Holiday Ghosts: A Magical Mystery Tour

Brighton has a unique reputation of being home to a ‘cooler than cool’ vintage community, with full boutiques and bric-a-brac shops full of strangers’ memories alongside bustling record stores. The community, as it always does, runs parallel to the music scene, housing bands like Fur and Honey Moon, making 50s dream rock alongside the turbulent and volatile punk bands like Porridge Radio and Our Family Dog. Holiday Ghosts, however, could soundtrack the golden age of the late 60’s and early 70’s. With the charisma of The Rolling Stones and and the raw talent for story-telling of Bob Dylan, Holiday Ghosts stand apart from many in individuality. Their third record North Street Air is a more observational take for the band, and it’s equisite to say the least. A personal favourite is ‘Off Grid’, the first single that came out leading up to the album release. It’s a buzzing, totally fun song to soundtrack the upcoming summer and all summers thereafter. The track, along with the rest of the record, will find a comfortable place in your brain (and heart) and stay there for a very long time. So, give yourself over, and surrender yourself to Holiday Ghosts’ North Street Air for one of the best records of 2021 so far, you will not be disappointed.

The rain jerked across the train window as I arrived into Brighton’s towering arched station, waiting for me at the exit was Sam and Kat of Falmouth-turned-Brighton band Holiday Ghosts. Greeting me with warm smiles in place of hugs, the two stood in total contrast to one another. Sam, a tall man, with a short bowl cut-esque haircut and a sharp face, then Kat; a short woman, made shorter by Sam’s sheer height, with delicate features and kind eyes. After exchanging slightly awkward, post-lockdown hellos, we collectively agreed that our combined hunger had to be addressed before getting to work. 

We had walked not 5 minutes before we stumbled upon a Lebanese kitchen named Alushi, we sat under dripping marquees exchanging stories and tales of lives lived. After deciding the marquees were as much use as a piece of paper against the cold rain we decided to head inside. The restaurant was merely a hole in the station wall but I’ll tell you now, they make a 5 star falafel wrap.  After the wraps had been eaten and more university stories exchanged, the pair began to walk me to a cafe down the road. Nestled in a side road off the lower end of Trafalgar street is Helm Ston Cafe; a Brightonian sanctuary, painted in bright colours, with green, yellow and purple pastries in the windows and overflowing in a musk of an unrecognisable array of incense. The two lead me in after greeting familiar faces outside the door, and shuffle inside the only booth hidden in a corner next to the cafe bar. The walls barely visible through an array of nik naks, collected by the owner, from – I’m assuming – the vast array of vintage boutiques and odd charity shops sprawled throughout the city. We sit eating bright coloured food and drinking fruit teas and we talk about their new record North Street Air

So guys, how are you feeling in the wake of the record coming out? 

Sam: Very groovy.

Kat: Yeah, feeling excited.

S: It seems to be going down pretty well, we’ve had some nice text – much more buzzed from getting the album out rather than single by single. It’s a nice collection.

K: It works well as a piece.

I know that The Kinks have been massively influential to you guys for the record, what were some of the other bands you were influenced by while recording the album? 

K: Like the bands we were listening to at the time? I guess there are the staples that we always go back to…

S: I was listening to The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry album on repeat. I can’t really say it influenced the music because it doesn’t sound like that. I don’t know – I mean we buy records and we normally limit it to the ones that cost £12 or less. I’ve got a lot of country… 

K: I had a really weird year, where I don’t think I actually listened to much music. We’d just moved to Brighton, I was working quite a lot, and in terms of what influenced the songs I can’t really think of music that I was listening to because I don’t think I was going after it at the time – but I was writing quite a lot, weirdly. I think what influenced me more was my day to day and what I wanted to say more than stuff that I was maybe listening to. 

S: The Kinks are obviously a big influence on British music in general, and we love The Kinks. 

K: There are always those bands that you go back to, and The Kinks are one of those for us. 

S: We did a tour with Beat Happening and that was quite influential, and we have to give Beat Happening credit for that, they’re super influential. I think when you make your own record and if you do a lot of demoing, I think the main music you end up listening to is your music. I was listening to the record through the demoing process intensely for two years making the album. 

Do you ever get bored of listening to music?

S: I get bored of bands… but no, I don’t get bored of music.

K: I think when you get bored of one thing, it’s so easy to find something else to focus on. I’m listening to a lot of reggae roots stuff and that feels quite fresh to me because I’ve never really delved into that until recently. I think with guitar bands, rock and indie stuff, we’ve done so much of that. I think it’s nice to have some variation. 

S: It can get boring trying to find new rock bands that you want to listen to, especially if you’re in a band that has that sort of lineup; you know, electric guitars, bass, drums – you kind of want inspiration. If I’m going to try on some new punk or new indie, it doesn’t always tick the box of what you’re looking for. I went through two years of only listening to jazz for that exact reason – there was some mystery again.  

So you guys met and formed down in the South West, in Falmouth. What’s the story with that, how dd you all get together?

K: When the band started, it was just Sam and it was called Holiday Ghost – singular. Creatively, when it became more than just Sam it became Holiday Ghosts. I learnt how to play drums in this band. I was living with Sam, and I got him to teach me a basic beat so I could play along with what he was doing. Then we started jamming a lot with our friend Charlie Murphy who wrote ‘Leaving Today’ and ‘Total Crisis’ on the record.

S: He was playing with me before you joined,

K: It was Sam, then Charlie joined, and then I joined, and I learnt how to play through playing with these guys.

S: I think the early songs me and Charlie wrote – because we were both in punk bands, quite fast punk bands – we also really liked other stuff, and we were writing some slower tunes and more chilled stuff, so we would put them together for this group. It went on from there.

K: It was basically the cast off songs that you didn’t want to use for your other bands…

S: They weren’t cast offs, they were inappropriate! We were pretty intentionally unambitious, we played like twice a week in the house. We were committed to writing and playing a lot of gigs, but only in Falmouth. We didn’t have any recordings or anything. It was just me and Charlie, who were already in our other bands.

K: It just started as us all hanging out, really fun. It was just our way of hanging out, really. 

S: By the time we did our first album, we had about 50 songs to choose from because we’d been writing for 4 years. After the first record came out, we started touring, and that’s how it started. 

You guys are in Brighton at the moment, how’s the shift been along the coast from Falmouth to Brighton?

K: Yeah it’s been good, really enjoying being in Brighton. Brighton’s obviously got a lot of music and bands that come and go.

S: There’s so much diversity here. We’ve just started putting on our own shows. Me and Ben, who’s the guitarist in Holiday Ghosts, started a promotion company – you can’t call it a company, it’s a thing. There’s so much going on. The only thing that’s been a bit difficult is that it’s a bit more expensive to find a rehearsal space, it’s difficult to find a spot where you properly ‘bed in’ if that makes sense. 

While recording the record, did you guys do anything special? Go anywhere special?

S: We started demoing stuff in our first flat in Hove in our bedroom. That was just an enormous room, it was the biggest bedroom I’ve ever seen. We did a bunch of demos, three of those cuts actually made it on the record, then we went on tour for a bit and then the band sort of disbanded. Me and Kat went to Cornwall to an Airbnb, met up with our old mate Charlie Murphy and recorded it in there. We did it all ourselves really, going between analogue and digital. When we started working with FatCat, they offered us their mixing space and we did the mixing in there. We did a bit of back-and-forthing with Sonny Smith from Sonny and the Sunsets; he was interested in the mixes and giving me some pointers. He did his own mix of ‘Bathing Suit’, where he chopped everything up and collaged the guitar parts and added loads of weird things. I really liked what he did, but it wasn’t quite right so I went back and re-recorded the collaged mix so it was a bit smoother. It was nice to lock ourselves away and spend a week there with no distractions, even if the only thing there is to do is to go to the kitchen and make coffee. Everything’s a bit more focused, whereas if you’re recording in your hometown there are a lot more distractions, like work, seeing mates etc. 

K: Whilst doing the album, I did loads of iPad stuff. When they were doing twenty thousand guitar takes, i was like ‘right, I’m going to go sit in the kitchen’ and just sat on the iPad and made some really weird music. It was quite enjoyable. 

Where’s been your favourite place to play a show?

K: We love playing in Belgium, we played De Aap, which I think is Dutch for The Ape?

S: Yeah – Belgium’s fun, you’re stood in the window next to the door, and people are opening the door while you’re playing and so that’s a fun one. There’s a venue in Falmouth called the Woodlane Social Club; it’s so, so old school. Nothing has changed since the 70s, all the members are in the corner, it’s kind of like that show Phoenix Nights. They always let me put on shows.

K: They’re always so pleased to have us there.

S: They’re so happy to have us there, and you can get about 150 people in there so its a really fucking good night. Those are some of the most fun gigs we’ve played in there. We’ve played some really big venues and really like ‘proper’ places, but the fun ones are the really small ones.

K: Out of the ones we’ve played, it’s always the not really hip places that stand out.

S: The Castle Hotel in Manchester is a really good spot – it’s all wood clad, it’s got an almost chapel roof and a really good sound in there. The last time we played there the rain was coming through the roof.

K: That wasn’t the rain! It got so hot in there that everyone’s sweat was falling on us!

S: It’s a really nice pub to have a drink at too, I think what we like is like legit old historical places. That have a bit more of a story, that have built up their own thing over the years… there are a lot of venues that spring up that copy a style but they just have no soul. 

K: Speaking as a member of the crowd too, people feel a lot more looser and more engaged when it’s not in some cold space, it adds a weird awkwardness in the air in a place that’s blank. 

S: I’m really fond of Victoria in Dalston, I’ve had some really great gigs there. It’s a really good sounding room and you can get an amazing crowd in there. The Delicious Clam in Sheffield, that’s run by a load of mates in Sheffield and they have a studio upstairs that they’ve built. It’s this old shop that they’ve turned into this floor-level venue, so everyone’s on the same level and it’s super DIY – plus it’s run by some of the best mates I’ve made in music. 

The records are filled with personal stories, do you feel like you give a piece of yourself each time when you write a song?

K: With this album, it was a mix I think. Before this record, I would tend to write a lot more with my heart on my sleeve whereas with this album it was a lot less about me and my feelings more about looking out. It’s still from my point of view and about my experiences though.

S: I think it’s quite observational

K: It’s almost documenting, taking note of different feelings.

S: I don’t write about my feelings anymore, I hit this point a while ago where I was like “who gives a fuck about what I’m feeling?” which in fact is total bullshit. I prefer to write observationally, or assume a role and make up or imagine a scenario. I’m more happy doing that nowadays, than writing about how I feel. 

K: It is still about how we feel though.

S: Most of the time I just feel pretty OK. I can’t write a song about feeling ok. “I’m OK – OK cool, what else?”

K: There’s been a lot going on, a lot of changes. With the landlord song [Mr Herandi], it’s about living in a really shitty neglected house and being like ‘why do you get to make your full dollar, while we’re living in this shit house that you’re not doing anything about’. There are other ones that came about from feeling – there are themes of being in a routine that you’re not happy with, or trying to break out of regular expectations. 

S: They’ve come out of experiences that we’ve found since moving here. It may make it seem like we feel negatively about Brighton, but in reality it comes more naturally to write a complaint than to write about being content.

K: It’s also intentional. We’ve very much had our heads in debates and discussions about things we disagree with, in society and with a lot of things that have been happening in the world. We didn’t set out to be political, we’re just having so many of those conversations that a lot of that has seeped into it as well. So I would say it’s personal as well. 

Finally, I’ve been dying to ask you guys, what do you have in your cooked breakfast?

K: This morning we had eggs on toast with steamed purple sprouting broccoli and ketchup. I feel like broccoli at breakfast is really underrated.

S: Greens! My favourite breakfast is definitely greens and egg on toast – the greens can be kale or broccoli.

K: You’ve got to slice the garlic super thin, not diced – sliced. Fry the garlic, fry some chilli in there as well, get some lemon in there then get your kale, then put some soy in there if you want, and then you fry your egg and you put that on toast and that’s the best.

Words: Willow Shields // Photos: Willow Shields

Holiday Ghosts’ third album, ‘North Street Air’, is out now via FatCat Records. You can stream and purchase the record via Bandcamp.

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