Random Hold by Joan Tortorici Ruppert,
Illinois Entertainer, August 1980
but ordinary, Random Hold's pre-show soundcheck is running smoothly enough.
Songs are started, abruptly stopped as problems are pinpointed and hopefully
corrected within the sizeable limitations of the Uptown Theater. "Oh, what
happened to you?" sings David Rhodes, Random Hold's guitarist/vocalist who
can remind your ears of a young Bryan Ferry. His lyrics reverberate through
the empty balconies while behind the stage curtain Peter Gabriel and his
drummer break into impromptu time steps.
Later in the evening Gabriel will introduce Random Hold as one of his favorite bands. A back-up spot on a Gabriel tour can be quite an opportunity for a new group, so Random Hold is working hard to make the best of good situation.
"During this tour I suppose we expect to meet the beginnings of our American audience," says Random Hold keyboard man David Ferguson. "I think we'd like to lay the groundwork so we can come back in the fall and do a small tour of clubs, preferably with a new album to promote."
Slowly but surely it becomes obvious that Ferguson is not your run-of-the-mill rocker. His bio sheet says he studied Serbo-Croat at the London School of Slavonic and East European Studies, worked as a sound engineer and is a dedicated non-musician. After witnessing Ferguson's non-stop stream of animated consciousness, these things actually become believable.
"David Rhodes and myself met about four years ago at Phil Manzanera's last concert with him," pointing to Bill MacCormick, "playing bass. And we thought the concert was a bit tacky so we formed this experimental band called Manscheinen. We did odd soundtracks for English puppet shows . . . one I remember was called 'The Long And Lonely Journey Of The Sole Spermatazoa.' "
"That's really disgusting," interjects MacCormick, reaching for a cantaloupe slice.
"Anyways," continues Ferguson, "we got bored of that after a while and decided to just write songs. That's when we first felt a need for other players. We'd known Bill here from school and for years invited him to gigs he never came to. Then he finally did come to one, decided he liked it and wound up running the band."
MacCormick clarifies for the record. "From the things I'd done in the past with Eno, Manzanera and others, I had the means to finance PAs, trucks, tapes, things like that. I basically managed the hand for a year. That was before we signed with Hit & Run Management (Genesis, Brand X and Gabriel's people). An artist friend of Peter's saw us and told him about it, and Peter then introduced his managers to us."
While this was a positive move for the band, other deals were not working out as well. They had already signed with Polydor Records in England, hoping to press a double album "to get everything we'd written out of the way," but Polydor flatly refused.
"So when it came time for an 'official' U. S. release Polydor used a mixture of previous English releases and one track that was never released anywhere," explains Ferguson. The end result was 'Etceteraville', a single album and their only U.S. vinyl thus far. Not at all what you'd call easy listening, 'Etceteraville' mingles steady heartbeat rhythms with a slightly twisted vocal viewpoint throughout. Lyrics lean toward the dark side, satirically so on their memorable title track.
"Yes, it is kind of depressing," agrees Ferguson with nothing short of a grin. "We're trying to depopulate the world through suicide. You should hear the English releases, they're were more depressing!" Taking their mental health into their own hands, Passport Records bought the arty 'Etceteraville' from Polydor U.K.
"But we don't know who our next album will be with," admits Ferguson. "We think Passport wants us to stay, but these things can be very complicated." He takes a rare pause for breath. "What's not complicated is our music. Neither David (Rhodes) nor I classify ourselves as immensely competent. I can't play whizzy solos and I never want to. I don't think rock 'n' roll deserves that. The last thing the world needs is another Rick Wakeman. So we tried to get the best, most flexible rhythm section we could, which we found in Bill and Pete (Phipps, ex-Gary Glitter drummer) to play very skillfully under what David and I were doing mechanically and straight. If we had a rhythm section playing as badly as David and I, we'd end up sounding like Gary Numan. We don't want to sound like robots because our songs are about feelings, emotions."
MacCormick adds that the U.S. is a great place to be different and still be heard. "And in England, most bands just wind up playing ska music," says Ferguson disdainfully. "That's what's expected of you. It's really very boring, just reviving what people did better twenty years ago. I admire the Two-Tone politics of blacks and whites together, but the music is ho-hum."
Instead, Random Hold finds more inspiration in ethnic folk music, picking up on the "rhythmic ideas, droning tones" found there. In this respect they are traveling on the same wavelength as Peter Gabriel's latest offerings, which might partially account for Gabriel's embracing them as a back-up band during his current tour. As a matter of fact, David Rhodes added guitar tracks to many cuts on Gabriel's newest album and even David Ferguson, the "non-musician" got a liner credit for his screeches on "Biko."
"Working with Peter is fine," says Ferguson', "but sometimes it gets a bit frustrating when interviewers talk with us and ask us questions about Gabriel's set'." Such are the thorns on the paths of new groups - especially for groups that are virtually unknown. And in the case of Random Hold, a lot of people just don't know what to make of this strange quartet that doesn't give a hoot about convention.
Sure, they've been called "new wave maturing" by Record World, but just how vague can you get? Predictably, Ferguson goes it one better. "Of course we're trying to avoid all stereotypes. After this tour I suppose if there's one stereotype, it will be that we're weird and very English. And I don't mind that at all."
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