Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Thomas Leer & Robert Rental ‎– The Bridge (1979)

Style: New Wave, Experimental, Ambient
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: The Grey Area, Industrial Records

1.   Attack Decay
2.   Monochrome Day's
3.   Day Breaks, Night Heals
4.   Connotations
5.   Fade Away
6.   Interferon
7.   Six A.M.
8.   The Hard Way In & The Easy Way Out
9.   Perpetual

Guitar, Tape – Thomas Leer
Loops – Robert Rental
Synthesizer, Vocals, Voice, Written-By  – Robert Rental, Thomas Leer

Some of the most significant names in the UK's early electronic music scene oscillate through the careers of Thomas Wishart and the late Robert Donnachie - and cite them as influences.

Names such as John Foxx, Art of Noise, ABC, The The, Throbbing Gristle, Propaganda, The Normal.

But, unlike many of their contemporaries, memories of the pair from Port Glasgow will not be rekindled by tuning into re-runs of Top of the Pops and the Old Grey Whistle Test.

Even their stage names, Thomas Leer and Robert Rental, will not strike a chord with most.

Music archivist and fan Simon Dell hopes his exhibition - From The Port To The Bridge - which runs at the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock until 28 October, will help change all that and win greater recognition for what he regards as forgotten pioneers of British electronic music.

The Greenock exhibition has inspired Leer, now 65, to end a 30-year absence from the stage to play a short set at Friday's sold-out Live Electronic Night.

It also features JD Twitch, the Optimo DJ who is a lifelong admirer of Rental's work in particular.

Rental died of lung cancer in 2000, aged 48, and Leer tells BBC Scotland: "It will bring back quite a lot of memories - too many actually - and that was part of the reason I wasn't too keen at the beginning.

"There's a lot of sad memories and it will probably get more so on the performance night as his partner, Hilary, and his son will be coming up and I expect it will be quite an emotional night."

Although not one for nostalgia, Leer nevertheless found himself beginning to enjoy digging out relics of their musical past for the exhibition, "remembering good times" and being persuaded to make what will be his live solo debut.

"As you can imagine, I'm bricking it," he admits.

Having followed one another on a hippy-era journey through communes and squats from London and Wales to Edinburgh, Leer and Rental returned to the UK capital inspired by the emergence of punk in the mid 70s, only to find their creativity being drawn in more experimental directions.

Recording with cheap basic equipment, including a Stylophone keyboard, in their London flats, the hard-up pair had self-released debut singles to some critical acclaim.

Leer's "Private Plane" was named single of the week by the NME.

Rental also toured as a duo with The Normal, the stage moniker of Daniel Miller, who would go on to establish Mute Records.

However, it was Leer and Rental's one and only album together, 1979's The Bridge, that received widespread recognition.

The exhibition recalls how the pair became the first signing to Throbbing Gristle's Industrial Records, had hired equipment thrust into their hands with basic instructions at Rental's flat and told to come up with an LP within a week - extended to two.

"It is one of the few albums made during that period that still stands up in terms of electronic trickery," Leer suggests.

"We were pretty ahead of our time I think.

"A lot of stuff from that time does sound dated, it is very specifically 80s, which is fine, but we were never really interested in being a fashionable band."

Indeed, despite the album leading to them gracing the front cover of the influential Melody Maker, their insistence that they were were "not a unit" and Leer's reluctance for playing live ensured their moment in the spotlight was short-lived.

Rental was to release one more solo single and recorded the soundtrack to the Comic Strip television show "A Fistful Of Travellers' Cheques" before concentrating on family life in London and illness took hold.

Leer flirted with commercial success with his next three albums, the last enlisting the help of musicians from Art of Noise and ABC, and a series of singles, one recorded in John Foxx's studio.

He was invited by Matt Johnson to play on The The's seminal debut album, "Soul Mining", and formed a duo, Act, with Propaganda singer Claudia Brucken.

However, from 1988, there followed a long hiatus from the public eye and, shortly before his friend passed away, Leer returned to Scotland to help his ageing father care for a mother facing up to Parkinson's disease.

"I'd been away for a long time and I thought it was time to come back and be with them at the end," he says.

"I kind of fell in love with the place again once I was here for a while.

"It was nice to wake up next to the river and the brilliant skies you get up here. Things you don't get in London.

"But, once you are away from it, you can no longer do session jobs and even all my friends who would ask me to come and play on albums were too far away.

"Eventually you are out of sight, out of mind and the career just slipped away just not being there. I had to sign on the dole for a while, which was not fun."
In the documentary that accompanies the Greenock exhibition and also features Miller and Throbbing Gristle's Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, Johnson suggests that Leer "was years ahead of his time" and inspired him to create The The.

Keith McIvor, aka JD Twitch, talks about admiration for Rental that led to Optimo Music last month releasing an album of his demos called "Different Voices For You, Different Colours For Me".

Leer has continued recording in his home studio in Greenock, releasing seven more albums since 2001, mainly through his own Future Historic records.

His latest though, "Freedom Of Steel", has the backing of German label Sleepers Records and gigs in Berlin and New York are a possibility on its release in the coming months.

Dell hopes to further spread the word by taking his exhibition, three years in the making, to London next year in the time for the 40th anniversary of The Bridge and a possible re-issue on Mute.

"From The Port To The Bridge" and back again, life has come full circle for Thomas Leer, but don't expect any appearance at a Rewind Festival any time soon.
Clive Lindsay / BBC

Tom Waits ‎– Small Change (1976)

Genre: Jazz, Pop, Folk, World, & Country
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Asylum Records

A1.   Tom Traubert's Blues
A2.   Step Right Up
A3.   Jitterbug Boy
A4.   I Wish I Was In New Orleans
A5.   The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)
B1.   Invitation To The Blues
B2.   Pasties And A G-String
B3.   Bad Liver And A Broken Heart
B4.   The One That Got Away
B5.   Small Change
B6.   I Can't Wait To Get Off Work

Bass – Jim Hughart
Drums – Shelly Manne
Tenor Saxophone – Lew Tabackin
Viola – Allan Harshman, David Schwartz, Sam Boghossian
Violin – Alfred Lustgarten, George Kast, Harry Bluestone, Israel Baker, Marvin
Cello – Edgar Lustgarten, Jesse Erlich, Kathleen Lustgarten, Ray Kelley Limonick, Murray Adler, Nathan Kaproff, Nathan Ross, Sheldon Sanov
Vocals, Piano – Tom Waits
Strings Arranged By – Jerry Yester
Producer – Bones Howe 

The people who populate Tom Waits’ songs are deeply rooted in 20th-century American mythology. They come from tough-guy novels, pulp magazines, radio serials and film noir. Waits isn’t interested in the heroes of this fiction, but with the people who exist on its fringes: cabbies, newsstand dealers, shoeshine boys and all-night waitresses. In the perverted language of American politics, they are known as “the little people,” but Waits would agree with writer Joseph Mitchell that “they are as big as you are, whoever you are.”

With his cigarette dangling from his mouth, his cap slapped over his forehead, Waits slouches through these streets presenting himself not as a detached observer but as a full-fledged native. He is, of course, an avowed sentimentalist in love with a place and an era that no longer exist — a time when people ate mulligan stew and called a five-dollar bill a “fin.” Playing rudimentary jazz piano and singing in a strangled cigarette-and-whiskey voice, Waits is at once an extremely affected anachronism and a brilliant chronicler of our past.

That duality persists on Small Change. While he has all but abandoned the Kerouac-like raps which crippled his last album (Nighthawks at the Diner) and has returned to the melodic style which highlighted his first two LPs, Waits has broken no new ground. His songs focus on mood rather than narrative. And the mood of Small Change is the same as his previous albums: the late-night blues where fatigue and romance mingle. The piano and occasional strings and saxophone relentlessly reinforce this atmosphere. His language still sparkles, the one-liners still dazzle, but his purview remains stringently narrow. Though he continues to write superb songs (particularly “Tom Traubert’s Blues” and “Invitation to the Blues”), Waits is now repeating himself. Unless he expands his musical foundations and investigates the themes of his world, Waits will remain an appealing, but limited, artist.
Kit Rachlis / Rolling Stone

Sabaturin ‎– Kenemglev (2020)

Style: Glitch, Dub, Abstract
Format: CD, Vinyl, FLAC
Label: Holuzam

A1.   Kempouezer
A2.   Douakek
A3.   Direnker
A4.   Razheta
A5.   Pastekez
B1.   Skaotan
B2.   Anton
B3.   Berzh
B4.   Mourgouskus

Artwork – Simon Crab
Producer – Charles-Emile Beullac, Simon Crab

Bourbonese Qualk legend Simon Crab meets Charles Beullac (Galerie Statique) in a volley of brooding, dubbed-out industrial/illbient misfits for Lisbon’s Holuzam, the young affiliate label of the renowned Príncipe

Simon Crab is nothing less than a true pioneer of British post-industrial music, with a catalogue of prototypical dark ambient, groove-driven industrial, and hardcore techno practically unparalleled in his field. In collaboration with Canadian artist Charles Beullac, Kenemglev speaks to the range and nuance of Crab’s output while introducing Beullac’s likeminded industrial audness to new ears; yielding nine tracks of sleepwalking industro-dub rhythms and tormented electronica blessed with a nocturnal allure that places their work in fine company amid Holuzam’s roster of off-road esoteric groovers.

The title Kenemglev means “consensus’ in Breton, and smartly describes their mutual efforts to explore a sort of neutral no-person’s-land or virtual middle ground between their respective musical languages. In suit, all the tracks are titled in Breton - itself a mix of French and English - and their un/familiar nature is reflected in the music’s angularities and secretive feel, roving from Mille Plateaux-like glitch in Douakek, to the air-stepping pads of Direnker, and crispy noirish jazz hustle streaked with intercepted radio signals and keening crowd noise in Razheta, while Skaotan comes off like a glitching Raime workout, and the squashed break trip of Berzh recall Spectre or Scorn.