Home Boy

Why David Holmes is happier in Belfast than in Hollywood

David Holmes is sitting in a quiet corner of the Big House, a favourite bar of his on Belfast’s Ormeau Road. It’s mid-afternoon in early spring and there are just a few other regulars in the place supping pints as horse-racing noisily plays out on the TV by the bar.

It’s not the most glamorous of locations for a man listed by Entertainment Weekly as one of the top 100 creative people in entertainment worldwide – and one who comfortably rubs shoulders with Hollywood’s elite. Holmes might be quickly becoming the modern day John Williams of film soundtrack composing but he is not your average over demanding superstar musician.

‘I’ve always liked Belfast,’ he says. ‘I can see it changing because it is a much safer place to be, but I’d hate to see it lose that rawness it once had. There is still something about it - you won’t find people anywhere who are more straightforward. I’ve never really lived anywhere else and I don’t want to.’

After a quiet few months, Holmes has become very big news again. His latest collaboration with director Stephen Soderbergh is Oceans 12, the George Clooney-starring sequel to mega box office hit Ocean’s 11. The film did moderately well in Europe after lukewarm reviews in the US (pointedly, only the music received any positive remarks). And though this is the third feature he’s worked on with George Clooney (Ocean’s 11 and Out Of Sight the others), Holmes insists he's not part of the Hollywood glitterati.

‘It’s funny because people think me and George Clooney are best mates. I’ve met him maybe ten times. If I saw him, I’d stand and chat to him, but all we’ve done is work on films. I’ve met Clooney and Brad Pitt onset – they’re nice blokes, they’re very down to earth. They’re very humble considering what they’ve got going for them.’

It’s still a long way from Sugar Sweet, the club at Belfast's Art College where Holmes cut his teeth in the early 90s. Sugar Sweet was the city’s first serious dance club. It helped build Holmes' reputation as someone who could ride the acid house and techno wave, but still liked to fearlessly throw in much of the music he grew up loving – from punk and jazz to Northern Soul.

Through the club’s reputation, he started to work with more established names like Andrew Weatherall and in 1995 released his debut album This Film’s Crap, Let’s Slash The Seats. Despite it’s anti-celluloid title, the album was steeped in love of the work of John Barry and Ennio Morricone and in many respects was a dry run for the soundtracks that were to follow.

It’s partly a love of film that has driven Holmes back full circle to club promotion. After the birth of daughter Nina, (‘being a dad really shakes you up, really wakes you up to the reality of life’) he and wife Lisa decided to put firm roots down in Belfast. Holmes felt if he was to be here, he wanted somewhere he could go and relax. He kicked off new monthly club night ‘The New Left Bank’ in Spring & Airbrake.

‘I wanted to have this club to recreate what the old clubs were like – at Sugar Sweet where you walked in you just knew you were going to have a great night,’ he explains. ‘Everything had been taken care of. The music was cutting edge, the sound system was brilliant, the visuals were exceptional.’

Holmes, aside from being a multi-platinum selling recording artist, is a great publicist – both for himself and his native city. Snow Patrol might be generating heat for Belfast at present, but Holmes think the creative people at work on the ground are the best they’ve been for a quite some time.

‘I think the artistic community in Belfast is better than it has been for a long time. I did lose faith in it for a couple of years when I didn’t think there was anything going on anymore. I did feel it had become very dry. But things like Moving On Music and newspaper The Vacuum and that whole Cathedral Quarter that is really springing up now with new businesses and a graphic design community, revitalised my faith in it. It made me realise a club like this could work. There’s an edge again to Belfast.

‘I want to do a club that is challenging to people on a lot of different levels. I plan on showing films while DJs and live bands are playing. The whole of Spring & Airbrake is going to be covered in visuals showing everything from French new wave films to Italian crime films and collages of images. At the first club, we had Andy Votel [co-founder of the Twisted Nerve label with Badly Drawn Boy].

'For future events, I’ve got Bobby Gillespie coming over to do a DJ set, I’ve got Andrew Weatherall and the Two Lone Swordsmen. Weatherall is singing now in his own band. It’s rockabilly/gothic – like The Gun Club. The whole idea is to have interesting people playing interesting music.’

The club is only a small part of what is keeping Holmes busy. He has recently built a state of the art studio in Belfast and is getting to work on his next solo album. It’ll come out under his own name, as he has disbanded the Free Association – the group he put together for a 2002 album.

There is also more soundtrack work, again with Soderbergh.

‘I’m working on the Che Guevara film with him,’ he says 'I’ve been sourcing music for that. The film is about the last six months of his life and I’m trying to put a much more real slant on things, something more than just having Buena Vista Social Club play. Benitio Del Torro is playing Che, but that’s all I know because Stephen is still developing the script.’

By Paul McNamee