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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In Memory of Simon Holmes by Nicola Schultz

Nicola Schultz worked at Half-A-Cow and played bass in the 90s band Swirl.

I was devastated, like so many others to hear to Simon’s passing, and find myself reflecting on the way he touched my life. I remember buying the newly released LoveBuzz by The Hummingbirds and playing it on a small record player in my bedroom, coming to the door, where my mother stood to relay my excitement at this beautiful music as song after song unfolded all its beauty, those lush boy girl harmonies, and the perfect pop sensibility. Pure joy.
Around this time, I made long treks into the city to Phantom Records to buy the latest Cocteau Twins record, and found it amazing to see Simon standing there in his leather jacket behind the counter. He was always amicable, no ego. Little did I know that a few years later I would work with Simon at Half A Cow Records, after Swirl played an open mic night at The Lansdowne Hotel and met Nic Dalton who serendipitously was mixing that night. Nic became busy touring overseas with The Lemonheads and with the label, so asked Simon to take over the store which I had been working at for awhile.

I remember that Simon brought part of his great CD collection into the store and a new
music appreciation experience ensued. The band I remember most now is Led Zeppelin. I wouldfollow his lead and play the entire catalogue in one day.
Simon was eloquent, humble and always interesting. Milo, his son was born, and as a toddler would visit the store. I have an image of Milo sitting on Simon’s lap becoming savvy on an Apple Mac computer set up on the counter, amazed at his immediate interest and innate ability.
Time moved on, and the store closed. I would occasionally walk home from work at Sydney University to Annandale, running into Simon who was also working there, and have a conversation that always left me feeling elevated. God bless you, Simon.

Memories of Simon (by Chris Peak)

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.

Forgiveness (by Adam Gibson)

Adam Gibson was in the band The Aerial Maps with Simon, and Simon produced albums for Adam’s bands Modern Giant and Adam Gibson & The Ark Ark Birds. 

Can’t sleep … but this will probably be all I write on the subject so … my brother Simon Gibson and I are inexpressibly sad about the passing of Simon Holmes (or “Holmesy”, as we always called him). My brother worked with him at Enthusiasms store way back when and became firm, close friends with him. We’d been fans of his music since the late 80s and indeed it was the Hummingbirds that were the whole reason why we actually fell in love with guitar pop music in the first place. And overall, they were the band that were the first to break through to some sort of mainstream success and make such music seem “possible”.

To later become friends with him was an honour and to later, at my brother’s encouragement, have him come in and produce the Modern Giant album, “Satellite Nights”, was massive. It was through that connection that I asked him to be involved in the recording of the first Aerial Maps album. That evolved into him being a key component of the Maps.

After my brother moved overseas, as I wrote on the Aerial Maps’ page…

Holmesy became my co-conspirator, guiding light, emotional touchpoint and musical genius. We shared some wonderful times together – touring, rehearsing and recording – all-up making a total of five albums across Modern Giant, The Aerial Maps and The Ark-Ark Birds. He was a great friend, a true mentor, someone whom we all deeply admired, respected and loved. The Hummingbirds were his iconic and integral band, but for the past 10 or so years, myself, Sean Kennedy and the other Aerial Maps/Ark Arks were absolutely honoured, privileged and proud that we could work with him on the stuff we did.

My deepest thoughts go to his family and other loved ones. He will be greatly missed and yet remembered for being an amazing person and incredible musician. It’s all there in the music.

I don’t feel I can write much more about things, but just give my best wishes to Milo, Justine, Maisie and extended musical family such as Alannah and Mark and all his loved ones. This is the last song we played live with him, my brother and I, in May … It is called ‘Forgiveness’ – Adam

A memory of Simon Holmes from Simon Gibson

Simon Gibson collaborated with Simon Holmes in projects such as The Aerial Maps, Adam Gibson & The Ark Ark Birds, and Fragile, and worked with Simon at his shop Enthusiasms.

Hello friends. I have been unsure if I would write anything but I thought I had to at least try to share my thoughts as a way to celebrate the life of a wonderful man.

In times of loss, it is a common human need to talk about the loved one lost. It is often very hard to talk about that person and their life without it becoming all about you. Of course, as the remembrance is from your perspective it will always contain a lot of your story as it connects to theirs but I apologise in advance if I stray into self-indulgence. I find this especially hard when trying to write about my friendship with Simon Holmes as he was a humble man who grew up in public but remained a reserved and essentially very private man.

Many kind words have already been written but I figure we can never have too many of them at a time like this.

I loved Holmesy, he was an inspiration, a mentor, a bandmate, a workmate, a fellow “lifer” in music and a great friend. He was a gentle-man like my father, men who are so naturally gifted that they had no need to shout it, the talent spoke for itself.

Simon was without doubt the best all-round musician/producer I ever met and I am blessed and honoured that I had the chance to play with him so much. I first played with him in 1996 when I joined his post-Hummingbirds band, Fragile, and continued through a series of projects playing shows, recording albums and touring right up until a month ago when we played what turned out to be his final show. My heart aches thinking about that show now.

In the midst of all this I worked with Simon for a few years in his record shop “Enthusiasms”. The best job I ever had. A shop bursting with interesting items filed in a unique way, usually a bit of a mess, a sea of coffee cups and cigarette butts, incense smoke wafting from the back room and with not a hint of pretension. A business built on passion, ideas and some extremely odd retail concepts. Money was an after-thought and thus not much was made. The whole shop was a physical extension of the inner Holmesy: humble, wise, interesting, eccentric.

The music Simon made with Alannah, Mark and Rob in the Hummingbirds has given me and many others immense pleasure for nearly 30 years. The band that defined my 20s, Disneyfist, played Hindsight as our final song at our final show, a musical nod of respect to the band that meant everything to the four of us. The music he helped my brother Adam and I make with Modern Giant, The Aerial Maps and the Ark Ark Birds has helped define my adult life. It is difficult to overstate the influence of Simon on me and my close musical allies.

Holmesy taught me many things over many years and I can only hope that my encouragement/cajoling and our friendship over those years gave him at least a small amount of pleasure in return, I certainly owed him.

My heart breaks for Justine and Maisie, for Rob and Milo, Lannie and Mark.

I think Simon would be genuinely embarrassed by all the attention including this piece of writing but I’m sure his reaction would be the same as every time he received a compliment: an honest look of slight surprise, followed by the simple response, “Why thank you.”

No Holmesy, thank you.

Go easy my friend.

Our friend Simon Holmes (by Andrew Khedoori)

Andrew Khedoori is the Music Director at 2SER, where Simon had a radio show called Spin The Black Circle.

I’m certainly not the most qualified to write about Simon, but I’m compelled to. Anyone in Simon’s sphere from the 90s onwards in what we might now clumsily call the alternate Sydney music scene would have known him to be a most compelling figure.

There was such a force to Simon – his songs often just flew right into you with their emotional energy. Then there was the intellectual force to Simon, immediate to you from any conversation with him, his words always forming eloquent sentences of such gravity and insight. I often thought he could have been a political speechwriter – anyone who could convince me to try on the back catalogue of Sisters of Mercy could turn me any way – but knew that would be too black and white for him and his allegiance was always with music.

Music was the conduit for Simon to make sense of the world. This is the same for so many of us, the sole pursuit of listening to an artist that offers you the chance to connect with yourself. Of course, music can and should also be an exchange and through all his activities, Simon did his utmost to uphold this. Sitting at the high counter of his record store Enthusiasms, Simon was the only person in music retail not to look at me sideways when asking about a 1970s psychedelic folk duo from Honolulu but also to be wide-eyed and wondering about them.

For all his towering knowledge about so much music, he never held it against you, sharing it at any opportunity. This made him perfect for radio and he delighted at my invitation to produce a program at 2SER while agonising over how that program would take shape. Showing that any faux sense of cool could never enter his mindset on music, he named his show Spin The Black Circle after a Pearl Jam song and proceeded each week to take listeners on a decidedly non-linear journey to connect the dots of 20th century popular music and beyond.

His defining first episode made kindred spirits of his beloved prog rock and the punk that spurred him into songwriting, showing there was no real conflict between the two and both could co-exist happily in harmony. They certainly could for him, anyway – although he hilariously told us this happened some time after he defiantly trashed his Genesis and Yes records after hearing the Sex Pistols.

Spin The Black Circle moved from gangster rap to Debussy with a grace that both confounded and fascinated its audience. When Simon’s son Milo joined the program, Spin The Black Circle became a rare display of father and son bonding, a discourse on music that uniquely gave us so much more in the name of love and friendship.

There will be so much written and said about Simon, so many different memories and thoughts because he engaged with and touched so many people. That we now have lost him is the timeliest of reminders to talk to one another, to listen, to share and to find common ground. To keep things going.

Simon Holmes (by Karo Tak)

Karo Tak worked with Simon at Alfalfa House, a not-for-profit food co-op that aims to provide minimally processed/packaged, affordable, organic food to its members.
I met Simon at Alfalfa House Food Co-op where I worked for a few years (I have not lived in Australia for two years now, I am currently located in Lisbon, Portugal) I have such fond memories of him. Simon always was my ultimate favourite customer when he was still a member, he always did a big shop which meant we had a lot of time to talk, and we talked about everything. He especially loved talking about his family, proudly sharing the developments and growth of his young daughter in particular.  I referred to his family as “his unit” for some reason that stuck, every time I would see him I would ask about “his unit”. Then a lot later when Simon became the manger at Alfalfa (something I highly vowed for) the conversations continued. We talked about so many things. Simon was a man with such dignity, he was so wonderful with words, so humble, so kind, such a golden heart and his sense of humour so similar to mine. He reminded me a lot about my father actually, who unfortunately also passed away last year. Simon felt over responsible though at times, a very sensitive man and I always felt what was really going on with Simon he kept concealed and in a way hidden. I also remembered how embarrassed he was when we played The Hummingbirds in the shop (I LOVE the band!) we could only play it when he wasn’t around.
I always expressed my appreciation of Simon, something I am very grateful for. In my last period of working at Alfalfa I also was the Head Chef at Lentils as Anything, a place Simon really supported and he frequently came in for a bite and a chat. He always made time for everyone. At all times. We shared a lot. He was always so supportive of all my other side projects, my vegan cooking, my yoga classes and the move I was planning to Europe to start my own cafe. The last emails I received from him were always full of love, support, kindness and this pride a mentor gives you. I believe he was a mentor for many, with his music, his writing, but also just with his being and his life experience and incredible knowledge, such an intelligent, well travelled man. I feel blessed that he has been part of my journey and I would like to stress how loved he was. I can’t even imagine anyone not loving this man, because he was so loving, so sweet, so funny, such a wonderful soul. May he travel safe and keep shining his light……
My ultimate blessings of support and guidance go out to his “unit” in this rough time. My heart goes out to you!
Simon Holmes, remember what I told you the word guilt does not exist in Sanskrit….. fly free.
You made this world a better place simply by existing, you will be missed!

In Memory of Simon (by Andy Morrison)

Andy Morrison played bass in Simon’s band Fragile.
I’m devastated. He was like Obi-Wan Kenobi to me.

We met in Glebe. Half a Cow. I wanted him to help produce an EP with my band at the time.

We ended up in a coffee shop across the road and he described his new vision, a band he
called Fragile. He said he wanted to make the loudest, heaviest record in the world. He
needed a bass player. I said I could play bass. That was it, done.

We spent many an hour discussing music, people, life, business concepts ( he seemed to be fascinated by the workings of business). The Fragile album was called Kai Zen ( the
Japanese business philosophy for continuous improvement). I think it represented a musical catharsis for him. It was like he was shedding his past and the identity that was associated with it, at least musically. It was like he was inventing himself a new, completely unencumbered freedom of expression.

The band was heavy, real heavy, more like a bird of prey than a Hummingbird. One song
was called “ An open letter to the centre of the universe”. I think that says it all as does the juxtaposition of the name and the music. It rocked until it broke!
I recall many times sitting in his house in Booth Street drinking tea and listening to Dub
reggae from the 70’s (Jamaica), King Tubby, Glen Brown etc. To this day when I play it,
which is often, I think of him. It was just one genre of the multitude that he knew and could discuss. James Brown Live at the Olympia, Ted Nugent Cat Scratch Fever, Zeppelin (any) and on and on.

But he was more than just the sum of his music or his musical knowledge. He was a man
that influenced so many without the slightest clue that he was doing it. You could talk to him without fear of judgement. He made you feel at ease just to be you.

At the time I knew him he believed in the universe; that what would be would be and what is yours won’t pass you by. In that sense, he wouldn’t rely on his contacts or his past influence to gain advantage. Maybe that altruism in such a cynical world didn’t help in the end, I don’t know.

And I remember that he would walk everywhere as he didn’t drive at that point. He didn’t complain about it. And regardless of weather conditions, he would wear shorts, even on the coldest days of winter. What a funny man he was.

And so it ends. That’s it. He came, he went. He left this world a better place for those that he bumped into. I am certainly a better person for knowing him. He won’t be forgotten. I’m playing my Fragile record tonight- on 11! Gibson through Marshall- done!

Andy Morrison

Memories of my friend Simon Holmes (by Andy Meehan)

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.

My time with Simon Holmes (by Tim Byron)

Tim Byron played with Simon in The Aerial Maps, Adam Gibson & The Ark-Ark Birds, and Big Foma.

My friend Simon has passed away.

Firstly, this is going to be hard news for a lot of people, because Simon was very well loved. So because this post might be hard to read, I want to point out that it’s sometimes hard for men of a certain age to admit to needing help – there’s a cultural value in Australia about resilience and self-reliance and stoicism, and a feeling that getting on with it is the best you can do. There’s a good side to this, I think – it often means you don’t get caught up in the small stuff. But it also means that people often lose the ability to deal with the big stuff.

Going and seeing a doctor and getting a referral to government-subsidised sessions with psychologist isn’t going to totally uproot your identity. It’s not self-indulgent. Mostly, the usefulness of a psychologist is about having an impartial person to run things past, who can give you strategies for dealing with specific situations and events, who maybe can join the dots between events and your feelings in ways that help you understand. A good psychologist is mostly about helping you see the forest for the trees – as a result, they can  lay out a path for you to follow out of the forest. So if you’re reading this, and you need it, do have a think about seeking help. Also, if you’ve read this, and you had a poor experience with a psychologist, and that put you off – please do try again. Studies show that the connection you make with the psychologist is really important. Sometimes you just don’t quite connect with a psychologist – psychologists do have a variety of personalities. It’s worth persisting until you get someone you do connect with.

So please do consider seeking help if you’re having a hard time of it. [Edit: I also want to point out that I am saying all of this because I am a psychology lecturer, and I want people to seek help if they’re already struggling and then have been faced with this news. I know little beyond what the family has released publicly and made this blog so friends could share their memories.]

Anyway, I’ve spent the last few days alternating between sad, hopeless, angry, frustrated, sad, devastated, and resigned. I should have been spending this weekend just gone in a recording studio recording some songs with my friends, including – on guitar – one Simon Holmes. I really wish that I was writing a very different post right now about how well the sessions had gone.

So I’ve been thinking about my time with Simon.

In October 2006, I played keyboards with Lazy Susan for the first time at the Every Night album launch. At one rehearsal at Troy Horse a little afterwards, I remember Lazy Susan’s drummer, Simon Gibson, pulling me aside and asking if I was interested in playing in a covers band he played in called the Sharkalarms. “You’ll have to play Khe Sanh,” I remember him warning me, seeing if I’d recoil. That was fine – Don Walker is clearly an amazing songwriter. I ended up playing my first show with the Sharkalarms in April 2007.

The day before the show was the only rehearsal I got before my first Sharkalarms show (at Troy Horse, again). That was the first time I’d met Simon Holmes, who played guitar and did some backing vocals in that band at the time. I remember that Simon would also sing lead vocal on ‘Love Really Hurts’ by Billy Ocean. At various times in the time I knew him, he’d point out that ‘Love Really Hurts’ was, in his opinion, the perfect pop song.

It might have also been that first rehearsal where Simon first busted out one of his favourite stories: the ‘play half’ story. I was probably a bit nervous playing in a new band. I was likely playing some showy stuff to prove I belonged, that I was good enough.

Anyway – as Simon told it to me – Miles Davis would always get in hot young players coming into his band to play shows. There was never any rehearsal before the show. At their first show, he’d say nothing to them whatsoever. About halfway through the show, no matter who he was talking to – Herbie Hancock or John McLaughlin or Marcus Miller – Miles would lean over and say, “play half”.

This seemed like Simon’s guiding principle in music: play half. In other words, musicians often say more by saying less – complexity doesn’t equal articulateness. In 2007, I still needed to hear that. I heard that story over and over again as I played in bands with Simon, as new people came into the bands who needed a little guidance.

The Sharkalarms were the first real covers band I’d played in, and it was an education. In bands playing original music, the crowd is there because they want something new, because they’re listening. But with a cover band, the crowd largely don’t give a shit who you are. Simon and I were the two non-Bondi types in the band – Adam and Simon Gibson, Pete and Bluey all being long-time residents – and we’d exchange looks of bewilderment at the odd world of Bondi RSLs and surf clubs. I do remember the look on Simon’s face one time when one young guy was lifted out of his wheelchair so he could crowdsurf.

I knew who Simon was because of the Craig Mathieson book The Sell-In, about alternative rock in the 1990s, which I’d bought when it came out in the late 1990s. Mathieson’s book basically starts with The Hummingbirds – they were basically the first major-league successful Australian ‘alternative rock’ band. I mean, their first album Lovebuzz was named after a Nirvana song (in 1989, well before Nirvana were Nirvana) and they had a single that got to #19 in the charts! In The Sell-In, Simon came across as bitter about his Hummingbirds experiences, about the band being screwed by fickle industry stuff and broke up. But he said he’d been a bit misrepresented by Mathieson – that was his perception of what had happened, but he didn’t actually dwell on it that much.

He talked to me a bit about having no expectations about the Hummingbirds beyond getting to the stage where they’d play headline shows at the Phoenician Club. When that band ended up doing things like supporting INXS, he was happy to enjoy what he saw as a surreal ride. He had a good array of stories from his life as a Hummingbird, like the time he played a British festival in front of tens of thousands of people…who were there because they wanted a good spot for when The Cure were playing afterwards. Or when he talked guitars with Johnny Marr. Or what it was like to record with Mitch Easter who’d produced some pretty influential R.E.M. albums.

That same year I joined the Sharkalarms, Adam Gibson was putting together a new musical project, the Aerial Maps, solely devoted to doing his patented very Australian spoken-word-over-music thing. Simon Holmes was producing the album, and they asked me to play on a couple of songs on the album, recording at Damien Gerards in Rozelle. I do remember playing Simon’s old Farfisa organ in the studio, doing my best Steve Nieve impression. It would have been the first time I’d played a vintage combo organ. And then I was in the band, playing a lot of Simon’s simple-but-effective ‘play half’ keyboard parts. The band went on tour, and I got to know Holmesy a little better.

Another favourite line of Simon’s: “The Beatles are one of the only inexhaustible sources of conversation”. This was fine by me, because I’m pretty sure Jadey and I own at least three copies of Revolver. Though Simon talked to me once about how that was not always true for everyone. He remembered playing in a band with a brand new keyboard player who might have been a drug addict, and who couldn’t stand how much the rest of the band talked about music (because he presumably just wanted to talk about drugs). About halfway down the Hume Highway, driving interstate to a gig, that keyboard player apparently exclaimed, “don’t you lot talk about anything else apart from music?!’

I played with Simon in the Sharkalarms and in the Aerial Maps for a year or two, but then I was replaced in the Sharkalarms by someone called Boat Ramp Pete (this was apparently another weird Bondi thing). And then I finished my PhD and then moved away to Queensland in 2009, and so I didn’t see Simon much for a while. He wasn’t one for social media. I sent him a copy of a CD of some recordings I did in another band to see what he thought, but I got the address wrong and it came back in the mail with ‘wrong address/return to sender’ written on it.

I came back to Sydney for a visit one time, staying with Danny Yau; Simon popped over, and I discovered that Simon now had a newborn with Justine. And he was driving! (I too had only just got my Ps, way too late in life). A couple of years later, back in Sydney again after Christmas, not too long before we moved back, I went into the studio at Damien Gerards again, playing on a couple of songs on a new Adam solo album that Simon was producing. Simon had remembered an old Aerial Maps song that I’d written the music for called ‘The Year Our House Burnt Down’ and they wanted to do that for the solo record. And so they were very happy to have me around to do it right.

When I’d finally moved back to Sydney in 2014, Simon had apparently moved out to Kurrajong, on the north-west outskirts of Sydney. But that didn’t last; he felt isolated, and so they moved five minutes away from where I live, on the other side of the Cooks River. I think maybe it was good for his mental health to play music, and Adam Gibson was recording a new album last year – Cities Of Spinifex. So it was natural that Adam invited him to come along and play some music. One thing I remember from those sessions is the song ‘Indian Pacific’, which has a weird, distinctive keyboard line that’s quite atonal. Adam had actually played a loop of that line to me, saying it had come from Simon, and could I base the music around that? By the time we got into the studio, Simon complimented me on the excellent weird keyboard line. I had to tell him he was the one who’d come up with it, and he laughed and said that sounded about right but he had no memory of it. He slotted in the perfect bassline to go along with the song, too.

About the time we were recording Cities Of Spinifex, I was also rehearsing with another band, Big Foma, that was going to Hobart in a few months to do some recordings of my songs with Dave Carter at UTAS. We’d been playing with another guitar player who pulled out – too busy. Because I gathered that it was good for Simon’s mental health – also because he was bloody Simon Holmes and it was always a pleasure playing in a band with him – I asked him if he wanted a free trip to Tasmania to play on some music with me. He did!

And I think he enjoyed playing with us and working on the songs. He had very specific ideas about what he wanted his guitar to sound like – transistor amps from the early 1980s, and lots of chorus and vibrato, because he’d been listening to lots of stuff like Bauhaus and Siouxsie And The Banshees recently. I was happy to let him. As different as this was from my initial idea of what that band should sound like – I was thinking more along the lines of, I dunno, Spoon or the New Pornographers – he was always someone who played what a song needed. And it totally worked – he knew how to fit into a sound.

During the recording sessions in Tasmania, he got a phone call from his young daughter Maisie. He requested that they turn the studio speakers up so she’d hear what he’d been doing in Tasmania. After playing some of the song to her down the phone, he said to her that “it might not be The Wiggles, but it does have some musical legitimacy.” In the studio, we thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever said. But it was a measure of his sweetness and respect for the people in his life.

If ever he had a suggestion for a song, he’d always say “you can always tell me to fuck off, but…” before saying something reasonable and often a very good idea indeed. If only because he always said that, I did tell him to fuck off sometimes as a joke (but probably incorporated those ideas into the song anyway). As a guitarist in my band, I loved that he both thought that “The Beatles are one of the only inexhaustible sources of conversation” – you really could talk to him about The Beatles for hours – but also that he loved Aphex Twin and Yes and Killing Joke. And, oddly, he was a really big fan of Keane.

He told me once that, in 1977, he heard a 15-second snippet of The Sex Pistols on an ABC news item, the kind of colour feature at the end of the news, a ‘look at those crazy musicians and what they’re doing now!’ kind of thing. That 15 seconds was enough to leave him transfixed, and convinced that all previous music was over and he should start anew. He told me that he immediately got on his bicycle and tied his Beatles and Led Zeppelin and Yes vinyl records up to his bike so that they’d trail behind as he rode around suburban Canberra. It was an expression of youthful punk spirit. Knowing that Yes were still his favourite band in 2017, I asked him if he regretted ruining those records. After a pause he said, “yeah, I did, once I realised I still wanted to listen to Yes.”

Another favourite Simon Holmes saying: that rock and roll was all about “hurry up and wait”. This was a line taken from Eno’s oblique strategies; I heard from someone else recently that he had a pack of Eno’s oblique strategies cards and would bust them out in the studio. Having him in the band was a dream, really – him being Simon Holmes From The Hummingbirds was nice and all, but what was great was that his thought processes just meant he came up with things I never would have thought of. That  all worked perfectly.

He had a radio show on 2SER of a Saturday night with his son Milo St. Clare Holmes, where each week he’d explore a different genre or style or sound. I did his radio show a few times this year. The first time we did The Beach Boys with Jadey, four of us in the studio, and it was beautiful to see the respect with which Milo and Simon interacted as father and son. After that, Milo was in Japan, and Simon wanted me to fill in so he’d have someone to talk to on air. We did a show about the ‘West Coast whine’ (i.e., that funky worm synth sound that’s all over Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg songs from the early nineties). We did a show based around mashups that ranged from Neil Cicierega to Freelance Hellraiser. Apart from his stipulation that it include 2 Many DJ’s ‘No Fun/Push It’ (the first mashup he’d heard), I got to choose the mashups; I mainly chose them to see what he’d react to, to see if at any point I’d have picked some combination of songs that was too sacred (I was disappointed in that regard – he was open to everything). We were going to do another one together that was about fake bands from movies.

It was always fun to talk to him about music for two hours, so it made sense to do it with potentially thousands of people listening. It was also beautiful to meet his son, whose mannerisms – especially the rhythms of his voice – were obviously so much like Simon, and who was as good a listener in conversation as Simon was. The week before one of the radio shows I did, he’d done ‘smooth pop’ with Milo, I think, talking about the slickest of the slick. I remember asking him about what he played as we walked back to his car. “I didn’t ever really imagine I’d actively make the decision to listen to music from Sting’s solo career,” I remember him telling me. “Did you like it?” I asked, walking down Broadway. “It was interesting,” he said, which meant no. “But it’s popular because lots of people find something in it.”

Anyway, one of the tracks I selected for that mashup show was a mashup of The Commodores’ ‘Easy’ and The Cure’s ‘In Between Days’, which I’d deliberately picked because a) it worked really well, and b) I knew Simon was an enormous fan of The Cure, and I figured if he thought Billy Ocean had a perfect pop song, Lionel Richie might also be to his taste. The Hummingbirds, having reformed with Danny on bass instead of Robyn, were playing a Cure tribute show, and their set was based around Seventeen Seconds. And as soon as he heard that mashup, as we sat around the desk upstairs at 2SER, his eyes lit up and he asked, “do you want to play this with us at the tribute show? I’ll suggest it to everyone at rehearsal.”

I was going to play with the Hummingbirds! There was some talk that maybe they’d a new Hummingbirds record – he’d been writing songs – and I maybe kinda hopefully might have suspected that possibly I could have end up playing on that? In my head, this Cure covers gig might well have been a low pressure way to introduce me to the rest of the band. I wasn’t quite sure if I was imagining all that. I went and listened to Seventeen Seconds, and there were subtle keyboard lines on it that I reckoned I could replicate easily enough to impress everyone.

…and then, the next day, I got really really sick with whooping cough, I think. I was in no shape to make it to the rehearsal where we’d try it out. I was still ill by the time of the show. I asked Simon the next time I saw him how it went. “It was…interesting.” (They’d ended up going onstage at midnight, well after they were meant to, and had sound problems).

I’ll miss Simon’s endless array of rock’n’roll anecdotes (usually prefaced with “you’ll probably have heard this one ten times before”, which I usually hadn’t). I’ll miss how gentle and calm he was. I’ll miss how I felt a great kinship with him as someone endlessly fascinated with all sorts of music. I’ve been listening to The Rolling Stones’ Black And Blue recently because he told me it was his favourite Rolling Stones album (I do really like Memory Motel and Fool To Cry, and how that album feels so unassuming, almost tossed off). Recently, I’ve even been getting a little into Yes. I’ll miss that ragged black and red stripey jumper that he always wore.

He maybe came across as socially awkward…I felt that this was because he was this tremendously accomplished and learned man who didn’t want to come across as a braggart. He could hold court, but maybe he had to be coaxed into doing so – I remember one Aerial Maps gig where we’d been invited up to Brisbane with the Gin Club, and we stayed at Steve Bell and Michelle Padovan’s place. I remember Ben Salter and Steve looking up with such wide eyes at Simon telling his Hummingbirds stories. I went to bed at a pretty unreasonable hour, but Adam Gibson told me later that they were still up asking him questions hours later.

I’ll miss him.