Mark Hollis

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Mark Hollis
Hollis in 1988
Hollis in 1988
Background information
Birth nameMark David Hollis
Born(1955-01-04)4 January 1955
Tottenham, London, England[1]
DiedFebruary 2019(2019-02-00) (aged 64)[a]
  • Musician
  • singer-songwriter
Years active
  • 1977–91
  • 1998
  • 2001
  • 2012
Formerly ofTalk Talk

Mark David Hollis (4 January 1955 – February 2019)[a] was an English musician and singer-songwriter. He achieved commercial success and critical acclaim in the 1980s and 1990s as the co-founder, lead singer and principal songwriter of the band Talk Talk. Hollis wrote or co-wrote most of Talk Talk's music—including hits like "It's My Life" and "Life's What You Make It"—and in later works developed an experimental, contemplative style.

Beginning in 1981 as a synth-pop group with a New Romantic image, Talk Talk's sound became increasingly adventurous under Hollis's direction. For their third album, The Colour of Spring (1986), Talk Talk adopted an art pop sound that won critical and commercial favour; it remains their biggest commercial success. The band's final two albums, Spirit of Eden (1988) and Laughing Stock (1991), were radical departures from their early work, taking influence from jazz, folk, classical and experimental music. While they were commercial failures in their own time, these albums were retrospectively highly critically acclaimed and have come to be seen as early landmarks of post-rock music.

After Talk Talk disbanded in 1991, Hollis returned to music in 1998 with his only solo album, which continued the direction of Talk Talk's sound but in a more minimal, sparse, acoustic style. Following the release of the album, Hollis largely retired from the recording industry. He died, aged 64, in February 2019.[6]


Early life (1955–1977)[edit]

Hollis was born on 4 January 1955 in Tottenham, London.[1] He had two brothers, one elder and one younger.[7] Little is known about his early life as Hollis was a reluctant interviewee throughout his career.[8] His family moved from London to Rayleigh, Essex in 1962 and Hollis started at Rayleigh's Sweyne Grammar School (now The Sweyne Park School) in 1966.[9] He left Sweyne after completing his O-levels in 1971 and dropped out of college without completing his A-levels blaming the "complete lack of rules" there.[10] After studying part time whilst working in an industrial laboratory, he accepted a place at University of Sussex in 1975 to study child psychology but dropped out in 1976 to pursue music.[11] He worked at what he later described as a "succession of horrible jobs" whilst he began to write songs. Reflecting on this period in his life, he later said, "I could never wait to get home and start writing songs and lyrics. All day long I'd be jotting ideas down on bits of paper and just waiting for the moment when I could put it all down on tape."[12][13]

The Reaction (1977–1979)[edit]

Mark's older brother, Ed, mentored him and introduced him to the music industry. Ed was a disc jockey, producer and manager of several bands, including the pub-rock group Eddie and the Hot Rods.[14][15] With Ed's encouragement and assistance, Mark formed his first band, The Reaction. Emerging in the post-punk era, the Reaction's sound reflected Hollis's interest in early garage rock as found on the 1972 compilation Nuggets.[16] In a later interview, Hollis said, "Up until punk there's no way I could have imagined I could get a record deal because I didn't think I could play, but punk said, 'If you think you can play you can play.'"[17]

In 1977, The Reaction recorded a demo for Island Records. A song from the demo, "Talk Talk Talk Talk", was included on the punk compilation Streets, released by fledgling label Beggars Banquet.[14][18] Written by Hollis, "Talk Talk Talk Talk" is an early version of Talk Talk's 1982 second single, "Talk Talk".[18] George Gimarc noted the Reaction's rendition of the song is about twice as fast and has "a completely different feel" than the 1982 version.[19] Island released the Reaction's only single, "I Can't Resist", in 1978. The Reaction disbanded the following year.[20]

Hollis's musical taste was owed greatly to Ed.[21] He introduced Mark to a wide range of music from garage rock to modal jazz, particularly Miles Davis's collaborations with arranger Gil Evans on Porgy and Bess (1959) and Sketches of Spain (1960). Hollis later said Davis and Evans's work together "has space, tight arrangement and technique but it also has movement within it" and said those two albums "were extremely important albums to me then and they still are, because the values they work with are faultless."[17]

Talk Talk[edit]

Hollis was best known for being the lead singer and primary songwriter of the band Talk Talk between 1981 and 1991. He was praised for his "always remarkable voice"[22] and, along with Talk Talk's producer Tim Friese-Greene, took the lead in evolving the band's style from New Romantic into the more experimental and contemplative style that later became known as post-rock.[6] Hollis has been credited with saying: "Before you play two notes, learn how to play one note. And don't play one note unless you've got a reason to play it."[23] He also commented: "The silence is above everything, and I would rather hear one note than I would two, and I would rather hear silence than I would one note."[24] In 1982, he cited his greatest influences as Burt Bacharach and William Burroughs.[25]

Solo work and retirement[edit]

Talk Talk disbanded in 1991. In 1998, Hollis released a self-titled solo debut album, Mark Hollis.[26] In an interview at the time, he said: "To me the ultimate ambition is to make music that doesn't have a use by date, that goes beyond your own time."[27] He also said: "Technique has never been an important thing to me. Feeling always has been, and always will be, above technique."[28]

According to a 2008 article in The Guardian, he then largely retired from making music. He stated about his decision to retire from performing, "I choose for my family. Maybe others are capable of doing it, but I can't go on tour and be a good dad at the same time."[27] Despite Hollis' absence from the public eye, he continued to be mentioned in the music press as an example of an artist who refused to sacrifice his artistic ambition for commercial success, as a yardstick for current artists and one of the most important musicians of his generation.[29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36] His withdrawal from the public continued to fascinate music critics.[37][38] By the time his solo album was released, Hollis had moved back from the countryside to London in order to provide his two sons with a more cosmopolitan environment.[39]

In 2004, Hollis resurfaced briefly to receive a Broadcast Music Inc. Award for having written "It's My Life".[40] In 2012, a piece of specially commissioned music by Hollis titled "ARB Section 1", was used in the television series Boss.[41]


Hollis performed the solo track "Piano" on the 1998 minimalist album AV 1, by Phill Brown and Dave Allinson, under the pseudonym John Cope. This was later included on the 2001 Talk Talk compilation album Missing Pieces.[42] He played piano on and co-wrote the track "Chaos" on the 1998 trip hop album Psyence Fiction by Unkle, later asking for his name to be removed from the album credits.[43] He also co-produced and arranged two tracks ("The Gown" and "Big Mouth") on Anja Garbarek's 2001 album Smiling & Waving,[44] as well as playing bass guitar, piano and melodica.[37][45]

Personal life[edit]

From 1998 until 2017, Hollis lived in Wimbledon, London with his wife Flick (a teacher) and their two sons, before moving to Heathfield, East Sussex where he lived until his death.[46] Hollis' desire to spend more time with his family was a major reason that Talk Talk stopped touring after 1986,[47] and his reason for retiring from the music industry in 1998.[48][49]


Hollis died from cancer[50] in February 2019,[a] aged 64.[6] Initial reports of his death included a tweet from his cousin-in-law, the paediatrician Anthony Costello,[51] and a tribute by Talk Talk's bassist Paul Webb,[6] before his former manager, Keith Aspden, confirmed Hollis's death to the media on 26 February.[48]


Solo album[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Hollis's date of death was reported as 18 February[2][3] and 25 February 2019.[4] His death was announced as early as 24 February 2019.[5]


  1. ^ a b Marsh, Roberts & Benjamin 2015, p. 31.
  2. ^ Zabel, Sebastian (26 February 2019). "Zum Tod von Mark Hollis: Der Mann, der keine Vorbilder brauchte" [To the death of Mark Hollis: The man who did not need role models]. Rolling Stone (in German).
  3. ^ "Anzeige von Mark Hollis" [Obituary of Mark Hollis]. Süddeutsche Zeitung (in German).
  4. ^ Beaumont, Mark (26 February 2019). "Talk Talk's Mark Hollis: 2019 is full of the notes he isn't playing". NME. Retrieved 1 March 2019.
  5. ^ Jordan (24 February 2019). "Ah mate, just heard that Mark Hollis passed away today. Talk Talk were a proper 80's band, horrible news. RIP". Twitter. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d "Mark Hollis, lead singer of Talk Talk, dies at age 64". The Guardian. 25 February 2019. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  7. ^ Wardle 2022, p. 17.
  8. ^ Marsh, Roberts & Benjamin 2015, p. 25.
  9. ^ Wardle 2022, pp. 18–20.
  10. ^ Wardle 2022, p. 28.
  11. ^ Wardle 2022, pp. 33–34.
  12. ^ Wardle 2022, p. 37.
  13. ^ "Talk Talk". Kim magazine. 22 January 1983. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  14. ^ a b Ankeny 2002, p. 534.
  15. ^ Perrone, Pierre (8 October 2012). "After all this time, it's still good to Talk Talk". The Independent. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  16. ^ Marsh, Roberts & Benjamin 2015, p. 24.
  17. ^ a b Irvin 1998.
  18. ^ a b Gimarc 2005, p. 101.
  19. ^ Gimarc 2005, p. 102.
  20. ^ Gimarc 2005, p. 145.
  21. ^ Wardle 2022, p. 19.
  22. ^ Gilbert, Ruth (23 January 1989). "Hotline: Music (Spirit of Eden)". New York. Retrieved 27 June 2009.
  23. ^ Jason Morehead, Review of Mark Hollis, 28 January 2006. Retrieved 26 February 2019
  24. ^ Wyndham Wallace, "After The Flood: Talk Talk's Laughing Stock 20-Years On ", The Quietus, 26 February 2019. Retrieved 27 February 2019
  25. ^ Mark Savage, "Obituary: Talk Talk's Mark Hollis", BBC News, 26 February 2019. Retrieved 26 February 2019
  26. ^ "A record that floors me each time." Parkes, Jason A. (12 May 2007). "Rev. of Mark Hollis, Mark Hollis". Julian Cope Presents Head Heritage. Retrieved 27 June 2009.
  27. ^ a b "Interview :: paul's talk talk pages – Fansite dedicated to Talk Talk". 9 October 2009. Archived from the original on 9 October 2009. Retrieved 24 July 2014.
  28. ^ Wyndham Wallace, "Living In Another World: Remembering Mark Hollis", The Quietus, 26 February 2019. Retrieved 26 February 2019
  29. ^ Aizlewood, John (18 November 2002). "Why Ashcroft is missing Verve". Evening Standard.
  30. ^ Schmickl, Gerald (14 December 2001). "Rev. of Talk Talk, Missing Pieces". Wiener Zeitung. Retrieved 27 June 2009.
  31. ^ Lees, Alasdair (19 September 2008). "Shearwater, Bush Hall, London". The Independent. Retrieved 27 June 2009.
  32. ^ Petridis, Alexis (26 February 2019). "Mark Hollis: reluctant pop star who redefined rock". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  33. ^ Thomson, Graeme (26 February 2019). "A sacred voice: Mark Hollis sang the English gospel". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  34. ^ "Celebrating The Genius Of Mark Hollis In 15 Songs". Stereogum. 26 February 2019. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  35. ^ Baines, Josh (2 February 2018). "How to Disappear Completely: When Musicians Retire For Good". Vice. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  36. ^ "Mark Hollis: The sound of silence". 26 February 2019. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  37. ^ a b McGee, Alan (9 April 2008). "Wherefore art thou Mark Hollis?". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  38. ^ Masi, Bruno (18 March 2006). "Retour sur la planète Merz". Libération. Retrieved 27 June 2009.
  39. ^ In't Veld, Holger; Stefan Weber (trans.). "Mark Hollis Interview: The path over the burnt bridge". Subadio. Archived from the original on 27 April 2016. Retrieved 25 September 2013.
  40. ^ "'It's My Life' Writer Receives London Award | News". 19 October 2004. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  41. ^ Talk Talk's Mark Hollis Resurfaces With New Music for the Kelsey Grammer TV Show "Boss",, Retrieved 1 September 2012.
  42. ^ "Such a shame: The Within Without interview with Mark Hollis, September 1998 ..." Within Without. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  43. ^ "UNKLE: The Appliance of Psyence", NME (republished by Mo'Wax Please), 29 August 1998
  44. ^ Thom Jurek, "Smiling & Waving - Anja Garbarek", Retrieved 26 February 2019
  45. ^ "Smiling & Waving Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  46. ^ Wardle 2022, p. 6.
  47. ^ Marsh, Roberts & Benjamin 2015, p. 73.
  48. ^ a b Savage, Mark (26 February 2019). "Mark Hollis, Talk Talk star, dies at 64". BBC News.
  49. ^ "Interview :: paul's talk talk pages - Fansite dedicated to Talk Talk". 9 October 2009. Archived from the original on 9 October 2009.
  50. ^ Wardle 2022, p. 328.
  51. ^ Aubrey, Elizabeth (25 February 2019). "Talk Talk's Mark Hollis has reportedly died, aged 64". NME. Archived from the original on 25 February 2019. Retrieved 25 February 2019.


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