The Music and a Retrospective

Over its relatively brief life, Random Hold generated a pretty large body of work of which 40% was either never released through either Polydor or Passport or was recorded as demos. In addition, several songs exist recorded in the Leach/Ainley line-up which were then re-recorded with Pete Phipps. A few others never saw the inside of a recording studio.

Unless you are one of the few people to have purchased the 'Avalanche' double album (Upper Class Records) that David Ferguson managed to get onto vinyl in the early eighties, you will not have heard all of the tracks recorded at Startling Studios even if you bought all of the UK and USA product. The table below sets out the track listing for the double album and shows on which other pressings these songs appeared:

Double Album Avalanche EP View from Here (UK LP) Etceteraville (US LP)
Meat Yes No No
Second Nature No No Yes
The Ballad Yes No No
Precarious Timbers No No Yes
Central Reservation No Yes Yes
Avalanche Yes No Yes
Cause and Effect No No No
Dolphin Logic No Yes No
Silver Spoons No Yes Yes
Fear (Eats the soul) No Yes No
Etceteraville No Yes Yes
With People out of Love No Yes No
Film Music Yes No Yes
Montgomery Clift Yes No Yes
Tunnel Vision No No No
What Happened No Yes Yes
The View from Here No Yes No


From this it can be seen that four Startling tracks were not released in the UK and eight were not released in the USA. Three other 'early period' songs played by the Ainley/Leach line-up were not recorded: 'The Blind', 'Littlewoods Jeans' and 'Verona Rolls'.

Before signing with Polydor, Bill MacCormick financed a demo tape of 'The Blind', 'Central Reservation' and 'Montogmery Clift'. The Polydor sessions were recorded in two goes and comprised: 'Second Nature' and 'With People out of Love' (first session) and 'Precarious Timbers', 'The Ballad', 'Verona Rolls' and 'Big Star' (second session). In addition, seven tracks were recorded after the Polydor deal as demos (three of which were played throughout the UK and US Gabriel tours): 'Camouflage', 'The Flag', 'Passive Camera', 'The Wallpaper Song', 'In the beginning', 'Today is as good as any other' and 'All in your head'.

Taking all of the studio recorded material together, i.e. the Polydor demos, the Startling sessions and the Black Wing demos, there are at least two hours worth of Random Hold material of which one third has never been heard by even the most avid RH fan (if such a person exists). It is hoped that this material will form the basis of two Random Hold CDs to be released in the next few months.

The songs themselves were composed in four main groups. First came the Ferguson/Rhodes compositions that formed the basis of the set when Simon joined and soon thereafter. These songs were: 'Meat', 'Precarious Timbers', 'Avalanche', 'Cause and Effect', 'Silver Spoons', 'Film Music', 'Montgomery Clift', 'The Blind', 'Littlewoods Jeans' and 'Verona Rolls'.

Between Simon's joining and the arrival of Bill MacCormick came 'The Ballad' and 'Central Reservation''.

During the time that Simon and Bill were in the band another wave of songs was written: 'Second Nature', 'Dolphin Logic', 'Etceteraville', 'With People out of Love', 'Tunnel Vision', 'What Happened' and 'The View from Here'. Some of these songs, i.e. 'Tunnel Vision', 'What Happened' and 'The View from Here', developed out of rehearsal jams with the other four (all Rhodes compositions) being brought to the band in a more or less finished state.

One of the tragedies about the untimely demise of the band was the loss of a new set of superbly crafted songs by David Rhodes which were recorded as demos with Bill MacCormick's involvement. These marked a new development in David's song writing talents and took, as a launching pad, the Random Hold number 'The Flag' (which would have almost certainly become the single from a new album). It is to be regretted that David never found the time, or received the necessary encouragement, to record and release these songs. They were characterised by beautifully melodic and yet simple structures and might have provided the band with necessary bridge to greater public acceptance denied to them in their brief lifetime.

Looking back, Random Hold was an opportunity missed. The causes of these lost chances were many, some of them were came about through a certain in-built self-destructiveness which afflicted the band from time to time and others from wrong and stupid decisions made by others.

Hindsight is 20:20 vision, as they say, but in retrospect it is possible to identify some of the wrong turnings taken along the route. Wrong turnings which either hastened the band's demise or prevented it from moving forward to new positions of strength.

Some might say that signing to Polydor was an error, so clearly did they not understand the band or its music. The writer would disagree. Had a label not stepped in when they did, it is possible that the band would not have survived long enough for Peter Gabriel and Hit and Run to ride to the rescue.

Of considerable significance, though, was the sacking of Simon Ainley. Leaving to one side the musical aspects of the decision for one moment, it was a bad move to make so soon after signing with Polydor. Viewed from outside, Simon was regarded as one of the focal points of the band, at least on stage. He had a previous track record and that made the Polydor executives feel comfortable, but he was also part of the line-up (and look and sound) they thought they were buying into. It was unsettling for the one or two A&R men who had pushed through the (very expensive) signing of the band to see it all change within a few weeks of putting pen to paper. To say they felt conned may be putting it a bit strongly but it is certainly the case that some felt that the commercial element of the band had been undermined and that made them feel very uncomfortable as they faced up to explaining a £70,000 advance to the Polydor board.

The removal of Simon also had an undeniable musical impact. With his departure, the full weight of the on-stage presence and presentation fell on David Rhodes' shoulders. As the musical engine of the band, this may have felt right to Dusty (as DR was known) and the new line-up may have come closer to the sound he heard in his head. On the other hand, Simon's somewhat less intense approach to playing and to the music did provide some glimmers of light in what was otherwise an undeniably dark and bleak musical landscape. At times, the guitar interplay between the two was joyful but, in the period immediately prior to Simon's sacking, Dusty's unhappiness became clear both in the music played and the atmosphere created.

Of the greatest significance, however, were two non-musical events: the relationships with two Peters, Gabriel and Hammill. From this writer's brief experience, Peter Gabriel is a fascinating, warm and friendly man and an intriguing artist who produced some of the most interesting music of the 70s and 80s. Indeed, the music on the album being promoted when he and the Randoms toured together is a high point in British rock music. Melodic, atmospheric, dramatic, educated - all of these descriptions are appropriate. Being asked to support him on tour and the manner in which he treated the band, as friends and equals, was a great opportunity and a great privilege. In this writer's view, the great tragedy is that he was unable to produce the band's album.

On the other hand, the relationship with Peter G also killed the band. His clear desire to have Dusty play on tour, as he had on the album, put immense pressure on both DR and the band. It must have been very difficult for Dusty to watch John Ellis play his guitar parts on stage night after night to great acclaim (not to say a fatter pay check). There was a certain inevitability about the consequent break-up. It is fair to say that had any other member of the band been so obviously in such demand from a high profile musician then they too would have found the lure irresistible. There is no blame. People move on, hopefully to better things. David did and there is no bitterness or rancour. They would all have done it had they been given half a chance.

The relationship with Peter Hammill was different to that with Gabriel. Peter H was very much a late substitute for Peter G as producer of the Random's Polydor sessions. A man of vast experience and no little reputation, he had built (and still maintains) a devoted following amongst 'progressive' music fans both through his work with VDGG and his solo recordings. But views about his production work on the Random's material vary. Both Ian Birch and Allan Jones were highly critical, whereas album reviewers John Orme and Graham Lock praised his work. Views amongst the band's members were also divided. The two Davids ascribed as many failings to the band as to the producer. Bill MacCormick, on the other hand, was more critical of the manner in which the tracks were mixed, a process from which he, at least, felt excluded. It is true that much of Peter Hammill's own music shares with Random Hold a similarly dark and brooding presence. For some the combination proved too much and certainly there is a substantially different feel to the Random's self-produced demos (as we soon hope to show). However, whatever the disagreements about the end product, it is good to report that both David's have sustained their friendship and musical connections with Peter over the years.

Lastly, some have made a connection between David Ferguson's and Bill MacCormick's political disagreements and the eventual break up of the band. This really is a case of much ado about nothing. Any arguments, especially a spectacular one backstage in Buffalo, were born our of musical frustration, tiredness and just having an off night. Within 48 hours the band played two of the best performances they ever put together. The true tensions in the band lay elsewhere and were the product of the action of outside forces beyond the reasonable control of anyone.

Random Hold had a sound and a vision (which not all groups can boast of) and some songs of quality. Maybe their legacy of recorded work doesn't do them justice but there are ideas there and an atmosphere. Live, their work could be challenging, uncompromising, intense, aggressive - even brutal. They were not there to make an audience's life easy.

But Random Hold were a decent little band. And, on their night, they could play.

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