RANDOM BLACK - Under the Cross  DCD
RANDOM BLACK - Under the Cross  DCD
RANDOM BLACK - Under the Cross DCD

HRR 706 CD, ltd 500, slipcase, 20 pages booklet

01 Witch Daughter
02 Fools Paradise
03 Lost Child
04 Ophelia
05 Catch 22
06 London Life
07 Ophelia
08 Rest in Peace
09 Love Gone Stale
10 Taking the Easy Way Out
11 Love's No Friend
01 London Life
02 Ophelia
03 Catch 22
04 End of the Line
05 Rest in Peace
06 Love That Never Lies
07 End of the Line
08 London Life
09 Ophelia
10 Catch 22
11 Rest in Peace


Original studio reel transfer by Eroc. Original cassette and vinyl transfer, audio restoration and mastering by Patrick W. Engel at TEMPLE OF DISHARMONY in August 2019.

Few New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands wrote songs inspired by Shakespeare, but The Bard could well have been describing the NWOBHM when he said “though this be madness, yet there is method in it.” Mark Kirkman – dubbed by some ‘the fastest guitarist in Southend’ – tells the story of Random Black, “a hard-working NWOBHM band that just didn’t make it big.”

Essex band Random Black came together in 1979, initially founded by guitarist Ron Scates. “Ron told me ‘it was me, Paul Derry (drums) and a guy called Mick Brown (bass) who were the original members, back when we were really crap!’,” says Mark Kirkman. “He said: ‘we sat in a pub trying to think of names that got more and more silly as the beer flowed. We were wandering around the colour theme as per Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, and Random Black just sort of happened! Dave [Denham"> meanwhile played with Lee Harris and Paul Webb in a band called Witch and then they changed their name to Sign Of The Times before splitting up, at which point Dave came to sing for us.’ Dave himself recalled that they were working ‘with [producer"> Tim Friese-Greene, and there were some contract / management issues at the time so we couldn’t take that project forward, and at that point I joined Random Black.’”
With a new rhythm section in bassist Andrew ‘Scrim’ Scrimshaw and drummer John Blandford the new-look Random Black quartet gigged locally around Essex and in July 1980 recorded their first demo at Spectrum Studios in Southend which featured ‘Love Gone Stale’, ‘Taking the Easy Way Out’ and ‘Love’s No Friend of Mine’ (an original, rather than the Rainbow song). After a while though – as is often the way – the wheels fell off and Dave Denham and Andy Scrimshaw left; George Palmer joined on bass, but then he and John Blandford quit to form Zeus, while Dave Denham formed Small Town Rumour. Meanwhile, well outside the metal zone, Dave’s previous band members Lee Harris and Paul Webb would hook up with Mark Hollis and form Talk Talk.
This could have been the end of the Random Black story right there but for a chance meeting at a music shop in 1981 between George Palmer and Mark ‘Speedy’ Kirkman, ex-Landslide, a guitarist seeking a band. “Landslide played the local pubs and clubs – the usual, really – but I was ambitious, and wanted to record and tour,” Mark recalls. And the nickname? “We did one gig and the promoter said to me ‘you’re the fastest guitarist in Southend – like Speedy fucking Gonzales!’ and the boys kept taking the piss, so it stuck. Mike Lightfoot got loads of mileage out of that one! When I joined ’Black, Ron later admitted that he thought he’d have trouble keeping up with me. We just had different styles, that’s all, and his complemented mine, and mine his. I never saw it as a competition. As it was, some of us were trying to play like Eddie Van Halen, and then the neo-classical boys like Vinnie Moore, Yngwie Malmsteen and Paul Gilbert came along.”
Following a quick audition, Mark was asked to join and Random Black were back in business once more, now re-configured as a twin-guitar five-piece outfit featuring Ron Scates, Mark Kirkman, George Palmer and John Blandford, a line-up raring to go although still short of a frontman. The aforementioned Mike Lightfoot, whom Mark calls “an integral part of the band’s infrastructure as roadie, manager and co-conspirator,” suggested a singer he had been at college with, a guy named Don Dibbens. Don sailed through the audition, the band was now complete, and the new-look Random Black made its debut supporting Lionheart, the “NWOBHM Supergroup” (as Sounds had called them) formed by ex-Iron Maiden guitarist Dennis Stratton, and “NWOBHM staple rockers Samson,” as Mark refers to them. “It was at The Zero 6, in Southend, on 22 June 1981. The Zero was a bit of home turf for us, and we went down really well. I’ve still got the live tape of our music from that night. We weren’t allowed an encore, but got one because of the relationship I had with the lady who used to run it! Dennis Stratton was not happy, but Bruce Dickinson said ‘welcome to the tour, boys!’ Of course, you had this thing with Dennis being recently post-Maiden and Bruce about to join and replace Paul Di’Anno, which was the worst kept secret in the world about that time. I’ve met Paul a few times – who hasn’t?” he laughs – “and he wasn’t bitter about it. But Dennis didn’t like the relentless touring, and you can’t blame him as it was virtually non-stop. The Samson boys were lovely to us,” he adds, “and it’s a terrible shame that both Paul Samson and Chris Aylmer have passed on.”
Shortly afterwards, another demo session was arranged for June/July 1981, this time with former Procol Harum member Matthew Fisher overseeing proceedings. “We got Matthew through management contacts, and he was their house producer on some of their recordings. He was excellent. We really wanted him, as he knew the industry from his days in Procol Harum.” At this session ‘Fool’s Paradise’, ‘Witch Daughter’ and what Mark lovingly refers to as the “haunting ballad” ‘Lost Child’ were put to tape for the ‘Vanishing Point’ demo. “We were on fire during those sessions,” Mark recalls. “John’s thunderous drums in ‘Witch Daughter’, Ron’s guitar in’ Lost Child’, Don’s passionate vocal delivery… ‘Grinding axes entwined in night / The Devil’s daughter in an eerie light!’ is just classic Random Black! I can remember sitting in the control room with my eyes shut listening to the playback, and Matthew saying ‘This is really good, guys!’ Wow! To have someone famous like Matthew Fisher – who co-wrote and played Hammond organ on Procol Harum’s ten million selling No.1 single ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’, for Chrissakes! – tell you it was good meant a lot to us.
“We went to London and did the rounds of the A&R guys,” he continues, “and I also sent John Peel a few copies of it, but he didn’t play it. We certainly got it played on the Essex Paul Lee Hairy Eyeball rock show loads of times, though.”
Despite no great interest from the major labels, Ebony Records certainly liked what they heard, although how they came to hear of the band is now lost in the mists of time. “I can’t honestly remember how the contact was made. We were aware of the label, who were releasing NWOBHM bands’ material. There were several compilations around, like the famous ‘Metal for Muthas’ LP which had Iron Maiden, Samson, Angel Witch, Praying Mantis, etc, and did really well to help the NWOBHM movement. We were mates with other bands like Bastille, Pali Gap, Prowler and Crucifixion who were also making their vinyl debuts either on singles or on compilations, and we were gigging a lot around the same circuit as most of the other bands like Deep Machine, Maiden, Electrix, Straight Edge, etc. So we were slowly making a bit of a name for ourselves playing at The Ruskin Arms, The Bridge House, The Red Lion and the usual venues, so maybe Ebony approached us on the strength of that. Our ‘Vanishing Point’ demo was quite popular, and we sold copies of it at gigs, so maybe Ebony got hold of a pirate copy – it has turned up all around the world in one guise or another. Certainly, being on the ‘Metal Warriors’ record helped us, but in retrospect maybe we should have gone down the single route and signed to Neat or Heavy Metal Records, or even done what Def Leppard did and self-fund a single on our own label.”
By this time Ron Scates had left the band, “and Basildon rocker Steve Adams had arrived with his Flying V,” Mark recalls. “Steve had previously played and recorded with Bruce Dickinson’s pre-Samson band Speed, and was full of ideas – twin harmony guitars, outrageous stage antics and a technique beyond his years. Steve was a great replacement and we’d taken a more Iron Maiden / Wishbone Ash / Judas Priest direction. Sadly though, he decided to quit in favour of playing bass with Calendar so local guitarist Ray Frost came in and recorded with the band. Ray’s mellow playing and beautiful tone contributed to the band’s sound and complemented my more aggressive, quick style.”
So the band that arrived in Hull’s Ebony Studios for two days of recording on 21 and 22 March 1983 featured Don Dibbens on vocals, George Palmer on bass, John Blandford on drums, Mark Kirkman on lead guitar and Ray Frost on second guitar. Random Black’s contribution to the label’s ‘Metal Warriors’ compilation – which also featured Shy, Omega and Lyadrive, amongst others – was Ophelia, “inspired obviously by William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet,” adds Mark. “We actually recorded two songs, ‘Ophelia’ and ‘Under The Cross’ but due to a technical issue ‘Under The Cross’ (which was by far a better track, in my opinion) wasn’t used. It’s probably on a NWOBHM compilation album that Ebony released in Holland or something, ensuring that we didn’t get any royalties – I might be wrong, but it seemed that was de rigueur at the time by the record companies that were releasing our sort of music.
“We certainly weren’t hugely experienced with recording in a studio at that point, and I think it was only my fourth time in one. Ebony was an old converted house in the suburbs of Hull. Darryl and Linzi Johnson made us welcome enough, but as proceedings went on we began to think that this might not have been our wisest decision. Darryl seemed unsure of some of the workings of the console, and after the brilliant job Matthew Fisher had done on our ‘Vanishing Point’ demo the resulting songs were recorded flat and lifeless. If you listen to the LP the drum sound (bearing in mind we had an amazing drummer in John Blandford) was absolutely awful, due to Darryl’s insistence that John used the house kit: we did have a big row over that. His drums, so integral to our sound, had been reduced to cardboard boxes. Coupled with the issue that we had with the recording of ‘Under The Cross’, we decided we wouldn’t be working with Ebony again. We did hear that Polydor were interested, but apparently didn’t want to pay anything initially to sign us.
“Ray stayed with us for a year, but the NWOBHM scene started to wane. His replacement Keith King brought fresh ideas with his guitar synthesiser, but that wasn’t to last and he left, soon to be followed by me. As the principal guitarist and musician in the band it was down to me to teach the new guitarist the set, and the material was not easy: the guitar melodies and harmonies were difficult to learn, using interesting scales like Phrygian, harmonic minor, diminished etc. And there were tricky timing changes, too. After Keith left, we auditioned other players, but nobody fitted the bill, and I suppose I’d had enough of teaching someone else all the stuff I’d written so I decided to call it a day. I had loads of ideas left that were unused, sadly, and the band didn’t carry on either. That was that.”
After Random Black hit the buffers, Mark was instrumental in the formation of Redline. “I’d been doing ’Black for four years or so, and we’d had many personnel changes – Ron, Steve, Ray and Keith on guitars, and Don and Phil on vocals... (Phil Vince came in after Don went back to university to complete his degree. He was OK, but I don’t think his heart was in it, and Don came back from his studies he returned to the fold.) I just felt that the band had ran out of sand. Crucifixion were a great local band, and I was good mates with [bassist"> Chris Mann and [drummer"> Pete Morgan. They’d just had a falling out with their management and Neat Records, and I wanted a fresh challenge. The two guitar line-up needed to be reviewed anyway, so we had a jam and it gelled instantly. Garry Meill was Redline’s front man, a very flamboyant character who would later go on to front Tattooed Love Boys. We looked for a keyboard player, but as we had contacts for gigs and management we went out as a four-piece and it ended up staying like that. We recorded a two-track demo hoping to get a small label interested in a single deal – for those of you who are not of a certain age, a ‘single’ was a 45rpm record with one track on each side,” he laughs.
The songs recorded at the session were ‘Mirror Image’ and ‘Out Of The Black’, a song Mark wrote with self-referential and – probably – cathartic lyrics. “To set the scene I’ll need to explain how I felt,” he suggests. “In the final six months of Random Black’s existence I was a bit pissed off with certain members of the band – George in particular – whose levels of commitment and apathy had to be seen to be believed at times. It was hard enough to get a couple of quid out of George for rehearsals, and he seemed to think that the gigs and the record company interest just happened: as we all know a hell of a lot of work goes into both. If we needed any band gear or any expense it used to bring a moan and a childish sulk out of him.
“Don meanwhile hardly wanted to rehearse with us as he’d moved to Halstead (from Grays) and we rehearsed in Thundersley on a Sunday, so it was a seventy mile round trip for him. He had ‘women trouble’, let’s say, as he had a very high maintenance lady in his life. There was one gig where he rang the venue and said his car wouldn’t start, and while the others were like ‘we’ll have to cancel the gig, then!’ I reminded them that we were under contract. After several ludicrous solutions were offered (like ‘you can sing, Mark: it’ll be fine!’) I jumped in my car and drove up to Halstead and collected him and we did the gig, albeit we were foully late on stage. We had a row after, as I wanted a bit of petrol money from the gig fee. It was altogether a stupid and short-sighted state of affairs. I later found out that Don had lied, and it was because of the pressure put on him by his woman who didn’t want him to go, so I’d put him in a difficult position.
“John B and I got on just fine, and he was as frustrated as me with the attitudes of our bandmates. We’d bought a van and tried hard to keep the interest, but, as I said, when Keith King left I’d had enough of it. The rest of them decided not to continue after I left, but I wasn’t even included in the split when the band flogged the van!
“So, Redline,” Mark continues. “We didn’t do any of the old Random Black songs, as Garry and Don had completely different vocal registers and, besides, I wanted a break from playing them. Our management soon sorted out some gigs, and we were a bit light on songs so we pinched a couple of Crucifixion’s old stage favourites. I had a couple of strong songs that I’d been working on, and one was the bare bones of what became ‘Out Of The Black’. It wasn’t called that to start with, but I bumped into George at The Top Alex in Southend and he completely ignored me at first then decided to shower me with abuse that I’d broken up the band etc etc. It caused a scene, and we both got thrown out. I was rightly bloody furious, and the lyrics came to me – ‘just because I’m out of the ‘Black, you never thought that I’d come back, time will tell...’ – and the chorus was born. I’d been dicking around on the piano with an augmented scale exercise, and the rhythm section under the solo was added in to complement that. I’m really quite proud of the song construction, as it’s a hell of a solo!
“We hawked the Redline demo around the record companies but, of course, the music landscape had changed and 1985 was replete with Madonna, Wham, Prince, Frankie Goes To Hollywood etc and we didn’t fit that model at all! Garry left and, as I said, went to Tattooed Love Boys and we recruited Steve Newman – who had one hell of a voice – on vocals.”
Although Redline didn’t progress much further, Random Black did have one more moment in the spotlight when the band came together for a final studio session. “We got the band back together – Dibbens, Blandford, Palmer and just me on guitar – to record some of the classic songs. The original work was recorded at Right Track Studios in December 1984, and then mixed in January 1985. It was a rushed affair, and we did it in one day according to the track notes on the 2” tape. It must have been more, as we did six songs: ‘London Life’, ‘Ophelia’, Catch 22’, ‘End Of The Line’, ‘Rest In Peace’ and ‘Love That Never Lies’. I did all the guitar work, so was very busy in the recording booth; some of the guitar harmony work was difficult, and I seem to remember having loads of pieces of paper stuck on the wall of the booth to remind me of the ‘other’ guitar part! I wasn’t happy with the result as we were up against it, timewise, but we did record some cracking songs! My favourite was ‘Catch 22’, and the instrumental ‘End Of The Line’ which was very Maiden-like.
“However,” Mark adds, “Mike Lightfoot was a mate of Tony Tomkinson’s who was a great singer.” Tony had fronted Bitches Sin for a while, and was the vocalist on their debut album ‘Predator’ as well as the August 1980 BBC ‘The Friday Rock Show’ session (as evidenced on the HRR release ‘The First Temptation’). “Tony was looking for some more exposure; his band Pagan Child were a pub band, really, and not going anywhere, but he had access to Keele University’s recording studio after hours; he wanted to sing on our material and I wanted to do a bit of ‘touching-up’ to the songs so Tony recorded the vocals on four tracks (‘London Life’, ‘End Of The Line’, ‘Ophelia’, ‘Catch 22’ and ‘Rest In Peace’) and I did a few guitar overdubs and corrections. We called it ‘The Pagan Black Sessions’. We were there for three nights, and worked through from midnight until 8am, finally wrapping things up on 2 November 1985. Unfortunately the drum production suffered (probably my fault, to be fair) and it sounds a bit weak, but Tony’s vocals are absolutely excellent on them.”
With that, the band was finally put to rest. These days Mark and Chris Mann, together with vocalist Noel Ashton, guitarist Richard Pattle and drummer Bob Harding, play together in Beggar [www.beggar.org.uk">, some forty years after the NWOBHM first burst into life.
“It was great to be a part of the NWOBHM movement,” Mark acknowledges now. “All in all, Random Black was a typical example of a hard-working NWOBHM band that just didn’t make it big. We had some great songs, huge riffs and a thunderous rhythm section; we met loads of great people, fans and musos alike, some famous faces, played about 150 gigs in all and never compromised our ideas about songs and style. It was a privilege to play with all the musicians who were in Random Black, and John, Ray and I still gig regularly to this day.”
Mark has respectfully dedicated this album to the memory of Random Black’s greatest supporter, Mike Lightfoot. “The story goes like this. The fledgling Random Black were rehearsing in Ron’s dad’s metalwork factory around 1979, and there was a knock at the door. Two young lads – one being Mike – said ‘can we come in and listen? You guys sound really good,’ and a lifelong friendship and relationship with Random Black followed. Mike was a great man, and he helped us enormously: without Mike, there would have been no band. He managed us, humped our gear in, did the PA and lights, lent us money, came to every gig and session, sorted out the recording time in Keele with Tony, etc etc. He was also an exceptionally amusing guy, but he had a stutter. One of the more funny stories about Mike involved him and Bernie Tormé having a conversation, when we supported Tormé at one point. Bernie also stuttered when he spoke, and he thought that Mike was taking the piss after the gig when we were having a drink. ‘Why don’t you f-f-f-f-fuck off, you c-c-c-c…’ said Bernie, trying to get the expletives out, with Mike responding ‘I f-f-f-f-fucking stutter too, you t-t-t-twat!’ It was priceless!
“Mike came to my wedding in 1988 (none of the other ’Blacks did!) and he was a lifelong friend. He went on to be on Phoenix Radio hosting a music show, and ran the popular Crawdaddy Blues Club nights. He died in December 2018 at the criminally young age of 56, survived by both his parents. Ron, John and I attended the funeral (John flying in from Holland) and I sent a wreath from the band as a whole. Beggar had the privilege of opening proceedings at the memorial gig that was put on in his honour. I spoke to his parents, who I’d known for nearly forty years, and they said that Mike’s love for music and his favourite band had always been there. His favourite band, they told me, was Random Black. He was a lovely man, sorely missed by everyone...”

John Tucker September 2019

Tracks 1, 2 & 3
Ron Scates (g), John Blandford (d), Mark Kirkman (g), George Palmer (b), Don Dibbens (v)
Recorded at Mahew McCrimmon Studios 26th June 1981.
Engineered and remixed by Matthew Fisher on 15th July 1981.
Demo called “Vanishing Point”

Track 4
John Blandford (d), Mark Kirkman (g), George Palmer (b), Ray Frost (g), Don Dibbens (v)
Recorded at Ebony Studios in 1983 for the “Metal Warriors” NWOBHM compilation album
by Darryl Johnston. Catalogue number Ebon 11.

Track 5
John Blandford (d), Mark Kirkman (g), George Palmer (b), Tony Tompkinson (v)
Original track recorded at Right Track Studios, Southend.
*Tony’s vocals recorded at Keele Univerity studio on 31st October – 2nd November 1985.

Track 6
John Blandford (d), Mark Kirkman (g), George Palmer (b), Tony Tompkinson (v)
Original track recorded at Right Track Studios, Southend.
*Tony’s vocals recorded at Keele Univerity studio on 31st October – 2nd November 1985.

Track 7
John Blandford (d), Mark Kirkman (g), George Palmer (b), Tony Tompkinson (v)
Lyrics as above, with a bit of artistic license.
Original track recorded at Right Track Studios, Southend.
*Tony’s vocals recorded at Keele Univerity studio on 31st October – 2nd November 1985.

Track 8
John Blandford (d), Mark Kirkman (g), George Palmer (b), Tony Tompkinson (v)
Original track recorded at Right Track Studios, Southend.
*Tony’s vocals recorded at Keele Univerity studio on 31st October – 2nd November 1985.

Track 9
John Blandford (d), Dave Denham (v), Andrew Scrimshaw (b), Ron Scates (g)
Recorded at Spectrum Studios, 1980.

Track 10?

Track 11
John Blandford (d), Dave Denham (v), Andrew Scrimshaw (b), Ron Scates (g)
Recorded at Spectrum Studios, 1980.

Tracks 12, 13 & 14
John Blandford (d), Mark Kirkman (g), George Palmer (b), Don Dibbens (v)
Original track recorded at Right Track Studios, Southend 1984/5.
Lyrics as above.

Track 15
John Blandford (d), Mark Kirkman (g), George Palmer (b)
Original track recorded at Right Track Studios, Southend 1984/5.

Track 16
John Blandford (d), Mark Kirkman (g), George Palmer (b), Don Dibbens (v)
Original track recorded at Right Track Studios, Southend 1984/5.
Lyrics as above.

Track 17
John Blandford (d), Mark Kirkman (g), George Palmer (b), Don Dibbens (v), Mike Lightfoot (tam)
Recorded at Right Track Studios, Southend 1984/5.