Andy Meehan played with Simon in Fragile and collaborated with Simon on many musical projects.
My friend Simon Holmes left us last week and it’s hard to describe what I feel.
Although I’d seen the Hummingbirds many times, I first really got to know Simon when he did a few nights work on the door at the Annandale when I was working there in the early 90s. He moved on pretty quickly but we sat together over a few months talking about music (or more to the point me listening to him talking about music). A year later he asked me to join Fragile, his post Hummingbirds band. He’d just finished recording Airbrushed Perfection with half of the Sidewinder guys and wanted to play some shows.
We went on to play together in Fragile for 10yrs, recording another album and three EPs together. We really didn’t do that many gigs and certainly passed under the radar for most but a few friends and hardened fans, but we all loved what we did with the band and wanted to keep playing and recording. I’ve been thinking a lot about those years and more recent times with Simon over the past few days. Like the way he’d bust out motivational zingers. If we were on the 6th take in the studio he’d say ‘it’s the last transmission from planet earth’ encouraging us to think of what we’d want sent out to the universe if it was the last transmission from this planet. There was the way he’d take the awkwardness out of difficult studio moments with ‘you can tell me to fuck off if you like but maybe we should try it this way’, and there were seemingly endless quotes he’d bust out from George Martin to Ted Nugent to The Dude for pretty much every situation in the recording or rehearsal studio.
The late nights in the studio keep coming back to me. He’d lie on the couch in Damien Gerards with his arm over his eyes, seemingly sleeping but always listening. He’d occasionally jump up with an idea or thought that, regardless of time constraints, we would have a go at – the endless possibilities in the studio were too expansive not to explore. When we became a bit bogged down on where to go with something he’d say ‘we’re lost in the option forest’ and come up with a way through that forest. There was the night we were certainly lost in the option forest, after too much happy tea, where we decided that fading a sound effects CD we’d found in the studio in and out of the track would add a lot to the song. That was until we faded up the sound of a firing squad which the CD had rolled into, which wasn’t quite the sound we were after.
Outside of the studio, there was the benchmark low gig we did at Rooty Hill RSL that became our reference point for any future average gigs. He’d remind us after such a gig that ‘it’s got nothing on Rooty Hill’.
Rooty Hill involved the long schlep out to the far worlds from the Inner West to support Mental as Anything. We were ambivalent from the start, and I think the Mental As Anything management may not have appreciated that Fragile had moved a fair way from the Hummingbirds sound. In the end the promise of a $300 cheque was the clincher so we agreed and not long after we were driving out to the gig. It’s fair to say that we may have overdone the devil’s lettuce on the drive out, and perhaps should have remembered to bring at least one tuner between us, but a gig was a gig, and we knew how to rock, right?
After lugging our Marshall stacks up the endless stairs and waiting round for ages, we got up to play. The room looked like it would hold 1200 people or thereabouts, so the 30 or so there didn’t really create the ‘vibe’ we were after. The one to two people contributing one or two polite single claps after each song seemed to echo around the vastness of the room, and didn’t inspire a great deal of excitement in us, but we battled on. That was until halfway through our set, when one side of the stage collapsed. After the collapse, the stage was still ‘functional’ and in one piece, but when I looked over to the other side of the large stage, my eyes were at Simon’s thigh height. We played a few more songs on the sloping stage, packed up our gear quicker that we’d ever done before, pretty much ran down the stairs, and sped back to the Inner West. We never did pick up the $300 cheque.
Outside of Fragile I looked for opportunities to work with him. He produced Modern Giant’s album and EP when we were together, I worked with him writing songs for the first Aerial Maps album with Adam Gibson and he helped me on pre-production of my band Dusty Ravens’ first album. Beyond playing and recording and although he didn’t get out all that often, he was up for occasional dinner and talking not just about music but any number of things that he was invariably well read on.
For all who got to know him, Simon was an exceptionally smart, warm and thoughtful person. Many know how amazing and influential his song writing and producing was, and he and the Hummingbirds were no doubt responsible for inspiring many people to start bands, and in turn forge one of the high points in Sydney music and gig going culture.
While I didn’t see as much of him the last few years, despite our plans to whenever we bumped into each other, I feel privileged to have worked with him in the recording studio and on new songs at rehearsal over such a long time, and lucky to have become good friends with him.
It’s hard to describe what I, and no doubt many others, felt when we heard last week about his death. There’s a massive hole blown out of all of our lives, Sydney and well, fuck it, the world. I hope people are thoughtful, sensitive and careful with each other.
So many will be affected by this, and my heart, love, and thoughts are with Justine, Milo and Maisie, who I know he loved dearly.
Simon was truly one of the great guys, I loved him and will always remember him. I hope that we can celebrate what he brought to so many people.
Goodbye old friend.