July 13, 2017 – Simon Holmes (The Hummingbirds) was born on March 28, 1963 in the southern beachside suburb of Melbourne, Australia. The family lived in Bentleigh, before shifting to Turramurra in 1967, before going overseas for three years, in upstate New York, where Holmes started school at Myers Corner. The family then moved to Geneva, Switzerland. He spent part of his childhood in Canberra, attending the AME School: an alternative education institution and then Hawker College. Holmes moved to Sydney in the early 1980s. He started studying anthropology and archaeology at the University of Sydney, but left after two years.
In 1981 Holmes, on guitar and vocals, replaced founding member Greg Suptut in Sydney-based punk rockers, the Exserts, until May 1983. His musical influences include punk rock, psychedelia and new wave. During the mid-1980s Holmes was a member of Bug Eyed Monsters, alongside John Boyce on bass guitar and Mark Temple on drums. In 1986 the trio formed the Hummingbirds, as a pop group. Holmes described their name, “I don’t particularly like it but it stuck. We were in a hurry when we recorded our first single and it was innocuous enough for all of us. But it’s an appropriate name — it’s light and inoffensive and relatively memorable.” Soon after they were joined by Alannah Russack on guitar and Boyce soon departed, and with the subsequent addition of singer/bassist Robyn St. Clare, the classic Hummingbirds lineup was in place.
Although criminally unknown outside of their native Australia, the Hummingbirds’ dreamy boy-girl harmonies and refreshing jangle pop sound positioned them among the brightest bands of their era. After signing to the indie label Phantom, the group debuted in mid-1987 with the single “Alimony”, which was written by Holmes.
After three more 1988 singles — “Everything You Said,” “Swim to Shore,” and “Hindsight” — the band signed to the rooART label, and with noted producer Mitch Easter entered the studio to record their 1989 debut LP, the superb loveBUZZ, which peaked at No. 31 on the ARIA Albums Chart. The Canberra Times’ Kathryn Whitfield observed “he likes his music loud enough to rattle his bones and vibrate his internal organs, and judging by the somewhat speedy success of the band’s debut album, loveBUZZ, there are a lot of other folk who enjoy the same experience.” Most of its 14 tracks were written by Holmes, although its lead single, “Blush” (August 1989), was co-written with St Clare. It became their highest charting single when it reached No. 19. As of August 1989 Holmes was working in a record store (which was also his group’s label), Phantom Records, while St Clare worked in a book shop and a coffee shop. Holmes and St Clare became domestic partners and, in 1991, they had a child, Milo.
When the album became a hit in Australia, it was licensed for U.S. release by the Polygram label; however, despite excellent reviews, the LP stiffed, and the Hummingbirds’ career suffered seemingly irreparable damage. Despite strained relations with rooART, they forged on, with drummer Shane Melder taking over for Temple; after another LP, 1992’s Va Va Voom (released solely in Australia), the Hummingbirds moved on to the tiny indie IV Recordings. After two final 1993 EPs, Gone and Tail, the group disbanded in December of that year. Holmes a little later joined the band “Fragile”.
During 1992, while still with the Hummingbirds he issued a single, “Strung Out”, under the name, Revhead. In the 1990s Holmes helped run an alternative culture bookshop and record store-label, Half A Cow, in Glebe and he also worked as a music retailer. As a record producer he worked on Custard’s second album, Wahooti Fandango (July 1994), the Fauves’ second album, The Young Need Discipline (November 1994, co-produced with Wayne Connolly) and Things of Stone and Wood’s fourth album, Whirligig (September 1996, co-produced with Things of Stone and Wood, James Black).
In the 1990s he was involved in running the alternative culture and bookshop Half A Cow in Glebe in Sydney and also worked as a music retailer.
By October 2004 he was a member of Her Name in Lights, which issued their debut album, Into the Light Again, on Laughing Outlaw Records. Holmes provided bass guitar, lead guitar, and pump organ; and also produced the album.
Together, theHummingbirds released four studio albums, including a greatest hits compilation in 2001, and four EPs. Though they disbanded in 1993, The Hummingbirds reunited in 2011 for a set at Big Day Out, followed by a few follow-up concerts over the years.
Holmes also featured in the 2008-formed band The Aerial Maps, who paid tribute to their “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,” lead vocalist Adam Gibson wrote on Facebook.
“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.”
Holmes worked in other bands such as Rev Head and Fragile and he was involved in pioneering record-store-turned-label, Half A Cow.
He also produced tracks for the likes of Custard, The Fauves and Died Pretty.
Simon Holmes elected to leave this world on his terms on July 13, 2017. He was 54.
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