contemplative calm that suffuses Hollis’s brave new world while his vocals barely pick out the lyrics, occasional phrases drifting into earshot like the delayed echo of a cricket ball against bat somewhere in the hazy distance.

Apparently these songs touch on everything from paradise to heroin addiction yet all remain within the record’s overall mood of calm won from the storm. If Spirit Of Eden often recalls the pastoral epics of the early 70’s, it has a range, ambition and self-sufficiency that enables Hollis and co to step out of time and into their own. No hit singles then but a brave record that is not afraid to follow its own muse and damn the consequences.

**** (out of 5)

Mark Cooper

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Orlando Sentinel: 20th November 1988

With the possible exception of Frank Zappa, Talk Talk is an act that has gone out of its way to sell the least amount of records possible. Spirit of Eden is not at all accessible to the mainstream pop audience, and it seems that's how singer Mark Hollis likes it.

On its 1982 debut album The Party's Over, Talk Talk was just another gimmicky, electronic new-wave band trying to make it big. Its first single, ''Talk Talk,'' became a dance-club hit, and the video was shown on a young music channel called MTV. In 1984, the group connected with producer Tim Friese-Greene, who, along with Hollis, began to develop an original sound. The result, It's My Life, was an exhilarating collection of sharp, concise songs -- i.e., ''Such a Shame,'' ''Dum Dum Girl'' -- that played on the thoughts as well as the feet.

In 1986, Talk Talk began to experiment with more complicated melodies on The Colour of Spring, a daring move for a dance group. That change in direction culminated with this new release. The songs on Spirit of Eden can't be classified as rock, pop or New Age, but they effortlessly segue from one style to another. Hollis and Friese-Greene have dropped most of the electronics in favor of traditional instruments.

The songs are so low-key that unless you pay attention, you can miss their impact entirely. The music's power is quiet but insistent. ''The Rainbow'' is highlighted by a soulful harmonica, and ''Eden'' features psychedelic guitar plas-

tered over a calm, steady beat that rises and falls in intensity and volume. Yet Hollis manages to make it all sound restful. In fact, all the songs seem almost boring, but within the dronelike layers are flashes of subtle brilliance.

Hollis' lyrics are so obscure and mumbled that his singing becomes a vehicle for interesting words placed in just the right places. Even the lyric sheet gives few clues about what exactly he's saying as his sad vocals strain to be heard above the music. It's as if he doesn't want his pain to be shared by too many people, only the few who care to listen. A problem arises on the vinyl version because of the volume variations. Half the time the music level drops below the surface noise. The compact disc should sound much better.

Talk Talk has achieved what singer David Sylvian has been trying in vain to do on his albums: subtle music worth the listener's effort. The success of Spirit of Eden lies ultimately in the melody. These are songs that play like sirens on the rocky shore, soothing as they wash over jagged emotions, caressing and healing within the tonal ebb and flow. (Bill Henderson)

**** (4 stars)

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International Musician & Recording World: November 1988

The Spirit of Eden LP is both a logical step and a radical departure for TALK TALK. Andrew Smith thinks it may prove controversial...

“Given the choice, I wouldn’t be doing this interview. Promoting records is not something I enjoy.” Mark Hollis shifts uncomfortably, making me feel like a remedial schoolteacher interviewing a child who’s been sent to me for misbehaving. At no point during our interview does he actually throw a paper airplane or affix his bubble gum to his desk: Mark just doesn’t want to be here. No-one ever interrogated Mozart about the brand name of piano, did they?

The new Talk Talk album is bound to prove controversial and must have caused more than the odd raised eyebrow at EMI, not a label best known for it’s patience with artists who won’t play the commercial game. I find myself thinking of the contents of The Spirit of Eden in terms of ‘pieces’, rather than songs. Mark agrees:

“Yeah, sure, there’s a heavy depth of arrangement. I’m sure it’s not what the record company would have hoped for, but I’m happy with it. I never knew what is was going to sound like, although I knew what the vibe of the album would be. Before we started, everything was there as a basic structure, but the tracks themselves were all put down in a live format and then the overdubs were done at ridiculous length. Because you see, the most important thing with this album was just for it to have the right feel, for it to have an absolute calm, but for it to have an absolute intensity inside of that.”

Although a good description, this is something that only becomes apparent after several listens. Quiet, gently shifting passages collide with huge, almost manic, chorus’s, driven by some fierce guitar and Hammond C3 organ: Sounds achieved by simply “setting every control at 10”. The dynamic range has more in common with Classical music than most pop.

“Yeah, I think dynamics are very important. The only way you can possibly lay a foundation for that is to put your track down live and just go with the one that has the right vibe. That would be just three or four of us, percussion, kit, guitar and keyboards. Then we’d give the other musicians - 17 in all - mostly people we’d worked with before - absolute freedom to play on the track so that it has a spontaneity and looseness. Eighty or 90% of what they played was improvised.”

But the songs (pieces?) still sound arranged. Aren’t they?

“This is one place were technology has become important to us. Working on a digital setup, you can just take things off then put them in other places and construct your framework without loosing generation and end up with this carefully constructed, multi-layered format, but at the same time all of the parts in it are improvised and loose. Without digital technology, you couldn’t do that.”

The digital technology in question was at Wessex, their favourite studio, and (contrary to current trends), the only one they use for recording and Mixing. Mark wouldn’t tell me what desk and machine they used there, because he doesn’t think it’s ‘relevant’, but churlishness never stopped me: it was in fact a Mitsubishi X-850 with a 48 channel SSL desk. I wondered if this discovery of the usefulness of digital technology had changed any of Mark’s oft-expressed hostile attituted to synthesizers and samplers?

“Absolutely not. They wouldn’t even be allowed anywhere near the studio. Everything is real, everything is played by people. The only thing we’ve used digital for is to take something from one place and move it to another. The biggest problem I have with what’s happening is that it isn’t aiding music. I think the most important thing in music is the way it’s played. Unless it has feel, it’s not there as far as I’m concerned, and the way so much of the musical equipment has gone to put the emphasis on the machine rather than the player. Unless things are played with that feeling and that heart, they’re not worth anything.”

So don’t expect any house mixes from Talk Talk. But before you start accusing Hollis of being an old traditionalist hippy, it’s worth remembering that he is another one who started playing around the time of the Punk explosion, and it’s this that colours his attitude, as he explains;

“The one way I would quantify my attitude is to say that you don’t have to be a good player, a technically capable player, to play with feel. I don’t believe in technique in any way. I think all you need is the right attitude in your head to play. Especially when you go back to the stuff that Booker T used to do.

Although that I’m sure they were technically inept, what flows out of them is really forceful. The intention with which you play is the important thing. You see, when I think of a sound, I think of a composite of two things; the way something’s played and the sound itself. Where a lot of people have gone wrong is that they think the sound is just the sound, and what they’re playing is a secondary thing. Generally we’ve gone for sounds that, in technical terms, you would say are rubbish, but when you couple that with the way it’s played, then it becomes a good sound.”

Can you think of a specific example?

“Yeah... I would say the entire album.”

Back to the beginning, the day before our interview, Talk Talk made a video for the first single to be taken from the album, I Believe In You. The fact that the record company managed to find a single on the album at all is something short of a miracle, and Mark isn’t comfortable with it.

“They’ve basically just cut the beginning and end off the song, I think it’s a shame. They’ve taken something which stood up on it’s own in the context of the album and pulled it out of context. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Most pop stars - a term Mark would surely hate to have applied to him - love the chance to get in front of a camera but, despite the presence of Tim Pope as director, it was a painful experience making the video.

“It went okay, but the idea of doing a promo for that song didn’t feel right. That song means so much to me that to sit there and mime to it just feels totally stupid. In retrospect, I would rather have not done it at all, but there you go. It just felt like I was being prostituted. Tim felt exactly the same, ‘cos he cares about that sort of thing.”

This isn’t new though, is it? - a lot of your work seems personal and introspective.

“Yeah, but it’s getting more personal as it goes along. It’s definitely harder, harder to promote things in any way. I would rather just have the album say what it is itself and not do anything for it, just to let it exist.”

So sales figures aren’t important?

“The only reason I’m interested in sales figures is that, if it wasn’t for the records we’ve sold in the past, we’d never have been able to make this album. What it can do is ensure us our autonomy, give us enough money to make the next record. Although, if it doesn’t, we’ll still make one, but with a smaller budget.”

According to the metaphorical Book of Punk, which Mark quotes from several times during the course of the interview - perhaps this could have it’s advantages?

“Yeah, it can be better sometimes, I don’t know, maybe we will...”

Andrew Smith

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Court of Appeal: 23rd May 1989


In the Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal (Civil Division)

On Appeal from the High Court of Justice

Chancery Division

23 May 1989

Lord Justice O'connor Lord Justice Mustill and Lord Justice Nourse

Tuesday 23rd May 1989


       MR STEPHEN C. DESCH, Q.C. , and MR RICHARD SLOWE , instructed by Messrs Gentle Jayes, appeared for the Appellants (Defendants).

       MR ROBERT M. ENGLEHART, Q.C. , and MR DAVID PARSONS , instructed by Messrs Joynson Hicks, appeared for the Respondent (Plaintiff).


JUDGMENT (Revised)


I will ask Lord Justice Nourse to give the first judgment.


This is an appeal against a decision of Mr Justice Morritt on the construction of an exclusive recording agreement. Shortly stated, the question is whether a notice given by the record company to extend the agreement for a further period was or was not given in due time.

The agreement, which was dated 26th November 1981, was made between the plaintiff, EMI Records Limited (called “the Company” ) of the one part and the defendants, Mark David Hollis, Lee David Harris and Paul Douglas Webb and a fourth individual, who were the members of the pop group known as “Talk Talk” (called “the Artists” ) of the other part. Its material terms are in part contained in the definitions of expressions used in the agreement, and to some extent they arise by necessary implication. At the risk of some imprecision I will attempt to describe the general nature of the agreement in a summary manner.

The agreement was to last for an initial period of one year,. together with up to four further one year periods at the option of the Company, each such option to be exercised during the preceding period and so that any period might in certain circumstances be extended at the discretion of the Company or in any event with the agreement of both sides. During each period, including the initial period, the Artists were to record one obligatory album. During the option periods the Company was entitled on three separate occasions to require the Artists to record up to three further albums, called Overcall Albums, but not more than one during any one option period. The obligatory and Overcall Albums were together referred to as “the minimum commitment” . I shall have to refer to part of that definition later. At this stage I need only refer to the definition of “album” in clause 1 of the agreement: “shall mean a double-sided 12” disc Record which is designed to be played at 33? rpm and which is commercially suitable for release to the public.”

By clause 2(B) it is provided as follows: “THE ARTISTS will during the Agreement Period attend at such places and times reasonably convenient to both the Artists and the Company as the Company shall reasonably require and shall render such Performances as the Company and the Artists shall mutually approve for reproduction on Record” . There then follow four provisos, of which I must read the first two: “(i) in deciding what Performances to select for reproduction as aforesaid the Company shall have regard to any wishes expressed to the Company by the Artists as well as such other circumstances as are relevant. (ii) the minimum number of Performances which the Artists shall render for the Company as aforesaid and which the Company shall record shall be not less than the Minimum Commitment.”

The Company's several options to extend or further extend the agreement are contained in clause 3. That which is relevant for present purposes is The Third Option, which is contained in sub-clause (C), being expressed so far as material in these terms: “THE COMPANY shall be entitled (if it has exercised the Second Option) to extend this Agreement for a period of one (1) year ( ‘the Third Option Period’ as extended as herein provided) on giving notice in writing to the Artists before the expiration of the Second Option Period (or as the case may be on the Expiration of the Extension Period (as herein defined) of the Second Option Period in which event the Company shall have thirty days from the end of such Extension Period to extend this Agreement for the said period of one year) and all the provisions herein contained (except this sub-Clause) shall apply in respect of the Third Option Period or as the case may be the aforementioned Extension Period.

Clause 4 is headed “Recording Sessions” . The first two of its three sub-clauses are in these terms: “(A) THE ARTISTS shall at the reasonable request of the Company repeat any Performance for the purpose of producing a satisfactory Record commercially suitable for release to the public. (B.) AS the Company is paying the recording costs for recording Performances hereunder it shall accordingly be entitled to require the Artists to devote all the Artists' time and attention during recording sessions to producing satisfactory Performances hereunder.”

Throughout the agreement there are references to recordings being “satisfactorily completed” or to the “satisfactory completion” of recordings. There are four such references in paragraph (f) of the definition in clause 1 of Minimum Commitment, being that part of the definition which deals with the Overcall Albums and to which I will return later. Furthermore, by sub-clause (B) of clause 7, which is headed “Use And Performance” , the Company agrees “to release such Performances on Record in the United Kingdom prior to EITHER the expiry of 4 (four) months from the date of satisfactory completion of the recording of such Performances…” .

Finally, in paragraphs (iv), (vi), (vii), (ix) and (x) of sub-clause (I) of clause 10, which is headed “Royalty Provisions” , there are provisions for the payment by the Company to the Artists of advances of specified sums within fourteen days of “the satisfactory completion of the recording of” each of the various albums.

No difficulty appears to have arisen during the early years. On 25th October 1982 the first option was exercised during the initial period and by a letter agreement dated 27th September 1983, which also dealt with a number of other matters, the first option period was extended until 24th May 1984. On 18th May 1984, shortly before the end of that extended period, the second option was exercised. By that time the two obligatory albums for the initial and first option periods called “The Party's Over” and “It's My Life” had been released. At that stage no Overcall Album had been required.

On 15th May 1985, three days before the second option period would in normal course have expired, the Company required the Artists to make the first Overcall Album. It is agreed that the effect of that was to bring into play the final part of paragraph (f) of the definition of “Minimum Commitment” which is in these terms: “… such applicable Period of the Agreement Period shall be extended until the expiry of 3 (three) months from the date of satisfactory completion of the recording of the First Overcall Album…” The applicable period of the agreement for that purpose was the second option period. Accordingly, the effect of the requirement to make the first Overcall Album was to extend the second option period until the expiry of three months from the date of satisfactory completion of its recording.

So far there is no dispute between the parties as to the material events or the effect which they had. The dispute arises out of the terms of a further letter agreement dated 13th December 1985, by which date the first Overcall Album had not been produced, so that the second option period was still running. That letter was written by the Company and addressed to the three defendants who duly countersigned a copy of it. I will read the opening part of the letter in full:

“With reference to the Agreement between you and us dated 26th November 1981 as amended (hereinafter referred to as ‘the said Agreement’ ) in respect of Performances by you under your professional name ‘TALK TALK’ and with particular reference to a letter dated 27th September 1983 amending the said Agreement (such letter being hereinafter called ‘the said letter’ ) and notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in the said Agreement and the said Letter it is hereby agreed as follows:-

“1. The Second Option Period of the Agreement Period is hereby extended until 31st December 1987 or until 3 (three) months after the completion of recording to our reasonable satisfaction of the First Overcall Album, whichever is the later date.”

In order that the dispute may be fully understood, some rehearsal of the largely undisputed facts is necessary. By 31st December 1987, more than two years later, the obligatory album for the second option period called “The Colour of Spring” had been released, but the recording of the first Overcall Album had not been completed. The story can then be taken up from the summary given by the learned judge, which I think is full and accurate-enough for present purposes. I. read at page 4 A-B of the transcript:

“What happened, as is shown by the uncontested evidence, is that towards the end of February 1988 but certainly after 24th February, the group delivered to EMI a cassette of the first overcall album. This was sufficient for EMI to assess its commercial viability, but further tests might have been required on the masters if they had to satisfy themselves as to its technical worth.

“Between 1st and 4th March 1988 Mr. Gatfield on behalf of EMI listened to the cassette. He had reservations as to its commercial suitability, and was not inclined to say that he found it to be suitable. Mr. Aspin, the manager of the defendants, was told of this reservation, and it appears that Mr. Aspin himself had doubts. Accordingly, a meeting was fixed up to discuss the matter, and on 15th March 1988 that meeting took place with Mr. Gatfield and Mr. Wadsworth representing EMI and the first defendant and Mr. Aspin representing the defendants. At that meeting the defendants were asked if they would be prepared to re-record one track, and the first defendant indicated that they would not. Mr. Gatfield suggested either then or on some subsequent occasion that there might be substitution of some material, but this was not accepted by the defendants either.

“On 25th March 1988 the masters were delivered to EMI. Mr. Gatfield at that stage felt that he had no option but to accept and, as from that date, it is accepted that EMI was satisfied as to the recording of the first overcall album.”

From this it is clear that the cassette of the first Overcall Album had been delivered to the Company before 1st March 1988 and that the recording of the album had been completed by that date. However, it is also clear that it was not until 25th March that the Company was satisfied as to. the recording of the album. The crucial importance of these dates becomes apparent when I state the final material fact, which is that on 14th June 1988, within three months after 25th March but not within three months after 1st March, the Company gave a notice exercising the third option under clause 3(C) of the agreement. No point is taken on the notice as such, but the defendants say that it was given too late.

The question essentially depends on when, under the terms of the letter of 13th December 1985, the three month period started to run. The Company contends that it did not start until it was satisfied as to the recording. The defendants, while accepting that the Company had later to be satisfied, contend that it started when the recording of the album was in fact completed.

Mr Justice Morritt preferred the contention of the Company. On the grammar of the letter, against the background of the agreement, he had no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that the period began at the date on which the Company was satisfied as to the recording.

The matter had come before the learned judge on motion on 2nd November 1988 when the parties very sensibly agreed that the motion should be treated as the trial of the action. The list was too full for the case to be dealt with that day and it came on for argument as the first effective motion on the following day, judgment being delivered at the close of the argument. Although the judge's judgment shows an impressive grasp of this very complicated agreement, it is evident that we in this court, having been able to read the papers beforehand and with the benefit of arguments which have lasted for more than a day, are in a position to consider the matter more fully than would normally be possible in the conditions of a busy motions court. Indeed, if the case had been given the time estimate of three to four – hours which it was given in this court, it would, I think, have had to be stood over to come on as a motion by order.

By his order made on 3rd November 1988 the judge declared that the Company had validly exercised its option under the agreement in respect of the third option period and that the agreement remained in full force and effect. Against that decision the defendants appeal to this court.

Immediately before the letter agreement of 13th December 1985 the position was that the second option period had been extended until the expiry of three months from the date of “satisfactory completion of the recording of the first Overcall Album” . The first question is what is meant by that phrase. The primary submission of Mr Englehart, for the Company, is that it means completion of the recording to such a standard as to be satisfactory to the Company. I do not think that that can be correct. There is nothing in the single word “satisfactory” to show that it is the satisfaction of the Company alone which must be met. It could just as well be the satisfaction of the Artists as well as the Company, and indeed of anyone else who was competent to judge the merits of the recording. If “satisfactory” stood alone it would not, in my view, point to the satisfaction of any particular party or parties and would mean no more than “adequate” , which is indeed one of its dictionary meanings.

As it happens, it does not stand alone. By clause 4(A) of the agreement the Artists are obliged, at the reasonable request of the Company, to repeat any performance for the purpose of producing “a satisfactory Record commercially suitable for release to the public.” Those latter words echo the second requirement of the definition of “album” . The combined effect of that definition, the definition of “Minimum Commitment” , and clause 2(B) proviso (ii) is that the Artists are obliged to render sufficient performances to make obligatory and overcall records which are commercially suitable for release to the public. Clause 4(A), in the case of a repeat, equates a “satisfactory” record with one which is commercially suitable for release to the public. If that is expressly so in the case of a repeat, it must just as much be impliedly so in the case of an initial performance.

Although it is by no means an ideal state of affairs that some of the Artists' primary obligations under the agreement should have to be extracted in part from definitions and in part by implication, I have come to a clear view that on the construction of the agreement as a whole the expression “satisfactory completion of the recording” means completion to such a standard as will produce a record commercially suitable for release to the public. Whatever might have been said about “satisfactory completion” had it stood alone, the test of commercial suitability for release to. the public is one which is objective in the fullest sense – that is to say objective not only in standard but also in not being referable to the views of any particular party or parties. There can be no doubt that on that footing the satisfactory completion of the recording occurred on or before 28th February 1988 and that the three month period started on that date.

I should add that Mr Justice Morritt did not refer either to the definition of “album” or to clause 4(A). Although we have been told that those provisions were referred to in argument and that some reliance was placed on clause 4(A) on the defendants' side, it is I think clear that the significance which they have assumed in this court was not urged upon the learned judge.

Such being the position under the main agreement, what was the effect of the letter agreement of 13th December 1985 which, so far as material, was expressed to extend the second option period until “3 (three) months after the completion of recording to our reasonable satisfaction of the First Overcall Album” ? His primary submission having been rejected, Mr Englehart now submits that the effect of the letter agreement was to alter the pre-existing position and to make the actual satisfaction of the Company a pre-requisite for the running of the three month period,so that it did not start until the Company was satisfied on 25th March 1988. He emphasises that the Artists were protected by the necessity for the satisfaction to be reasonable, thus retaining the objectivity of the standard.

Although we have heard much argument on the point, it is really one of impression. For my part, while I can accept that the different wording expressed the Company's understanding of the effect of the main agreement (it had already been expressed in much the same terms in an earlier amendment agreement of 23rd March 1982 to which Lord Justice Mustill drew attention in argument), I cannot accept that it was the mutual intention, of the parties to alter the effect of the main agreement whatever it might be. As Mr Desch, for the defendants, has said, it was perfectly natural for the letter to concentrate on the concept of satisfactory completion in a manner which was unnecessary in the agreement.itself. But it is quite another thing to say that the parties intended to alter the pre-existing position in an important respect, as it were by a side wind and without spelling out their intention with greater clarity.

That is really enough to dispose of this appeal in favour of the defendants, but two further points must be mentioned. First, the question which took up the greatest part of the general argument both here and, I think, below was whether the completion of the recording or the satisfaction of the Company was the more suitable point of time for the three month period to begin. The Company contends that it would not necessarily know when a particular recording had been completed. The defendants contend that they would not necessarily know when the Company was satisfied with it and, moreover, that the Company could delay its being satisfied almost indefinitely.

I do not propose to go into the various arguments and counter arguments on this and the other related points which were discussed. Viewing the matter in the round, I think that on the terms of the agreement as a whole the defendants' contention is to be preferred. Clause 2(B) gives the Company, first, the sole right reasonably to require the Artists to attend at reasonably convenient places and times in order to render the necessary performances, and, secondly, an equal right with the Artists to approve the nature and content of such performances. In practice therefore the contractual position was that the Company had a large say in the nature and content of the performances and could control where and when they took place. Reliance to the same effect can also be placed on the terms of clause 4(B). In practice therefore the Company could, if it wanted to, operate a system whereby it would in practice know when a particular recording was complete.

It is perfectly true that in the present case the Company was content to allow the defendants to do everything on their own. But that cannot affect the true construction of the agreement. Moreover, I think that there is much to be said for the view that, in a case where the Artists are left to do everything on their own, the recording is not in fact completed until the cassette has been delivered to the Company. Before that event has occurred everything remains under the control of the Artists and some further variation can, if they wish, still be made. It is the delivery of the cassette which signifies the completion of their part in the proceedings, namely the recording.

Secondly, in support of the defendants' appeal to this court, Mr Desch has relied on an authority which was not cited below. That is the unreported decision of another division of this court (Sir John Donaldson M.R., Lord Justice Nicholls and Mr Justice Caulfield) given on 9th December 1987 in The Queen -v- Westminster City Council, Ex parte Hazan . That was a case whose outcome depended on the true construction of the definition of “certified date” for the purposes of the repairs grants provisions of the Housing Act. At the material time the definition was contained in the now repealed section 75(6) of the Housing Act 1974 , but there is a definition to the same effect in section 499 of the Housing Act 1985 .

Section 75(6) of the 1974 Act was in these terms:

“In this Part of this Act ‘the certified date’ , in relation to a dwelling in respect of which an application for a grant has been approved, means the date certified by the local authority by whom the application was approved as the date on which the dwelling first becomes fit for occupation after the completion of the relevant works to the. satisfaction of the local authority.”

It will be observed that the words “after the completion of the relevant works to the satisfaction of the local authority” are for practical purposes identical to the words in the letter agreement of 13th December 1985. Even with that wording it was held that the relevant event was the completion of the works and not the later satisfaction of the local authority.

Mr Englehart has submitted, correctly, that that case was decided not on a commercial contract but on a statute – moreover on a statute dealing with an entirely different subject-matter. He has elaborated that submission with a number of grounds of distinction in which I see great force. However, taking the view, as I have, that the letter agreement did not alter the position under the main agreement, it is unnecessary to express a view as to what effect the decision in Ex parte Hazan would have had in this case had the actual wording of the letter agreement been decisive.

I would allow this appeal.


I agree.


I also agree.

MR DESCH: My Lords, then I ask for an order that the appeal be allowed, and may I ask your Lordships to order that the plaintiffs pay the defendants' costs here and below?

LORD JUSTICE O'CONNOR: You cannot resist that?

MR ENGLEHART: Clearly that must follow, my Lord. I do have an application to ask your Lordships for leave to appeal.

LORD JUSTICE O'CONNOR: No. You must go to their Lordships, Mr Englehart.


Mr Desch, having allowed the appeal, I think we dismiss the action, do we not?


LORD JUSTICE NOURSE: That is what is asked for in the notice of appeal.

MR DESCH: My Lord, yes.

LORD JUSTICE NOURSE: You do not want, as it were, a rival declaration to that which Mr Justice Morritt gave the Company?

MR DESCH: No, my Lord. Thank you very much.


So be it. The appeal will be allowed with costs; leave to appeal refused, and the result of that is that the action will stand dismissed with costs.

MR DESCH: I am obliged, my Lord. Costs here and below?

LORD JUSTICE O'CONNOR: Here and below, yes.

Order: Appeal allowed with costs here and below; leave to appeal to the House of Lords refused.



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