Spirit Of Talk Talk

An age ago I was asked if I’d like to contribute to a book about the magnificent Talk Talk being put together by Chris Roberts and Toby Benjamin. The book was published recently and it is a fantastic piece of work. My contribution is in stupidly good company sitting alongside wise words from famous people such as Guy Garvey, Robert Plant, Paul Hartnoll, Alan Wilder, Sir Peter Blake and Luke Rhinehart.

My contribution appears below in its unedited entirety. All told it’s just a blip in the book, which offers a fascinating insight into the myth and legend of Talk Talk. It’s selling out fast, but copies are still available at spiritoftalktalk.com if anyone fancies. Money very well spent if you ask me.

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If you took a ruler to my life you could probably draw a line through the experiences that have shaped me as a music writer. The transistor radio for Xmas when I was seven or eight, the delights of a drifting Radio Luxembourg signal, the tape recorder thing with ‘Top Of The Pops’, Peel under the pillow. When I was 13 I discovered I could do a truly remarkable thing. I could buy a ticket and stand in a room to watch live bands.

The Lower Common Room at The University of East Anglia was a great place to see bands when you were chest high to everyone else as the dancefloor was skirted on three sides by steps. I learnt the hard way that standing on those steps was best, and not just because I could see the stage. The first live band I saw was Altered Images in 1981. I stood right at the front, by the PA, and as a result I was stone deaf for three days.

After that first gig live music came at me like an avalanche. The paper round wages were squeaked to the pips as I sucked up everything and anything that passed thorough the LCR and with it, although I didn’t realise at the time, my future career was beginning to take shape.

Talk Talk touched down on Friday 12 November 1982. I remember going reluctantly, they really weren’t my thing, but a live band was a live band. It all seemed a bit New Romantic to me, not make-up and frilly blouses, but something spinning out of a Duran Duran leftfield falling vaguely between Tears For Fears and A Flock Of Seagulls. Little wonder really. If I was paying proper attention I’d know they’d supported Duran Duran the previous year and their debut album was knob-twiddled by their producer Colin Thurston.

Although it was all high-hitched bass guitars, electronic drum solos and ELP keyboard mountains, it was Mark Hollis, who despite his Tony Hadley-ness early doors, had a voice that cut through the electro pop and, even to my young ears, seemed something out of the ordinary. Even though the memory is pure murk, I recall they eeked out their set by extending tracks. I liked that, liked that what we were getting was something different from the recorded incarnation. I didn’t think too much about Talk Talk after. It was a box ticked.

By the time the ‘It’s My Life’ album arrived I was working behind the counter of a record shop. The title track fair stopped me in my own tracks. They were still two years away from hitting their stride with 1986’s ‘The Colour Of Spring’, but ‘It’s My Life’ seemed light years ahead. Looking back, it was their ‘Creep’. You can hear everything they were about to become in that one track.

But again they failed to get under my skin. That moment finally came with ‘The Colour Of Spring’, which didn’t enter my life properly until 1992. I’d moved to London and was living in a friend’s flat in Muswell Hill while holding down a drab day job and beginning to dabble as writer. Among my friend’s CDs was ‘The Colour Of Spring’. I remember thinking I should give it a go. Don’t know why. Perhaps my fleeting flirtings over the years helped. Part of me hoped they would finally sound how I imagine they sounded in my head. Sounded like what was waiting to get out.

Duly taped and snapped into my Walkman, the morning commute suddenly became less of trudge. A proper drum kit (that intro to ‘Happiness Is Easy’ still gives me goosebumps), glorious thrumming keyboards and huge swollen strings. I loved how it all just built and built before locking down into magnificent head swirling romps. Soon I was listening to it over and over, twice on the way to work, twice on the way back. Couldn’t stop listening. Still can’t.

What happened between ‘It’s My Life’ and ‘The Colour Of Spring’ is a bit Robert Johnson. Radiohead had it between ‘The Bends’ and ‘OK Computer’. There are few bands who manage to make these kinds of stellar leaps.

So back to the ruler. In no small way Talk Talk are one of the reasons I became a music journalist. The line passes, in particular, through that November evening in 1982. It was when I realised that I had an opinion beyond ‘that was good wasn’t it?’. I knew I’d heard something special, just took me a while to work out how special.


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