I first met Simon Holmes outside the Promises nightclub in Sylvania, sometime late 1989 or early 1990. He’d just played a headline show with the Hummingbirds, as they crested the wave of early rooArt success with their first album. Despite being drenched with sweat, he happily discussed the Jesus and Mary Chain with me for half an hour and presented an invitation to come talk records at his day job at Phantom Records on Pitt Street in the city.
I’d just started University at Sydney Uni and we developed a quick friendship based on Spacemen 3. I’d brought home Spacemen 3’s “Playing With Fire” from a holiday in the UK and Simon was the only person I knew who was also interested in them. A few years later I met Matthew Tow and I swear we were probably the only three people in Sydney at that time listening to Spacemen 3. They were a band that NEVER got any radio play in Australia and it was many years before the internet opened up their fanbase here. Simon also got me hooked on David Crosby’s role in the Byrds and CSNY, though weirdly it took many more years before I discovered solo Crosby. To this day, if you ask me what my favourite Hummingbirds song is, it’d probably be “Let Your Freak Flag Fly”.
Around that time Simon started working at the Half A Cow bookshop/record shop on Glebe Point Rd, five minutes walk from my university classes. I ended up spending more time in the shop talking music than going to lectures. Soon Simon started giving informal guitar lessons in the shop to my then girlfriend Maria and she and I started our first band together not long after. One night I was standing at the side of stage after watching the Hummingbirds play a great show and Simon came bursting out of the backstage room and grabbed me and said “you know how to play “Sidewalking” by the Jesus and Mary Chain don’t you? Robyn doesn’t want to do an encore”. And lo and behold thanks to Simon I played bass for one song for the first time ever on the Annandale stage.
One afternoon after work, Simon asked me if I knew about “Sherwood Forrest” nearby. I said no, I’d never heard of it. At that time, Simon and I both lived near to each other in Annandale, so we walked home through Forrest Lodge, where Simon introduced me to this strange little piece of wilderness running along a creek in the middle of the metropolis. It was beautiful, made more so by a sneaky joint I think, and was one of my favourite inner city secrets until it was bulldozed with the closing down of the old Children’s Hospital a few years ago. I strangely remember having a weird conversation while we sat there about whether the Hummingbirds “Alimony” ripped off REM’s “Gardening at Night” or not, I think we’d been talking about the “talent borrows, genius steals” NME cover.
We’d talked a little about doing some kind of music together, but this didn’t happen until early 1996, when Simon and I were asked to help Matthew Tow with his Colorsound project. Recorded over a hot summer week at Smash in Camperdown with Jason Blackwell engineering, this is to this day my favourite recording session that I’ve ever been involved in. Simon was so good to be around, his ideas were precise and clear. He guided with clarity, never talked down to me and was always actively participating. I remember at one point he asked if he could play a guitar which I’d brought along which belonged to Maria, an old 70’s red Fender Mustang. Problem was, this guitar was tuned to some weird esoteric tuning and Simon just wanted to play it in normal tuning. I tried to talk him out of it, as it was a pain in the arse to retune it and we had probably half a dozen other guitars, but he really wanted to use it. The part that he played using that guitar, a fuzz and an octave pedal still sometimes comes to me in dreams, 21 years later, it was just so perfect.
Also during this session we all took turns answering a succession of late night phone calls into the studio from a guy who wanted to book the studio right then and there. This guy with an American accent got increasingly upset and irate when told “sorry, but the studio is already booked, we’re using it” and I think we each hung up on him, until finally he bawled “but don’t know who I am? I’m in Rancid” who it turns out were playing at the Big Day Out that year. Right-o, “click” as we hung up on him yet again. I also remember around this time, maybe a few months later Simon getting despondently unhappy at John Howard’s election, probably the first (and maybe last) time we talked serious politics.
Simon and I started a band that year called “Confusion”, basically a one chord Spacemen 3 covers band, but of course it had a Simon twist that we both had to play in stereo using two amps, kinda trying to make a one chord quadraphonic drone. We played some fun shows to absolutely no one at all, including a 4 week residency at the Annandale Hotel on like a Monday night or something, as well as a much bigger more populated show in the foyer of the Metro Theatre in-between bands playing in the main room (Underground Lovers headlining from memory).
We did a bunch of recording over a two or three year period, including at Damien Gerard which mostly we engineered ourselves, though none of it was ever released. One track that is haunting me right now was a beautiful middle eastern tinged Zeppelin-esque riff, played on 12 string acoustic guitar with a rhythm track composed of cardboard box drums. This person I was dating at the time did this amazing deranged fuzz vocal wailed over the top, it was such a great mutant Queens of the Stone Age type riff. This was also before Simon’s second Fragile record, which headed more in a heavy direction, even though he always loved riff laden music like Monster Magnet’s “Tab” EP.
[One thing I forgot: we did a film score in the mid nineties too, but I have no idea what the final name of the film was! My limited googling hasn’t found it yet.]
[Another thing Arianna just reminded me of was a time we were hanging out just after he’d finished recording the first Fragile album “Airbrushed Perfection”. He was writing these amazing handwritten letters to send off to New York (in the very pre internet/email days) requesting permission to use the cover artwork photos which he’d found in a magazine or book. He was so proud of doing all these things himself for that album, it truly was a representation of “him”.]
There was another amazing recording we did around then that was an exactly 60 minute track, a concept which I happily stole later for my own band. We tried really hard to find the DAT of this a decade later, but could never locate it, I don’t think there’s even a cassette left of it, but it is probably my favourite piece of music that Ive ever recorded, a beautiful fuzzy, quiet and loud piece of drone. Its out there in the atmosphere somewhere I guess. Tim Byron talks in his piece about Simon’s minimalism and thats certainly the thing that has been the most influential on me over the years that I worked with him. Simon was also just about the only mentor who encouraged me in the music industry, listened to me, gave his wisdom and treated me with such beautiful respect.
I didn’t see much of Simon in the late nineties when I moved to Melbourne, but was always happy to see him at Enthusiasms, his new record store back on Pitt Street. When Maisie was born, my son was two or three years old and we would often meet up in the White Valley Creek park in Annandale and more often than not talk parenting. Usually we’d do the “hey, we should do some recording, or hey, we should play a show”, but of course both having young kids, life kinda got in the way. I did get to take my son to see the Hummingbirds play at 2SER live to air [a picture of which is the image attached to this post – Tim] and while I’m sure Elliott probably won’t remember it as he grows up and sees lots of bands, it meant a lot to me.
I saw Simon at the Underground Lovers show a month or so ago and we again said the same thing about doing something together again. A week or two later, I’d been thinking a lot about a concept for what we could do and I woke one night at 4am with this weird riff in my head, I hit record on the Memo thing on my phone and recorded 30 seconds of guitar. Thats never happened to me before, but as I listen to it now, it would have made the perfect thing for us to play to death.
Love you Simon.