Thunderous Groove: Kim Salmon Remembers Brian Hooper

21 August 2018
Brian Hooper

Photo by Emmy Etié

Words by Kim Salmon

When Brian Henry Hooper left us all back on April 20, I’d known him for 38 years. Reflecting on all that time and all the things we did together as friends and as music colleagues, I think the thing that characterised our relationship the most was the fact that we were – in our peculiar way – each other’s teacher. Whether the subject be what is rock and roll or punk (and what was not), how to do the right thing, how to do the wrong thing, how to have grace, how to be disgraceful, how to attempt to have style, the right way to drink red wine and spill it on one’s cream-coloured suit, how many shows you could go without dry-cleaning said suit, what the damned chords for the song were, how not to care what the chords were… Each of us could show the other a thing or two.

Brian was about five years younger than me. We were from different ‘waves’ of the Perth punk scene. Naturally I felt I could show the young upstart how it was done, and naturally he thought he could prove to the old fart that he knew better. Thus was set the dynamic of a lifelong relationship.

In 1987 we found ourselves back in Perth. We’d both done a bit since the punk days. We’d crossed paths numerous times on our travels – in the UK and ‘over in the eastern states’ (that’s anywhere west of WA to a Perthite). I asked him if he wanted to be in the band I was starting; he was up for it. He was, I soon learned, always up for anything! He was the guy who could do a gig, party all night long, then stick on a suit the next morning and go to work. He did this for years.

I told Brian that I wanted employ an anarchist approach to music, but it was him that truly showed me by example how to do that. With him and Tony Pola, we made four albums (literally on the fly), went on to get wasted and miss international flights, do runners from London cabs, get lost in the Bavarian snow out of our heads… and plenty of other stuff to confess outside a church.

I showed him my ideas and he always had a different take on them. If my idea was highfalutin’, he’d tell it back to me all prosaic. If it was nuts and bolts, he’d see wild romance. He had his own ideas to contribute, and I, for sure, took them elsewhere. Songs like ‘Melt’ and ‘I Fell’ were such songs. He added wildcards to my hand. Add the joker Tony Pola to the game and we were bound to win. That was the Surrealists: Brian, Tony and me. How could we fail?

‘I Fell’ by The Surrealists’ 1993 album Sin Factory.

Then there was the Beasts of Bourbon. We rocked side by side for a couple of years until it got too much for me. Brian continued. Eventually he left the Surrealists. He found other gigs. From afar I watched and listened as he fulfilled a very familiar but different role with Roland S Howard. He and his unmistakable thunderous groove provided the perfect foil to Roland.

Later, we became estranged. For a decade, he said. It was less, I say. In this time he had a dreadful accident and fell off a building. He was meant to be a paraplegic. Brian was never one for rules. He beat the prognosis.

I’d thought of him as a side-player. Like Keith Richards or Johnny Thunders, mind –but a side-player. He went and broke that rule and released three of his own albums. He’s left us with two more in the pipeline.

We reconnected largely due to Brian’s wife Ninevah. I’m eternally grateful to her for that. I always thought there was something poetic about Brian marrying a social worker.

Back together, we jammed in tandem on the soundtrack for a doco about Afghanistan street-gangs called Snow Monkey (we still had it!); did Beasts of Bourbon reunions (we still had it!); had dinners round our place to rehearse for a version of the Surrealists; played at my partner Maxine’s 50th (we still had it!); had dinners round his place with Ninevah and his ‘mini movie star’ daughters Charlize and Ava; and had lunches with his family, including his daughters Nina and Lana. I even met Brian’s grown-up son Matthew a couple of times. We went to some funerals. We did non-rock and roll things.

November last year, I heard about his diagnosis. In the ensuing five months he was truly inspirational in how he dealt with the situation. I watched him face his future with hope, humility, graciousness, courage and finally acceptance. Those last months were a lesson for me that I’ll never forget. Brian was the teacher, which brings me to where I started. I’m a better person for having known Brian, but from my own selfish point of view, all I can think is I’ve lost the person with whom I can share all those specific memories. Which is why my heart goes out to Ninevah, Brian’s family and the greater music community. He left a lot of memories around the place.

Brian with collaborator Rowland S Howard. The pair made musical history with Rowlands’ 2009 solo albm Pop Crimes.

This story originally appeared in the Radiothon 2018 edition of The Trip magazine. Subscribers recieve The Trip free in their letterboxes three times a year: in April, August and December. Subscribe to receive the next one, chock full of stories about life at Triple R, the Melbourne music community, political and social issues, and heaps more.