We sat down for a chat with Joe and Robin from Random Hand after their set supporting Less Than Jake in Coventry. The band are currently playing their farewell tours before they split up and release a final record. We spoke about how the DIY scene has changed since they started and why they’re calling it a day.
Why did you feel like this was the right time to stop?
Joe Tilston (bass/vocals): Do you wanna ride this one or shall I?
Robin Leitch (vocals/trombone): Well I just had a lot of washing to do.
JT: He literally only has one t-shirt left. Robin’s not the biggest of multitaskers.
RL: For a more sensible answer..
JT: We’ve been doing this thing for 13 years, it’s been amazing. It’s been the best thing we could possibly want for our twenties and stuff, but it’s been a thing which has stopped us from doing anything else with our lives. And it’s an amazing thing, even since we decided to stop we’ve had some amazing highlights. It still feels like we’re at the top of some things. But we have to do it. We give way for life for a little bit.
You’re playing some of your last shows at the moment, does it feel different compared to going on tour normally?
RL: I wouldn’t have said so. Regardless of peripheral situations we’ve always just kinda prided ourselves on just throwing ourselves in live. That’s very much the domain we work best in. We’ve always sorta been better live than on record and made the effort to make our live shows as good as possible. So I don’t think there’s any feeling of because we’re coming to an end we’re not as bothered or anything.
JT: I’m less stressed. Much less stressed because I can just enjoy the gigs. I’m definitely feeling it. There’s a different vibe for me but I don’t know if it’s like that for everybody.
How come you decided to put out a last record? Is that out after the last tour, too?
JT: Yeah [laughter]. Random Hand is almost a completely different band to when we started. We have two different members. Sean (Howe – drums/samples) joined when were doing Seething is Believing, half of that was written with our old drummer – and then Dan (Walsh – guitar/vocals) joined about three years ago. We’ve been writing since then and it would have been really unfair on those two to not have something solid out. Yeah. It is a bit backward releasing something after you’re ending, and it has been a bit peculiar writing.
RL: I think it’ll be nice to just leave people with something rather than like split up and the last thing we put out was four/five years ago. So I think it’s nice to just document the band as it is now. Despite the fact we’re in our thirteenth year we’re still progressing, we’re still experimenting with songwriting and things like that, still trying to push things further. So I think it makes sense to get some of that down while we’re still in the room together.
Because you started about thirteen years ago, do you see much difference in the DIY scene now compared to then?
JT: I think there’s been quite a shift – quite a standard answer – but I think the internet has had a huge effect. There was a point when we were starting and the internet revolution made it easier for us, but now it’s become a point of huge saturation. It’s harder. It’s not the same hard work, I’m not saying it’s not hard work but it’s a different kind of hard work to 250 gigs a year. People can appear to be a full time band and they only do 30 gigs a year. So I think there’s been a huge shift in that respect.
RL: Tilston is much more clued in to industry stuff than I am. It’s a weird one for us because we very much, as most bands do, we built up from scratch. There was no definitive jumping point for us. We just went round and round and round in the van and each time it was a little bit better. It built up that way, and now we got into that position where we’re an active underground band. I think because we’ve been progressing, for me personally, I’ve just noticed the situation getting easier through practice or whatever. We just hit the road really hard, even when we were part time. We used to be full time be out basically every day, and when you do that you just practice your music and practice being out on the road and meeting new people. It changes how you approach it. My attitude has definitely shifted since we started, I think I can approach things in a much more productive manner now.
Is it different playing these kinda shows with Less Than Jake or going back a while, bands like The King Blues, compared to small DIY shows?
JT: Yeah there are differences. Last night we were in Sheffield and we headlined a gig which was in the middle of this run with Less Than Jake, and that was a massive difference. I can’t remember the last time we were first on a bunch of gigs in a really long time.
RL: It was probably The King Blues.
JT: Yeah. And the thing with The King Blues was that it was us, them and Sonic Boom Six, so I reckon about 70% of people in that room were familiar with us. Even if they weren’t fans they were familiar. I expected the same thing with Less Than Jake but actually on the first night it became quite apparent maybe about 20% knew who we were. And it’s quite hard being the first band on in that situation. We haven’t had that for ages. But within five songs of the set it’s been pumping and we’ve had a great time. So, yeah it is different [laughter].
RL: It’s still a good thing, it’s just a different thing. Obviously if we do a show to our own fan base, it’s great, we have a laugh and we share it with people who love it. What I love about doing these kinds shows where the majority of the crowd doesn’t who we are, is that I enjoy the thing of getting people into it.
JT: Well that’s the whole thing of it.
Like a challenge.
JT: Yeah. When you’re doing it and you haven’t got a PR campaign or anything you just end up playing to the same people over and over again. We haven’t grown as a band for maybe five years I’d say.
RL: I’ve been a constant just shy of six foot [laughter]. But no, it’s still a learning curve and I think it’s good for us as a band to be put back into those situations because you have to work for it. It keeps us on our toes.
Do you think there’s been much of a shift in genres that people are into?
JT: People have been saying the UK ska scene is dead since about five years before we were a band. I think it’s not as united, there were times in our career where it’s been hugely united but then it’s fallen back because some things didn’t work like Rebel Alliance or before that Household Name Records. There’s been peaks and troths, I don’t think the peaks are as big as they used to be now because fashion has become a big thing in fashion. I think that there’s music which is much more fashionable than people going on with trombones [laughter]. But there is, isn’t there? That’s the thing.
RL: I definitely agree. I think since ska punk started its always had that core group of people who were really into it and really devoted and I think it always will do. I just think there was a point where it was the popular thing. It was the flavour of the month at one point, and now it’s not. Traveling around though I think it still has a small but devoted fan base I’d say.
Are there any bands you’re really into right now?
JT: I’m so out of touch.
RL: The last live thing I saw which was fantastic, and I think he will agree with me, was a London-based band called Petrol Girls.
JT: Oh definitely yes.
RL: That’s the first time in a while where I’ve thought “yeah, they’re really good.”
JT: They’re the best band I’ve seen in years.
Yeah, they are amazing.
RL: Yeah, we’ve been friends with Ren for years.
JT: Yeah I’ve done acoustic tours with her. She did backing vocals for Mike Scott.
RL: For years she’s been saying she wanted to start a hardcore band and then when she did it it was just like “wow.”
JT: Definitely the band I’ve been most excited about.
So what have you got lined up after Random Hand?
JT: It’s very open. I don’t know. Sean’s gonna become a jazz master. Dan will be continuing his teaching career. I have no idea what I’m gonna be doing because everything’s changed a bit. And you Robin?
RL: I will be washing my socks. Maybe nick a tenner out the merch tin and buy some clothes. Well me and Tilston have just graduated uni. We went back as mature students. I was doing a theatre course and while I was doing that I was getting involved in some script writing and stuff, so I’ve got some theatre projects that I’m gonna crack on with. I’ve also secured a job driving drunk students around after club nights.
JT: When do you start that?
RL: Basically straight after we finish touring. I think I’ve got a day off. So I’ll go straight from being in a van with a drunk punk band to being in a completely different van with a load of drunk students [laughter].
JT: I know where I’d rather be [laughter].
RL: We’ve been doing this for thirteen years so it’s gonna be a weird thing. Even going for a few months without playing feels weird. We’ve been doing it since we were in our teens so it’s kinda second nature for us. It’s gonna be a strange thing readjusting to that. Not that we don’t appreciate it now but I think it’ll make us appreciate it more.
JT: “I used to be in a band” [laughter].
RL: Be that guy at the bar.