Richard Skinner Interview with Mark Hollis on “Spirit of Eden”, October 1988 (full transcript)

Interview 88

We shall get to a more in-depth proper blog on this in the future, but for now, as requested by some fans, here is a full written transcript of the 1988 BBC1 Richard Skinner interview with Mark Hollis discussing the then just released Talk Talk album “Spirit of Eden”.

Also, included here are audio of the full album and the actual audio recording of the interview.  Why not listen to the album whilst reading the interview, or, listen to the audio interview and then listen to the album in light of what Mark has said about it.

Enjoy.

(PS – I absolutely love the ending of this interview – he’s so refreshingly honest & disarmingly self-deprecating!!).

 

* * *

Richard Skinner

* * *

* * *

October 1998 Interview to promote “Spirit of Eden” with Richard Skinner, BBC1

RS – Richard Skinner

MH – Mark Hollis

The tape cuts in here with Richard Skinner “….to Mark Hollis the lead singer of Talk Talk” …

RS: “Our guest today is Mark Hollis of Talk Talk, and I guess first of all we have to say, the new album has been a long time coming”.

MH: “Sure”.

RS: “Exactly how long did it take to record?”

MH: “About 14 months I think something like that.  Just really because of the principle of recording it which there were sort of two main ethics with this album.  One was sort of to still work in terms of this sort of, you know, Gil Evans approach to construction but the other thing was that the most important aspect of this record should be its attitude.  And you know, music at its best I think is music when it first emerges and music when it is at its most spontaneous.  So why it took so long was because apart from like a basic guideline to this record virtually everything that is played within it is actually spontaneously played and then later assembled, so that it meant for example you know, you might be working with someone say for ten hours and get sort of ten seconds of music from them.  But it was the only approach I could see that would actually give us an end result of this type.”

RS: “it actually opens with a trumpet note which is perhaps reminiscent of Miles Davis (at the same time MH: “Miles Davis”), which is a …”

MH: “Miles Davis, absolutely, yeah, definitely.”

RS: “Is this one of many references that we could find if we were to reflect?”

MH: “Yeah I would say it is, I would definitely say that.  I mean there are a lot of references within this album to different things.  And sure, that “Sketches of Spain” is definitely one important thing.

RS:“ You’ve described your music actually as a reaction against what’s going on in other people’s music at the moment.  What is wrong, do you think, with other people’s music today?.”

MH: “Well I, all it is, as a generalisation, I think the trend is far too much towards singles, and far too much towards the sort of technicality of music, rather than the actual spirit of music, you know, like I say, the most important thing of this album above everything to me, is just that is has feeling within it.  It’s sort of like you know, maybe like say the first thing that I ever learned when I started making records was that if you went in and you made a demo of a song it would inevitably be better than the finished recording regardless of the cost.  So, all this album really is about, is just trying to catch these moments from people as they first emerge, rather than them being sort of dictated parts.”

RS: “It must have been a nightmare having to assemble it afterwards then.”

MH: “Yeah.  Well, I mean, the assembling just went you know, as you were working each day, but at times it was a nightmare listening to, you know, vast amounts of someone playing and then sort of giving it the red button, you know. Yeah”

RS: ”Yes, because judgements can change.  The perfect take for today, can be the one that you’d throw away tomorrow, sometimes.”

MH: “Well I mean you see, in terms of the take, you see, the only way that a sort of take situation occurred, was just in the very basic laying down of the track where sort of like, you know, maybe three of us would just put the basis down.  From that point onward, you know, there is no take.  You see, this is the one reason why I don’t think an album, the way this is made, could have existed in an earlier time, because it is only because of the advent of this sort of digital recording technology, that you can get away with the way this album has been constructed, which is just that thing of giving people absolute freedom, being able to take the smallest amount of what they play, but not even necessarily using it where they did play it, you know, putting it elsewhere in the album and then you know, being able to make this very careful construction of arrangement but absolutely everything that is played is fresh and from that person.

You know, it’s sort of like, with this album, I think, what Talk Talk is on this album really, is like a kind of co-operative of musicians, and with the exception of maybe say like four people on this album who have dictated parts, everyone who played on this album, it is as much their album as it is anybody else’s album, because it has come from them, not from, you know, not from me.”

Fiddling with his fingers

RS: “Yeah, we’re talking some 16 musicians, plus the choir of Chelmsford Cathedral.”

MH:” Yes right, but I mean, you know, we had, I mean we must have had like easily 50 musicians in that tried for a place on this album.  But you know, it’s really not a question of technique, this is the really important thing about the attitude of this album, it is just purely like a question of understanding the feel of this album, not a thing of technique at all.  I really do think you could have a 5 year old child could easily have got on this album, providing, you know, he understood it.  This album, you know, is just purely, I really think for people listening to this album, they will understand it or they won’t understand it.  There is no way I can convince anyone to like this album.  I don’t wish to.  I just think you know, you either go with what it is about, or you will never know.”

RS: “In America, they tend to group you in this awful tag of New Age, or ambient music.  What’s your thought on that?”

MH: ”Right, right”. “The thing of like ambient music, I don’t know what it is, but in terms of its definition, I mean, ambience is something that I love very much.  The whole way that, you know, that this album has been recorded, is with a regard to natural ambience that’s sort of virtually everything would be miked at the distance to allow you the amount of echo you want rather than adding it you know, from a desk.  So that sort of organic thing is a very important aspect of what this album is.”

RS: “We’re talking to Mark Hollis of the band.  Who plays the blues harp?”

MH: “Oh, Mark Feltham.  Mark Feltham, the same person that played on our last album.  A great player.  You know, again, there are so few people that I come across with who really absolutely have a feeling for music and he really does, you know.”

RS: ”There’s a real sort of contradiction in sound between that church piano, the organ sounds, and then there’s the harp, and the guitar, the heavy guitar. You trying to shock us here?”

MH: “Sure”. “Well, I just think, you know, I’ve always liked the idea that things that oppose each other can co-exist, that’s all it is”.

RS: “Um, it’ll shock your listeners.  Do you know who your listeners are? Do you have an idea?”

MH: “No I don’t.  I would think you know, there is a core of people who have stayed with us throughout our career, if you like.  And I would think you know, because of the way our albums change, other people have sort of come and gone.”

RS: “Yeah changed dramatically too, over the 6 years.

MH: “Yeah, I would think so. Yeah.  I mean I just think that is the most important aspect to making a record, I think unless it actually shows some form of development or change, I cannot understand the reason for making a record otherwise.”

RS: “Mm, so why did you choose the Eden concept? What is the “Spirit of Eden”? What was that about?”

MH: “Well all “Spirit of Eden” means to me, is it means two things within that same title.  It means what is created and then, what has been destroyed.  That’s all it means. Again it is this thing of two opposites co-existing.  That’s why I like the title”.

RS: “Is it then an allegory, the whole thing, perhaps for our times?  I don’t want to get too serious about it.”

MH: ”Yeah”. “Maybe it is yeah, maybe.  Yeah, I mean lyrics and things aren’t something I sort of really like to talk about, you know.  These aren’t sort of you know.  These do mean a lot to me these lyrics and I don’t think they are sort of too inaccessible as long as you spend a lot of time with them, you know, I think if you do actually spend enough time with them, they will become very apparent as to what they mean.  But, I just sort of think, in the same way with the musical side of the album, it’s something that should unfold itself over a period of time.  I think the same should be true with the lyrics, so I’d be loathe to …”

Talking

RS: “Alright, rather than talk about the lyrics then, what do you think about the way we are nowadays. I mean modern society we seem to be grabbing more and more, while at the same time, losing more basic values perhaps.”

MH: “Yes” “Yeah. Yeah. Maybe.  Maybe.  I mean my biggest worry is just sort of where communities become lost, that’s my biggest worry.”

RS: “You mean in inner cities, or in countries, or what?”

MH: “I just mean you know, as people sort of get more insular from each other, that’s my biggest worry. You know, and also, in terms of things like the radio and in things of like television, to a large extent there’s a tendency to treat them as a background noise and just let them go on regardless of whether there’s something that you actually pay attention to.  I think silence is an extremely important thing, and I think you know, it isn’t something that should be abused, and that’s my biggest worry, is because of with the whole sort of way communications have developed and everything that there is a tendency just to sort of, allow this, allow this sort of, you know, this background noise all the time rather than actually just thinking about what is important.”

RS: “That’s fair. Very fair.  I’ve been listening to it, on a CD, this album.  It seems to me that you’ve actually made it with the compact disc in mind.”

MH:  “Right.” “Yeah, absolutely.  Absolutely.  I mean this album does…  You know, I would never make something for, you know, I would never sort of put more tracks on a compact disc than I would on an album, because I hate the idea that what you’re doing is you’re sort of working to like an elitist market and you’re saying you know because you can afford a compact disc player then I will give you more of our repertoire than if you can’t.  But, the, you know, this is made with absolute extremes of dynamic and it is just a fact that the compact disc can handle that better than an album can, or a tape can.”

RS: “The dynamic range is very wide, I turned it on, pretty loud, I didn’t realise, didn’t  know the opening section with the wildlife noises, the music came and I was nearly out the door.  It blasted me out.  Did you use any special recording techniques to ensure the high quality of the sound.  I mean digital you’ve mentioned already.”

MH: “Yeah that’s right. Sure, yeah sure. Yeah, that’s right.” “Yeah sure, and like I say, the other thing is just with using ambience and the fact that you know, to me you see it’s that technically the sounds aren’t important, what is important is just the actual feeling in the sound.  So the sound doesn’t have to be this enormous thing, it is just the feeling that’s important.  And then, it was just a question of working with an engineer who actually had a really good understanding of recording.   I mean you know, the bloke that we’ve used on this album, Phill Brown, I mean where his career actually dates from is like Electric Ladyland, you know, we’ve had someone who’s been sort of like you know in engineering twenty years now.  So, he’s worked with such an array of things, has such a good understanding, you know that was an important, an important aspect when we went in to make this album.”

RS: “So once again, it’s all very natural.  You’re not getting into a contrived deal you know.”

MH: “Absolutely, absolutely. You see the most important thing to know at the point when went in to make this album was just the attitude that the album should have.  That what the album would end up sounding like, there was no way of knowing that.  But it was an important thing because as long as everything was recorded with the correct feel you could never go wrong.”

Smirks

RS: ”Thinking of the music for a second, there are a series of these slow build ups, using drums and bass and guitar.  You always sort of leave tension though, don’t you, as it happens.  And then it sort of resolves and disappears.  Now was this a deliberate idea that you decided to repeat through the album, or did it happen by accident.”

MH: “Yeah sure, sure.” “Yeah”. “Yeah absolutely.” “Well I mean all of this thing, it’s like the construction of this first side, it’s like you know, there are so many sort of areas of music that you know, not only myself but Friese-Green like, that work in a longer format than just sort of like 5 minutes.  I mean so much of that sort of Impressionist period of music, I think is very important upon the way that this album works.  And that was why it was important to make this first side over that length so that, you know, the dynamic could be something that was arrived at very leisurely and very carefully, and the moments of silence could sort of really, you know, spill out.”

RS: “Mark, you’ve used all real instruments on this album.  In the past I know you’ve used computer enhanced type instruments, synthesisers, why the change?”

MH: ”Yeah, absolutely”. “Sure, sure”. “Well, in the past that was just purely a thing of economic necessity.  I mean at the time of “It’s my Life”, you know, the textural approach to the album was still there, but it was just purely an economic thing.  There was no way we could afford to do it any other way.  I mean, with this album, you know, like I say, it’s sort of you know.  It’s what we find ourselves being able to do now.”

RS: “And it wasn’t cheap”.

MH: ”No, no. No, I think it cost more than thirty quid. Yeah.”

RS: “I think it did too!  Who would you say are your musical heroes?  Maybe ones who are, in a sense, represented in this work.”

MH: “Well my three main areas of music that I’d think are most important to this you know, I would say is definitely that late 50’s early 60s Jazz scene, the early 50’s Blues scene and then the turn of the century Impressionist stuff.  I would say absolutely that would cover the main elements of this album.”

RS: “Been listening to the words, or trying to listen to the words.  You seem when the band is really kind of going hell for leather you almost lose the record. Almost.”

MH: “Yeah, sure, sure. Well I mean you know, they should just be a part of you know, the sort of scenario as much everything else.  I don’t sort of think of writing these things that everything is subservient to a vocal.  I think you know, in order to, well certainly in terms of the way we’ve wanted this album to sound, it’s really important the positioning of where this vocal sits and the minute it becomes too loud it just assumes you know an overriding importance that is shouldn’t take.”

RS:”I think one thing that happens with the way you’ve mixed the vocals, they almost add to the dark side to the album, you know, that sort of mood.”

MH: ”Yeah, Sure, sure. Yeah, yeah, I would say that.”

RS: “Does the way the music has been mixed, in terms of having these violent contrasts in style and volume, is this all part of the message do you think?”

MH: “Right. Sure.”  “Well I just think it’s part of the way a record should be put together, that’s all I think it is, you know.”

RS: “That’s a very simple answer to a complicated question!  Here’s ‘Inheritance.’”

MH: “Yes, mainly ‘cos I didn’t understand the question.”

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Sweet as Candy & a Walk Bacharach in Time

1982 womans shop

“Candy when I tried to turn away
To feel new again
My emotion cost me pain”

“Candy” is the final song on the tracklist of Talk Talk’s debut album, “The Party’s Over” and despite the internets best efforts to accredit the song to Burt Bacharach (more of which later), it was in fact written by Mark Hollis, lock, stock and shooting match.  Originally demoed in June 1981, it was initially produced by Jimmy Miller and published by Island Music (one of a batch which were originally put together to secure a publishing deal).

The Talk Talk Demos

Mark ” he (Mark’s brother Ed) took some tapes I’d done to Island Music, looking towards a publishing deal, and that’s when he got Lee and Paul to come in and work with me. Simon came in by another means, and in that first week of rehearsing and demoing we actually started writing stuff together as a band.”

Here is a copy of the Demo track laid down in ’81.

“And I hope that I’ve kept you amused
To wipe that spit right off my boots”

“Ah yes, (this week’s) Next Big Thing. Wimpy synthesizers music with suitably ‘emotional’ (ie whingeing) writhing listlessly atop it. EMI would find it easier, methinks, to set the world alight with a damp boX of Swan Vestas”(Unaccredited, Record Mirror, ’82)

I think it’s interesting to read the above comment from the RM in 82 and compare it with some retrospective commentary by David Stubbs for “Uncut” in 2000:-

“… EMI signed them up and divined in their smart, smooth poptones the ideal undercard to Duran Duran, then the leading lights of New Romantic. With the release of an eponymous single, a shiny, synth-pop replication of the Duran sound, few imagined that this lot would be around for long, pre-destined to be ‘80s, one-off curios a la Living In A Box.

Yet few reckoned with Hollis’ revulsion with the trappings of pop and his undeflected search for a “purity” in the practice and making of music. This last quality would ensure that Talk Talk outlasted the Durannies, Toyahs, Kajagoogoos and similar flossy pop flunkies. By the mid-‘80s; they’d amassed a solid international following, outranking the likes of Spandau Ballet on European bills. This, in spite of Hollis’ insistence that no photos of the band appear on their cover sleeves; only illustrations, so as to disconnect “image” from the music.”

The Party's OverInsaide SleeveBack of the Partys' over

The afore-mentioned illustrations were done by James Marsh (earlier art concepts had been attributed to Peter Saville).  It was suggested by the band in January 82 that Saville was already working on the artwork for the cover sleeve: fortuitously though, a friendship between the band’s manager Keith Aspden and Marsh saw him being commissioned, and, such was the success of that collaboration, Marsh retained the commission for the duration of the band’s productive existence.

BBC6

“It’s meriting of an additional if not too further bruising a note, to add that Hollis’s lyrics reflect a general half-heartedness in Talk Talk’s debut debacle. They are just not up to scratch for summer ’82, and I have to close by contradicting the pleasingly crass EMI handout and saying…this ain’t worth much, um, Talk Talk (groan groan)…” (Dave McCullough, Sounds, ’82).

It is interesting to read these words and juxtapose them with the comments Hollis made in answer to being questioned on how seriously he took his lyric-writing:-

Mark “I don’t think of songwriting as pure inspiration, just something that comes to you in a blinding flash. But it isn’t. You might get the germ of an idea like that, but you can sometimes try a hundred different ways of putting it into words and still come up with nothing. “I heard Anthony Burgess talking about his writing recently and he was saying he can spend six hours writing thousands of words and then throw almost all of them away. It’s the same with songwriting. It’s worth it for the stuff you’re left with at the end. The last thing in the world I would want is to be thought of as a disposable group. I want to write stuff that you’ll still be able to listen to in ten years time…still think of as a good song then.”

This is the man who has continuously cited Burt Bacharach and William Burroughs as his lyrical/literary influences.  Again, and again in interviews, Hollis repeatedly reaffirms his admiration for the man who wrote “Anyone who had a heart” “The look of love” and “Only love can break your heart”.  Of all the songs on the Talk Talk debut album, “Candy” is probably the closest in touching off that Bacharach influence.

“Instead of being preoccupied by synths, haircuts and cocaine, he (Hollis) told everyone who listened that his favourite singer was Otis Redding, his favourite songwriter Burt Bacharach and his favourite band Can. Hollis immediately got a reputation as a misery guts, but didn’t care. He was entirely focused on the music.”

Emotive, sad, bitter, strangled.  There is no way forward and no way back; no escape from this emotional entrapment.  He knows he should move on, shed skin, but instead taps into ready made excuses to keep himself attached to the source of this pain.  The vocal of this song is the key to it’s success; the power of Hollis’ inflections and intonations – where he stresses the words that he wants you to pick up on – is fundamental to conveying that depth of pained emotion.  Underpinning this is the subtlety of the music – spacious bass, melancholic keyboard, looping electronic drum & synth, music with gaps (a nod to what was to come down the line).

However, there is a quite surprising shift at 2.30 when we are suddenly thrown a marching drum segment normally not out of place in a piece of prog rock! Credit has to be given to Lee Harris here for spot on percussive interpretation. This unexpected sequence heightens the sense of frustration and strangulation.  There’s almost a sense that the singer has found “his voice” but then, everything slips back into “the dark”.  The song ends with trademark Webb bass and a final percussive flourish.  It may be last in the line up, but it is certainly not least in quality or craftsmanship – both vocally and instrumentally.

WHites

As we have already mentioned, the demo was produced by Jimmy Miller – however, EMI in all their wisdom  brought in stable-mate Duran Duran producer Colin Thurston to produce “The Party’s Over”.  A corporate error of judgement and another Duran connotation.  It didn’t work, and had more negative consequences image-wise for a band as yet uncertain of their own true identity.

Mark “I thought to work with someone that’d been involved in Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ had got to be good” said Mark, “it had great sound, great presence, great vocal, all that – but he tried to lay back our sound. I wanted to combine the clarity of American music with real power, so we got Mike Robinson in to remix it. On the next album we’d like to use either Rhett Davies or Chris Thomas so we can get as close as we can in terms of clarity and quality of vocal but keeping the rhythm section hard and driving. That’s something I think a lot of bands are lacking”.

With Bremner

“Talk Talk’s music is built around stirring, insistent melodies and the sharp songwriting talents of vocalist Mark Hollis. It’s a lush sound, saturated with sweetness and emotion; evocative, ethereal, yet still anchored by a winning pop sensibility” (Jim Reid, Record Mirror, ’82).

In early ’82, it was mooted that “Candy” would potentially be the debut single from the album, but that idea was shelved and the song never released.   Between the two versions, the Demo is perhaps slightly more “emphatic” than the final album version.  That in itself gives weight to Hollis’ constant argument that the first time something is played it is at its finest, and then the minute you try to recreate that, it becomes an imitation of something that was originally better”.  That is not to take away from the album version, which is a lot more sophisticated in it’s production.  But what it has gained in slickness, it has somewhat lost in rawness.  My preference is for the demo version, but you can make your own mind up.  Here is the album version, as usual with those Hollis (not Bacharach as the web would have you believe) lyrics.  Enjoy.

“Candy” – Talk Talk (from the album, “The Party’s Over”, 1982).

This sure is some kind of party
It’s so useful
Surrounds my life with excuses
For what I choose to lose

And my name
Doesn’t look the same to me
And inside
Don’t you know I feel so bad

Candy when I tried to turn away
To feel new again
My emotion cost me pain

Did I look the same
When I think about the times
That I laughed away the idea you’d cheat me?
But look again, what do you say that’s my name

And I hope that I’ve kept you amused
To wipe that spit right off my boots
And when I’m home and thinking in the dark
I hope that none of this has had to go too far

When it gets too late
To see me any other way
And it gets so hard to hold on
To everything that I want so bad

Songwriter

HOLLIS, MARK DAVID

From January to September, in Ghent, with Hockney. Francis MacDonald gets Piano Playful

There is a direct correlation between percussion and piano/celeste: the latter are often used as forms of percussion, or a means of providing a double texture to another instrumental sound, anything ranging from woodwind to strings.

“Music for String Quartet Piano and Celeste” is the creation of Teenage Fanclub drummer, Francis MacDonald: he has laid down the drumsticks to bring the listener on an altogether more celestial musical journey (every pun intended).

FMcd

MacDonald has put together a beautifully melodic, acoustic instrumental album – uncompromising in it’s sincerity, clear in both sound and direction.

The opening track “Playful” gives a light, gentle, almost Summery start to the album; very Michael Nyman with it’s looping piano sequences (a method repeated in  “3 4 5”) which give it a somewhat hypnotic sound.

“20 Sep” is an altogether more melancholic affair.  Dreamy, with some very lovely piano layered over beautifully fragile string segments; it ends with light droplets of piano raining down on the violin; it’s pretty gorgeous.

The show stopper for me is “January Waltz” – it doesn’t require words.  Just listen, in stillness and quiet, giving it full attention, nothing more.

There is something of a Scottish feel about the string arrangements on this album – which comes as no surprise.  It gives the music an almost traditional feel, but in a modern classical context.  It adds to the warmth and depth of the sound, and I think it’s commendable that MacDonald has managed to cleverly incorporate this subtle indigenous timbre, which serves to distinguish the album from it’s contemporaries.

“At a Remove” is a minimalist lament which features some very skilful and honest piano playing: MacDonald has a very light touch on the keys, which gives his pieces a soft, gentle quality.  This piece could easily fit into the dream sequence of a ballet or film: for me, it is evocative of childhood memories, or an innocence of a time gone by.

Where “Playful” is light and airy, “Ghent” is melancholia. Possibly a sad love song, it is emotionally charged, and it’s depth of feeling is underpinned by exquisite musicianship.

One of the most fascinating pieces on the album is the track entitled “Triet for David Hockney”.  A short, lively, almost cheeky play of strings and celeste, it gladdens both heart and ears with it’s spritely enthusiasm.  “Spirited” I think is the word I’d use.

There are eleven tracks in total on this album which was recorded in Glasgow and, which features contributors such as the Cairn String Quartet, and, Craig Swindells & RSNO, amongst others.

“Music for String Quartet Piano and Celeste” is a thoughtfully conceived album.  It is a melodic journey from happy to sad, from light to shade, featuring some very talented musicianship.  It is a wonderful composition, perfectly crafted and elegantly performed.  Exquisite.

The album can be ordered directly from the Francis MacDonald website here –

Follow Francis on Twitter – @FranMacdonald

Or Read up about him on here – about.me/francis_macdon…