Things Get Decidely Silly

In which Bill has fun with record companies
Polydor get conned into signing RH
And the boys go on a spending spree

The impact of the Allan Jones article, one of the longest ever carried by the Melody Maker about a band with no label no manager and no publisher, was immediate. Although its timing, just before Christmas, meant that nothing definite was settled, suddenly Bill was in the strange position of A&R men phoning him, of A&R men being in when he called, of A&R men asking to meet at his convenience.

Allan Jones followed up the interview with a rather more downbeat review of their December 11th gig at the dreaded Music Machine at King's Cross. He was, shall we say, 'constructively critical':

Music Machine
ALLAN JONES, Melody Maker, 23rd December 1978
THE Music Machine in Camden Town is very possibly the least salubrious rock music venue in the capital, perhaps the entire country. At its best it resembles some especially grotesque, gothic chamber; at its most desperate it looks like the Lyceum transferred to hell and condemned to an eternity of glow decay. It was Random Hold's severe misfortune last Monday to appear on one of the venue's really bad nights.
The audience - a smattering of bondage punks, a few student nurses and their escorts and a clutch of A&R men lined up against the bar looking like plain clothes cops - could without any considerable difficulty have been forced into a small biscuit tin. The very atmosphere seemed to be suffering from some kind of terminal cancer.
It was not, then, the most celebrated location for one of this group's infrequent performances (they were actually supporting an Irish folk-rock group, of uncertain worth, called Spud). The sterile, lethargic atmosphere, the absence of an involved or interested audience and, a capricious sound system successfully conspired to undermine the band's potential. It wasn't so much that the circumstances defeated the subtleties of their music, rather that its intensity was entirely lost in the abject void of the Music Machine.
Simultaneously, the evening exposed their weaknesses and the vulnerability of their repertoire. Thus far in their brief career they have gigged only sporadically and they have yet to really test the strength and durability of several of their compositions; they need do extended run of gigs to isolate and define their strengths, as it were, and to either dispose of those items whose deficiencies detract from the impact of their better songs, or invest them with a more genuine force.
They suffer, too, at present from a lack of personality; their collective diffidence, and the absence of an individual whose identity (ego, even) is virile enough to create some kind of focus, lends to their appearance an unfortunate anonymity. They will have to learn - quickly - how best to communicate an empathy with their prospective audience: currently there is just too much shuffling of feet and muttering of incoherent asides whenever there is a pause of more than a minute between numbers.
These, perhaps, will be identified as minor points of criticism, but they are points which will have to be faced and considered if Random Hold are to fulfil their commercial aspirations. (And, I must just say, they need to sort out the visuals: coming on dressed in an assortment of second-hand suits and kipper ties is hardly an arresting image with which to confront the populace.) The news isn't all blue, however.
The were moments when Random Hold, most boldly overcame the manifold difficulties of the evening, most notably during "We Are People Out Of Love," which featured a vocal of suspended menace from David Rhodes, which built to an explosive climax. "The Ballad", too, possessed a sense of adventure and purpose which elsewhere seemed missing, with David Ferguson's keyboards creating dense atmospherics beneath the guitar interplay between Rhodes and Simon Ainley (their vocal interplay - chopping and swapping strategic lines - here and during "The Heart Of A Crowd" was similarly charged with interest).
The most effective piece, though, was the already celebrated "Montgomery Clift," its climax featuring the two guitarists alternating violent phrases that seemed to mount one upon the other in a. fierce conclusion that put one briefly in mind of the kind of virulent exchanges between Verlaine and Richard Lloyd on Television's "Marquee Moon."
Random Hold now, need nothing more than to work. They should not be rushed into a recording studio to produce a debut album before they've really sharpened and defined their material. They should now be dumped in the back of a Transit; if that's what's needed, and made to confront a variety of audiences. Then they will find their own voice and record an album worthy of their promise.

They had little or nothing set up for January except for another round of rehearsals and a gig on Saturday 20th supporting, of all people, The Troggs, another on the 24th back at Oxford's 'Corn Dolly' (DF knew the publican) and a third on the 30th at the infamous Rock Garden. But the rehearsals took on a new urgency when Polydor offered them demo time in their studios off Oxford Street. They were given three days, Monday 15th to Wednesday 17th, in which to self-produce something impressive.

They did, recording versions of 'Second Nature' and 'With People Out of Love' (and hopefully these sessions will be heard on the forthcoming Random Hold CDs). But they ferreted away copies of the tape for other ears to hear. Because the MM article hadn't just gingered up the foot-dragging Polydor A&R department. Just along the road from Polydor's offices were those of Chrysalis. And down Oxford Street to the east were those of the newly formed Genetic Records, home of Martin Rushent the producer of the recently successful Stranglers. All three were now courting the band, as well as a variety of publishing companies and agencies.

On the night of Tuesday, 30th January the Rock Garden was unusually full. The slowly growing band of Random Hold supporters were almost outnumbered by teams of A&R men, music publishers and other music business hangers on who eyed one another suspiciously through the gloomy, fetid atmosphere. It was turning into a cattle auction, highest bid wins!

Such unwarranted attention was also in danger of turning the boys' heads. Serious discussions about the nature of any potential record deal (low advances, good royalty rates, play the long game) were being rapidly undermined by an ever growing list of increasingly exotic and expensive equipment the band 'just had to have'. But the band played well. Businessmen in suits pressed their way into the tiny dressing room offering congratulations, doling out business cards, writing down phone numbers whilst the sticky, grimey musicians knocked back pints of watery lager.

February became one long business meeting. Armed now with Ian Adams, a lawyer knowledgeable about such matters, Bill sprinted from meeting to meeting. He gave EG Management one last shot, playing Mark Fenwick (who now runs the Fenwick department store chain) the demo of 'With People out of Love'. In a typical ferment of manic energy, Mark described the song enthusiastically as 'savage' before hitting the ground again and announcing they had just signed Killing Joke and that one bunch of psychologically disturbed musos was enough for any management company.

Disappointed but not distraught, Bill and Ian trekked around central London. One day it was Polydor and the Cowbell Agency, next it was Genetic and Song Music Publishers, then Chrysalis and Chappells then back to Polydor. At each meeting the amount of the advance would increase, creeping steadily up: £20,000, £25,000, £35,000. It was like a silly game of poker with everyone in the band beginning to wonder when someone would call their bluff.

In between business meetings, they tried to carry on rehearsing at Wharf Studios, where even the guys who ran the place had become caught up in the near hysteria of the situation. Every few hours, Bill would be called out of rehearsals to field calls from A&R men increasingly desperate to sign the band. Two real live gigs had now been arranged, both on almost 'home turf' in Oxford, with the band due to play again at Pembroke College on Saturday 24th and then at Oxford Polytechnic on Monday, 26th.

For the first time, the band had an out-of-town guest list of more than just friends. Music businessmen who couldn't find time to cross the River Thames to see them before Christmas were now fighting with one another to flog up the A40 to see them in Oxford. The field had now narrowed three main contenders: Polydor, Chrysalis and Genetic and all three had multiple representatives at Pembroke. In addition, Chappells Publishing turned up. Something else had changed. Instead of kipping on Dave Ferguson's parents' floor, the band stayed two nights in a hotel. Things were definitely looking up.

Again the gig went well. Again the men in suits swarmed round offering best wishes and inviting calls.

The next fortnight was frantic:

Tuesday, 27th February 11AM meet Ian Adam
12PM Chrysalis
2PM Polydor
Phone Martin Rushent/Genetic
Wednesday, 28th February Polydor
Thursday, 1st March Phone Polydor
11AM Genetic
Friday, 2nd March 12PM Warner Bros Music Publishers
2PM Chrysalis
Monday, 5th March 5PM Chrysalis
Tuesday, 6th March 3PM Polydor
5PM Chrysalis
Wednesday, 7th March 12PM Polydor
1PM Lupus Music Publishers
3.30PM Chrysalis
6PM Martin Rushent/Genetic
Thursday, 8th March GROUP MEETING
Friday, 9th March 9.30AM Genetic
12PM Warner Bros Music Publishers
4PM Lupus Music Publishers
Monday, 12th March 10.30AM Polydor
12.30PM Chappells
3.00PM Bright Music Publishing
Tuesday, 13th March 10.30AM Genetic

On Wednesday, 14th March, the band went back into Polydor's demo studios for a second session. This time they recorded 'Precarious Timbers', 'The Ballad' and 'Verona Rolls'. Again, more companies than just Polydor got to hear them, helping to generate even more interest.

By the end of the third week in March the game was complete. Bill and Ian had cranked up the price of signing Random Hold to something like £70,000 and had yet to sign any publishing deals from which yet more cash could be harvested. The figures was an unprecedented amount for a band few had ever heard of and who three months before couldn't have given their music away.

On Monday 19th March, Bill picked up the phone and, as the rest of the group toured the music equipment shops of Charing Cross Road and the West End, for the last time called Stuart Slater at Chrysalis and Martin Rushent at Genetic.

Random Hold had signed for Polydor Records.

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