Most of the time, I can’t remember where or when I first heard an artist, regardless of how important they later become to me. There are a few exceptions, and Talk Talk are one of them. It was not an auspicious occasion. The night before my first encounter with them, I was out at my friend Simon’s then-girlfriend’s birthday drinks (I didn’t drink much there), and from there I went to another friend’s flat where I stayed until the wee small hours. This was about twelve or thirteen years ago. I had bought a bottle of Lidl own-brand vodka (at his bidding, I must add) which we polished off over the course of about three hours, mixed with supermarket brand orangeade.
The next day was not fun. Simon was coming over to visit me at my parents’ house (I still lived at home then) mid-afternoon and I managed to get myself out of bed about half an hour before he was due to arrive. I nearly renounced atheism when he texted me to say he was running late. I think I threw up about ten minutes before he turned up. So he was beckoned by my mum into my shamefully cluttered bedroom, and I lay on the bed, trying to entertain while feeling distinctly green.
We did what we’ve done ever since, albeit with less and less frequency; playing each other music, listening intensely to some songs, disappearing into conversational tangents over others. One of the things he played me was a song from Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden. If I remember correctly, it was the first track, ‘The Rainbow’, as he couldn’t choose between the songs. I wasn’t expecting anything at all, really, as I knew next-to-nothing about the band. We did not speak over the song. I can’t remember anything else he played that day. If it weren’t for Talk Talk, I’m doubtful that I’d remember any of the day or the preceding evening at all.
It didn’t take long to pick up a copy of Spirit of Eden of my own, and after the first full listen to the album, some part of me belonged to it forever. Alongside Laughing Stock and Mark Hollis’ self-titled solo album, that record was, is, the apotheosis of what popular music, rock, whatever you want to call it, can be. Those albums are emotionally potent, utterly bizarre, somehow dense and minimal, endlessly re-playable, endlessly mysterious.
Hearing yesterday evening that Mark Hollis had died caught me off-guard. I had never quite given up hope that he’d make another record, but it wasn’t that that made me find myself far more affected than I ever could have anticipated. It made me think about a former bandmate’s own story of hearing Talk Talk for the first time, taking acid down the park one night with a friend who played him Laughing Stock on cassette (beforehand he had thought they were still a sub-Duran rip-off group, and was an ardent convert after). It made me think of listening to Spirit of Eden while lying on the bed with the love of my life in her tiny attic room, six-and-a-half years ago, mere weeks after we first got together. And of doing the same thing in our own flat a couple of Sundays ago, our adored cats curled up next to us. I realised just how much Mark Hollis and Talk Talk’s music had meant and still means to me. And once again, I remembered the quiet magic of a friend passing on something amazing to you, the way that you carry music around inside you through life, and of just how precious that is.
Mark David Hollis, 4 January 1955 – 25 February 2019
Andrew R. Hill