Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Mark Hollis

Yesterday at 2.40pm, I got on a train out of Waterloo heading South West. I'd finished an edit and had just walked through central London, soaking up the glorious but unsettling weather. The sight of people in the sunshine, having lunch with smiles on their faces was enough to put me in a good mood.

I use music for many things - to motivate, help me think, send me to sleep, as a barrier to the outside world or as an aid to interpreting it.

Sitting on the train yesterday, I needed something which could help me concentrate on what I was writing which also matched a strange disjointed sensation of mild euphoria.

I reached for an old friend - Talk Talk's "Spirit of Eden". I've written on this blog before about Talk Talk and the effect they had on me growing up. They were a band I loved, but they consciously kept themselves away from the sort of personality cults other artists encouraged. The imagery, in particular, was poor and unwelcoming. As such, I never became a Talk Talk "fan", but the music was enough to keep me devoted to the songs for the best part of four decades.

I felt a physical pang of sorrow when I found out last night that Mark Hollis had apparently died at the age of 64. The idea someone so gifted should have his life stolen away so young seems wrong.

He was, by all accounts, an awkward bugger. Professionally, at least. It seems his main motivation for retiring in his early forties was to be a better father to his children. He was a tortured artist, too, which must have taken its toll - constantly pushing himself to change, achieve and create, despite having no formal training, dazzling voice or obvious musical talent.

Hollis knew he had something, though, and he was sufficiently motivated to make it as a lead singer of a synthesizer band signed to EMI in the early 80s. He collaborated with brilliant people, who could deliver his vision. At first it was downbeat but catchy pop songs, which by turn became gradually deeper, more complex and enriching.

Talk Talk's discography is worth exploring chronologically. The band's first album "The Party's Over" sounds dated, full of cheap synths and cheap dramatics. But every song is stunningly written. Have You Heard The News, about the guilt and depression brought on witnessing someone's death, is full of the unusual chord progressions and melodic twists which quickly set the band apart. The ability to do this within a synth-pop straightjacket made what Hollis was attempting even more impressive.

"It's My Life" was the album which gave Talk Talk their first proper hit. It was tonally slightly more uplifting than The Party's Over and it came with a sense of a songwriter really beginning to stretch his wings. The songs were still pop songs, but they sounded bigger, more epic.

"The Colour Of Spring" and "Spirit of Eden" are two sides of the same coin, to me at least. Years ago I started writing a list of my top ten albums (click here to find out what they are - full disclosure - I grew up in the 80s). "Spirit of Eden" and "The Colour of Spring" were going to be my number one and two. I just hadn't worked out which one would be which.

"The Colour of Spring" needs very little introduction. Pick it out of spotify and you'll be away.

"Spirit of Eden" requires more patience. Obtuse, but undeniably special. If you're not in the right frame of mind it takes a little effort, but it is extremely rewarding, especially the wonderful single "I Believe in You". I've embedded the video at the top of this post.

Then there's the final Talk Talk album "Laughing Stock", which is far more insular. As I said, you're better off starting at the beginning and working your way through.

Thanks for reading this far, and thanks, Mark, for the hours and hours and hours of my life you and your band soundtracked.

I wish you had come out of retirement and done the big set-piece interviews where you dissect and explain your motivations and techniques with the wisdom of years.

I wish you had gone on a series of tours, playing in venues with great acoustics and atmospheres. It would have given your audience a chance to say thank you.

But I suppose we were less important than your music and your family. And maybe that's the way it should be.

I can't believe you're gone already, though. I guess we're all getting old.


Monday, 24 December 2018

Quantative Easing

Got home on Thursday night to discover what looked a bit like pretend money sitting by the pile of loose change I keep near the kitchen radio. I thought this might be a noble gesture by Amy to help ease our way through the credit crunch. But on enquiring, Mrs Wallis told me Amy had finished the chocolate money she had in the fridge and was worried that I hadn't had any, so she decided to make me some pretend chocolate money. She put it by for me when I got in, asking "Do you think he will get it mixed up with his real money?". Today we took the pretend chocolate money to the shops with a view to seeing if we could pretend to buy anything, but while we were out we forgot about it. She might not make it as a forger, but her heart's in the right place.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Criminals: Caught on Camera, Series 5

I am delighted to have signed up to a fifth series of Criminals Caught on Camera for 5Spike. 

Filming starts in a couple of weeks. 

Expect some moody TX cards later this year.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The road to hell...

I am trying to sort things out online. My presence here (there?) is a mess. This blog is a prime example. It was inspired by Richard Herring's Warming Up blog, which I've never really read. (update: I've just read the latest entry and was reminded why I don't like it very much. He's too honest.) What I liked about it was the idea of writing, as often as possible, about daily professional life.

The problem has always been thematic content. Much as I like wittering on about random things which interest me, I'm not sure doing so has any inherent value. Little projects like a month of veganism and year of sobriety provide a framework in which I can write, but for some reason I didn't put them on this blog.  I set up a separate blog.

This year will see the High Court trial Bates (and others) v Post Office, which I am determined to attend and report, all 20 days of it. Quite how I will raise the finance to do so is down to a multiple of variables. I might crowdfund it, I might not have to if I can raise enough commissions, but it makes sense that the material I generate from that trial (and the subsequent one scheduled for March next year) goes up online alongside the material I have generated on this blog over the years. It needs a new, or at least, better home. All the PO material on here is in a horrible un-indexed and badly cross-referenced state.

My TV presenting news can go up on the blog on www.nickwallis.com - I haven't had anything to announce on that front recently, though I hope to soon. And, looking at that website, I need to update my showreel, which is always a painful task. It involves pulling together clips from last year's One Show, ITV News and the last series of Criminals Caught on Camera. Even if I get someone to edit it for me, physically locating this material is like pulling teeth.

Then there's the stuff about on youtube I started recently. Daily reporter stuff, the vegan vlog and fifty daily irritations. All a bit of fun, but again, in desperate need of sorting into something coherent.

I also want to set up a journalism blog which provides an outlet for a few under-reported stories (possibly starting by transferring  all the Post Office Horizon stuff on this blog) - most of which have followed on from the work I did at BBC Inside Out South. It would be nice to be able to write up stories which don't work for TV, but which lend themselves to the printed word. But I'm thinking might work better on an established platform.

Then I can leave this blog for the whimsy, opinion and pop culture stuff which interests me on a personal level even if it doesn't quite fit anywhere else.

Finally there's my training company. That has its own website and blog. I'd like to do more training and more writing for the blog on there, but shortly after we set the company up I started getting way too much other work to market the company effectively.

As I say, it's a mess...


Thursday, 14 December 2017


I've decided to experiment with vlogging. Very short videos, recorded mostly at home, on my own, trying to process what I'm meant to be doing or have been doing on any given day. So far I've covered chest shaving, interviewing Secretaries of State, doing corporate jobs and generally surviving long hours and early starts. These initial vlogs won't win any awards, but I hope as I get better, they will become more interesting. Here's the latest one - they're all on youtube.