Talk Talk (Mark Hollis centre)

Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis dies, aged 64

Mark Hollis, singer-songwriter and frontman of Talk Talk, has died at the age of 64 following a short illness, his former manager Keith Aspden confirmed today.

Born in Tottenham, Hollis followed his brother, Eddie and the Hot Rods’ manager Ed Hollis, into the world of music by forming The Reaction in 1977. They released one single, I Can’t Resist in 1978, but another of their songs Talk Talk Talk Talk would be retooled to provide his next band with a name as well as its first single. Signing to EMI in 1981, Talk Talk made inroads into the chart with second single Today and a reissue of Talk Talk in 1982, but despite the new wave influences in their early sound, EMI’s hope that they had signed another Duran Duran was soon dashed. A string of increasingly mature singles including Such a Shame, My Foolish Friend and Dum Dum Girl all failed to reach the top forty; even It’s My Life, now one of the band’s most instantly recognisable tracks, only made it to number 46 in 1984.

Abandoning synthpop, Talk Talk embraced a more organic sound on their third album The Colour of Spring which finally returned them to the top twenty with the single Life’s What You Make It. Hollis and keyboardist/producer Tim Friese-Greene spent a year assembling the next Talk Talk album Spirit of Eden from hours of improvised recordings; the resulting record, with its jazz, classical and ambient leanings, was a critical success but, predictably, not a commercial one. Amid legal wrangles, a disgruntled EMI released a best-of album Natural History in 1990, at which time the reissued It’s My Life reached #13, becoming the band’s highest charting single.

Emboldened by the success of the compilation and accompanying singles (a reissue of Life’s What You Make It also reached the top thirty), EMI released a remix album History Revisited. The band sued, but had moved on to celebrated jazz label Verve where they released what would be their final album, the minimalist Laughing Stock. Despite its top thirty success Hollis withdrew from music after the album’s release, resurfacing only once to release an eponymous solo album in 1998.

Despite their relatively small recorded catalogue and limited commercial success, Hollis and Talk Talk continue to be cited as an influence on acts from Tears For Fears and Elbow to Marillion and Porcupine Tree, while It’s My Life enjoyed another spell in the top twenty when covered by No Doubt in 2003. Although he retired from music two decades ago, Hollis’s death robs us of another great talent that pop music just couldn’t contain.