Memories of Simon by Guy Allenby

Guy Allenby went to high school with Simon at Hawker College in Canberra.

An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way – Charles Bukowski

Simon Holmes talked like an intellectual and wrote songs like an artist. Simon was the hub of the wheel; a bloke with a subtle but compelling gravitational pull for anyone with the good fortune to wander close enough into his orbit.

I did so in the last couple of years of school and the first years of our twenties and he was the first person I’d ever met who’d scatter his sentences with big words, poetic phrases and literary quotes and yet somehow still managed to not sound pompous. For Simon being polysyllabic (just the kind of word he loved to rip from his top pocket) came entirely naturally and he was just as likely to explain how a song’s “contrapuntal motion” motored it along as slap down a quote from Charles Bukowski to illustrate a point.

I didn’t always catch his exact meaning early on, if I’m honest, on account of the thinness of my own reading list and word power, but his erudition never seemed affected because he was simply exercising the vocab he’d built and honed over the Holmes family dinner table (I remember his parents and siblings all seemed extraordinarily bookish and smart).

He was generous and thoughtful and he wouldn’t say an unkind word about anyone he knew. He was also funny and caring and saw the world through determinedly humanist eyes.

I met Simon in Year 11 at Hawker College Canberra in 1979 and, as with many people, love of music was the lingua franca. I had a mop of curly dark hair in those days and was wearing a white shirt, black jeans and a thin black tie that day (bear with me, the description is important). ‘My Sharona’ had recently been released and, I’m not sure anyone else was interested or even noticed my sartorial reference to one of The Knack’s guitarists, but Simon did and I remember him striking up a conversation about what a brilliant blast of pop exuberance My Sharona was.

Little did I know this was day one of a friendship with one of Canberra’s (if not Australia’s) walking compendiums of contemporary music knowledge and trivia – not to mention that he was destined to one day be the writer of more than handful of his own classic songs ten years later. He was soon educating me on the depth and the cultural import of a deep, wide and ever-burgeoning late 1970s musical landscape in which The Knack were self-evidently just a short and non-descript dead end street. Not that he was evangelical about his musical tastes or anything it was just that if you knew Simon and you were interested in music you soon found out that he was into up-and-coming (and the chronically neglected genius ones) before you’d read about them in an import copy of the NME.

In the year after school Simon shared a house with two other ex Hawker College students – his parents had moved to Sydney. Here there’d always be brand new import copies of albums Simon had recently bought at Impact Records and a stack of NMEs. Simon was working and spent most of his money on records — the rest of us were at university. He’d buy, we’d tape them.

I met my future wife Lolita at Simon’s place.

Lolita was another music lover drawn into Simon’s orbit by his vast and infectious
enthusiasm for the new sounds of the times and the small and large impromptu parties that would develop at what stood – at the time – as the only place around with no parents on site.

Simon’s door was always open and he was always welcoming, even if we did at times turn up and rouse him from his slumber after only a few hours sleep from his nighttime shift.

It was was around this time Simon picked up a guitar and the covers band Regime was formed with Simon Taylor on lead guitar, Tony Skillicorn on bass and Sam Klobasa on drums. I remember driving back from the rock festival Tanelorn on a farm just inland from NSW’s Mid North Coast in 1981 (Midnight Oil, Rodriguez, Split Enz, Mi Sex, Billy Thorpe) in Michael Skillicorn’s station wagon with Simon and Lefty and spending most of the time on the way back coming up with names for Simon’s new band.

We wrote them on the back and sides of a cassette box that we’d brought to play music for the car trip, I remember, but can’t remember the options. In the end they settled on Regime. They played their last gig (and by which time Simon had moved to Sydney) at Lol’s 21st birthday party in a suburban backyard in Canberra (pictured) …

Regime reformed for one night only as Tread Rubber, Lol's 21st, South Bruce, Canberra, 1984
Good times. Little did we know that within a few short years of this he’d be recording albums and travelling the world with his music.

Goodbye my friend.

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3 thoughts on “Memories of Simon by Guy Allenby”

  1. Vale Simon. Life takes us in different directions and I haven’t seen him for more than 20 years but he was a great friend in our youth and a terrific musician. He picked up guitar relatively late at the age or 16 or 17 but was playing very well within a year and writing memorable songs. And as Guy has mentioned he used words like “contrapuntal” when most of us thought that meant a backwards football kick. (With his brains, musical talent and appreciation of contrapuntal technique he would have made a fine classical musician had he set his mind to it.) He will be missed.

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  2. one of the finest tributes to him seems to be the fact that so many people have been moved to write. me too, the day after i heard, but i think i wrote it for me, to ease the sadness. other than my personal experience, it’s all here on this page already. i hope he’s reading…

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