Random Hand manage their anger with ska tactics

May 8, 2013
Joe Tilston, left, with Random Hand.
Joe Tilston, left, with Random Hand.

Live in K-Town
Random Hand
Bomber Music
April 1, 2013

West Yorkshire ska band Random Hand blend hardcore, reggae, punk and dub with plenty of politics. Bassist-vocalist Joe Tilston, who is also a critically-acclaimed solo folk artist, talked to Green Left’s Mat Ward about their new live album.

* * *

Live in K-Town really exudes energy. How much amphetamine and beer do you think the average fan has consumed when watching Random Hand?

We have such a wide range of fans that it’s not easy to pin any one habit on them [laughs]. If you were asking about a crowd at a festival like Rebellion festival, one of the biggest punk festivals in Europe that we play every year, I'd expect you'd get high just talking to someone in the audience. That place is the height of debauchery. That said, I don't think the average Random Hand fan has much more than a skinful in them.

You have toured all over Britain and the US with big names like Propaghandi and have a lot of songs to choose from live. Why have the particular ones that appear on Live in K-Town endured?

They are the one that we enjoy playing live. Over the years, we'll bring back songs and try out things that haven't been played live for a while and more often than not they won’t stick around long, as they are just not that fun to play. That’s not to say they are bad songs or anything, but certain grooves and energies you can get behind more than others. It's that energy that makes our show what it is.

Your song “Devil’s Little Guinea Pig” urges people to keep things in perspective:

A lack of oppression, and a harvest we can cultivate
I can leave my door, without fear of war
There's no snipers, not a fucking claymore
I've eaten recently
My life isn’t threatened by the state of the economy
I stare at my roof, but forget I've got one

So stop right there
Now it's good that you care, but you couldn't hold a torch to half the world around you
You've got your problems
But you can't go saying
You're the devil's little guinea pig
Now no-one's blaming you for being human
If it's bad, then please respond
You've got your problems
But you can't go saying
You're the devil's little guinea pig

Look back, recap, clean water on tap
Ain't no guerrillas gonna lay on a surprise attack
With less disease, travel as I please
No problems paying off my school fees
Got luxuries, I'm blessed
Could you ever comprehend
The likes of radiation sickness?
Got more than medicines than I need

Looking back now, bad times, low vibes
Check a broken soul, you can spot the signs
Sit back and watch the people go
I'll tell you everyone you know
Has got issues weighing on their mind
Sometimes it's fine, sometimes its hard to find
A way, to make it through the day
I check the world and I'm OK

Perspective notwithstanding, how hard has West Yorkshire been hit by Britain’s Coalition government - what sort of changes have you seen?

The problem with anything like this is that it’s so subversive and quietly done. Change is slowly implemented to the point that everyone just becomes used to the fact it’s happening and then, before we know it, the whole support and welfare system will be gone. There is a huge amount of apathy within the scores of people affected by it. No one feels they can really make any changes, so they just put up and shut up.

You mix up a lot of genres and rail against the closed-mindedness of genre purists. Your song “Play Some Ska” says:

Now I spit a little bit about what I think is wrong
Run along if you cannot hack the song
You see a band is alive and it grows and it flows
And it shows that the path of sound is long
It’s a wide mind culture thing
When the band can bring every style and put it in
You reject it, there’s the exit
Big fat noise ,but your point is wearing thin
You turn your head because it doesn’t go your way
That’s fair enough, but I grit my teeth when the closed minds say,
Why don’t you play some ska?

Do you think you'll be experimenting with yet more genres in future?

The odd thing is, what people saw as experimentation, we just saw as writing. We just wrote and implemented ideas from things that had inspired us growing up. There was no process of what should we mix, it was all first nature. We all feel we nailed what it was we were trying to be on the last album, so who knows what will come next. Who knows what we will sound like when we actually are trying to experiment.

Your song “Anger Management” says:

Now anger, it’s true
It’s part of you
And it’s part of us that makes us human
But you gotta watch how you use it
You only get in trouble if you’re gonna abuse it
A great tool, it can create
Sounds, pictures and the best debate
Don’t be a fool, now
Use the tool now
Take, take the feeling and use it for fuel now

Do you see music as a form of anger management for your rage at the world?

Getting on stage and screaming your heart out while putting everything you have into a show is one hell of a release, even more so when people are buzzing off it. That’s got to be good for the soul, right? And I'm certain people in the audience screaming back at us have the same feeling.

The lyrics to “Scum Triumphant” say: "It's possible to mess around and have something to say." Do you think some activists might take life a little too seriously?

Some activists do themselves no favours by not being able to be objective and step back from a situation. In many cases more can be achieved with reason and calm, but then if that is how they have chosen to be and it makes them feel worthy to be that way about something, who are we to question it? The world needs aggressive doers just as much as it needs calm diplomats, they just need a little more acceptance of each other’s approaches.

You sing about leaders not representing you. To what extent do you think the problem is that we don't have truly accountable democracy, in which leaders would have to keep their promises after they are elected?

If there was any level of trust or care from our leaders other than a cock-measuring competition, we may be in with a chance. All politics, it seems to me, is one party who have to act one way and another party who act another, who have to go against common sense and just disagree on each point just because they are not on the same “side”. Then, when the one in power changes, they just spend another four years blaming the old party and undoing what they disagreed with - and the cycle continues.

Any plans to play in Australia?

We'd love to. The trouble with anything at the moment, in the climate in which we find ourselves, is financing a trip like that. If anyone can help, get in touch…

Video: Random Hand "Bones" Music Video. Random Hand.

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