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Eric Random \ Biography

Experimental multi-instrumentalist Eric Random released three albums and a slew of singles between 1980 and 1987, tracing a fascinating post-punk arc from art-bruit to esoteric jazz and funk inflections, and later exploring non-Western idioms with his group The Bedlamites. Hailing from Manchester, Random struck up enduring associations with Buzzcock Pete Shelley, Velvets femme fatale Nico and (most notably) with Sheffield avant-gardists Cabaret Voltaire, with whom much of his early material bears comparison.

Born Eric Ramsden in 1961, a teenage Random first recorded as a member of The Panik before joining Buzzcocks' road crew. In 1978 he became one-third of The Tiller Boys, an experimental trio formed with Buzzcock Pete Shelley and drummer Francis Cookson. Often referenced, yet seldom heard, the group reflected shared Krautrock/Fripp and Eno avant-rock preferences and were a regular feature on Manc-centric post-punk bills in 1978/79, making their live debut supporting Joy Division at the Factory (Russell) Club on 9 June 1978, a gig immortalised on Peter Saville's iconic Fac 1 poster. The Tiller Boys also supported Joy Division and Cabaret Voltaire at the Factory on 20 October, Gang of Four in York, and cut a single intended for Factory Records at Arrow Studio in January 1979. However these tracks - three slices of pounding percussion and Neu!-like guitar clangour - were destined not to appear on the new Manchester indie.

Shelley's commitment to Buzzcocks meant that The Tiller Boys were never a full-time concern, and in any event Random favoured promiscuous flexibility, also forming the Free Agents with Cookson and a floating pool of other musicians, and commencing solo activity via low key support slots with Buzzcocks. Indeed it was at a Buzzcocks date, at the Lyceum in London in March 1978, that Random met abstract electronic band Cabaret Voltaire, the result being that his musical connections with Sheffield became just as strong as those in his native Manchester. Meanwhile The Tiller Boys bowed out on 27 October 1979 with a bill shared with Cabaret Voltaire and The Passage at the YMCA in London, with Barry Adamson of Magazine guesting on bass.

Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon had founded pioneer indie label New Hormones to release their landmark Spiral Scratch EP in January 1977. After lying more or less dormant for three years after, at the beginning of 1980 the label returned to the fray with a roster of Manchester artists including Ludus, Biting Tongues, Dislocation Dance and The Diagram Brothers. Despite being obliged to operate in the shadow of Factory Records, and bedevilled by low finances and occasionally lacklustre artwork, New Hormones proved a bold and eclectic label. Its second vinyl release (ORG 3) came courtesy of The Tiller Boys, whose posthumous Factory extended play 7" (now titled Big Noise from the Jungle) was released in March 1980. An official bootleg album of sorts, variously known as Free Agents or £3.33, also appeared in Pete Shelley's label Groovy in 1980, comprising a session cut at Graveyard Studios and a recording of The Tiller Boys' gig at London YMCA.

After The Tiller Boys ceased trading towards the end of 1979, New Hormones retained Eric Random as a solo artist. His first record appeared in the form of an album-length 12" EP, That's What I Like About Me, whose three studio tracks were recorded in April 1980 with Stephen Mallinder of Cabaret Voltaire at their Western Works studio in Sheffield. The fourth track, Call Me, was recorded live at the Lyceum, London, on 23 March 1980, on an epic bill shared with Echo and the Bunnymen, A Certain Ratio, Psychedelic Furs, Manicured Noise and Teardrop Explodes (billed in that order). Both the live and studio cuts are of a piece, combining primitive rhythm-box beats and simple bass riffs with treated vocals, nagging guitar motifs, synth intrusions, objets trouvees and a multitude of other sounds, sometimes sinister, sometimes somnambulant.

With money always in short supply at New Hormones, the release of the ep was delayed, and in the meantime Random played a number of notable live shows, including a one-off performance at the Beach Club in Manchester on 23 April 1980 with members of A Certain Ratio and the Cabs, billed as Certain Random Cabaret, followed by a date with ACR and Section 25 at Plan K in Brussels on 26 April. Occasionally Random was billed as A Boy Alone. In September 1980 Random also supported Cabaret Voltaire on a short tour of France, Holland and Germany, and shared the bill with Throbbing Gristle at Manchester cellar club Rafters on 4 December.

That's What I Like About Me finally appeared in September 1980, and was elevated to Single of the Week status by the NME: "Eric Random fashions the unlikeliest of dance musics from agonising desolate noises and pulsing programmed drumbeats. Using a variety of tapes ranging from CV-like voices to harshly metallic alloys, he achieves a sensurround effect. Unlike the ugly, manipulative music of Throbbing Gristle, Random's noise is as emotional as it's all-embracing. A great companion 12 inch to Cabaret Voltaire's Three Mantras and almost as long."

In April 1981 Random took part in a brief New Hormones package tour with Ludus around Belgium and Holland, and this connection lead to the release of a third single via chic Brussels-based independent, Les Disques du Crépuscule. Released in July 1981, again on 7" only, TWI 029 coupled Subliminal with 23 Skidoo, and explores similarly ominous sonic surrounds to the debut EP. May also saw the release of another 7" single on New Hormones, (ORG 11), combining Dow Chemical Company with Skin Deep. Less austere than the debut ep recorded a year before, both tracks offered bubbling, rhythmic sound patterns, and were the first to feature other musicians, with Lynn Walton contributing vocals to DCC.

During the second half of 1981 Random recorded at various studios, chiefly Western Works in Sheffield but also Cargo and Revolution in Manchester, and assembled a debut album. Earthbound Ghost Need (the title references the celebrated William Burroughs novel Naked Lunch) finally appeared on New Hormones in March 1982, featuring six extended tracks and an expanded sonic palette, including distinct Middle Eastern influences, although perhaps the biggest surprise came in the form of a strangely-straight cover of Maurice Ravel's Bolero that might have left Bo Derek in a very different mood in 10. Richard H. Kirk guests on Rabble Dabble Dub, Stephen Mallinder guests on Regret and Despair, and both Cabs contribute to Force Feed (the latter titled Force Field on the tape box). Other guests included Lynn Walton, Ian Runacres and Andy Diagram of Dislocation dance, and regular bassist Wayne Worm, aka Wayne Sedgeman.

Reviewing the album in the NME, Amrik Rai praised "A record of incidental music for austere occasions, a diverse exhibition of dub pyrotechnics in a well-worn electronic location. Simultaneously metallic and emotional, Random deposes rock convention, grating through darker moments of gloom, scraping and scratching towards an area of hidden emotion."

Between the recording and release of the album, Random also contributed guitar and percussion to several tracks recorded Cabaret Voltaire at Pluto Studio, Manchester, in February 1982, some of the first following the departure of founder member Chris Watson. Three of these, War of Nerves, Wait and Shuffle and Get Out of My Face, were released as the second disc of the Cabs' seminal 2x45 album. Live versions of the same three tracks (plus Jazz the Glass) later appeared on the mini-album Live in Sheffield, recorded at a benefit gig on 19 January 1982 and credited to The Pressure Company: Richard H. Kirk, Stephen Mallinder, Eric Random and drummer Nort.

Earthbound Ghost Need sold in modest quantities, and regrettably has always been one of the hardest Random records to find. New Hormones struggled on for another six months until the end of 1982, but for his next solo record Eric Random again turned to Europe for a sympathetic outlet, releasing a 12" single through Dutch label Plurex in 1982. Credited to Eric Random and the Bedlamites for the first time, the maxi features just two tracks, Subliminal Seduction and Bedlam-a-Go-Go, and evidenced a pronounced shift towards a more accessible direction, mixing arid funk textures and spare melodies with vocals from Random and Walton.

Eric Random and the Bedlamites also contributed proto chill-out track 6.55 to the highly collectible Plurex compilation Hours (1982), the track later also appearing on the LTM compilation Heures San Soleil. Plurex was, incidently, the label overseen by Wally van Middendorp, frontman with Factory electronica pioneers Minny Pops. Another superior - and highly filmic - Random track from 1982 arrived in the form of In Cassette Conference, included on the Touch cassette package Feature Mist.

After several support dates with Cabaret Voltaire around the UK in May and June of 1982, Random embarked on the first of a series of extended visits to India, the first of which lasted a full eleven months. As well as travelling, Random studied non-Western instruments such as tabla, under Pandit Manik Rao Popotkar, and spent several months in the Himalayas with a group of musicians from the Kulu valley.

On returning to Manchester the following year, Random convened a new group of Belamites including Walton, Wayne Sedgeman and drummer Graham Dowdall (aka Dids). New studio recordings were made, although it was not until 1985 that these appeared on record, when two clutches of existing material were released as the album Time-Splice. Issued on Cabaret Voltaire's Doublevision imprint, the album featured eight tracks embracing electronic, industrial and dub styles, including the earlier Subliminal Seduction single as well as Himalaya Sun, excellent hard disco cut Hardcore and Mad As Mankind, the latter also released as a 12" single. Live outings at this time included an ICA Rock Week showcase in London on 23 March (with ACR), and a short UK tour supporting Cabaret Voltaire. The Sheffield connection was again reaffirmed in 1987 with a third album, Ishmael, released by Fon, the label helmed by Amrik Rai and Mark Brydon, then of Chakk and later half of Moloko.

Between 1982 and 1988 Random and other Bedlamites worked with former Velvet Underground icon Nico as a member of The Faction, her Manchester-based backing band. Indeed post Ishmael the band was effectively Nico and the Bedlamites, a relationship which continued until shortly before the singer's untimely death in 1988. This partnership is featured on several live CDs and bootlegs (Heroine, Behind the Iron Curtain, Nico in Tokyo, Live in Pecs), and unlike The Blue Orchids before them, The Faction actually entered the studio with Nico, recording the John Cale produced Camera Obscura in 1985. Random, however, was travelling at the time, and did not appear.

Since then Random has worked with multi-ethnic psychedelic dub collective Suns of Arqa, appearing on the Land of a Thousand Churches CD in 1991, and performed live with Richard H. Kirk at a Millennium show in Nantes, France in 2000. Still active in music, he is currently recording once more as Free Agents, now in partnership with reeds virtuoso Anthony Quigley, of Kalima and A Certain Ratio. A strictly limited Free Agents 7" single, Future Mantra b/w Cyclic, was released by Austrian label Syntactic in 1996, produced by fellow ACR man Martin Moscrop.

James Nice

July 2005

Eric Random