Fledgling Random Hold dares to try some original sounds

By Larry Kelp
Oakland Tribune, 27th June 1980

The band is Random Hold, and it plays modern tribal music for the new suburbs. "We weren't musicians, really," David Ferguson said. "We started with pre-recorded tapes of insects and vacuum cleaners slowed down, that sort of thing." Instead of joining the rest of the new wave crowd, English avant-rock band Random Hold attracted the attention of the art and classical-rock intelligentsia of Europe.

Random Hold seems to have all the credentials needed to score big. All except one: it refuses to make pop songs. Instead, the quartet has plunged into the nether reaches of sound, playing quirky games with instrumental textures and shifting exotic rhythms, and only a hint of new wave straightforwardness.

"If we'd gone out to be a hit, we'd have done more blues licks and disco beats, a few guitar, solos and grown our hair longer," electronic keyboardist Ferguson quipped while in San Francisco for the group's first local concert earlier this week. The band had been the opening act for cult hero Peter Gabriel. That English star had heard Random Hold, liked the musicians' attitude, and hired them to open his English tour, rehired them for his present American tour, and will probably drag them across Europe later in the summer. Gabriel cares enough to show up early at each concert and introduce Random Hold to the audience: "They're one of the best bands I've seen in a long time." Not bad for a group founded by two total amateurs.

The debut album, just released in the United States, "Etceteraville" (on Passport Records), is not the most comfortable listening matter to drop onto the stereo after a hard day at the steel mill. The sounds are quite reminiscent of the Bowie Eno-Roxy Music-Tuxedomoon brands of dark, compelling sounds that take a lot of patience to appreciate. This is not the finished product of a mature band. It's a first step, with some lapses and loose ends. But it's also fresh. As with the band's concert here, the music is exciting because it does pursue a newer direction. Listen to the instrumental track on "Montgomery Clift." At first it is irritating, but within moments it draws you into its heavily rhythmic web.

Ironically, Random Hold was launched when Ferguson attended a concert by a short-lived experimental rock band, 801 (which included Brian Eno and Phil Manzanera): "It was a bit dull; something was missing," Ferguson, 26, says. "I told the guy next to me, David Rhodes, that it'd be nice to take the same premise and make it work. So the next day we formed a group. I was a theater technician and had never played a musical instrument in my life. The other David was in a garage band with my little brother. We spent the next two years making little noises on anything we could find."

When they were ready to perform, the two recruited a rhythm section, and by coincidence got bassist Bill MacCormick, who had been in 801. Peter Phipps plays drums. "We got into our style for the same reason the new wave people were into theirs," Ferguson explained. "We didn't like what was available in music, the tired old men trotting out the same old recycled classical riffs. You know - Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. But unlike new wave, we weren't trying to push social causes while going backwards to the old styles of early rock, the rockabilly, ska and punk. For me, the Sex Pistols' album was great, and everything else since then has been copies. It's hard trying to come up with something new, but it's far more interesting. We've been listening to folk music of other cultures from Albania to Africa, with rhythm-based songs."

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