How Random Hold learnt to live without tonal experimentation.
Hugh Fielder, Sounds, 22nd March 1980
BANDS can point to a positive influence that propelled them out of the closet
to face the world as a rock and roll band - years ago it used to be Chuck
Berry but these days it's more likely to be David Bowie . . . or maybe the
Jags(!): But Random Hold's formative influence was a negative one. David
Ferguson and David Rhodes went along to see 801 featuring Phil Manzanera
and Brian Eno at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in September 1976 with high expectations.
"I was looking forward to some musical experimentation but I found it a
very staid affair," remembers Rhodes. "There didn't seem to be an element
of risk involved," adds Ferguson.
I remember the gig as an enjoyable one and certainly in the light of Manzanera's retreat to the bland security of Roxy Music it seems a positively adventurous step. But then I didn't go out and form a band the following day. The two Daves did. "That gig was the catalyst we needed," says Rhodes. "The two of us got together and started making noises immediately afterwards."
They're starting to get somewhere with their noises now. Random Hold have been supporting Peter Gabriel on his tour and I met them over breakfast in the austere grandeur of the North British Hotel in Edinburgh, feeling a lot less paranoid about the length of my hair than I was the night before. But these skinheads are of the Mensa variety rather than the Mensi variety, thanks to the clean Dulwich College education that's shaped the vowels and minds of three quarters of them, and given them expectations.
The early expectations of the two Daves were of the tonal variety and the initial name they gave to their group, Manscheinen, is probably sufficient musical description in itself. They played four gigs in Rotherhithe to a total of 24 people. "One gig was so bad we took the audience down to the pub for a drink instead," remembers Ferguson.
The name Random Hold was born soon after guitarist and vocalist Simon Ainley joined them - the two Daves were playing whatever they could lay their hands on around this time - but after another series of gigs they made the big decision to stop their tonal experimentation and see if they could write songs instead.
IT was around this time that bassist Bill MacCormick, who'd played with 801 that fateful day and had also done time with Quiet Sun, Matching Mole, Gong and This Heat was induced to join up. He'd also shared the two Daves' Dulwich education (although their ages are such that the connection is mare tenuous than you might imagine). Because of his seniority and his experience of the R&R system Bill was also appointed manager. He repaid the compliment by firing a succession of drummers and talking to bigger labels rather than the small independents they'd been in contact with before. "But we still weren't smiling as yet," he says.
Nevertheless, the music was starting to take a more positive direction. Bowie's Low had given them all heart and after just one gig with a new line-up they found themselves signed to Polydor, aided by a magazine article that implied that Polydor were very interested in the band - they weren't that interested but they were after they read the article. Such is the power of the press. They recorded a single which they promptly rejected and then Bill fired another drummer and the second guitarist.
If that bemused Polydor a little the new drummer must have astonished them. He was Pete Phipps from the Glitter Band! A surreptitious look under the breakfast table reveals that Pete is wearing plimsolls and not 15inch heels and silver lame trousers. And the story is already getting complicated enough without getting sidetracked, so I say little and keep scribbling between bites of toast and marmalade.
BUT by this time we've reached 1979 and there are no more line-up changes to come. Instead, there's a single called 'Etceteraville' which the band didn't reject and which came out last October to the infinite delight of the 700 people who bought it. "We wanted to record a double album to clear all the material we'd written and start afresh," says Dave Ferguson. "But it didn't work out that way. We had only played one gig with Pete drumming and we'd signed to Hit And Run management who also manage Peter Hammill. So we started recording with him producing and he felt we should use some new songs as well."
What eventually emerged was a five-track EP at the beginning of the year and their album, 'The View From Here', a few weeks ago. I'd advise new listeners to start with the EP as it's more adventurous than the album which is harder to assimilate. But better still go and see them live first. They've played only a handful of gigs so far but they are planning to do a lot over the coming months. And I suspect that that, more than all the other changes they've been through, will refine their sound and direction. Already they sound more accessible than they do on record.
"We want to get played on the radio now," says Dave Rhodes. "Once you're playing you want to be heard. Dave Rhodes is starting to get into the lyrical side of things and we're getting more melodic."
But Bill sums up the band's intentions best. "It's about taking chances and risks. If there ever became a Random Hold formula it would fall apart quickly."
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