The Early Years

In which the two Davids makes loads of strange noises
Bill MacCormick finds lots of excuses
And Simon Ainley runs out of them

Random Hold was the brain child of David Rhodes and David Ferguson. The sonic, musical and visual personality of the band, throughout all its incarnations, was theirs. No-one else had a significant impact on the band's character. Theirs was the vision and the music.

Variously described as 'gloom rock' and 'songs for swinging suicides', the band's music tended towards bleakness and darkness with an underlying air of threat and malevolence. And that was on a good night.

The initial drive to make music or, perhaps more accurately, create sounds was spawned by the two David's disappointment and disillusion with the Manzanera/Eno 801 concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday, 3rd September 1976 (although, personally, we quite enjoyed it, Ed.). The two found themselves sitting next to one another and, after the performance, decided - either over a curry (Rhodes) or in the pub (Ferguson), whichever one, a few beers were bound to be involved - that the concert had lacked 'danger', was too mainstream and had been a waste of the assembled musicians' talents. They could do better, they concluded.

The two knew one another in a distant way. Three years had separated them at Dulwich College and, for a time, Rhodes had messed about musically with Ferguson's younger brother. After leaving Dulwich, Ferguson had gone to study Serbo-Croat at the London School of Slavonic and East European Studies (as one does, although we've never heard him utter word one in that particular Balkan tongue). On becoming the only Serbo-Croat graduate in the UK he embarked on a variety of jobs, many involving forays into the theatre where he sound engineered, stage managed and made noises 'stage left' in productions from Edinburgh to London via Stoke.

David FergusonAll the while, he maintained the close family interest in the 'about to self-destruct' British Labour Party. This led to numerous acrimonious political arguments with another Old Alleynian (i.e. Dulwich College old boy) one Bill MacCormick who, in 1973, had joined the equally hopeless cause, the Liberal Party. These two drank in the same pub, The Railway Bell, in Gipsy Hill, South London and the two could often be seen shouting at one another in a reasoned and rational way late on Friday nights, pint of Youngs bitter in each hand.

David Rhodes, meanwhile, having survived his final year at Dulwich (playing, for one not too large, a peculiarly and riskily aggressive season for the school's rugby 1st XV), went on the classic path for the budding rock musician. He went off to college to study 'Fine Art', first at Leeds and then London.

Their co-incident arrival in adjoining seats on the South Bank can be viewed, therefore, as serendipitous (unless, of course, you were employed by one of the record companies that went on to lose thousands signing them in later years).

Having been badgered into pursuing the decision to turn round modern music by Rhodes' then girl friend, the two Davids set to work with a will. The fact that Mr Ferguson had no particular musical skills and that Mr Rhodes had successfully forgotten most of the guitar licks he had learned at school was not, at least initially, a problem. This was going to be experimental music with a capital X!

Armed with Rhodes' guitar, a stylophone and an old bass guitar the two perfected reproducing the sounds of thousands of insects in a mating frenzy until, by accident, DF played a note on the bass, bottom E probably, by mistake. Suddenly, the whole world of tonality was laid before them. Playing to people, rather than teasing mosquitoes, became the objective.

A series of small musical soirees was arranged in the wholly inappropriate surroundings of working class Rotherhithe. Four nights, the 16th-19th December 1976, were taken up with performances at the Warehouse Theatre at 99, Rotherhithe Street, SE16 in front of a total of 24 friends and more or less bemused punters. Quite what the locals made of it is not recorded but, in a later interview, Ferguson recalls:
"One gig was so bad we took the audience down to the pub for a drink instead."
One person who was unavoidably detained when it came to an invitation to these shows was Bill MacCormick. He even went to the lengths of visiting Wolverhampton to see Wolves beat Bolton 1-0 as an excuse for his absence.

1976 slid inevitably into 1977. As the Rhodes/Ferguson axis developed their unique sound, adopted a new name - Manscheinen (the Teutonic overtones a reflection of their interest in such bands as Can and later Kraftwerk) - and generally became marginally more accessible, other soon or eventually to become Randoms were at work together.

Simon Ainley had left Dulwich to pursue a degree course at Manchester University in architecture. He took with him a guitar, an amplifier and a half-formed desire to be something in rock 'n' roll. Performing with a variety of more or less (usually more) inebriated student bands, he honed his heavy guitar licks and wrote a bunch of songs. On his return to London he ended up inhabiting a house in Upper Norwood which he shared with a number of other student and Dulwich friends. They, too, took to drinking at the 'Railway Bell' where Simon met up with Bill MacCormick. Letting no opportunity pass him by, he conned BM into listening to his song tape.

The timing was fortunate. MacCormick, at this time, was working with Phil Manzanera on the completion of the 'Listen Now' album. Backing tracks had been recorded, lyrics written, all that was missing was a suitable vocalist. Listening to the Ainley material, MacCormick was struck by his vocal style and took the tape off to Chertsey, where Manzanera lived in a large white circular house that resembled a wedding cake. Phil liked what he heard and, within a matter of days, Ainley was working at Basing Street studios, crooning the MacCormick/MacCormick lyrics in his own inimitable style.

Recording the album eventually became rehearsing for a tour promoting the album and, whilst the two Davids pursued popular success and critical acclaim with Manscheinen, Ainley, MacCormick, Manzanera, Thompson and Skinner (along with a veritable host of guest stars) swept all before them with a rollicking tour of Great Britain.

Rather less 'rollicking' was the Manscheinen demo tape then in swift circulation around the music business. Later to be described by one recipient, Allan Jones of the Melody Maker, as:
"extended, largely abstract, formless pieces; tapeloops and dislocated melodic fragments that spend an inordinate amount of time running slowly on the spot."
The tape did not unlock untold riches for the 2 Ds. No, they were to continue suffering for their art whilst Bill and Simon were getting legless for theirs in places as widespread as Dundee, Redcar and Plymouth.

1977 drew to a close with MacCormick and Ainley working expectantly towards the next Manzanera album (K-Scope) whilst Rhodes and Ferguson concluded that playing something that the listener could sing along to might be the answer to commercial success after all.

The first serious shock to anyone's preconceptions hit Simon. Confidently expecting to carry on as the Manzanera lead singer, he turned up at the sessions at Chris Squire's Sun Park Studios with a heavy cold and a wonky voice. For once his timing was seriously bad. Phil was a man in a hurry. Word has been received that the long Roxy sabbatical was at an end. Everyone needed some serious injections of dosh or, rather, the creative juices were flowing and a new album had to be made. Phil's timescale for recording and mixing the album was suddenly and dramatically curtailed. A vocalist was required, like, NOW, man and, unfortunately for Simon, one was available in the shape of Split Enz singer and crazed All Black Tim Finn. Ainley's contribution was ruthlessly reduced to a few rhythm guitar chops and a third of a publishing royalty on one track. Then, he was history.

But, as ever, one man's cloud was another's mixed blessing. The 2 Ds had Early promo flyer with Mike Witford on drumsbeen experimenting with song formats, although, as you might expect, they tended not to be of the verse-chorus-verse-chorus- bridge-middle eight-verse-chorus-out variety. They had even tried working with other musicians! One such had briefly been an extremely tall, good looking drummer with very large equipment called Pete Phipps, of whom more later. Sensing Ainley's crushing disappointment, they pounced with all the ruthlessness of a pair of beer-drinking piranhas one night at the Railway Bell. In his weakened state, Ainley put up little resistance and, before he knew it, he was a full-time Random Holder because, yes! this was the name chosen for the band in their new drive towards recognition, acclaim, sex and drugs and everything else.

Demo cassetteA new demo tape was recorded to supercede a rather fetching little electronic number clad in an orange cover. One side was cunningly recorded so as to sound like the music was being played at the bottom of a deep well through several layers of thick mud and the other was recorded at the bottom of a deep well through several layers of thick mud in an establishment in Covent Garden called 'The Basement Club'. An appropriate name given the band's then position in the musical pecking order.

Contact was made with a number of agencies with a view to widening their gigging experience. One such, Albion, controlled two well-known small venues in London, The Nashville and The Hope and Anchor. They were also trying to set up a record label and were on the look out for new bands with innovative musical ideas and a sound to match. Step forward Random Hold.

A few gigs were organised and invitations sent out to friends and others to attend. By this time, with the 'K-Scope' sessions at an end (cutting was completed at Strawberry in Strutton Ground on 27th May) Bill was at something of a loose end. He spent most of his time playing cricket (with several mean sessions of swing bowling for the Old Alleynian 1st XI), football and squash. So he was fit then. Otherwise, though, he was a bit perplexed about what the future held. One thing was certain, however, no way was he going to see that bunch of lunatics called Random Hold. NO WAY!

Every Friday and quite a few Saturday's he met up with one or all of the band in the pub. There was simply no getting away from them. Simon cajoled. DF grunted. DR muttered obliquely. Eventually, a mid-week cricket match in Epsom was cancelled and, in a moment of serious weakness, Bill was eventually persuaded to go and see the band play on Thursday, 20th July at the Nashville. To his horror he was pleasantly surprised, even excited. Something was seriously wrong.

Manscheinen publicity shot (nice car)
Manscheinen's publicity was a little rough and ready in those days. A single sheet of A4, one side comprised some rather murky black logos of indeterminate species and the other some erratically typed red text. This piece of prose gives an illuminating insight into the mindset of the two Davids at this time:

"Manscheinen are a performing duo currently working in the field of electric instruments. In no way, however, do they wish to be classified as simply another heartless electronic noise producing outfit. Their music is not synthesised but rather it consists of processed natural sounds. The music evolves from improvisation which is later codified and structured to retain as far as possible the spontaneity of the original idea when in performance.

Manscheinen are David Ferguson and David Rhodes.

David Rhodes is a sculptor who has worked both in Leeds and London. Educated primarily at Dulwich College and then at St Martin's School of Art, David plays guitar and was invovled in the nascent Dulwich music school which was to produce Quiet Sun amongst other more peculair offshoots.

David Ferguson was also educated at Dulwich College and then went on to read Slavonic Studies at London University. This was then followed by a two year period working in repertory theatres in Stoke, London and Edinburgh. David plays a bass and stylophone (à la Rolf), and has written various scores for the theatre, notably the Liverpool Playhouse production of Equus.

Both David's ambitions when they grow up are to be swimming pools.

Manscheinen are available to play at either your coming out or coming in party. We also have a tape of short tunes to smell your wet buds, should you feel so inclined.

For further information contact: David Rhodes/David Ferguson.

Ask for David
South East London Mercury
The earliest known coverage generated by Random Hold was the piece below (accompanied by the photo above) in the local South East London Mercury. This appeared on 29th September 1977:

'SELECTRIC

It makes a a change to come across a band that doesn't depend on ripping guitar licks and screaming vocals to put its music across.

Random Hold are such a select band. This two-piece was formed a year ago by Dave Ferguson and Dave Rhodes, who between them play various keyboards, bass, electric chordaphone and guitar.

They achieve their distinctive sound by utilizing a series of process systems involving tape delay, noise filter units, de-synchronised sound, rhtymn generators and many other 'little black boxes'.

Crammed into Ferguson's Camberwell home's front room, amid £5,500-worth of fancy-looking equipment and miles and miles of wire, the duo have been laying down tracks for a demo tape.

But what happens if the recognised companies don't like their music?

Ferguson replied without hesitation: "We believe in our music enough to bring out a recording on a private pressing. Nothing has happened to rock music in the past six years. It's vitally important to move forward all the time. We want to change the basis of music. We realise that we could struggle doing it, but we like to think of ourselves as the Second New Wave - or at least the lasting result of the new wave. Our music is 'body music' - it excites. A strong rhythm is an essential part of all our songs. We want to expand anmd are forming a theatrical roadshow for live gigs."

They gave me a sneak preview of teh demo tape. It has exceptional sound quality. The numbers have a solid, rhythmic, almost hypnotic beat running through them. There seems to be a heavy Pink Floyd influence in their writing, though both Davids dislike the band.

You can sample Random Hold's music at the Basement Club, Covent Garden, tomorrow night.

Rob Hope
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