> Music Interview: David Holmes – On the cinematic qualities of old bars, This England, Unloved, and more - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Music Interview: David Holmes – On the cinematic qualities of old bars, This England, Unloved, and more

DJ. Producer. Song-writer. Tastemaker. Music supervisor.

David Holmes is all of these things and more, as well as being a great guy, so SNACK was keen to catch up with him before his November Glasgow set. We talked about records, bands, corrupt Government, and the importance of moving forward

You’re DJing in Glasgow on 11th November – what should people expect?

I’m a very selfish DJ, I play what I want, I don’t have a set plan apart from I have a lot of good music, and I turn up and play it. I try to put it together in an exciting way.

I play a wide selection of music, you can dance to it, and it starts at about 60 bpm and goes to 140. I like playing long sets, I can’t just play for two hours; there’s too much music to play, so the longer the better. 

It’s dance music from all around the world, but it’s not necessarily house music. If I like it, I’ll play it. But DJing is about how you design a set. There are tracks you can play at the right moment that will have a bigger effect than if you played it at a different time. Programming is really important to accomplish a good DJ set.

You’re playing a four-hour set in London in November, is that about right for you?

Four hours is great, I’d say that’s the perfect time as you can really go somewhere. You can take your time and build your set, bringing people on a proper walk through your record collection. You get a chance to arrange it in a long-form thought out way rather than two hours of get in, get the money and get out. It’s more of a marathon rather than a sprint.

It’s an interesting choice of venue in Glasgow (Lynch’s, The Olde Burnt Barns). Does that help with the atmosphere of a night?

I love DJing in places that have character, they’re really cinematic. It’s amazing what happens when you turn the lights down, put candles on tables and shoot some films. It changes these places and a lot of old bars have a cinematic quality and atmosphere. Once you start putting music on, it becomes a transformative experience and people feel at home in these venues. Everybody is used to going to shiny places, I was never about that, I always loved a shithole! You can’t buy that character; it comes from history and endless people through the door in its lifespan. You can feel the history in these places, and that works for me. 

I’m happy if there’s a good sound system, that’s paramount. You want the music to be heard at its best, to pick out nuances. There’s nothing as bad as DJing when the sound system is rubbish. I feel like walking away when that happens, because it’s meant to be an enjoyable experience. For the punters, and me. I’m not doing it for the money, I want an interesting night out and I love playing records.

I love Brother Joseph (DJ and promoter of the night), he’s a good mate, I love where he’s coming from. He’s a good DJ, he plays excellent music and has amazing taste, so it has to be an enjoyable night out. The more character a place has the better, and I’ll tend to go there over new shiny places. In some of these venues, they’ve invested tens of thousands of pounds, and you think, why?

You can go to an auction, pick up second hand furniture, objet d’art and good art. Even if tables and chairs are different, picking them up everywhere, you create a vibe. Get some candles, shoot good visuals, some good cinema and make the place more like a film set than a hall that is a dime a dozen these days.

I’ve been drawn to these places ever since I was a kid, clubbing at 15. It’s where the freaks congregate, the people that stood out in the street. We live in a society where everyone looks the same. The same taste in clothes, music, the same hair, and you can’t tell one person from the next. I’ve always been attracted to places that attract the freaks and the unusual characters that exist in the world. I’ll play to anybody but I love a place with a variety of people, not just boys here for what you play next. I want it to be a happening, not a trainspotting expedition.

Does preparing for a DJ set differ greatly from preparing your God’s Waiting Room show?

Yeah, the God’s Waiting Room show is different every month. I’m constantly buying records; I don’t want to put a number on it as it’s embarrassing but I’ve a couple of hundred records I haven’t listened to yet. I do the radio show for me because I get a chance once a month to spend a couple of days listening to new music or pulling things that I forgot about, and creating a show.

It’s good for me, part of the whole thing, as I do films, production, DJ, a big part of that is still listening. That got me here, I can’t rest on my laurels because the music comes first. If I wasn’t doing this professionally, I’d always be still buying music if I could afford it. I want to sustain what I do in the studio and as a DJ but still evolve. Music to me is the purest and most beautiful drug, metaphorically speaking, that there is. 

Music will never let you down, there’s no comedown from it, it’s comforting, it’s exciting, it’s visceral, it’s emotional, it’s so many things. That is something I’m aware of, and doing my radio show is a chance for me to sit down and put together a couple of hours of new music. You can only listen to one record at a time and wonder if you’ll ever listen to it again; you are flooded with new music, or new to you music, all the time.

I like turning people onto new stuff, but I’m doing it for me. It’s an important part of my life as you cannot get lazy, and you always want that new hit, a piece of music that’s fucking incredible.

I dreamt about a piece of music, it doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does, holy shit! Dreaming about a fully formed piece of music that doesn’t exist. That’s the power of your imagination… and mushroom chocolate. I’m always feeding my brain, and I hope that’s feeding all the other things I’m doing.

God’s Waiting Room has certainly cost me and my pals a lot of money over the years.

That’s good to hear, spreading the love.

You soundtracked the This England mini-series, it’s recent, but it seems a lifetime ago with everything that has happened since, how was that project?

How can history be out of date? It was a moment in time, about that first year with Boris Johnston in power, getting Brexit done, an incredibly mismanaged Covid, corruption. It was a story that had to be told. It’s not entertainment, it’s history. It happened, and these people were that corrupt, and so many people died.

It’s never ending, how many Prime Ministers have there been in the last fucking year? It’s nuts. It could be an ongoing series and drama, not one I’d like to be involved in, but that first wave of Covid is part of our history, and Michael Winterbottom did a brilliant job, and Kenneth Branagh was amazing.

I think it’s a great piece of work, and it’s one of the best scores I’ve ever done. It was weird working on it while it was still happening. The Tory party are still sitting on a huge majority, and we’re living in a country where the biggest selling newspaper is the Daily Mail. That’s how people get their news, and that’s what people believe.

If these papers push the rhetoric that the Tories are doing a great job or that Boris, Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak are the saviour, people believe it because it’s on the written page. TV and cinema have that power too. I wanted people to watch it and see what people were up to, giving themselves contracts into the hundreds of millions where they should have left it to the NHS or tendered the work to people who knew what they were doing, rather than giving it to their friends.

TV and cinema are powerful in sharing this, in the way the Daily Mail and The Sun are powerful because people believe it.

Brexit has created a huge fucking shitshow in the UK. For us in Northern Ireland, we’re doing okay, Northern Ireland has one of the most thriving economies in the whole of the UK because we’re still in the single market. A blind man on a galloping horse could tell you Brexit has been a complete and utter fucking shitshow, and it continues to be, and will continue to be.

There’s a lot of people around the world laughing at the UK and the Government, laughing and saying ‘I told you so’.

I remember you saying when ‘Hope Is The Last Thing To Die’ came out that you didn’t think you’d sing again but the last 18 months have shaken up your emotions. You can’t be short of lyrical inspiration now?

That was written during Covid and I decided to get Raven [Violet] to sing it. One day, there will be an original album for Record Store Day – a year or so after my next solo album – that will have all the songs sung by me. I just felt Raven, a 26-year-old woman, really young in this day and age, singing those lyrics had more power to them. 

It will be heard, but it takes a lot for me to sit and write a song. I have to write something I believe in, or something I’m stirred by. The Holy Pictures [2008 album] was about losing my parents, and my brother and sister. This album is inspired by recent events, shall we say!

That song, and ‘It’s Over, If We Run Out Of Love’ features Raven on vocals, is there more of this material to come?

Raven is singing on the whole album. I’m just chipping away at it; I’ve got a lot of the music finished and songs written, but I’ve a lot of priorities. I’ve a TV series and something else I can’t talk about, but I’m enjoying DJing at the minute, so I haven’t left myself much time to focus on it.

However, Raven is moving to London next month, so she’ll be able to fly to Belfast and spend a few days in my studio, working with lyrics and ideas, and we’ll take it from there.

Raven is my goddaughter, but she’s cool as fuck, an extraordinary human being, unbelievably talented. She’s an amazing scriptwriter, film-maker, she can play the cello, she’s a singer, intelligent, she ticks every fucking box you’d want to tick for yourself. She’s funny and doesn’t give a fuck, she’s just Raven, it’s a joy to work with her.

She’s coming to London to pursue her film career, so singing is just something she does… Really well. 

‘It’s Over, If We Run Out Of Love’ is a co-write between you and Noel Gallagher, anything more like that left in the vault?

With Noel? No, that’ll be it, that was one of those things that happened. It made its way onto my album, and I’m so happy it did. I think the words and feeling that comes off that track is really powerful; it speaks to a lot of people; it talks about serious issues but it also has a playfulness and positivity to it. I’ve got some other tracks that are just as good and in the making, so I’m really excited about this record.

I think I’ll slow down on the DJing in the first few months of next year so I can finish my album. One of the things I love about recording and doing my own music is giving yourself space. It’s lovely to have that objectivity where you can step away from something for a few months, and then come back, and see if it’s right or wrong. If you come back after six months and it’s good, you know you’re onto something.

You’ve released an Unloved album this year – when you work on something, do you know if it’s for a solo thing, an Unloved track or even something else?

Yeah, Unloved is a very specific thing. It’s centred around Jade (Vincent), and her being the lead singer. When I wrote ‘Turn of the Screw’, I wanted it for my solo album but Jeff Barrett (Heavenly Records founder) said, ‘Put it on the Unloved album’. Raven’s parents are Keefus (Ciancia) and Jade, but mostly, when I have an Unloved idea, it’s for them, and I send it to Keefus and Jade. I love that, I grew up listening to so many kinds of music, and I’d be bored if I only focused on one thing, I couldn’t do it. 

I’m always open to new things, what I know is fuck all, so I try to embrace new music, and keep evolving as an artist. It suits me having a project like Unloved while working on my own album, which is more personal.

On the topic of bands, and obviously we’re many years on, how do you look back on The Free Association?

You know what, I’d have to listen to it, I haven’t listened in years, I’ve no idea what it sounds like, I can’t remember song titles. I can’t answer that, but I don’t think you really know when you make a record, you can’t really judge it until you’re away from it for about 20 years. If you put it on and you feel something, it’s a good record.

Sometimes, it’s like a Jedi mind trick, you make something and you think it’s the best thing since sliced bread but in six months, it’s just really annoying. I don’t really have a point of view on that, it’s almost impossible to answer. I’m always looking forward anyway. When people say what’s the best thing you’ve ever done, I always say the next thing. What’s the point of looking back?

What’s next for David Holmes?

One day at a time! You have to plan but the way my work is if I’m working on a film it’s in stages, and then it gets to a point where I’m full-time for a month. It’s a collaborative piece, while it’s being shot I’m working on ideas. Sometimes I work on the music without seeing anything, going off a feeling. I’ve done that a bunch of times, but it all depends, it’s all different.

With my album I had some time, especially with Covid, I got things done. Now, I’m trying to finish Sinead O’Connor’s LP. We’re three songs away from finishing and we’ve got music, she’s got lyrics, we’re waiting to get her in the studio. We recorded a new track in Dublin on Sunday, but Sinead’s really busy and she lost her son, so this is the first time she’ll be in a studio since she passed away.

I plan, but at times, it’s feeling it out.

How do you continue to find new music?

I hate the internet, but I absolutely love it. I love that I can sit in the comfort of my own home, join a ton of mailing lists and hear about new shit on Instagram. When you’re on Bandcamp, give it a proper listen through your speakers and, I’ll have that, boom, it’s in your hard-drive. 

It’s never been easier for people to get music, even the rarest of things. Lke Discogs; it’s the best record shop in the world on your computer. It’s been magic for me, especially being so busy. I don’t have the time to go to record shops like I did when I was younger. I still do it and I love going into record stores, but sometimes I’m too busy.

Then, you get an email from Soul Jazz, Boomkat, Strangers in Paradise, all these wonderful labels and distribution companies. I’m not short of ideas, just by waking up and turning on my email, it’s just having the time to listen to them, sometimes there aren’t enough days in the week.

David Holmes plays Lynch’s, The Old Burnt Barns, Glasgow 11th November. Edit: This event is now sold out and there will be no pay on the door.

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