Touring with Gabriel - North America

In which the band records a whole load of new material
They find a US record company
And they have a weird time Stateside

 

 
With the end of the tour and the release of the album now should have been the time for the band to get into some heavy gigging to promote the album. Some radio sessions too would have been useful. But all that fell by the wayside when Polydor dropped the band. Of particular frustration was the fact that a scheduled BBC 'In Concert', due to be recorded on March 24th, was dropped. Throughout the twelve months with the label not one British radio session or interview had been arranged. A triumph for all concerned.

Thankfully, and prudently, the band had kept back some of the Polydor and Hit and Run advances for emergencies - and this was certainly one. Tony Smith and Gail Colson also made it clear that they had no plans to drop the band and, indeed, Peter Gabriel had already asked them support him on his forthcoming tour of the USA. So, while Gail and Tony tried to find an outlet for the Random Hold material in the US, the band decided it was time to record some more tracks as demos for a potential second album. Several new songs such as 'Camouflage' and 'Passive Camera' had already been aired during the Gabriel UK tour and these, together with four or five others, would be the basis for the projected Random Hold album number 2.

Rehearsals and recording were all done at Wharf Studios and in their newly completed Black Wing 24-track studio. The sessions were scattered across late April and for a couple of tracks the band was augmented by Vic (?) who played additional keyboards. The sessions went well and the self-produced demos admirably reflected the musical evolution of the band, in particular a move away from some of the more ponderous songs to a lighter and more rhythmically complex and confident style.

But this burst of productive and creative energy was again dissipated during another period of enforced inactivity. The band had already played its last ever British gig and between the end of mixing the demos and the start of pre-USA rehearsals on Monday 9th June the band did nothing. Quite how the rest of the band filled their time is not clear. Pete Phipps undoubtedly played lots of tennis (he was rarely seen out of tennis shorts and shoes during the summer months). Bill MacCormick became increasingly involved in something that would come to dominate his life throughout the 80s, attending a variety of Liberal Party meetings.

Their managers meanwhile had found a company prepared to release an album to coincide The Passport coverwith the US tour. Passport Records were part of Jem Records Inc. based in South Plainfield, New Jersey. They were not large but they seemed enthusiastic and were prepared to cough up some much needed dollars to help with the tour expenses. They also undertook to generate some media interest and, in the space of four short weeks, produced more radio and press interviews than Polydor had managed in a year.

The band rehearsed for five days before Pete Donovan turned up and the equipment was loaded up and sent off to Gatwick. With all of the necessary work permits and visas, the band set off to Gatwick early the following morning. One thing that had helped reduce the overheads was that Bill's dad worked in the airline charter business and he had persuaded a colleague to give the band members free tickets out and back to the USA. In addition, they had arranged for the band's ¾ of a ton of equipment to clear customs at both ends with the minimum of fuss. At noon, Flight TV401 took off heading for Los Angeles. Accompanying the band were Peter Gabriel and guitarist John Ellis.

The 747 landed at LA at 3pm local time and the band were swept almost regally through both customs and immigration. Picking up their car from Budget they headed off to their hotel, the Sunset Beverley, just along from the large Tower Records on Sunset Strip. Continuing with the tradition of such events, the tour started for the Randoms with three days off. But, hey, that's rock 'n' roll. Somewhat jet-lagged, the lads took to their beds early but one, at least, rose early and, as a result, was given an interesting introduction to big city life American-style.

David Ferguson was awake and curious and seemed to think that a walk along Sunset Boulevard in the early morning was the same as a stroll around suburban south London. He had not gone far before the air was punctuated by a series of frantic shrieks. Suddenly, a partially clothed woman sprinted out from a turning and, screaming all the while, ran past a rooted Ferguson, disappearing from view a block ahead. As our English hero stood transfixed by this apparition, a man appeared brandishing a large knife and chased furiously after her, disappearing around the same corner. Somewhat nervously, David decided he could not leave the lady to a bloody fate and, concerned at the sudden silence, did the daft thing and started to jog after them. As he turned the corner the reason for the silence was explained. Thankfully, the man was not standing over a bloodied body, instead the man was spread-eagled across the bonnet of a LAPD black and white held down by two burly cops, with the woman cowering in the back seat. Welcome to America, David!

The other days off were rather less frantic. One day they headed off down the Santa Ana Freeway and did Disneyland (which they all loved! How politically incorrect can you get). Another day they drove the length of Sunset Boulevard until they hit the Pacific. There they dabbled their toes in the ocean, observed Los Angelenos at play on the beach and found a bar that served British beer. One evening they headed east to Graumann's Chinese Theatre where they saw 'The Shining' (as if David hadn't seen enough women being terrorised by knife wielding madmen). The other highlight was when Bill emptied a loosely capped bottle of tomato ketchup over the head of a neighbouring diner at a Howard Johnsons. Those boys certainly knew how to enjoy themselves!

The first concert was on Wednesday, 19th June at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara but this did not involve them. They went anyway, keen to see Peter's show and to have a look around the town. The following night was their first performance. The venue was the open air amphitheatre of the Greek Theatre set in Griffith Park. The first shock to the system came when they made the acquaintance of the Teamsters who worked the stage at the Theatre. Any attempt to lift or carry anything was inadvisable as such actions were bound to bring about the immediate intervention of a 'union' man whose job it was to lift that flight case, move that amplifier or open that guitar case. About the only thing they didn't do was play the instruments. Roadie Pete Donovan was reduced to standing and pointing and the group retired to the dressing room and started to work their way through the massive supply of beer, cold cuts, fruits and salads that occupied a large section of the band room.

As in the UK, Peter introduced the band. The sound was good, they performed OK if briefly (Teamster overtime cost $100 a minute!) and the tour started off well. The next night everyone headed for the Forum where The Who were playing. In their room back at the Sunset Beverley it was decided that touring the US might not be too bad a thing.

The following day, everyone struggled aboard Flight UA887 to San Francisco. They were due to play three nights in a row, one at the Civic Auditorium in San Jose and two at the Fox Warfield Theatre in the heart of San Francisco. Here, the band did their first interviews, one with a lady journalist from the San Jose Mercury, another with a writer from the Oakland Tribune and a third with a radio station in San Rafael. Peter had slotted in another day-off at the end of the Bay area gigs and both bands abandoned their hotel in San Mateo and headed across the Golden Gate Bridge to find an ocean-side hotel somewhere near Point Reyes. Some ODed on the sun and went on stage with severely burnt feet. One member of the crew ended up in hospital with sun stroke. Otherwise, the Bay area was a reasonable success and Peter was happy, he'd found time to indulge his liking for roller coasters with a ride on a particularly stomach churning one in San Jose.

On Wednesday, 25th June the tour moved to the heat and humidity of Chicago in mid-summer. Here, spending even a few minutes out of the air-conditioned hotel, reduced the unwary to a dripping puddle of sweat. The venue here was the elderly and decrepit Uptown Theatre and here they were interviewed by Joan Tortorici Ruppert of the Illinois Entertainer. The Theatre was in such a poor state that the balcony was off-limits because it was a dangerous structure. Perhaps as dangerous were some of the neighbourhoods the band drove through on a more exotic than usual scenic route to the gig. The Chicago audience was kind and the band pretty well received. The low points of the tour were to come.

For the road crew, life was now getting tough. After dismantling the stage after Chicago they were on the road for the 850 mile drive to Cleveland. Life for the musicians was rather more civilised and at 11.30 am UA304 took to the skies for the two hour flight to the city known fondly as 'The Mistake on the Lake'. Cleveland was definitely a 'rust belt' berg and the Holiday Inn Lakeside looked out over the fetid waters of Lake Erie. The venue tonight was the Music Hall, a modern and rather soulless modern auditorium. For the first time, the band's performance was lacklustre and the audience reaction muted. It was with no great sadness, therefore, that the Randoms boarded Flight AL266 for Buffalo in upstate New York. They did get a decent review in magazine from nearby Detroit though,

Although they were staying in yet another Holiday Inn in Buffalo, that night they were due to play at the Auditorium in Rochester, a short drive to the east along Interstate 90. Rochester was like Cleveland only smaller, scruffier and on a different lake (Lake Ontario). The audience was similar too and the band played another downbeat and ragged set which led to a few words being exchanged backstage. The following day, following an interview at a local Buffalo radio station, the band set off to play Kleinhans Music Hall at the poetically named Symphony Circle. There followed the low point of the tour. The band played poorly, the audience was cool and Bill and David Ferguson tried replicating one of their normally political arguments at the top of their voices in front of the complete Gabriel entourage and a large number of guests.

Monday, 30th June was a much needed day of rest and the band, accompanied by Peter headed off to gasp at Niagara Falls and then to visit another theme park, this one reputed to have the steepest roller coaster in North America. Whilst everyone else was scared shitless, Peter insisted on several rides and then completed the afternoon with numerous descents of a steep and wild water chute. He is, obviously, completely barking.

On the 1st July the tour moved on to Toronto where the Randoms picked up a car and drove to Ottawa. With the arguments and poor performances looming over them, the Ottawa gig could have been another disastrous night. But, as is the way of these things, the venting of pent up anger seemed to have done everyone some good. The performance was awesome and the crowd reacted accordingly. Against their better judgement, the band was called back on stage for an encore, an unlikely occurrence for a support band, and they could easily have done more. Amusingly, this was the last night Peter introduced the band on stage until the last gig of the tour at the Tower Theatre, Phildelphia. The local press liked it too:
The Ottawa Journal, 3rd July 1980
There appeared to be some thought put into the choice of opening act. Random Hold was not merely a band to fill in time before the major attraction appeared. It complemented Gabriel's vision by adding its own dimension to it.
The band created an atmosphere of danger and fear; slowly building a thick mood of dark sobriety, then puncturing it with spontaneous madness. If people of the 50s wondered what the music of the '80S might be like, this is what they might have imagined. Perhaps the music of the '80s is the way it is because this is how many imagined it should be. Whatever the case, Random Hold brings you a step further down the cosmic evolutionary path but its intentions are not campily calculated.
The words Random Hold that make the band's name suggests the set of contradictions that are their musical work print. At times they seem so coldly calculated, but at any given moment it could lose control and lurch into tribal chaos. Opposites.
Random Hold seems to have a fascination for those notions which are not nailed down in the ordered realm of scientific knowledge. This is evident by the name of their soon-to-be released, LP, Etceteraville, but this preoccupation is particularly defined by the song 'Passive Camera' about taking photos of everything that moves.
At the end of their set the crowd applauded madly, even though it is unlikely many had even heard of the group before last night. It was over all an audience that were as adventurous as the music they had come to hear.
The next night was at the huge Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, an enormous ice hockey rink filled to capacity with some 18,000 dedicated Gabriel fans. No matter, the band took the place by storm. This time, though, they resisted the temptation - and the voluble requests - to do an encore. To set the seal on their performance, a few minutes after they came off stage, various attractive young ladies found their way into the dressing room where they were eyed nervously by the band before they retired, confused by the absence of reaction. Strange people these English musicians.

The band then made it three in a row with another storming performance at the Forum Concert Bowl in Montreal. After the gig, they decided to go out to celebrate, got lost and spent a couple of hours driving around great Montreal looking for the Loews La Cite Hotel where everyone was staying. Getting out the hotel the following day was something of a problem. The many tennis fans in the team had their eyes glued to the television as one of the epic Bjorn Borg/John McEnroe Wimbledon finals was played out. It was with considerable reluctance that they set off for the airport and the forty minute flight to Quebec.

Any hopes that the band would make it four triumphs out of four were shattered at the Pavillion de la Jeunesse in Quebec. A moderately sized, concrete basket ball stadium the acoustics were awful, the heat and humidity unbearable and the audience tepid. Everyone, including the Gabriel band, were more than happy to leave and head for New York which they reached in the late afternoon of Sunday, 6th July.

It was about this time that Passport Records decided to come up with a suggestion to extend Random Hold's stay in the States. The plan was this: Passport would cover the expenses of a tour of small clubs which would extend for a month or two. They had already sounded out several West Coast venues and the response had been promising. The work would be tough, relentless even, but, if the band wanted to capitalise on the impact so far made, it was a sensible plan. The band's members discussed it and were initially favourable to the scheme to the extent that Bill phoned his wife, Helen, to tell her they might not be returning as planned. But, a few day's later, the decision was made to return home first before coming back in the early autumn.

On the Monday, the two bands were due to play Central Park in daylight as part of a Doctor Pepper music festival. For the only time on the tour a sound check was impossible. The on-stage monitoring was awful, the acoustics worse and the audience, a typical bunch of cynical New Yorkers, were not interested. The band reciprocated with a performance that reflected their complete dismay at the conditions. They were later trashed in a vitriolic review by one Philip Bashe in a magazine called 'Good Times'. Good times they definitely were not.

The next day the boys set off for Boston. Whilst everyone else flew on the New York-Boston shuttle, the Randoms, without consulting a map, decided to drive. With the then prevailing speed limits of 55 mph, the journey took over 5 hours with stops. They checked into the hotel and then drove to the Orpheum Theatre where they left the car. Both performance and reaction were reasonable and the boys, tired from the journey, decided to head off back to the hotel without watching Gabriel. Finding only a space where the car had been they hailed a taxi and returned to the hotel before calling the police to report the theft of their vehicle. By the time, two heavily armed Boston policemen had arrived, the team were somewhat 'tired and emotional' after having gained intimate acquaintance with numerous bottles of Millers, Coors, Bud and the like. It is not thought that the Boston constabulary were desperately amused by the performance of four extremely inebriated English musicians and they departed advising them that the chances of finding the car were zero... or less.

Every cloud having a silver lining, the band took the shuttle back to Newark but then again misjudged times and distances. Rather than taking the relatively short trip down the Garden State Parkway to to the Convention Hall, Asbury Park, where they were due to play that night, they drove instead along the New Jersey Turnpike to Philadelphia, where the hotel was, checked in and then drove the 80 or so miles back to Asbury Park. Arriving in time to do a bare five minute sound check, the gig was pretty shambolic and the audience reaction vague.

Downtwon PhillieThe last night of the tour was at the famous Tower Theatre in Philadelphia and was trailed in a local magazine called The Aquarian. Both performance and reaction were OK but what surprised the band most was the immediate and hurried dispersal of the audience. Normally, a few dozen at least had hung around the try to grab a word with Peter but tonight the kids legged it within minutes of the show ending. It was only on the return journey that the band realised why. At every traffic light, this bunch of white boys were given hard stares by any number of heavy looking (and possibly heavily armed) black guys. They were certainly not in the right 'hood' and it was with some relief that the Holiday Inn was spotted.

Everyone was given two days off in New York before catching the plane home from JFK. The people at Passport expressed their enthusiasm at what they took to be the imminent return of the band and at 7.30 pm they settled back into their seats aboard Flight GK40 as the 747 climbed steeply, turned on an easterly heading to run south of Long Island before turning NE towards Newfoundland, home... and oblivion.

Asbury Park programme

Asbury Park programme
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