I remember it like it was some other yesterday. I’d been to the local record emporium in Borehamwood in October 1988 and handed over a couple of folded notes for a virgin copy of the new release by Talk Talk. Yes, I’d listened to the new wave effervescence of their early output; at the same time I was deeply immersed in synth pop from as far afield as Sheffield and London, as well as Essex. New Romanticism was my raison d’etre at the tender age of 13. Yet Talk Talk were one in a fairly long line of also rans – or so it seemed…
There was something about Mark’s voice that haunted me a little and made me realise. It’s fine to be a little miserable and contemplate your future in relative silence, surrounding yourself with warm synth sounds and a sense of yearning.
It was a moment for me. Dropping the needle onto the black vinyl for the first time, the opening chords, the tantalising promise of ‘The Rainbow’ - first track on Spirit Of Eden. I was a little confused to be truthful. I mean I had a taped version of ‘The Colour of Spring’ which had stuck in my mind on and off for 2 years. This was like a regression and a celebration at the same time – a celebration of the possibilities for music. People have claimed this album spawned post-rock. Fair enough, yet it felt like the dawn of a new age, and the clearest evidence of a band truly discovering their muse, picking it carefully from the shadows, emerging into the half-light and just placing it there, unique and immediately irreplaceable.
That something. The voice. Like a murmur beneath the surface, gradually building, ridiculously impermanent and gloriously vulnerable. I mean, it takes a little while, perhaps 3 minutes to actually be engulfed. ‘Oh yeah, the world’s turned upside down’ – and so mine was. I had discovered the holy grail, what I’d been searching for - and found to an extent through Kate Bush on ‘Hounds of Love’ – a stunned mix of breath taking chords, near silence, incredibly controlled distortion, sideways movement, guitar exploding into a harsh harmonica squeal that penetrates your very marrow. The voices trip gently over each other, tumbling down the hill into meadows beyond. My own spirit was lit on this day. No turning back now.
Still that voice, its almost incantatory nature, slipping in and out of the mix, almost overwhelmed by its own weight-bearing beauty yet unaware of what could be accomplished. That voice. I’m listening to it now. ‘Everybody needs someone to live by…’ – it's clear, it’s part of the fabric of the song, it breaths with it, pulls it along to new pastures, the catch that performs magic somersaults in my fatigued brain. My, my, my. Things fall apart and come together again: ‘Rage on omnipotent’.
That almost monomaniacal pursuit of perfection pays dividends. The majesty of the music still stuns me into submission – that 4 men and numerous session musicians could possess the rabid imagination and sheer bravura to unleash such indefatigable beauty upon the world. I always muse upon what was left on the cutting room floor. So many hours… It doesn’t matter, not really.
With ‘Spirit of Eden’, ‘The Colour of Spring’ and ‘Laughing Stock’, English music has a holy triumvirate of immaculate conceptions to reckon with. I don’t know whether it is humanly possible to adore a band this much for the priceless gifts they have bestowed upon humanity. Yes, that bloody important.
With ‘Laughing Stock’, Talk Talk were hanging off the edge of the tip of a branch, utterly consumed by the narcosis of their experiments in sonic architecture – architecture that was fluid, ever shifting, to an fro, loose limbed yet alive. You cannot pin it down, not now, not ever. And the voice, an instrument of peace and discord, a rage against Thomas’s ‘dying of the light’: at once rich and determined, then resigned, then alive again. It reaches a true apotheosis with ‘New Grass’ where you, the listener, commune with that delicious murmur – ‘lifted up’, over and over. Mark’s incantations float freely, yet remain anchored by a pulsating, sometimes desperate optimism. You can be sure a glorious end awaits.
We heard it in the verses of ‘It’s my Life’, the renewed promise of ‘5th of April’, a spiritual beckoning of what was surely to come. No teasing, just a stately progression towards immortality.
Now Mark has left these shores. I heard the news early on and didn't want to believe it, yet this was tempered by the knowledge that he had retreated from the music business for well over 20 years before this point. He was revered in life, as he will be in repose. I just want to say thank you with my heart full and a little hurt but overflowing with the certain knowledge that I can return to this tapestry of affirmation for all hopes, fears and, ultimately, redemptions. As the sun goes away and rises again, take your hands and move into the light.
Thank you. Thanks for grace, love, beauty, experience, humanity. Thank you.