Scuttlers & Scoundrels and Barrels of Death - Geof Holmes (self released)
Geof Holmes is a name you should know, but the reality is that he’s unfamiliar to anyone outside a tight circle of Sydney musicians and followers of a certain vintage.
Holmes was one of the guitarists with Evil Roomers, the 1977 precursor to seminal Australian band X. With his close mate Ian Krahe on guitar, Steve Lucas on vocals and Ed Fisher on drums, they were in rehearsals when joined by bassist Ian Rilen, already on his way out of Rose Tattoo.
For various reasons, that line-up of Evil Roomers never got out of the practice room. Rilen, Krahe and Lucas would hook up with ex-cop Steve Cafeiro on drums to form the first line-up of X. Holmes went on to join Lucas, Rilen and Fisher in a potent 21st Century line-up of X. Last year, he sat in with the Lucas-only version of the band in Sydney for one song.
If you’re lucky, you might find a copy of the posthumous Evil Roomers 2CD set that Holmes issued about 10 years ago as a tribute to Krahe. It contains formative versions of songs that would become X standards. He’s kicked around with a few bands since (including Lucas’ Pubert-Brown Fridge Occurence) and since the mid-‘90s Holmes has been operating The Clubhouse, a simple but well-appointed studio in the inner-Sydney suburb of Glebe.
“Scuttlers & Scoundrels and Barrels of Death” is a product of that studio
It may take you time to get your head around the fact that this is a box set of three CD albums, in pouchettes, recorded by Holmes and three different bands from 1997-2005. Released in one hit. You might be even more incredulous to hear that he launched it with a low-key Sunday night show in Sydney recently - by giving away copies to anyone who asked.
If you weren’t there, all is not lost and you can score a copy on Bandcamp - for the princely sum of $A20. Plus whatever sum Australia Post gouges to send it. Or you can just pay a pittance to download it.
This is a box of three distinctive albums. The 1997 effort, “Barrels of Death” , is described by its maker as “punk to love songs”, while “Scuttlers” (2004) runs the gamut from Celtic rock to acoustic metal, to music hall and back to Medieval rock. “Scoundrels”, which dates from 2008, incorporates all of the above.
Players include Ed Fisher, Dave Toothill (Mental As Anything) on drums, Murray Cook (not the Wiggle but a very early member of Midnight Oil) on bass and Holmes on guitar, mandolin, keys, samples and vocals. Sparky the dog adds backing vocals. There’s a warm, ‘80s feel to the production and some nice home-spun touches.
Dip anywhere into these three CDs and you’ll find something to chew on. There’s a lot to absorb and you’re best doing so over a few sittings. Most of it is the kind of street-savvy, mid-tempo rock and roll that used to litter Sydney in the ‘80s, with Holmes’ warm and earthy guitar-work the central plank. There’s depth to the lyrics and it’s a cohesive body of work despite the different line-ups and stylistic departures.
“Happy Home” leads “Barrels of Death” and sets the pace with a spritely rock feel, withering guitar and workmanlike vocals. It might be labelled “punk” but it’s a long way removed from two-chord thrash. “Standing On A Corner” from the “Scoundrels” disc - the most sonically adventurous of the three - is a world-weary nod to anyone who ever tried to earn a crust as a professional musician in Sydney. The Lou Reed reference is clear. The grinding fuzz of “Too Cool” pushes into hard rock territory and its biting lyrics could be comment on the wheels of the music industry.
That should give you a taste. It should be all you need. Odds are you won’t know the names of the songs anyway - and you’re better off doing your own exploring. It’s a collection that has the feel of sticky carpet about it - circa Sydney late ‘80s - but it’s not limited to that time and place. There’s something for anyone steeped in Sydney rock and roll or with more eclectic tastes, so don’t let it get away.
Geof says he "released" this music from captivity- have a listen and you'll probably agree that we're the better for that.