Touring with Gabriel UK

In which the band's album gets released
They have a fair bit of fun on tour
And they are dropped by Polydor


 
The complete entourage for the Gabriel/Random tour of the UK consisted of twenty-six people. Fifteen of them were the sound, lighting and trucking crew led by Albert Lawrence and included the Random's roadie, Pete Donovan, a tall, imperturbable gent who seemed temperamentally well suited to the somewhat volatile nature of certain band members. In addition there were the five members of the Gabriel band, Peter himself, ace drummer Jerry Marotta, synth specialist Larry Fast, the extraordinary Tony Levin on bass and 'stick' and John Ellis who was brought in to play the guitar parts many of which David Rhodes had played on the album. Tour Manager was Rick French and Gail Colson, manager of both acts, was also present throughout the tour.

Unlike most headliners, Peter took the view that there would no 'them' and 'us' when it came to touring. He insisted that the his band and the Randoms stay in the same hotels and, in most respects, the tour operated as if everyone was part of the same organisation. The Gabriel crew helped Pete Donovan out whenever required and vice versa. The Randoms were always given a decent length of time for their sound checks (which other support act could say that?). The bands eat and socialised together. They took photographs of one another during performances and popped in and out of one another's dressing rooms for a chat or a beer. Regularly, members of the Randoms would go one stage at join the moving and rousing choruses to 'Biko' at the end of Peter's set. Gee, it was just like one big family!

And most significantly, before each concert started, Peter would go on stage and introduce the Randoms as: "one of my favourite bands and one of the best bands around at the moment." For anyone who has been part of a support band the significance of this last element cannot be overstated. Most support bands are mainly viewed an as unnecessary inconvenience by the audience of hardcore fans there to see their favourites perform. Consequently they either play to an empty auditorium or to one filled with people whose only interest is to see them leave the stage as soon as possible. Peter's intervention meant, at least, that those people there would feel duty bound to give the Randoms some sort of hearing. It helped immeasurably and made the tour even more of a pleasure than it would anyway have been.

The tour started on Wednesday 20th February and ran for nearly four weeks:
Wednesday 20th February Exeter University
Thursday, 21st February Taunton Odeon
Saturday, 23rd February Birmingham Odeon
Sunday, 24th February Leicester De Monfort Hall
Monday, 25th February Sheffield City Hall
Wednesday, 27th February Dundee University
Thursday, 28th February Aberdeen Capitol Theatre
Friday, 29th February Glasgow Apollo
Saturday, 1st March Edinburgh Odeon
Monday, 3rd March Newcastle City Hall
Tuesday, 4th March Liverpool Empire
Wednesday, 5th March Manchester Apollo
Friday, 7th March Cardiff Sophia Gardens
Saturday, 8th March Southampton Gaumont
Tuesday, 11th March Hammersmith Odeon
Wednesday, 12th March Hammersmith Odeon
Thursday, 13th March Hammersmith Odeon
Saturday, 15th March Brighton Centre
Sunday, 16th March Bath University

Whenever possible, the days off were spent in attractive hotels deep in the countryside where both bands would relax and get to know one another. Days off were frequent, every three or four days, and some of the hotels selected by Peter and Bill proved spectacular for both location, food and accommodation. On the 26th, for example, the bands stayed at the Dryburgh Abbey Hotel, an impressive mansion set overlooking to Tweed. The previous night had been Sheffield and the next night would be Dundee. In spite of the penetrating cold of a February night deep in the Scottish Borders, David Rhodes and Peter Gabriel decided a hike across the nearby moorland was in order. It was only after several hours that the rest of the musicians, who'd been spending a highly civilised time warming their toes in front of a huge log fire and their insides with the odd dram or two of singularly fine malt whiskey, realised that the two of them had failed to return. Some anxiety was caused until they returned, very cold and dripping wet, the two of them having decided that fording the Tweed and having a look at the Abbey from the other bank seemed like a jolly good idea.

At the beginning of the tour, the Random Hold album was released. It was titled 'The View From Here' and reviews were awaited with some trepidation after the initial critical reaction drawn by the first two releases. The first in the field was the Melody Maker on the 23rd February. This time neither Allan Jones nor Ian Birch were the reviewers. This may have been useful because John Orme, the reviewer, came without any preconceptions and reviewed it as he heard it. There was a distinct sense of shock, and relief, when the review was read. Orme described it as "a work of promise and reward". Blimey, he liked it!
RANDOM HOLD "The View From Here" John Orme, Melody Maker, 23rd February 1980
RANDOM Hold can claim the rare and satisfying distinction that their music matches and fulfils their name and all its resonances: a concern with the mechanisms and components of rock, a bleak lyrical aspect and instrumental bias leaning towards synthesiser disturbance and guitar distortion, and the occupation of a musical quarter once populated by bands like Matching Mole and Phil Manzanera's 801. Bill MacCormick, resolute bassman with both those bands, provides the direct link with such a past, but (with only minor grumbles) the band and producer Peter Hammill have produced a work of promise and reward in an area often skirted but rarely entered with conviction.
The album, the band's first, has a compact thematic feel, from David Ferguson's beguiling synth jitter which opens "What Happened" to the stark, conclusive siren warning that halts "The View From here". Hammill's production gives the band a thick, gutsy feel, tucking fat chunks of David Rhodes' guitar on either side of the stereo balance and characteristically isolating the strained, pained vocals within the body of the mix. . The band keep a rough vocal edge, varying in feel from dislocated Brian Eno to same of John Lydon's more measured work on the PIL "Metal Box" outing. "We are caught between discipline and desire," runs the vocal turbulence on "Dolphin Logic", a track that works admirably, the vocal agonies offset by an instrumental track that is just too solid, adding an uneasy; jarring dimension in the song's neurosis.
Random Hold's themes are not new - they concern themselves with the future prospect of mind-control states ("Etceteraville"), and the current problems of individuals hiding and seeking in increasingly alienating societies. But the band's considered, highly intelligent use of the musical hardware at their disposal to counterpoint and embellish the lyrical themes of the songs is a major strength. The band's principal quality is the achievement of maintaining a progressive instrumental stance without turning to traditional solos or lengthy "work-out" sections, and communicating the message of their choice, a largely dour and doomy view, with a variety of music that sparks with a crisp intelligence.
A track like "Etceteraville" covers the band's main strength and weakness - the lyric is trite and superficial, but the balance of words and music succeeds far better than the vision of, say, Bill Nelson's Red Noise album which achieved a result as foreign and distracted as the future fears of the composer. The three extended tracks that make up side two, headed by "Etceteraville", represent the album's most complete achievement, allowing an unhurried development of the band's concerns and fears.
I find their message one-dimensionally pessimistic and fashionably future imperfect (after-alienate mints, anyone?) but I'm a sucker for the way they tell it.
Buoyed by the first signs of a critical upswing the band played decently at Exeter and Taunton before enjoying a day off in London in advance of the journey up the M1 to Birmingham. Beginning to work as a more formidable unit, playing was proving, at last, a pretty pleasant experience. Even notoriously partisan crowds like Glasgow and Liverpool were taken on and whilst not exactly battered into submission some casualties were caused. Almost every gig they played, Tony Levin (one of THE best bass players it's been my pleasure to see, Ed) would lurk at the side of the stage snapping away relentlessly. Every time they came off stage they were greeted warmly by Peter and his band and most nights, the Randoms would either sneak into the hall to watch or would stand at the side of the stage to enjoy Gabriel's rivetting performances. During this period an anonymous but encouraging note in an unknown magazine (and we only publish it here because they were nice about the band:
RANDOM HOLD, unkown magazine article If you've got tickets for the current Peter Gabriel tour, you're advised to go along early to catch the opening act. The band is called Random Hold and if you haven't heard of them before you should check them out. They play what they call 'highly emotional dance music, but not just for cliques like mods or ska fans: If there's a comparison, it's with Talking Heads - but in their aims, rather than their style.
The band started when two students, David Ferguson and David Rhodes, went to see Phil Manzanera and Eno's temporary band 801. They became angry at how uninventive that band was and decided they could do better themselves which is ironic because 801's bass player Bill Maccormick is now with Random Hold.
To start with the two Daves were an experimental duo doing workshops, using backing tapes and rhythm boxes and playing for things like puppet theatres. But they decided that they weren't getting through to the audiences so, after various comings and goings, Bill joined on bass and Pete Phipps came in on drums. Those two had different musical experiences; Maccormick had played with almost every experimental British jazz-fusion band going, and Phipps had been with Gary Glitter's G Band. The new band came under the wing of Tony Smith (manager of Peter Gabriel), and Random Hold were born.
The band went out to Startling Studios (once the home of John Lennon and now residence of Ringo Starr) and in a mere three weeks they had recorded enough material for a double album. They decided to release everything they had recorded -but in different ways and at different times. First came a single, Etceteraville, and then last November came the impressive EP containing songs like Film Music and Montgomery Clift. Now the rest has just been released as an album called The View From Here.
View from Here advertIn Edinburgh they met up with Hugh Fielder from Sounds for a quick interview over breakfast in the huge old railway station hotel, the North British, that stands above Waverley Station. He seemed genuinely interested and the article reflected this when it was published three weeks later. He also gave the band a good mention when he reviewed the whole concert:
Gabriel/Random Hold, Edinburgh Odeon Hugh Fielder, Sounds, 8th March 1980
No-one qualifies as a cult hero the way Peter Gabriel does. Chucking up Genesis just before they made the super league, coming up with just two solo albums in the space of four years that required a dedicated and sympathetic disposition to compete with the torrent of frantic activity on almost every street corner, and infrequent appearances in strange and often unaccommodating places. But Gabriel is trying hard.
In a medium which, despite its rebellious facade is fast becoming institutionalised, predictable and even moribund, he is playing with the ground rules. This goes as far as questioning the whole star/fan-worship syndrome and constantly trying to break new ground in presenting himself and his songs on stage. He's doing it from a position of some strength but that doesn't alter the fact that he's stuck to his guns for longer than most of the New Wave has done. His following has stayed fiercely loyal over the years, a factor which both helps and hinders him: it must be a comfort to know that you can always find an audience whenever you want but riding roughshod one their expectations can tax their affections.
Most of them missed his first appearance on stage, however. He walked on at the very beginning of the concert to give support group Random Hold his personal sponsorship. He managed to do it without making it a big deal, condescending or patronising. He simply introduced them said that they were one of best bands he'd heard in the last year and walked quickly away.
Random Hold proved worthy of Gabriel's endorsement with a committed and convincing set that took its inspiration from several illustrious sources of the Seventies: Roxy Music, Bowie, Pink Floyd etc. - and placed them firmly in a current context.
They're not afraid of a good melody and when they got away from the teutonic stomp that characterised too many of the songs they revealed a sharp sense of texture and dynamics. What they need is a hit to help them stand out in the crowd and with a little perseverance they should get one.
At the same time, new found convert Paul Suter came out with a mixed review of the album. A curate's egg of an album got a curate's egg of a review: good in parts.
Out of Love
Paul Suter, Sounds, 8th March 1980
I'VE BEEN looking forward to this album for a long time, so it's particularly saddening that the deed has failed to live up to the promise. The introductory 'Etceteraville' single (also included here) was blessed with the excellent 'Precarious Timbers' on its B side, and the ensuing five track 'Avalanche' EP was simply stunning from beginning to end, a frightening blend of power and mesmeric intensity.
So what went wrong? Well, not exactly wrong, but awry. The single, EP and album all come from the same sessions, so maybe it's just a case of miscalculation stripping the album of Random Hold's peaks.
The music is stark and eerie, couched in David Ferguson's distant synth, an insistent presence akin to a suspense thriller soundtrack. Bill MacCormick's grumbling bass adds further texture whilst Pete Phipps cracks out the rhythm that intensifies the effectiveness of their moodmaking. David Rhodes' guitar is the primary weapon, its assault capacity best captured in the blistering violence that terminates 'With People (Out Of Love)'.
The opening 'What Happened' brings early Roxy Music to mind with its bubbling, insistent synth and strange vocals, whilst the ensuing 'Dolphin Logic' states Random Hold's own case rather better. It's sinister and intense, building from doomy synth chords into a swirling storm of riffing and voices, only rivalled by side two's 'With People (Out Of Love)' a mystic and distant piece that's simultaneously poignant and menacing. Elsewhere though, nothing really happens. 'Central Reservation' and the title track are both intermittently impressive, but not sufficiently so, and the overall result is disappointing.
Random Hold are a stunning band, they will scare the living daylights out of Peter Gabriel on his current tour, but this album is not the masterstroke it should have been. For a mere £1.49 the five track 'Avalanche' EP is the manifesto you should be examining, because Random Hold deserve your support and 'The View from Here' isn't the way to win it.
Less useful was the almost total lack of coverage that the band's performances received in the music press whose focus was, understandably, almost entirely on Gabriel and his new material. So, although the band were playing to bigger audiences than ever, and receiving reasonably decent reactions, this fact was not being relayed any further. Again, radio play of the album was insignificant, a reflection of Polydor's soon-to-be-made decision to drop the act.

On the 15th March, as the tour drew to a close, the NME, in the shape of Graham Lock, reviewed the album. Again, the review was favourable:
RANDOM HOLD "The View From Here", Graham Lock, NME, 15th March 1980
Random Hold, you might say, are red-blooded artisans where Magazine are anaemic artists. Practitioners of a sturdily dramatic music that pulses in fine robust fashion even while the lyrics make an ineffectual nod towards the same bleak todays and tomorrows that trouble Devoto's devotions.
The vocals - wrenching white soulful - impress too, but the strengths of this album are primarily instrumental. Through the ornate crescendoes of 'Silver Spoons, Golden Tongues' and moody atmospherics of 'With People (Out of Love)' to the title track's swiftly shifting rhythmic flow, the music retains its ominous edge.
The staunch basis for this authority comes from Peter Phipps (ex-Glitter Band - sussed you Pete!) flaying the drums like a manic carpet beater, and ex-Matching Mole and 801-er Bill MacCormick, whose bass growls and prowls with customary aplomb.
Complementing them are David Rhodes, whose dark chunky guitar occasionally flares with aggression, and David Ferguson on keyboards that flit and swoop, coax and grumble. And knitting all together with consummate skill is the subtle hand of producer Peter Hammill.
Random Hold do falter at times. 'What Happened' builds well only to sag at the weak chorus, a fault that also afflicts the generally inane 'Etceteraville'.
The odd lapse aside, 'The View from Here' attacks with force and vitality. No new visions, but it runs full-pelt through that grey area where rock traditionally gets bogged down in orchestrations or ersatz jazziness, and emerges with most flags flying.

The same day, however, the Record Mirror reinforced its position as the teeny-bop, no brainer British music weekly when it slagged off the band viciously, comparing it in derogatory fashion to Talking Heads (a comparison with which the band were actually quietly pleased):
Random Hold, 'The View From Here' Robin Smith, Record Mirror, 15th March 1980
OH GOD, this is Polydor's attempt at signing something approaching an ART band. You know the sort of thing - a bleak photo of a building on the album cover and meaningful songs like 'Dolphin Logic' and 'Etceteraville' delivered in the post punk grand spiky style.
Doubtless much of this album is way above the head of a dummy like me. It sounds like an overdriven machine with oil shortage. The aforementioned 'Dolphin Logic' is quite the most tedious and boring thing I've heard since I foolishly listened to a Talking Heads album all the way through without a teabreak.
'Silver Spoons', Golden Tongues' and 'Central Reservation' are real classics in unreserved pretension and have zombie like choruses. 'Central Reservation' features much robotic vocals and an uncomfortable theme that has the same effect as stroking a porcupine. 'Etceteraville' has a zappy little intro but once again the lads settle back comfortably into dark passages and stark images. Yawn.
'People Out Of Love' is absolutely hellish. It goes on and on with guitars grating steadily and vocals quickly solidifying over a repetitive drum beat. 'The View From Here' boasts a Steely Dan type intro before it breaks, into a tune that sounds like the worst excesses of Bill Nelson after Be Bop Deluxe split. Listen to this dross at your peril. I'm off to watch Muppet Show'.
Seven days later, Chris Bohn in the Melody Maker presented himself as a lone voice of dissent with a critical review of Peter's set at the Hammersmith Odeon. He did, however, mutter some slightly positive comments about the Random on the way:
Random Hold at the Hammersmith Odeon (supporting Peter Gabriel) Chris Bohn, Melody Maker, March 22nd 1980
Nothing compromising, though, about Random Hold, an incessantly dark despairing band, whose set is like sitting through an Ingmar Bergman movie - one knows it's good, but that doesn't necessarily imply immediate acceptance. At least they confront, even if they don't excite. Sombrely austere guitar and keyboards provide the severest of colourings to the hollow thud of Bill MacCormick's dominant bass. The resulting angst isn't so much alleviated by the band recognising it - as opposed to the psyche searching of the younger Joy Division - as increased by their knowing there's no way out. Oh me!

The tour finished on the 16th March at a hastily convened extra gig in Peter's home town of Bath. That night Bill, his wife and Peter headed east along the M4 towards London. Somewhere in Berkshire, the car unexpectedly slowed to a halt with the petrol gauge on empty. Thankfully, the AA were not long in coming and they were soon on their way. Then, as they entered the Earls Court area the car engine started to scream in a most unattractive fashion before, literally, grinding to a halt. Peter cheerfully hailed taxis for all concerned and they headed for home leaving the car sadly sitting by the side of the road.

It seemed an appropriate event for the end of the tour. Soon, everything would lurch to a halt for the band. Ten days later, just as the album had received some decent reviews, Polydor confirmed they were dropping them. The A&R men who had signed them were consigned to the dustbin of history. The timing was perfect.

 

David Rhodes

Bill MacCormick

Pete Phipps

Dave Ferguson



Gabriel programme





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