I love you baby don’t mean maybe let’s be together you and me baby it’s you and me it’s me and you I love you baby I need you are the light of my life my –
‘As important as love songs are, between two people, that wasn’t my narrative,’ says David Holmes, talking about his new album, Blind on a Galloping Horse. ‘I was very conscious of we, rather than me. This album is about the moment, this particular time. It’s about us.’
‘Blind on a galloping horse’ seemed to Holmes a perfect metaphor for how it feels to live in the world today with all its inequality, division, restriction, corruption, lack of control. ‘The Troubles,’ says Belfast-born Holmes, ‘feel like pre-production for all this shit!’ But rather than offer escapism, seductive and necessary as that can sometimes be, the record’s motif is that we should keep our feet firmly on the ground and engage with the here and now. In Emotionally Clear, a series of questions are posed. Their delivery, over baroque pop fullness, is crystalline and direct. What do you believe in? you are asked. Do you believe in absence of evidence? In unjust punishment? In cognitive dissonance? The song is an invitation to think about how you align yourself and to be vigilant, to be emotionally clear. The first track on the album, a sweeping landscape of unease and alarm, is similarly focused. Words repeated over and over give the track its title. When People are Occupied Resistance is Justified. When People are Occupied Resistance is Justified. Clear and insistent, they ring out as statement of fact.
When writing songs like this, Holmes was very aware of ‘old soul records, beautiful, yet so often about unadulterated heartbreak. That’s what makes them so special. Look at Motown – a fleet of superhits – yet not many of them are happy songs.’ And so Blind on a Galloping Horse, in its engagement with global realities, is simultaneously a gorgeous experience. A track like Agitprop 13 won’t be crass sloganeering. No, because it’s delicate, pretty, percussive, thoughtful. Mental health is another significant reality. Love in the Upside Down begins in drama-laden, gum-chewing, Shangri Las style. I fell in love with somebody else. Oh yeah? Who? Myself. A pulsing beat becomes a full and euphoric sound, one that is echoing and polyphonic as the song celebrates agency and worth.
The brilliant singer on Blind on a Galloping Horse is not Holmes. It’s Raven Violet. ‘She’s incredible,’ he says. ‘Her voice is really visceral but not sentimental, beautiful and nonchalant, emotional but not excessive. She sung Hope is the Last Thing to Die and It’s Over, If We Run out of Love, and then I thought we should continue. It was a beautiful thing to collaborate with her.’
That single, Hope is The Last Thing to Die, is a dusky piece of atmospheric pop in English and French. Let’s make some changes, Raven sings. It’s a rallying cry against the elites that have failed us. Let’s make some changes.
Because life, as Holmes says, is just too short not to.
I remember when we were young, they said peoples day would surely come, go the lines of It’s Over if We Run Out of Love. Its minimal electronic bass drones, fizzing rhythms and bright rush of a chorus doesn’t just take us on a nostalgia trip. It’s an ode to the importance of preserving, always, the exuberance and optimism of youth.
Such enthusiasm and delight in sound is something that David Holmes has never lost. Since The Holy Pictures, his last solo album in 2008, Holmes’s work has been prodigious and diverse. In addition to producing and remixing numerous artists, he’s been responsible for numerous film and TV soundtracks including Steve McQueen’s Hunger, Michael Winterbottom’s This England and Lyra, the documentary about murdered investigative journalist Lyra McKee. In the mid-2010s, Holmes formed the band Unloved with fellow soundtrack artist Keefus Ciancia and singer Jade Vincent, their music featuring heavily in each series of the internationally successful BBC TV series Killing Eve. But it’s just as likely that he is in some unshiny spot, possibly near you, playing his mix of unclassifiable sounds – cinematic, rock and roll, pysch, house – to some rapt congregation of freaks, those lovers of music and good times.
Here’s this energy flash of sedition and warmth talking about the past: ‘My house was bombed when I was four. My brother had to go and live in Chicago when he was seventeen because his best friend was shot dead. But I was just trapped in my own little world of fantasy. That was my escape. Your imagination was your best friend. If there was a good movie on you were so lucky. You had your record collection. And when acid house happened, I had a brand new world sent from the gods!’
And so, thirty years later, the thrill is still there: ‘When you are making music it is a collection of different ideas and references and instinct. I love music that is magical. I love Disney soundtracks, Chicago house music, melodic aspects of Can. There’s no plan so follow your gut. Honest and abstract. Just a trajectory of time and taste.’ In the song Necessary Genius, a paean to dreamers, misfits, radicals, outcasts, outsiders and all other necessary geniuses, Raven gives an incantatory roll-call of greats to believe in: Samuel Beckett, Angela Davis, Tony Wilson, Weatherall, Terry Hall, Nina Simone. On and on the list goes. Because, as Blind on a Galloping Horse knows, life is, for all of its cruelties and injustice, also full of the precious and glorious.
Words: Wendy Erskine.