Random Hand: Can’t Stop Changing Plans [Interview]

Joe Tilston discusses Random Hand’s hiatus, their return to the stage and what they’ve been plotting in the meantime!

Interview by Sarah Williams. Photos nicked from Bev, from RH’s ‘last’ Manchester show.

It is hard to measure the impact that Random Hand have had on my life. They’ve been going since 2002, but I think I stumbled across them in 2007 when I first heard Scum Triumphant. They were one of the first small bands that I became properly obsessed with, so therefore they became my gateway into DIY. Literally, this website would not exist if Random Hand hadn’t been there to kick-start my gig addiction. I also wouldn’t own half as many sweat-encrusted band t-shirts.

For many years, Random Hand were one of the most explosive bands in UK ska-punk. Back in 2015 they announced that they were going on hiatus for a couple of years. Although they never used the words ‘break-up’ themselves, there was uproar in the punk community and many promoters billed their farewell tour as their last ever gigs. The news was especially shocking coming from a band who were a mainstay of the live circuit. No matter how many gigs they played, they always gave 110%, guaranteeing the best loud, sweaty and raucous performances you could wish for.

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The news of the hiatus was delivered alongside a crowd-funding campaign for a self-released album as a farewell gift to their fans. Hit Reset dropped on 13th September 2015, just as they came off stage at their final, incendiary gig at The Camden Underworld. The album was an unusual parting gift (particularly as they weren’t playing it live) and an opportunity to record with the final iteration of their line-up.

Robin Leitch (vocals/trombone), Joe Tilston (bass), Dan Walsh (guitar) and Sean Howe (drums) recently announced that they would be reuniting in 2018. Their first gig back is in their home town of Leeds, followed quickly by Manchester Punk Festival. They are also releasing their first album Change of Plan on vinyl via TNS Records. It’s a gorgeous red record, encased in an updated version of Si Mitchell’s classic artwork, due for release on February 9th.

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I sat down with Joe Tilston to discuss their plans for the new year and to get some insight into why they left us in the first place.

Random Hand are back! Why now?

We were very honest about it being a hiatus. I know some promoters weren’t quite as honest and said it was our last gig on occasions, but on our social media statuses and at every gig we always said it was a hiatus. It’s a break. If anyone asked anything beyond that we said, “We need two years off.” That was the watershed; having two years off and seeing where that took us.

It literally ticked over two years. I was on the phone to Robin just after he’d finished one of the projects he was working on and we said, “Shall we have a practice then?” That was it, really! It was one week less than two years that we had our first practice back. I think we all just needed the head space. We needed to let it go, not think about it and become our own people.

So, the band was part of your life for around fifteen years before that?

We were together for 13-14 years, so 15 years now.

And it’s been 10 years since Change of Plan was originally released, so the timing fits nicely.

Yep, May 7th 2007. It is good. It would have been preferable if it somehow all fit together (so the first gig back would have been an exact 10 year anniversary) but that’s just a personal preference.

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When you’d originally announced the hiatus you said you were looking at a two year break. Was this plan already in the works?

Well, there wasn’t a plan, you know? We’d just said two years and then whatever happens, happens. There were probably points when we first announced it when we all thought it could have been an open-ended book. Six months before we stopped there was a very real point where we could have all fallen out because we hadn’t made the album, we hadn’t finished writing the album, we weren’t practising enough and we weren’t fighting fit.

We had one particular gig where we turned up, we hadn’t all managed to get to a practice togethe and Robin was having to remind himself of lyrics on the way to the gig… We had practised without Robin, which was something we never used to do. Then we went and did the gig and it was just… I’d never gotten off stage thinking we were anything other than the best we could be, but that was the one gig where we weren’t. We got off stage and talked to our merch guy, who just said, “That was shit.” Never had he ever said that before. We knew just as well as he did that we’d let ourselves down.

It was literally the next day that we called the hiatus. I think if we hadn’t have called it, we would have fallen out. If we’d have fallen out it would have been a big bust-up. Robin and I are really close; he’s one of my best mates ever. But I think that the dysfunction was beginning to feel personal. Even though it wasn’t.

In that case, I’m quite glad you did take a break!

It was the best decision ever and, getting back to your actual question, when we got to the end of the tour it was just like, “Yeah, we need two years off.”

What have you all been up to without Random Hand?

I finished a degree in Events Management, Robin finished a degree in Theatre Studies and Sean also finished a degree in Jazz. Dan was a teacher but he now sells gin for a living. Sean is now doing a masters in Music Therapy… he’s not stopped doing music really. Robin’s been doing this theatre company called Forget About The Dog, he’s been off to Edinburgh doing shows and things. I think he’s working in York Dungeons now. Sounds amazing – I’m going to go and annoy him there soon! I started Traits and started working in Emergency Response for the Red Cross, which is madness.

What have you got planned for the reunion?

There’s five or six festivals booked in. We have got really limited weeks to play with because of work commitments. The four of us have got our lives now, rather than just working on the band. We’re getting loads of offers but we just can’t take them. I reckon this year is going to be a few really good festivals and some club shows. If we can manage to do it, we might tour at the end of the year, but going on how little availability we’ve had I’ll be surprised if we can do more than 15 gigs across the year. I’m already thinking about 2019.

At least no one’s going to get sick of you! That’s a risk if you play again and again and again!

Well, at our peak we were doing 250 gigs in one year… which was stupid!

You are releasing Change of Plan, 11 years after its original release. It’s not its first re-release either – is there as reason you decide against re-releasing Another Change of Plan?

Well, this is the funny story. Another Change of Plan was originally a re-release of Change of Plan, which happened because of issues with labels and things. We put an extra 5 song EP on the end of Change of Plan.

We were supposed to be releasing Another Change of Plan; just a simple re-release on vinyl. We got the vinyl all made up. Si Mitchell loving recreated the artwork. He’d done the liner notes for it with all the song titles and we’d sent it to TNS to go to press and everything… however all of us had forgotten that there’s a restricted length to vinyl of 44 minutes. There was considerably more than that on Another Change of Plan! We basically had to take it all off and all the artwork had to be done again. Absolutely shambolic.

Perfect! So what’s actually coming out on vinyl?

It’s all of Change of Plan. We want to keep it simple and just do 300 copies on red vinyl, original track listing. I think that’s a nice thing actually; people are going to enjoy the original album as intended.

I think a lot of people have Another Change of Plan and aren’t necessarily aware that Change of Plan came first.

I think a lot of people will have lost sight of what that piece was, and that’s why I feel so good about this. I did contemplate calling it Another Another Change of Plan because it’s got different artwork.

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You’re putting it out on TNS Records. I’ve always been quite surprised that you weren’t already on TNS. Why are you working together now?

I’ve always loved TNS. Through never trying do more than they were capable of, they have slowly achieved a really good place within the scene. That’s what’s really admirable about them.

We did our first album with a label that pretty much promised the world and then stopped doing everything the moment we delivered the album. We were the hardest working band in the scene but they did nothing with it. I loved the guy that was involved with it, but we had to put our own interests first…. We brought out the second album on Rebel Alliance, which was another difficult time. Rebel Alliance was the perfect idea, the perfect follow up to Household Name records… the problem was that again they tried to a bit too much. It grew a bit too quickly and it didn’t find its feet before it had a chance, which was a shame. Then we went to Bomber Music, who were our publishers, for Another Change of Plan. They basically became our label because no one else was doing a super job of it, and we have a really good relationship.

We did the TNS all-dayer, which was the pre-cursor to Manchester Punk Festival and even then I said to Andy, “I’d really like to do an album with you.” But, when the fourth album came around it just wasn’t the time for it. Then when the 10th anniversary came around they asked if we wanted to release Change of Plan on vinyl… Let’s do it!

I’m most excited to her Hit Reset played live – you only played it once or twice on the farewell tour. The secret set at Boomtown 2015 was cracking.

We did 10 of the 12 songs on the record at the secret show at Boomtown, and a few others ones because we wanted to make the set a bit more interesting for people. We played 5 or 6 songs at a couple of last minute gigs in our hometown, before we even had the whole thing written.

We haven’t worked on anything like we worked on Hit Reset and half the band weren’t on any of our other records. We’re so proud of it and we just can’t wait to play it. We had to document that time. Having that project and having that pledge campaign to say ‘this is our parting gift’ made it perfect. It’s a crying shame that it didn’t get toured, but it will do.

Hit Reset is the only album which features the current line up of the band. Was that one of the main motivations for recording it?

We always wanted to record with Dan, but once Dan joined the band we instantly became part time because he was teaching and he wasn’t about to leave his career. Up until that point we had always been full time, but we all recognised that we needed to make a shift because we were running ourselves into the ground.

We thought part time would work, but it didn’t really work how we’d hoped it to. Robin was trying to do other creative things but creative spaces fill creative spaces, so it wasn’t as easy for Robin to compartmentalise his time.

It looks like Robin has been really successful in the theatre work that he’s doing now.

He has, yeah! He’s been to Edinburgh a few times. I’ve seen two or three of his plays and they are brilliant. He’s so creative. He’s working in these really creative groups and his pieces have blown my mind a bit. I hope it gets a break in some way that validates that sacrifice in time for being creative. To me, the idea of giving that level of personal sacrifice for being creative again scares the hell out of me, which I why I went and got a stupid proper job!

What are you most excited about for the reunion?

It’s just going to be great to get out and play those songs again. That was the great thing about playing those rehearsals: you forget how much those songs meant to you and how much effort you put into them. We’re going to be playing some really big festivals. At Bearded Theory we’re going to be playing an outdoor main stage in the UK. We’ve not done anything that big in the UK before.

The other thing is, we haven’t ruled out writing again. So, if that’s a thing, it’ll just feel good to feel relevant again, I suppose!

What’s the future for Random Hand?

We agreed that if [we’re invited to do anything and] there’s an ounce of hesitation, if there’s an ounce of ‘this might not be a great thing’, we need to not do it. Because if we don’t have a good time then we won’t fucking do it again. We did enough tours where we hated 75% of every minute of it. There were some horrible times: weather was shit, vans were broke, we were skint, people were going through break ups… we were living on £3,500 a year as a wage for 7 years. There were so many times when it was just bleak when we weren’t on stage that if we were just doing that it would be a nightmare.

So the plan is to enjoy the festivals, see what happens and then look at how we follow that up.

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Thank you so much to Joe for taking the time to chat to me. If, like me, you can’t contain your excitement about the Random Hand reunion then you can go order a copy of Change of Plan on vinyl from TNS Records here: https://www.tnsrecords.co.uk/?product=random-hand-change-plan

Ticket-buying money burning a hole in your pocket? These are the shows that Random Hand have announced so far this year:

  • April 17th – The Key Club, Leeds
  • April 18th – Think Tank, Newcastle
  • April 19-21st – Manchester Punk Festival
  • May 24th-27th – Bearded Theory Festival
  • July 13th-15th – Mighty Sounds Festival
  • July 20th-22nd – Level Up Festival
  • August 3rd-5th – Outcider Festival

I’ll see you down the front!

Interview by Sarah Williams. Photos nicked from Bev.

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