I’m always interested in what David Holmes has got to offer.
From his early albums (“This Film’s Crap Let’s Slash The Seats”, “Let’s Get Killed”, “Bow Down To The Exit Sign”) through his soundtrack work (The “Ocean 11 to 13” series, “Out Of Sight”, “71”) and into his remix work (The Manics, Primal Scream), Holmes has always got something interesting to get your ears around.
Here’s his remix of “If You Tolerate This” by the Manic Street Preachers. It has always been one of my favourite of their tracks. Lyrically interesting (song about the Spanish Civil War gets to Number One), it has a gorgeous chord sequence. Holmes emphasises this and also a beautiful electric piano part, redolent of classic 60’s era Miles Davis.
I remember picking up a copy of his Essential Mix LP for a boy’s holiday in Tenerife. It was great poolside listening. Holmes still thinks of himself as DJ first and foremost but there are clearly more strings to his bow than this. His Belfast roots somehow shine through as well with some really interesting song choices in his DJ work.
So I was heartened to see that the March Rough Trade Album Of The Month was “Guilty of Love” by Unloved. Unloved is Holmes’s latest project, a three piece band that he has formed with Jade Vincent and Keefus Ciancia. There is a fair smattering of guest appearances too, including Jim Keltner (Dylan, Presley, Lennon, George Harrison), Wayne Kramer (MC5) and BP Fallon (musician, publicist and lyricist – a man who has Robert Plant on speed dial).
It is cinematic stuff. You can here a ton of influences from the classic Italian soundtrack’s of the likes of Ennio Morricone, Piero Umiliani and Fabio Frizzi. There is some Serge Gainsbourg in there too (someone who crops up on Holmes’s compilations) It also put me in mind of Cat’s Eyes and Sacri Cuori, two recent favourites of mine (one of whom I blogged about here).
The sweet spot that Holmes was going for was the Spector wall of sound girl bands of the sixties and he largely hits it. Jade Vincent’s voice reminds of Chrissie Hynde’s which is no bad thing with those sultry dangerous undertones. The music is widescreen and evokes those classic Wrecking Crew sessions from Los Angeles in the 1960’s. This is no surprise as Holmes actually used musicians, instruments and venues from this era.
Holmes was DJ-ing in LA and working in Vox Studios. He had been working on the “Good Vibrations” movie which opened his ears in particular to girl groups, which were one of Terry Hooley’s loves. Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Eddie Cochran had recorded at Vox and the demo of “Moon River” was recorded there. The studio opened in 1936 and is still going strong with Adele’s latest album being recorded there.
Holmes started to work with his co-collaborators and added Tommy Morgan who played the bass harmonica on “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” by the Beach Boys from the wonderful “Pet Sounds” album amongst the musicians noted above. The owner of Vox, Woody Jackson, played guitar on the record. The gear used was mostly pre-1970’s and you can hear the warm tube analogue sounds. Phil Spectot’s Ampex board was used, amongst other vintage equipment.
Holmes grew up in Belfast during The Troubles, the youngest of a large family. Rather than go out on the dangerous streets, he stayed in watching VHS cassettes and collecting soundtracks, very much like how Clint Mansell got into his initial career. The Troubles intersect with Holmes’s music on the recent “71” movie, directed by Yann Derange. It is a fantastic film, working both as a thriller and commentary on those years of violence in Northern Ireland. The film focusses on a young British soldier who gets separated from his colleagues in a botched operation to conduct house to house searches in the Catholic heartland. Holmes’s soundtrack complements the film superbly, a brooding guitar led background resounding around the terraces and tower blocks of seventies Belfast. We watched it a couple of weeks ago and thoroughly recommend it.
Back to the Unloved album though. The sound of the album is not revolutionary, which is somewhat dictated by the historical intent of the project. It is very skilfully executed though and stands up to repeated listening, revealing layers of intrigue.
Here’s an Andrew Weatherall remix of the title track. It pushes the vocal forward to reveal Vincent’s qualities that I mentioned earlier but also emphasises those girl group harmonies too. It is nice too to hear one of Holmes’s DJ peers have a crack at his work.
Here’s another one: “When a Woman Is Around”. This one possibly captures the aesthetic that Holmes and his colleagues were aiming for even more accurately.
There are no plans for any tours. They may do some one of live dates and one can imagine one of the shows being a real event. Here’s hoping that they come to the UK.