David Holmes: Soundtracks, screenplays, Late Night Tales and a meander through a musicologist’s mind

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As David Holmes is set to release his Late Night Tales collection, Getintothis’ Chris Flack takes a look back at the career of the Belfast-born DJ, Soundtrack king, and grime bar enthusiast.

David Holmes is one of ten children brought up on a diet of punk, rock, funk, soul and jazz in 1970’s and 80’s Belfast, a time when there were pretty sizable things to divert your attention from the record player in the corner.

Apart from feeling sorry for his mother’s workload, you have to applaud her ability to instill a passion for music that would drown most of us. Holmes is a true music geek, a mixer, collector, pioneer, searcher of the weird. His live sound is inspiring and uplifting. Often autobiographical, his work can be filled with space and cinematic scale, it drips with stories from the streets, the soul, and the heart. From 7-inches to soundtracks and now, with the recent release of his Late Night Tales collection, his own is a story worth reviewing.

Holmes began DJing at the age of 15 in pubs and clubs across the city, most of them now long gone, some of them in a blaze of ignominy.  Like most in the music scene you should be able to put your hand to just about anything, the drummer drives, the bass player makes the posters and so on.  As a case in point Holmes worked was a promoter; fanzine creator; hairdresser; chef; he opened and managed a café, Mogwai; and more recently ran proper gritty dive bar called The Menagerie.

As Holmes found his feet toward the end of the 80’s the rooms got bigger and the crowd a little more chilled, he found himself mixing dance music into his set of rockabilly, jazz, soul, and funk. It wasn’t long before the legend that was to become Sugar Sweet was born. Sugar Sweet soared in the much missed Conor Hall, a brutalist concrete box on stilts that served as the Arts College Students Union. In a city still riddled with bullet holes and bomb damage, Sugar Sweet was a sanctuary for clubbers, college kids, misfits, and miscreants alike.

Opening its doors at nine and closing at one (due to Northern Ireland’s evangel licensing laws…) it was a music magnet in fairly challenging circumstances. The queues started when the shops closed at six and the 500 capacity venue struggled to let half the crowd in.

Check out our Lost Liverpool series, and rediscover the city’s forgotten gems

While the Conor Hall closed at a relatively early hour the party frequently moved on to friend and DJ Iain McCreadys record shop on Ann Street, just round the corner. Holmes (and the rest played) into the wee small hours, the parties were a thing of legend. Sugar Sweet and its sister club, Shake Yer Brain, delivered nights that have reached near mythical status.

The Dust Brothers played in 1994 – they would later become known as the Chemical BrothersSugar Sweet favorites and fans Orbital played in 1990 and returned in ’92. On the ’92 trip, they stayed in Holmes‘ mother’s house (as if she didn’t have enough to do) budgets being what they were. Find the right hallion in the right bar and you’ll hear tales of the all night party, pre-show chats in old Belfast pubs, hangover cures, and gallons of strong Belfast tea. Orbital penned their seminal tune Belfast in 92 after their night at the Conor Hall and played it to an enthusiastic crowd at a reunion of sorts in the Ulster Hall in 2013.

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Orbital, Belfast 2013, A study in male patterned baldness, by Chris Flack.

After learning the ropes in the record shops and on stage Holmes‘ first release was with Ashley BeedleDeNiro was released under the Disco Evangelists moniker and filled dance floors in 1992. In 1993 his Scubadevils side project with Dub Federation appeared on the first volume of Trance Europe Express. Holmes went on to spend most of ’93 and ’94 remixing for artists like St. Etienne, Therapy?, and Justin Warfield. He signed to Go! Discs and released his debut long player 1995.

In a city awash with posters and flyers this one stood out by some distance, This Film’s Crap Lets Slash the Seats was hard to miss in more ways than one. The album was the embodiment of years of grind across the city and a mix of styles learned at home and abroad.

It included the single No Mans Land written in response to the film In the Name of the Father – the true life story of the convictions of the Guildford Four.  A number of TV and Film soundtracks lifted heavily from This Film’s Crap but Holmes‘ first proper soundtrack, was produced for Resurrection Game in 1997.

Let’s Get Killed was released the same year, this garnered two top-40 hits in Don’t Die Just Yet and My Mate Paul. That was followed with Stop Arresting Artists a remix collection, and in ’98 Holmes scored Steven Soderbergh‘s Out of Sight. The Essential Mix ’98/’01 followed later that year to critical acclaim.

Holmes released his third long player, Bow Down to the Exit Sign, late in 2000, it was a grimy, gritty journey into Blaxploitation. 2001 saw another project with Soderbergh, Holmes was brought in to create the soundtrack for Ocean’s Eleven – Twelve and, Thirteen followed. From Ocean’s Eleven, Elvis Presley‘s A Little Less Conversation, remixed by Junkie XL earned the top spot in charts the world over.

Holmes‘ next album / project was met with some curious glances and a few gnawing questions. David Holmes presents The Free Association appeared in 2002, a touring band with something to say. While this departure confounded some hardcore fans the novelty stuck, The Free Association popped up again on the remix album Come Get It, I Got It. The project got mixed reviews but allowed Holmes to explore another side of his talents and step beyond the comfort zone for a while. It didn’t fail to entertain.

Holmes‘ next original work was The Holy Pictures, released in 2008. This was a new sound for him, a production aesthetic we had come to expect but with a live band and a wealth of electronics and found sounds.  This was the first album that had anything that sounded like a song on it, again we heard Holmes both physically and in a much more ethereal way, this was an album that came from deep within, it explored life, the death of his Father and lifted heavily from the infamous Holmes record collection.

It rifled through the Jesus and Mary Chain broom cupboard and the desks of Primal Scream and The Stone Roses. A once shoe-gazing mid-90’s sway, it quickly becomes serene, somber, still. This is a battle between heart and mind, a beautiful battle it is too.  Holmes released a full retrospective in 2010, The Dogs Are Parading and it is as good a place as any to start if his work is new to you.

As a remixer and producer, Holmes‘ client list is a who’s who of anyone you’d care to listen to – Doves, Manic Street Preachers, Primal Scream, Page and Plant, and Ice Cube have all lifted the phone. Another feather in his cap, and one that gives us a chuckle, is that I Heard Wonders from Holy Pictures was the soundtrack to David Beckham bringing the Olympic flame up River Thames by speedboat. Not something a wee lad from Belfast might have imagined 30-odd years ago.

Holmes never stops. If it isn’t solo material, soundtracks, recording, and films, it’s the projects he finds himself in the middle of, the latest of which is UnlovedUnloved appeared in October of 2015 and includes Holmes, Keefus Ciancia, and Jade Vincent, with influences ranging from odd and unusual spots on the planet, Nancy Sinatra, David Lynch, Ennio Morricone, and The Shangri Las.

Holmes met Keefus and Jade in LA in 2013. That same summer Keefus and Jade started a regular Tuesday night residency called The Rotary Room. A collective of great musicians gathered for informal jam sessions, with Holmes DJing between each set.

Their release, Guilty Of Love, is soaked in jazz clubs and whiskey, reverb heavy percussion, thumping bass lines and strings. The ether makes it almost voyeuristic, it is a view to another place, a hazy memory of the 60’s in America. This is a record that will shake your very bones, in some ways it shouldn’t have worked but it is beautiful and worth a serious listen.

Check out what’s going down on a stage near you, here.

Cinema is in Holmes‘ veins, set deep in his DNA.  Growing up in Northern Ireland in the midst of a dirty war there were a few things that were hard to find. Places that were open late, common sense, and films – VHS video to be exact. While it was difficult to get your hands on the latest releases, there was always someone somewhere that managed to find them (often prior to their release date).

The quality was frequently questionable, the on-screen THIS IS NOT FOR PUBLICATION warning irritating, and you would be assured to interrupt the ‘store managers’ family dinner or worse still, Corrie. But that’s where the best collection was, in his front room.

This education in film led to some odd choices, it’s a tale Holmes often turns to, it is where his love of soundtracks stems and you don’t need us to tell you its been a long run, What started with pirated copies of Quadrophenia and The Long Good Friday keeps on going.

The first big commission came in 1998, Danny DeVito commissioned Holmes to score Soderbergh‘s film Out of Sight. The film work continued for the next 8 years, and in 2006 Holmes founded Canderblinks Films with Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn. Its first short film The 18th Electricity Plan has been played to rave reviews at international film festivals around the world, Canderblinks first feature film was Good Vibrations, released in 2013.

Set in the heart of the punk rock scene of 1970s Belfast, it tells the story of Terri Hooley, the Godfather of Punk, finder of The Undertones, and all round terrible business man. Directed by Leyburn and D’Sa, written by Glen Patterson and Colin Carberry, Good Vibrations was nominated for a BAFTAHolmes’ soundtrack was Rough Trade‘s Compilation of the year.  If you haven’t seen it, we would highly recommend a viewing and that you keep an eye out for a fiddle player in a dull studio about half way through.

Holmes recently scored the highly acclaimed ’71 film for which he won an Ivor Novello Award. The Yann Demange directed tale tells the story of a British Soldier lost on the streets of Belfast mid-riot at the height of The Troubles in 1971. In 2015 Holmes directed and wrote I Am Here, this was given a debut on Channel 4‘s The Shooting Gallery.

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Holmes released his compilation album for Late Night Tales, on the October 21. The Late Night Tales fraternity produces collections of personal songs and music, peppered with exclusives and rare gems, and it is a collection well worth investing in.

The album was given its official send off in one of the most unusual settings Holmes could find. The Maple Leaf Club in Belfast is set to be demolished in the very near future. As one last hurrah, they have thrown the doors of their members only venue to all manner of madness.

This is where Holmes launched the record and we have a suspicion that it may have just topped the oddities list for shows at the venue. With guest appearances by Barry Woolnough, Alain Maclean, BP Fallon, and Documenta, the event included all manner of weird and wonderful films and visuals on a 360° projector.

Holmes played an early Santa, giving each punter a limited-edition free CD bursting at the seams with tracks that have never seen the light of day. (Apparently, they enjoyed it so much there is talk of a Christmas reunion show).

Holmes‘ compilation for Late Night Tales features exclusive pieces and brand new collaborations with the likes of BP Fallon and Jon Hopkins to name but two. It takes you on a soul-searching, strange, musical journey.  Some of this you’ll have heard, and some of it you’ll wonder how Holmes ever heard it. That’s the point.

Holmes‘ oft-repeated themes are consistently present – love, family, healing, death and what lies beyond are some of the threads that run through the mix.  This is another very personal record, though one that draws you in along the way.

We were lucky enough to get our hands on a copy and it has been on repeat for about four weeks.  It features a peculiar Buddy Holly version of Love Is StrangeSong Sung covering I’m Not In Love by 10cc; a beautiful lament on the life of Henry McCullough by Holmes and BP FallonLove As A Ghost from Belfast natives and The Charlatans‘ favourites Documenta; and a remarkable piece from Holmes & Jon Hopkins featuring the gravelly tones of Stephen Rea.

Elsewhere Anchises is a reading from Seamus Heaney’s AENEID BOOK VI and was recorded (if speculation is to be heeded) in one take after a lot of the devil’s buttermilk and a late night out in Belfast.  It is a stunning thing. Order it here.

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