Hanging out as a teen in Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations record store, scoring soundtracks for Soderbergh, including Rodriguez’s ‘Sugar Man’ on a 2002 mix tape compilation ten years before the Oscar-winning ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ documentary…Belfast DJ, composer and producer David Holmes’ musical odyssey has been nothing short of fascinating. With UNLOVED, a new project featuring Keefus Green and Jade Vincent, Holmes’ restless creative mind shows no sign of slowing down. Philip Cummins spoke to Holmes about UNLOVED, blending music with film and the magical experience offered by record shops and vinyl records.
Philip Cummins: What are the origins of the strong relationship between film and music in your work?
David Holmes: I’ve no idea! It was never contrived, I know that much. I never sat down and thought “I want to work with the moving image.” When I grew up in Belfast during the 70’s I wasn’t allowed out on the streets. I ended up consuming so many movies. Growing up in the age of the VHS and the betamax generation…Belfast was just crazy back then. At nighttime, when things were getting really hairy on the streets, I just wasn’t allowed out; my mother would say to me “you’re not going out tonight”. My family home was bombed by Loyalist paramilitaries when I was four years old. We lived on the Ormeau Road, which, of course, is a really mixed area. I loved growing up in Belfast, but I did spend a lot of time watching movies to get away from the night- time realities of where I lived.
But I also used to listen to a lot of movie soundtracks because I enjoyed them. When I was working as a DJ in Belfast, I’d often slip in a bit of Once Upon a Time in America, a bit of Midnight Cowboy. Records like Midnight Cowboy I inherited from my Mum. I was the youngest of ten, so records would trickle their way down to me. I inherited punk rock because my siblings were into The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Stooges, so those records were just there for me to discover and I was into soundtracks long before I started producing. When I started producing I was always aware of trying to create something unique within the world of dance music and not trying to be the derivative of the derivative. Soundtracks were a way of trying to do something new with dance music. I used to drop in soundtracks on top of electronic sounds- like the harmonica arrangement on Midnight Cowboy, for example.
And did Good Vibrations, named by Observer film critic Mark Kermode as the best film of 2013, which you scored and produced, give you a sense of that mixture between your 70’s childhood in Belfast and the songs that inspired you?
Good Vibrations was something that I grew up with. The Outcasts I knew through my brothers and I used to see them about all the time. They were my idols at the time when I was 8 years old. I’d see them on the Ormeau Road in their biker jackets and their DM’s. I just thought that they looked so cool. I’d been going down to Terri Hooley’s shop since I was 11. I used to go down on the bus and harass Terri for music and he actually gave me more music than I’d ever paid for. The other turning point for me, though, was when I saw Quadrophenia at 15. The whole mob movement of it all was something that really inspired me. And through that I got into music that I could be apart of : 60’s soul, rhythm and blues, Northern Soul.
Terri once gave me a box of 7 inches that were signed by Lee Dorsey. The first cut of ‘Ride Your Pony’ was in there and Terri gave me that when I was 15; ‘Last Night’ By The Marquees was in there; ‘La La La La La’ by The Blendells; Ray Barretto…all these rare, original 60’s R&B 7 inch records.
Would Terri have recommended you Rodriguez? You included Rodriguez’s ‘Sugar Man’ on a 2002 mix tape / compilation, entitled Come Get It I Got It, ten years before the Searching for Sugar Man documentary…
No, I’ll tell you; I discovered Rodriquez completely by accident in a record store in New York. I was browsing and I came across ‘Cold Fact’. I was intrigued. The owner of the record store played the first track and said “check this out.” He played ‘Sugar Man’ and I thought “Wow…I’m havin’ this!”
You talk about how important it was inheriting records from your siblings; how important Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations record store was to you; how you discovered Rodriguez. Do you think that downloading and the culture of online listening has taken the magic out of discovering new music?
Totally. I’ll tell you, though, there’s an amazing new record shop called Sick Records in Belfast and it’s fucking class. The main objective of the shop is just stock really great records. Every time I go in there I end up spending over 100 quid. They’ve got loads of really great new releases, compilations…it’s just fucking brilliant.
Good Vibrations still exists, of course, but it’s more of a tourist attraction, now. Terri sells what sells and it’s mostly second hand stuff…it’s more commercial. It’s been a while since there’s been a shop like Sick in Belfast; a shop where new records are just flying out the door. The guy behind is astounded by how successful it’s been.
I think that when you’re a kid, you can’t explain why you love certain kinds of things; you just respond to the music. I think a lot of kids, now, are responding to music by buying vinyl and I do think vinyl is turning a corner that no- one expected. Kids are getting back into vinyl, big time. They’re saying “this MP3 stuff is just rubbish and it’s not good enough”: I want a physical object that’s tangible, I want to see the artwork, the sleeve notes.”
I’m in London at least once a month and I’d often go down to Rough Trade East and to other record shops that I like to visit and I check out new release, things that I’ve just discovered and things that I’ve just read about rather than just buying it online. And you forget that buying records isn’t just about the records: it’s about going down, seeing other people, talking to the fella behind the counter…there’s a whole social component to it that’s just magical. I thought that that had gone, but it’s still brilliant to have it back. I’ve been playing a lot more vinyl, now. We all get caught up in the digital revolution; it’s hard not to. Don’t get me wrong; there’s certain things that digital does well. If you’ve got an iPod, you’ve got your record collection with you on the move and digital is great for making playlists. But if you have a vinyl record in your hand and you put that record on, you realise that you listen to music in a completely different way. It sounds different, it feels different and the act of putting the record on…it feels like a ceremony, almost. So it’s great to have a new, exciting record shop back in Belfast and the guy’s taste is fantastic, which is paramount to opening up a record shop.
Can I ask you about working with Keefus and about how you guys got UNLOVED, your latest project, up and running?
Keefus is a just a really good friend of mine. Without sounding like a dickhead, we’re really good friends on a spiritual level. I met him when I lived in LA for 18 months and we just started making records together. His partner, Jade Vincent, who’s also involved in UNLOVED, has laid down vocals and it really just came together very organically. Keefus is coming over to Belfast for the whole month of May and that month is going to be spent working really hard- every day, without fail- on writing for the different projects that we’re working on: animation movies, feature length, short movies. In fact, I’ve just directed a short movie with Liam Cunningham, Michelle Fairley and David Wilmot. It’s a very, very personal film. It’s funny; it’s very hard to score a movie when the director falls in love with the temp music- I’ve slagged directors off about it in the past. It’s a really common thing. I’ve just directed a film…and I’ve fallen in love with the temp music! And the worst part is that none of it is mine!
UNLOVED, David Holmes’ new project with Jade Vincent and Keefus Green, play Kilkenny’s Set Theatre on Saturday 19 April for a 10pm show.