Looking for a Deal

In which Bill MacCormick is asked to join the band
The band spends all his money
And a deal is desperately sought

The next gig Bill attended was at the Rock Garden on Thursday, 10th August 1978. They were to support Adam and the Ants. The Rock Garden was never the most attractive of venues. Entered by a sets of stairs similar to a rather dubious Gents loo in a seedy part of Soho the stage was tiny, the ceiling low, the walls damp, the floor slippery and the the lighting dim (similar to a rather dubious Gents loo in a seedy part of Soho!!). The only things smaller than the stage were the two tiny and dingy dressing rooms which were, if anything, even dirtier and more decrepit than the main room.

That night the audience was a bunch of neo-Nazi hooligans masquerading as a rock music crowd. For reasons not quite clear, this bunch of thugs had attached themselves to Adam and the Ants (themselves a pleasant enough group of lads) and, when not pogoing and gobbing in unison to the seriously unsubtle Ant rhythms, they liked to spend their time intimidating, assaulting and generally aggravating anyone who did not accept their peculiarly aggressive, low-brow view of life.

Tonight it would be the turn of the Randoms to suffer. To make matters worse, the Ants' nest in front of them could not understand the absence of a real, live drummer and the presence, instead, of a whirring tape machine. Jumping to the conclusion that the whole band were miming, within a few moments of them arriving on stage they were subjected to a torrent of verbal abuse, phlegm and beer, some of it still in the glass. Retreat was the only option in face of such animal aggression and the band recoiled off stage pursued by a final volley swear words, spit and venom. They were best off out of it. Later on, one of the bouncers was beaten up and attending police found a variety of weapons both about the person and discarded around the room and the road outside. It had been an exciting night.

Six days later, on Wednesday, 16th August, Dave Ferguson and Simon Ainley visited Bill at the small house in Penge he shared with his then girlfriend (now wife) Helen. Over cups of tea and idle chit chat, the cunning couple slipped a quick, sly question into the conversation. Before he knew it, MacCormick had said "yes". Grinning hugely, Ferguson and Ainley made good their escape with a cheery "see you on Monday, then". It was only some time later that he realised he had:
  1. agreed to join Random Hold; and
  2. undertaken to pay all overheads for the foreseeable future
RH + MarcangeloThey started rehearsing the following Monday. Whilst rehearsals carried on in a desultory fashion at a variety of rooms known variously as 'Fair Deal', 'Silversound' and 'Access', Bill started to contact useful people in 'The Business' to see what sort of interest he could rustle up. High on the list were Albion and Bill's acquaintances at Roxy's EG Management. In addition, the princely sum of £8.90 was spent on an advert for the Melody Maker's Musicians Wanted columns. It read:
Wanted: drummer for modern band. Immediate rehearsals. Deals pending. Phone.....
As with the music, the advert was taut, spare, (muscular?) and to the point. Of course, the use of the word 'modern' was a well known code amongst musos. It meant 'so far ahead of its time that no record company in its right mind will touch this with a barge pole' but the band weren't to know that. And 'deals pending', well, that was an out and out lie equivalent to saying 'National Lottery jackpot win pending' nowadays.Random Hold, Autumn 1978. Marcangelo 2nd from right

The band continued its route across the rehearsal rooms of South London. One day it was 'Visual Earth Studios' then it was back to 'Fair Deal'. By mid-September a few unemployed drummers had been in touch, much against their better judgement. Many were auditioned and one was called. For a few brief days, Richard Marcangelo became a Random .

A tape with three songs was now available, having been recorded at Bill's expense on the 21st August, and they were dutifully hawked around a cosmopolitan bunch of journalists, record executives, DJs and others. Amongst the seriously underwhelmed recipients were: John Gill and Angus McKinnon of Sounds, Ian Birch at the NME, John Peel, WEA, Polydor, Island, EMI, Virgin, CBS, Arista, Sire, Radar, MCA, Phonogram, Charisma, Chrysalis, RCA and Bronze.

They were nothing if not thorough.

By now, Marcangelo had sensed which way the wind was blowing, and being offered a gig that paid (an albeit very small amount) was off into the sunset. Another MM ad was placed and, whilst they awaited the inevitable tidal wave of interest, the band headed off into the country in classic 'getting their heads together' mode. David Ferguson's parents had sensibly abandoned their son and gone to live in the pleasant Oxfordshire countryside. Rather less sensibly they said "yes" when asked if he could bring a few friends round for a few days. Stanton St John was more than just a decent place to hang out, make strange noises and breath fresh air. It also had a wonderful pub serving Wadsworths 6X and a publican who described the then pound notes as "little green drinking vouchers". Heaven.

After a refreshing break and with many of Ferguson senior's neighbours now calling for them to be expelled from the village and, preferably, the county, the boys returned to London and, oh happy day, within a few days had seen, then heard, then hired a new drummer. David Leach, tall, blonde, tousle haired and bespectacled seemed just what the doctor ordered. Rehearsals took on greater energy and urgency. Now they were a band!

To celebrate this fact, Bill was now spending money like water. September had seen a first instalment of £150 for rehearsals and adverts. October was altogether heavier with expenses mounting to £600 including equipment hire, more rehearsals, press handouts and subsidies to various members of the band who otherwise might have starved. In spite of persistent attempts to generate some interest the only return on this investment came with the line-up's first two paid gigs - £25 at the Corn Dolly, a pub in Oxford, on 24th October and the 'don't spend it all at once' sum of £10 for a performance at the aforementioned Basement Club in Covent Garden three days after.
Rock Garden
Early November saw several more appearances:
  • Wednesday, 1st November - Rock Garden, Covent Garden (£15)
  • Friday, 10th November - The Music Machine (£15)
  • Sunday, 12th November - Rock Garden (£15)
Rock Garden
To each of these, record companies and journalists were dutifully invited and equally dutifully they declined. They had clearly been to the Rock Garden and would need a far better reason to return there than Random Hold presented. By now, only three companies were taking even a semi-serious interest in the band. Polydor, in the shape of Alan Black and Alec Byrn, Radar and Essex Music had all indicated a willingness to take a peek at the band but getting them to a gig or rehearsal was proving more than usually troublesome. Furthermore, in an astute business move, Bill had cut off access to many of London venues through an off-hand if not rather insulting response to an offer from Albion. They wanted to sign the band for life, with rights for distribution to the universe as well as an option on their first born for which they offered regular appearances in front of a couple of dozen drunkards at various run-down pubs in North London. Tempting though this was Bill advised this was not a good career move and that he had a cunning plan which would see them all alright. Knowing no better, they believed him.

Rock Garden
In the meantime, a small piece in Sounds by John Gill raised morale somewhat. Entitled 'Dr Caligari's Greatest Hits' it gave short write ups to 'Ten Bands Who Are... Different'. Amongst the bands mentioned were the 'Art Bears', Charlie Hayward's 'This Heat', the extraordinary 'Throbbing Gristle' as well as the Randoms. It was a short piece but welcome nonetheless:
Random Hold were formed a couple of years ago as what apparently was an experimental music group, heavily involved in Rock Gardenimprovisation and electronics. They have undergone considerable line-up changes since their inception (one line-up included bassist Duncan Lane, brother of Malcolm from Metabolist). By all accounts are well-connected in the new music scene, as their acquisition of ex-801 bassist Bill MacCormick would suggest.
Each line-up change seem to have brought them closer to the rock mainstream and they might be brutally categorised as a less arty/more rocky version of Quiet Sun (uh? ed.) - or The Pop Group minus the 'primitivism'. Present incarnation is strongly into harmonies but they lay these against cryptic arrangements of keyboards, guitar, bass and drums. Rhythms and melodies travel a parallel course to the likes of XTC. Hit the newsprint a while back when they were viciously attacked by an Adam and the Ants audience.
They seem to have had more success in dealings with the machine (*?! ed.) - of whom they are not afraid - than the rest of the groups mentioned herein. They have had brief, but invariably fraught, relationships with various booking agencies, and have also attracted the interest of a few labels. Are currently working in studios on demo tapes with no particular label in sight (that's more like it, ed.) and are frequent giggers around London and environs."
On Friday, 24th November, the boys set off back up the A40 towards Oxford where they were due to play Pembroke College Students Union for the unprecedented sum of £60 + 50% of the door money. They played, pretty well so it seemed, wandered up the road in search of food and returned to find that some student pranksters had let down all four tyres on the van. They eventually made it back to London in the early hours of the morning. In an effort to forget, MacCormick took himself off to White Hart Lane to see Wolves play Spurs. In spite of this, they still generated a small but enthusiastic mention in an Oxford Student magazine. Their correspondent, masquerading under the title of 'Our IBM Computer Correspondent' stated:
Machine Men Demolish Pembroke College Shock Horror
Seeing RANDOM HOLD stuck in a list of 'different music' groups in the latest Sounds(next to Throbbing Gristle and The Normal) I went down to catch the second half of their set at Pembroke College Friday Night. Verily, they were more normal than the Normal, but produced a lovely tight sound, economically restraining their innovative style.
The bassist was (I think) with Phil Manzanera, and gives out some good undulating, sometimes jazzy, basslines and the rest of the band seem to build on this, with the effective lead guitar drones bordering at times on the Buzzcockish (though not boring).
Imagewise, it was short hair and ties, and they seemed confident enough (even if they didn't talk to the audience much). Mankind meets the Machine it certainly wasn't, and keyboards player David Ferguson asserted after that their music is "very, human and personal". On this I noted one song - "With People" (not in love).
I liked it a lot (i.e. very pleasantly surprised) and so did the audience, though dancing was in little evidence (and the music was quite danceable). Mr Ferguson, on the dancing: "I don't care so long as they get off on it in their own way".
See them next time possible with an open mind (that's for the Ants fans, who gave them a hard time at the Nashville). P.S. the fact that he said P. Image was brilliant is not why they get a good review!!!!
RH looking cheerfulMonday, 27th November was to be an important day. Alan Black and Alec Byrn had promised faithfully to visit and, after several disappointments, it seemed that the band would have the chance to impress some A&R men at long last. The band had booked Wharf Studios for the day. The studios were located at the New Concordia Wharf on the Thames just east of Tower Bridge. It was a rabbit warren of low roofed rooms, some of which had been sound-proofed and turned into rehearsal studios. The Randoms had booked the smallest and for several hours they practised earnestly, wearing overcoats and gloves against the damp cold that permeated the building. By 5pm it was clear that something was amiss. Then a phone call from the Polydor offices told the same old story. Something more important/enticing/interesting had come up and the two ABs weren't coming.

The general desire was to pack up, go to the pub and try to get warm but there was a problem. Bill had invited journalist Allan Jones from the Melody Maker. They had known one another for several years as a result of Bill's involvement in the the Manzanera projects, 801 Live and Listen Now. He'd said he would come down. They would have to wait for him. With only a few minutes of their booked time left, a shivering and somewhat disorientated Jones appeared. He'd got lost in the Dickensian back streets of Bermondsey and spent some time trying to find this out-of-the-way establishment.RH waiting for someone to buy them a cuppa

Grudgingly the band agreed to make his journey worthwhile. As he stood on one side of the small studio the band took up position on the other. After forty minutes it was mutually agreed that enough was enough and all parties retired gratefully to the pub for a long and increasingly hysterical chat. Then Jones disappeared into the night and the band set off for their various homes.

Nothing appeared in the next edition of the Melody Maker and, with nothing to do until 11th December, when they are due to re-appear at the Music Machine, the band spent a disconsolate ten days twiddling thumbs and wondering where the next week's rent would come from.

On Thursday 7th December they were due to meet up again for another day's rehearsal at Wharf. Before he left, Bill wandered down the road to the local Indian grocery shop where be bought his newspapers and, today, the new edition of the Melody Maker. He idly flicked through it until he reached page 19, at which point he nearly walked under a car sitting innocently by the side of the road. Then, laughing maniacally, he sprinted up the road to his house and rushed to the phone.

Allan Jones had come up trumps. Big time.

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