Au Revoir Christian, from a bandmate and friend

hhmn-2009
Christian Houllemare (centre) with the reformed Happy Hate Me Nots, with the author, Matt Galvin, next to him, second from the right . Mark Roxburgh photo

It's hard to remember how I first got to know Chris Houllemare. Was I a fan, a friend or a bandmate?

I was 15 when The Happy Hate Me Nots released their first two singles, in 1985. I saw them by accident at the Strawberry Hills Hotel after walking down Foveaux Street (fuck, EVERYTHING is French this week) from a World Series Cricket one-dayer, and I used my bus pass as ID to get into a gig at Hurstville Master Builders club not long after.

I was smitten. It was kinetic, real lyricism, real heart, really fucking fast. All at once.

A mysterious "allo Tra-cee" coming out of my radio in between songs on a Live at the Wireless set when I was home from school with the measles. Then SCRAP, Then SALT, SOUR and BRIGHTON, Then the cartoon in B-side magazine that told the story of the band, the one that depicted Chris coming off a plane dressed in a stripey shirt and beret, carrying a grocery bag full of baguettes. OF COURSE...NEW BASS PLAYER...FROM FRANCE.

Lots of radio interviews and local press, and pre-WWW fanzines from far-flung lands. Chris always jumping in before the DeeJay had a chance to say "Were you in THAT Bad Brains?"

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Bad Brains promo shot. Christian is in the middle and thought the shot made him look like John Fellice from The Real Kids.

Then OUT, and just about every Sydney HHMNs gig right up until the end in 1990. Chris and Mick Searson were THE rhythm section. His fluid yet propulsive style on his black Rickenbacker 4003, ducking and weaving around Mick, and anchoring the perfectly dovetailed guitars of Paul Berwick and Tim McKay (RIP). My band was lucky enough to play with them a half dozen or so times. A friendship was fostered through these shows.

Chris liked my next band because he thought one of the songs sounded like The Afghan Wigs, a band I'm sure he played first when he got to his new digs this week. We got to know each other better, and would bore each other stupid about REM bootlegs and Big Star demos, while smoking way too many cigarettes.

His contribution to The Someloves' classic first two singles shouldn't go unchecked either.We then become bandmates of sorts during the sessions for The Orange Humble Band's first album...Darryl Mather, Bill Gibson, Pete Kelly, Paul Berwick, Brett Myers, Chris Houllemare and me, the fanboy.

Then The New Christs...he told me not long ago that he moved to Australia to get closer to the music he loved, in the hope of maybe participating in a meaningful way...he sure ticked a couple of boxes there.

nc-on-tour
On tour (right) with the New Christs in Europe with bandmate, the late Mark Wilkinson.

In 2006 I had a particularly hard day at work. I offered my resignation (not accepted, thankfully) over something I'd ruined entirely and found myself wandering around the city aimlessly. I took a call just outside the Forbes Hotel – "Hi, it's Paul Berwick here...we're looking to put the Hate Me Nots back together for an anthology release and we were wondering if you'd like to audition?"

There it was. Lots of gigs together over the next six years, a little bit of a dabble outside of Sydney – memorable gigs with Radio Birdman in Canberra (this made Chris particularly happy) and an east coast tour with The Buzzcocks, which was hilarious from start to finish. I was playing Happy Hate Me Nots songs...IN THE HAPPY HATE ME NOTS! Lots of rehearsal, lots of driving, lots of smoking, probably too much drinking, lots of listening to Chris talk about all manner of subjects.. Lots of Chris talking, lots of Chris talking, and lots of Chris talking. I've been told I do a good impression.

The outpouring of hearts over the last couple of days has been overwhelming, and all of us, to the last person, have remarked how 'sweet' and 'beautiful' Chris is to everyone. These traits are non-negotiable.

bizzoschrisal
On stage in Sydney in the New Christs with Big Al Creed on guitar.

I'll remember the odd little things – the leather wristband he always wore, his disposable Copperart-esque lighter cover that had 'Bat' written on it, the strange trumpet noises he made when he thought no-one was listening, his penchant for vests and western shirts, his summer 'at ease' ensemble of cargo shorts and sandals at rehearsal, and wondering if he'd ever stop talking and get out of my car when I dropped him home!

There's a track on OUT called 'Move for Love' that you should revisit. Listen to it here. Pay attention to Chris' bass line, from the opening pair of notes, to the sublime and uplifting majesty of the outro. Sympathetic, respectful, dependable, strident where it has to be, clever, sweet, and beautiful. Are you keeping up?

Chris Houllemare, I miss you, I love you, and you leave me as you found me... a fan, a friend and a bandmate.

 Matt Galvin plays guitar in Sydney band Loose Pills. His musical c.v. includes The Scruffs, Happy Hate Me Nots, Eva Trout, Barbarellas, Orange Humble Band and the Perry Keyes band.

 

Tags: happy, matt, galvin, christian, houllemare, hate, hhmn

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  • Guest - Jon Roberts

    Yep

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  • Guest - Kane

    Beautiful, Matt. Rock In Peace, Chris.

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  • I am so touched by the fact that some of my best friends (who happen to be the lovliest people to know) have put their feelings about Christian into words in such a beautiful way. I wish to fuck that Chris could have stuck around. I, for one, will miss the "er-well, ah dornoe". Vale Christian. Matty: So well said. Let's all look out for one another where we can.

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  • Guest - Juels

    Lovely piece. True Gent he was.

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  • Guest - John Pearce

    You don't know me but i knew Chris well and mark Wilkinson and i grew up together. Been around all these guys until i moved to London 2 decades ago- Matt that was heartfelt and epic thanks for being Chris's mate. All of you look after each other Oz needs musical souls don't any of you leave too soon

    from Shooters Hill, Brent Road (SE18) (N-bound), London SE18, UK
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  • Guest - phil minett

    Nice work matty !

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  • Guest - Kate

    Such a nice tribute and beautiful piece of writing , very evocative of those excitingdays. I also remember stumbling upon HHMNs @ the strawberry hills on a Saturday night sometime in the mid 1980s and bring blown away by their melodic speed! They made a big impressiin on me and remain a benchmark when listening to something new.
    I'm grateful to have been a witness of a genuinely exciting time in the Sydney music scene !
    YEP good idea : keeP looking out for each other folks

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  • Guest - James Chaplin

    Hi Matt,
    I first saw The Happys at the Vulcan Hotel one fri night and became a fan at once . A one month residency and i went back every time and bought more people to see them . High light was the drummer Mark Nichols throwing up to the left mid song and not missing a beat.
    Not quite Punk ,not quite Pop But tough muscular melodic music .
    Met the guys and then my mate from school Mick Searson ends up drumming . Now i know a real band.
    Went to Newcastle one weekend with the band on a mini tour with Gerry the manager.
    And then the east coast tour with the Buzzcocks , mick searson calls me up and says my name is on the door at the Great Northern Hotel in Byron Bay. I gave Mick a laminated vintage HHMN poster with the fat policeman on it .
    I remember talking with Tim about guitars and when he died.
    I remember when Christian Houllemare joined and earned his place in the band .
    Im glad Paul dragged his guitar out from under the bed ,strapped it on and gave the band another go. He seemed to enjoy it more second time around.
    Im 49 now , had a wonderfully mis spent youth in sydney 82--89 at the trade , the hopetoun , the landsdowne etc . I play in my own band up here in Byron Bay and try and play as passionatly as those guys did when they rocked out at The Vulcan .
    RIP Chris , RIP Tim . The music will always live on.
    Good Luck the rest of us
    James Chaplin
    Byron Bay

    from Byron Bay NSW 2481, Australia
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  • Guest - Pete Kelly

    Matty, I've just seen this having been directed to it from somewhere else. Chris was indeed a marvellous person. You paid a beautiful tribute to him. May we pass through at least a few more years without any more of our friends leaving early. x

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