Accidentally maintaining my credibility – An interview with guitar player Dave Randall (Faithless, Sinead O’Connor and Dido)

What is your earliest memory of being interested in the arts or music?

My earliest memories are of seeing my best friend’s older brother playing guitar and thinking that is was incredibly romantic.

I didn’t come from a musical family; my mum and dad didn’t have a large record collection, maybe a few gems. They would occasionally go to the theatre to see visiting American artists a bit down on their luck, and they did take me to see Johnny Cash when he was incredibly unfashionable. My mum loved “Live at San Quentin”.

That was probably my first introduction to what might be described as Rebel Music, that live recording has prisoners cheering every seditious moment either in the lyrics or cheering what Johnny Cash said.

What happened then?

I would listen to music on the radio, and my older brother would listen to the music of the time, New Romantic music like Duran Duran, but I quickly fell in with a group of older musicians who introduced me to American Blues music and experimental music; a more eclectic mix of music.

I worked with someone in a music shop when I was in my mid teens and they introduced to free jazz and krautrock.

When do you actually pick up a guitar?

When I was about 10 years old. Quite late in many ways. When I have the time, I teach young kids and their parents for the Lambeth Music Services Saturday School and there are young people around 10 years old who can play things that I struggled with when I was in my teens.

I pestered my Mum and Dad to buy me a guitar, and they bought me a guitar for £30 out of the local free adverts newspaper and it was pretty unplayable until my best friend’s older brother fixed it up for me.

My Mum and Dad thought it would be a short lived novelty but by 13 I was taking playing very seriously and by 16 I had a gig at a local hotel bar. My parents would take me down there and pick me up and they have become very supportive of my career over the years.

Who taught you how to play?

Friends taught me the basics, a few chords here and there, some scales and then a guy who owned the local guitar shop, Andy Billups, I saved up and had a few lessons with him and he took a shine to me and helped me build up my equipment and my skills.

He joined a band called The Hamsters, they were a very good pub rock band and I effectively did my apprenticeship with them from the age of 16.

I was travelling around the country with them, helping them, selling T-Shirts in Biker’s Pubs and grimy venues, and I loved that. I learnt a lot about how to play guitar with them. I became a competent guitar player through working with that group.

The Hamsters

How did you join Faithless?

I moved to London in 1994 and I started to hustle, playing in as many gigs as I could, I had my own rap/rock trio at that time called Bombastic. Then I got a call from Matt Benbrook, a drummer who I went to 6th form college with in Essex. He was working with a soul singer called Pauline Taylor, so I joined her band and worked on her debut album.

In the same Islington studio I met Rollo Armstrong, the producer, Dido, his sister, Sister Bliss the keyboard player and they were recording the first Faithless album. When the song Insomnia became a hit they put together a live band and asked me to be their guitarist.

What was really interesting was that in the original recordings there wasn’t much guitar. It was all synthesizers.

How did you go about blending your work in to that set up?

I had to be pretty creative and I had to find a way to make the guitar and my playing relevant to that type of music.

If you challenged me on traditional rock and roll guitar playing I might be a little behind the curve but I am quite proud that if you put me in a different situation, with electronic dance music for example, I can find a way of creating textures and ideas that work.

How have you managed to maintain a career over the best part of 20 years?

To the degree to which I have managed to survive in the music industry it has by and large been word of mouth recommendation. I have had periods where it has been difficult. My primary source of income was playing guitar in touring bands and beyond that I have had to be pretty flexible, so I have produced music for documentaries and films. I also do a little bit of tuition.

I have also taken on projects which are politically of interest to me. And because I have done that, I have ended up with a body of work which has opened up opportunities which I might not otherwise have had.

You have had to be flexible?

Yes, and you have to be proactive to create your own luck. For example I produced an album a little while ago just for the love of producing an album ‘Eight Storeys’ released under my last name ‘Randall’. Someone really liked one of the tracks and asked me to write something for a corporate advertisement – for Cathay Pacific. So that paid a few bills!

I used to say, when I was younger, that I would never ever work for a poor pop act or do material that I objected to in whatever way. I’m not so sure that’s still the case, but no cheesy pop act has ever asked me! So in a way I have accidentally maintained my integrity!

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