Middle Class Answers Back
"We're all as mercenary as the next man. It's not impossible
that we'll end up like every other rock band in the world."
ALLAN JONES thinks otherwise.
Pictures by BARRY PLUMMER
Melody Maker, 9th December 1978
MONDAY night, somewhere in Bermondsey. Lost of course. Wandering bewildered
and frozen through the utterly confusing warren of backstreets, alleys
and dockside dead-ends crushed between the river and the Jamaica Road.
Collar up, hands so deep in pockets that your shoulders are pulled
right down around your knees. Just a maze, down here, of darkness
and the occasional reassurance of the sodium glare. Derelict factories
lurk in the shadows. Rusted curls of barbed wire and broken bottles
defy intruders along the tops of the shattered walls flanking the
narrow backtracks. Hope on a slow wane.
And just about to surrender to the misery of the adventure and retreat
to the nearest pub when you stumble frostbitten upon the New Concordia
Wharf. The heart rises in quiet celebration. Contact made. At last.
You stumble with a distinct lack of nimble athleticism past the abandoned
autos, fall into concrete passage violently lit by naked overhead
bulbs. Flight cases litter the long hall-way. Tattered posters and
graffiti on the walls. Push open heavy fire-door, into soundproofed
rehearsal studio. Say hi to Random Hold.
Group looks disenchanted: not in the most optimistic of moods. They
have been waiting through a long, cold afternoon for an A&R chap
from Polydor. He called an hour ago to cancel the meeting. Random
Hold are disappointed and angry. They are reluctant to play. The reporter
feels uncomfortable. The group decide to throw caution and reticence
out the window. They will play.
left-to-right picture caption (with brief biographical details) would
read: David Ferguson - Age 25. Synthesizers and voice. Previously
member of experimental music group, Manscheinen. Founder member of
Random Hold. Studied Serbo-Croat at the London School of Slavonic
and East European Studies. Worked as sound engineer and wrote scores
for theatre productions in Edinburgh, London and Stoke.
David Rhodes - Age 22. Guitar and vocals. Previously member of experimental
group Manscheinen. Founder member of Random Hold. Studied Fine Art
in Leeds and London.
David Leach - Age 23 - Drums. Previously member of the Lesser Known
Tunisians. Studied Philosophy and Politics in Southampton. Joined
Random Hold in October 1978.
Simon Ainley - Age 24 - Guitar and vocal. Previously member of Phil
Manzanera's 801. Performed on "Listen Now" and "K-Scope". Studied
architecture in Manchester. Joined Random Hold in April, 1978.
Bill MacCormick - Age 27. Bass and vocal. Previously member of Quiet
Sun, Matching Mole, Gong and 80l. Performed and composed for/on: "Matching
Mole," "Matching Mole's Little Red Record", Quiet Sun's "Mainstream,"
Eno's "Here Come The Warm Jets, "Before And After Science" and "Music
For Films", Robert Wyatt's "Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard", Phil Manzanera's
"Diamond Head", "801 Live", "Listen Now " and "K-Scope".
I TAKE a seat against the wall of the studio. The band tune up across
the room, about a yard in front of me: the group looks self-conscious.
"A captive audience, at last." says Ainley, nervously. "The largest
audience we've ever played to," says MacCormick. "It would be very
embarrassing if he started throwing things," says Rhodes. " This is
the first number," says Ferguson. "Sorry," says Leach, dropping a
RANDOM HOLD'S music successfully eludes any convenient classification
which is not to suggest that it is at all esoteric or even overtly
experimental. They have recently been ranked alongside new, ostensibly
alternative bands like The Pop Group, This Heat, Cabaret Voltaire,
the Art Bears, the Human League, Metabolist and (gulp) Throbbing Gristle,
a desperate bunch whose predecessors are supposed to include the likes
of Can, Faust, Henry Cow and others who pioneered the links between
rock and the electronic avant garde. Random Hold are not satisfied
with the categorisation, for reasons they will later explain.
They play, maybe seven or eight pieces on Monday at the Wharf Music
studios, and it is difficult from such a brief introduction (in conspicuously
curious circumstances) to either coherently describe, or fully assess,
the immediate impact of their music. It is instantly arresting; not
at all remote or intimidating in any self-consciously experimental
fashion. They are clearly not reluctant to make full use of the more
orthodox, musical vocabulary of rock: several songs are built around
the kind of nagging, almost dogged, riffs of conventional heavy rock.
There are harmonies! Melodic Songs with beginnings, middles and ends
(though not necessarily in that order)! The lyrics are oblique, cryptic,
maybe, but not obscure. But any recognisable device is filtered through
an intriguing process of reconstruction. They are predictable only
in their eclecticism, and their determination to eschew familiar constructions.
Ferguson's synthesizers and pre-recorded tape loops create an impressionistic
backdrop which, though limited, is used to precise effect. MacCormick
is a bass player of consistent invention and Leach anchors the music
solidly in the here and now. No effete meanderings here, mate. Ainley
and Rhodes (a very interesting young guitarist) mount zigzag guitar
assaults and the principal vocal leads (the only number they did which
failed to impress conclusively featured Ferguson on lead vocal - it
was, I think, something called "Littlewoods Jeans" - and he sounded,
unfortunately, like a BBC announcer on the edge of a nervous breakdown
commentating on a royal parade).
There were moments - as they veered more toward conventional rock
- when I thought that maybe eight years ago they would probably have
been described by Chris Welch as a progressive group. I imagined the
band with a light show and psychedelic slides, playing solos with
their backs to their audience. Then David Rhodes would throw in a
fractured guitar line and it would somehow be echoed by MacCormick,
and the music would take off on another tangent and the image would
The songs that most firmly lodged
themselves in the memory were I think, "We Are People Out of Love'"
and "Montgomery Clift" (with "The Ballad" coming in a close third).
"People Out Of Love," like most of Random Hold's material, is fiercely
emotional - though it's given to no tortured histrionics - with an
underbelly of black humour. It opens with a synthetic drum tape-loop
and a repetitive synthesizermotif, over which David Rhodes, in a taut
vocal performance, delivers the sly, ominous lyric. The atmosphere
is close to that created by Roxy Music on "Strictly Confidential":
the melody set ago an almost neurotic confessional from the singer
(shades, too of "In Every Dream Home A Heartache", perhaps). Rhode's
monologue continues, with the narrator expressing his emotional disaffection
in increasingly violent terms, as the other instruments overwhelm
the backing tapes. Rhodes begins to thrash out a rhythm part, which
Ainley counterpoints with discreet blues guitar - the effect is ingenious
and mesmerising. The piece concludes with a frenetic crescendo, with
Rhodes almost purple in the face with anxiety, urging himself into
a disconcerting frenzy.
"Montgomery Clift" an earlier song, I think (at least it appears on
a tape made by Random Hold last April), is constructed around a similar
musical premise. It takes as its theme Clift's curious neurotic habit
of hanging himself from windows whenever he was struck by one of his
frequent depressions. A great idea for a song. Random Hold invest
the disturbing scenario with a characteristic intensity, full of creeping
menace which again reaches a crazed climax. Listening to the April
tape, there are echoes in Ainley's vocal of Howard Devoto's declamatory
style of brooding narration: an affectation that has now been usurped
by a more individual reading. The piece ends. I'm impressed. The group
don't know quite what to do. I wonder whether I should applaud.. I
think it might be a little ostentatious in the circumstances. "Well,"
says MacCormick. "He's still here."
I HAD meant, originally, to travel with Random Hold to Oxford last
Friday. They were playing a rare gig at Pembroke College. The group's
gig sheet, at the moment, is as blank as a sheet of ice, a predicament
they don't anticipate will be rectified before Christmas. The New
Year, they hope, will introduce a change in their fortunes. The Oxford
gig - for which they were thankful and think was a success - was typical
of the ill-luck that has persistently afflicted them. They returned
to their van after a meal to find that someone had let down all the
tyres. "And they've probably pissed in the petrol tank," a college
porter casually informed them. They were still trying to repair the
damage at 4 a.m. on Saturday. Oy vey!
This was a minor incident, however, compared to some of the difficulties
they've faced this year. "We're in a difficult, irritating situation,"
MacCormick explains later on Monday, in a pub around the corner from
the rehearsal studio. "We're not short of interest. Seven or eight
record companies have already expressed interest in us. Four or five
have been down to see us. We've got a publishing company interested.
So were not short of that kind of interest from, shall we say; the
business. But were caught in this vicious circle, whereby we can't
get gigs because nobody knows who we are. And until we do some gigs,
of course, nobody's going to have the chance to find out anything
about us. Nobody's going to give us any publicity. Nobody's going
to write about us. And until we break out of that, things simply won't
move fast enough."
The problem, he feels, is not peculiar to Random Hold. It's typical,
he thinks, of the indifference most new bands encounter and have quickly
to overcome if they are to survive and prosper. The difficulties are
perhaps more emphasised and critical though in their case because
they are without a manager, and without finance to subsidise them
through this crucial period. At present, MacCormick is actually financing
the group himself. I hope he has an understanding bank manager.
They have further been plagued by differences of opinion with various
agencies, principally Albion, who control the Nashville - an influential
showcase still for an emerging band - and also the Hope & Anchor.
"They're vastly overburdened with acts, of course, but for various
reasons they're not fantastically keen about booking us." This has
less to do with Albion's reluctance to involve themselves with a band
like Random Hold with a reputation for playing experimental music
than with the band's refusal to sign a contract with Albion Records
and Albion's publishing company. Albion, then, wanted, the whole Random
"They wanted everything, and we weren't prepared to sign ourselves
to a publishing deal with a company which has no track record, no
international tie-up or anything. Nothing, really, in Europe or America.
It would have been ludicrous. Anyway, as soon as we refused to sign
that deal, the agency lost interest in us immediately. As it is, we
fortunately have one of the major publishing companies interested
and they're now trying to negotiate a recording deal for us. So we
have that interest, which is encouraging. But the frustrating thing
is that we need to play, to take that interest one step further. To
persuade somebody to actually sign us."
MACCORMICK accepts gracefully that the hind of music being pursued
by Random Hold fits uneasily into most fashionably accepted styles
at the moment. He is, nevertheless, convinced that, given the opportunity,
audiences will react favourably to their music. So far, they have
experienced no considerable antipathy, although they were received
recently with considerable hostility by an Adam & The Ants audience
at the Rock Garden. This, they feel, was an isolated incident, provoked
less by their music than the impatience of the audience who had ears
only for the Ants (unfortunate buggers).
"If it had been a Beatles re-union," says Ferguson, "they would've
been gobbed off stage. The Ants have a very, very fanatical audience.
They don't want to hear anybody else. And they certainly didn't want
to hear us. There were other contributory factors. It was before Bill
joined, and at that time we were using pre-recorded bass parts. And
they thought we were miming everything. And they didn't like that."
"As soon as I got to the microphone, Ainley adds drolly, "someone
in the audience shouted 'Fuck off! Go away!" Charming, I thought"
"I was in the audience," adds MacCormick, "and it was very unpleasant.
Adam and the Ants' audience was just a bunch of little fascists. That
was the problem. The nastiest audience I've ever seen."
"One of the bouncers was bottled," says David Rhodes, contributing
to the catalogue of disaster. "We found a knife under the coach we'd
turned up in. Two guys were evicted for carrying meat cleavers." My
God, this never happened to the Joystrings. "I should say;' comments
Ainley, "that Adam did apologise later. He's rather a decent. chap,
really. His audience are murder, though."
I ASK, in an attempt to chart the genesis of Random Hold, the extent
to which the basic concept of the group has changed in emphasis and
direction since the addition of MacCormick and Leach to the original
trio of Ferguson and Rhodes and Ainley. Ferguson and Rhodes, the two
founder members, are initially reluctant to retrace the group's entire
history. MacCormick persuades them that it would be informative.
"Well," Rhodes begins, "we went along to the 801 gig at the Queen
Elizabeth Hall (this would be in the late summer of 1976) and we didn't
like it at all. And we met in the pub afterwards and said, 'Right,
tomorrow we'll start on something of our own. We've decided that we
don't like that. Let's do something ourselves.' I'm not sure what
we didn't like. It wasn't quite working properly. It looked as if
there was a lot of talent going to waste. It wasn't exciting. It was
playing very safe..".
Ferguson: "It wasn't dangerous." Rhodes: "It seemed very easy. We
wanted to try to set up something that maybe wasn't quite so easy."
Ferguson, at this time, had never played an instrument. Rhodes had
not played guitar for several years, since quitting a band called
Mad Wog And Englishman. "They had one, too," chips in MacCormick.
"And I don't mean an Englishman."
"The feeling then," says Ferguson, recalling the impulse to form some
kind of group, "was similar to what became the great punk adage -
you know, the feeling that anybody can play."
Rhodes: "That was a very important part of it. I suppose our desire
to do something different was as much a reaction to the mainstream
of music, and the way it was going down. The desire to do something
different was something we shared with punk, in that respect."
Ferguson: "Except that we didn't at that time intend to become professional,
as it were. We just wanted originally to do little arty workshop things.
It was originally very vague, I suppose. The original intention, when
we first got together, was just to have one instrument - the guitar
and lots of tape effects, prerecorded tapes and things. To experiment
with textures. Because I'd never played an instrument in my life.
I had an old bass guitar, and the second week we were together I bought
a stylophone and a wah-wah pedal. And that's basically what we used."
"My God", says MacCormick. "What am I doing with these people?
FOR their first venture, Rhodes and Ferguson assumed the name Manscheinen,
and they recorded a tape of their improvisations which was, as they
put it, "scattered amongst the press and disc-jockey fraternity".
No one took much notice. I recall, now, actually receiving a copy.
Listening to it now is an amusing experience: clearly influenced by
the Eno-Fripp experiments heard on "No Pussyfooting" and "Evening
Star", it consists of extended, largely abstract, formless pieces;
tapeloops and dislocated melodic fragments that spend an inordinate
amount of time running slowly on the spot. Ferguson admits that these
experiments were useful as a kind of apprenticeship, little more.
They soon realised the limitations of their ideas in this context,
and began to write more considered and concise songs. At which point
Simon Ainley first became involved - "They kept asking me, and I eventually
ran out of excuses." Ainley alludes vaguely, to his involvements prior
to his work with Manzanera, and 801 on "Listen Now": "I was at university
... played in a few stand-up Chuck Berry rock'n'roll bands...".
"And" says MacCormick, cheerfully blowing the gaff: "he was at the
same boarding school as Phil." It later emerges that both Ferguson
and Rhodes were there, too an incestuous little bunch, non? Ainley
having graduated from university, began writing songs - "I decided
I wanted to become a rock n roll star" - which he later sent to Manzanera
asking for the guitarist's opinion and advice: "Phil didn't like the
songs at all, but thought he could use my voice. And a star was born."
Ainley joined Random Hold shortly after the original duo suffered
an apparently horrendous time with a drummer called Peter Phipps,
a former member of .the Glitter Band, no less. Ferguson: "He had an
enormous, gigantic kit. It would've taken up half the stage of the
Rainbow. Deafeningly loud.. We were able to lose him, fortunately."
Rhodes: "So there was the three of us... David, myself and Simon.
And then Bill decided we were in need of salvation and came in and
sacked our managers for us, took us into an eight-track studio to
record the demo, and generally made himself so indispensable that
we asked him to join a day later."
I MUST admit," says MacCormick, continuing a story which is beginning
to assume epic proportions, "that invitations to go and see these
two (FR) had been many. And I'd always managed to find a reason for
not going Then when Simon joined they did a gig at the Nashville.
I was, inevitably, invited. I couldn't find an excuse to refuse. So
I turned up expecting, if not the worst, at least not being able to
tap my foot or even nod my head to the music. And, actually, in the
middle of the set I did find myself tapping my foot to it. And, I
had to admit, I was rather impressed by it. They were obviously going
around in ever-increasing circles at the time, though, with their
management and other people. So I offered my assistance in whatever
way they thought might be useful. So they immediately took all my
money. And now I'm broke."
THE conversation, at about this point begins to veer into a general
debate about the attitudes of the record companies to music that defied
various established conventions, and the influence of punk in forcing
a reassessment of the traditional views of the music establishment
which need not in any detail detain us here. The thought strikes me,
though, that Random Hold might be seen by many recent converts to
punk and its perspectives as just a bunch of academics wanking around
on the fringes of rock 'n' roll, affecting experimental attitudes.
MacCormick: "It's one of the great fallacies of modern culture that
rock music is a working-class music. The great explosion of pop music
in the Sixties came from the art schools. And I reckon, at least,
that rock music is a middle-class music."
Ferguson: "To criticise us for our educational backgrounds is nonsense.
It's like saying we can't feel any emotion or passion. Passion is
not to do with things like 'Urry Up 'Arry We're Goin' Down The Pub'...
That's pathetic. That's just drivel. A pathetic fallacy. A really
spurious working-class statement. You can't ask us to be as simple
as that. You can't take simplistic stances if you don't think simplistically.
If you go around saying 'All politicians are cheats, all politicians
are liars', then you are just patently, obviously, ignorant."
MacCormick: "One of the things that was said about the new wave was
that it was all about returning rock 'n' roll to its working class
roots. In reality, it didn't really have any working class roots to
return to. If you look at, Jagger, say, or Lennon and McCartney, you
see its not true. Lennon and McCartney might have came from Liverpool,
which certainly has a fairly large working class population, but they
both came from essentially middle-class families. And even if they
were working-class it, proves nothing. Think of Bryan Ferry, fair
enough, his father was a miner in County Durham. But you look at the
path Bryan took on his career - he's an art school man. And there
has probably been a greater middle-class influence on his approach
to his life and work then any working class influence, I'm sure that
he'd admit that. The influence of him being the son of a County Durham
miner is minimal. And it was from the very start. He's obviously developed
further away from that the more he's mixed in sophisticated society,
but its influence was minimal from the start. I'm afraid the true
influence of the working class in rock music is very small. And I
suppose there are very simple reasons for it. The simple reason as
that it's a very expensive kind of career. There's an enormous expense
involved in putting together a group
Ferguson: "If my parents weren't prepared to support me to a certain
extent, I wouldn't be able to do this. I don't see why I shouldn't
MacCormick: "I think it applies to all of us here. If it wasn't for
the indulgence of our parents over the years then we would have succumbed
to ordinary jobs or topped ourselves. And I think that's true of most
musicians. I think when you get something like that Sham 69 single,
it's very much like the attitude of your average TV programmer - 'This
is what you want, this is what you get, because you're the working
class.' They're supposed to want the Sun and the Daily Mirror. They're
supposed to want rubbish. It's talking down to people. It's assuming
all sorts of things about people: And it's outrageous."
MacCORMICK has not yet been prominently featured as a writer in Random
Hold - though, they might introduce to their current repertoire "Walking
Through Heaven's Door" and " Gone Flying" both of which appeared on
"K-Scope" but his songs, especially, those he contributed to "Listen
Now" (he and his brother, Ian, wrote all the lyrics for that albums)
revealed a definite pre-occupation with political concerns. I wondered,
since he'd brought up very subject, whether his writing for Random
Hold would continue to reflect these concerns. It would seem inevitable,
I suggest. The lyrics for "Listen Now" were too pertinent and forceful
to imply that they were written to comply with any concept of Manzanera's
"The thing about that album," he says, "is that without Ian and myself,
without our ideas and lyrics behind it, that album would not have
come out the way it did at all. Phil doesn't have any contact, any
relationship with what's really going on in this area. I'm not suggesting
that Phil - or anybody else for that matter - should have any definite
political views. I happen to have definite views. So does Ian, and
to a certain extent our ideas overlap. Phil is really the typical
good-time, easy-going nice fellow, whose worries about what goes on
in the rest of the world are absolutely minimal. Fair enough. The
problem is that he doesn't, have any particular urge, therefore, to
say anything. I do. That's why those songs on 'Listen Now' were the
way they were. That's why the lyrics on the songs we wrote for 'K-Scope'
are the way they are."
"Personally - and I know we're going to have some Godalmightyrows
in Random Hold about this - I don't see any reason to change that
emphasis. There are enough good love songs in the world for me not
to have to write any more. If somebody wants to write a love song
for the group, fair enough. I know what I want to write about. And
that is maybe going to feel uncomfortable for people to sing and play.
Simon admitted last year when he had to sing the lyrics we'd written
for 'Listen Now' that he didn't know why they were the way they were.
But the two songs on 'Listen Now', which were the most overtly political
- the title track and 'Law And Order' - were written out of very personal
concern for what was happening. Ian wrote the lyric for 'Listen Now'
in a very depressed state. As a general. sort of warning. It was written
when the National Front, in particular, were beginning to make some
headway. And the general feeling was pretty desperate."
I MENTIONED earlier that Random Hold had recently been written about
as part of a vague movement that included the likes of The Pop Group,
This Heat and Cabaret Voltaire, and that they were unhappy with the
comparison. "We might have come from the same starting points," MacCormick
explains. "And there are some personal connections, but I don't think
we are in any way remotely connected to any of them."
"We're simply not as esoteric as them," says David Rhodes. "I can't
see any of those groups really selling many records. And we want to
sell thousands and thousands of records and become very successful."
"Most of those bands, I think," observes Ferguson; "with some possible
exceptions like The Pop Group, would probably be happy being fringe
theatre companies or the musical equivalents."
"There's no point," MacCormick elaborates, "in getting involved in
the record business, with management companies and record companies
and the whole lot, unless you want to make money. It's a business
that thrives on turnover and sales. And you have to accept a certain
complicity in the business machinery. Otherwise you have to be satisfied
with doing things on a very small scale with rotten equipment. If
you want to achieve something more ambitious, you have to get involved
where the big money is. With the major companies. It's as simple as
that. And you are prepared to make the concessions and the compromises
that signing a deal with a major company will probably involve?"
"I don't think there's any danger in making a compromise if you can
benefit from it," Rhodes argues. "I think the danger to a group always
comes after they're successful. It's a question of whether you're
able to remain as true to your ideals as you were when you started
out. There are so few bands that have made it in a big way who've
been able to keep up their original impetus, to retain those qualities
that originally gave them that genesis of interest. There are very
few who have managed to stay true to their original ideals once they've
"That's when the pressure is brought to bear on a band by the record
companies," adds MacCormick. "You've had a successful album, and they
want you to stick to the same magic formula. And you do the tour and
the audience only wants to hear what they already know..."
"Yes," says Ferguson. "That might be the case. But I really can't
see Random Hold doing a 12th anniversary album, you know. The possibility
is too remote. At the same time I'm not putting a time limit on it.
It's all a question of what actually opens up for us. But I don't
intend carrying on something once I've become bored with it."
"It's all very well saying that now," MacCormick reminds them (your
reporter has taken a back seat in the discussion by this stage leaving
the lads to get on with their group therapy session). "It'll be I
much more difficult to act upon that when there's guaranteed money
coming in, and you've got your flat, and your television games . .
. the pressure will be on us if we become only half as successful
as we hope we'll be. It's not impossible that we'll end up like every
other rock band in the world. We'll think it's so great to be successful
that the temptations will probably be too great to resist . . ."
"Yes," says Rhodes, a little peeved, "But we're, fairly bloody-minded
. . ."
"Ahhhh," scorns MacCormick, "you come across other bands who've been
fairly bloody-minded. Look what's happened to them. It's a matter
of knowing that you've got money coming in . . you know that you can
afford certain things. You want a new car? You want a new guitar?
Off you go to the management company and there you'll find the money
for it. And you try to get out of that. And don't tell me that you
won't be a problem. You won't give up all that easily just for your
"Yeah," Ferguson says, as miffed as Rhodes (but humourously, you understand),
"But we're not asking for an incredible, unbelievable amount of money.
Just enough to function on. I mean, if any, body came along and offered
us a quarter of a million quid, it would be very nice .. but
"Come on, David," laughs MacCormick. "Let's face it, if anybody offered
us that kind of money, nobody in this band would turn it down. We'd
all be thinking - 'Ah, my own pinball machine. A jukebox. My own Seawolf
television game! Let's face it, when it comes down to it, we're all
as mercenary as the next man. We'd just find ways of justifying it,
"I'd like a red sports car," says David Leach. We all look at him.
"Bloody 'ell," says Ainley. "You don't say, much, but when you do,
you really come out with some gems."
I ask if anyone would like a drink and turn off the tape recorder.
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