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From The Port To The Bridge: a retrospective exhibition of Thomas Leer & Robert Rental

A retrospective exhibition of the work of Port Glasgow-born electronic musicians Thomas Leer (Thomas Wishart) and the late Robert Rental (Robert Donnachie) two of Scotland’s finest, but less well known, musicians has opened in Greenock. From The Port To The Bridge is showing at the Beacon Arts Centre until the 29th October (free entry), the 40th anniversary of their first solo singles.

A (sold out) celebration event on October 12th features performances by internationally renowned DJ JD Twitch (Optimo), Security, Hausfrau, and DJ Loraine Williams (Thomas’ niece). We’re very proud that our Glasgow guide, Phil, is performing with SECURITY, his project with Joe Ahmed of Chekists: Security release on the label https://naloxonesounds.bandcamp.com/music

The exhibition includes a documentary by filmmaker Danny Stoker (Robert Rental’s nephew) and Simon Dell (interviewee/researcher) featuring many of the people who lived and worked with Thomas and Robert over the years. Those interviewed for the documentary:

  • Hilary Farrow (Robert Rental’s former partner)
  • Liz Farrow (Thomas Leer’s ex-partner & manager)
  • Daniel Miller (Mute Records)
  • Glenn Wallis (Konstruktivists)
  • Keith McIvor (JD Twitch)
  • Chris Carter & Cosey Fanni Tutti(Throbbing Gristle)
  • Matt Johnson (The The)
  • Nick Edwards (Ekoplekz)
  • Erik Van Woensel (Sound engineer & Robert Rental’s friend)

Memorabilia includes original vinyl, acetates, reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes and personal artefacts loaned by Thomas’ and Robert’s families. The organisers hope that the exhibition will travel to London next year.

Thomas and Robert grew up in Port Glasgow. By 1977 they had moved to London to be part of the burgeoning independent DIY music scene that was emerging from punk. They were part of a London punk band called Pressure along with Andy Aitken and Thomas’ partner Liz Farrow.

Both released highly influential independently-released singles in 1978: ‘Private Plane/International’ and ‘Paralysis/ACC’, along with Daniel Miller’s The Normal with ‘TVOD/Warm Leatherette’ which cemented a friendship and created a template for an explosion of post-punk releases including the Human League’s ‘Being Boiled’.

They came to the attention of Throbbing Gristle who helped Thomas and Robert release a joint LP The Bridge on their own Industrial Records in 1979, cited by many electronic artists as a major influence.

Robert teamed up with Daniel Miller and toured in support of Stiff Little Fingers on a Rough Trade package tour in 1979 (a single-sided LP of the UK tour was released by Rough Trade Records in 1980).

Robert’s second single ‘Double Heart’ appeared on Mute Records in 1980, but that was the end of his recording career. The documentary, which features in the exhibition, will explore this in more detail. Robert died in October 2000 from lung cancer, aged just 48.

Thomas continued to release innovative works for Cherry Red Records, and in 1983 signed to major label Arista Records. Despite more prominent promotion, a number of singles and an album failed to chart and the relationship ended. He was also guest keyboard musician on the first The The LP Soul Mining recently reissued by Matt Johnson who contributed sleeve notes for Thomas’ reissued CDs, stating “He was years ahead of his time and actually inspired me to create The The, really…”.

 Thomas reappeared in 1987 as half of Act, a duo with Claudia Brücken, formerly of Propaganda, on ZTT Records. A series of singles and an album appeared between 1987 and 1988 on ZTT. He seemed to disappear during the 1990s, but began releasing albums again in 2001 via small labels and self-releases.

Thomas now lives in Greenock and is now releasing previously unheard material on Bandcamp. In 2015, Dark Entries Records (USA) reissued Thomas’ ‘Private Plane’ single on 12″ vinyl, and Klanggalerie (Austria) recently reissued his last album From Sci-Fi To Barfly on CD. In 2017, Thomas’ demos 1979 were released on vinyl and CD, and the first ‘new’ Robert Rental work to appear in 38 years, his collaboration with Glenn Wallis, was released on vinyl by Dark Entries Records.

Courtesy of his family, Optimo Music has just released a vinyl mini LP of previously unheard Robert Rental home demos, which recently surfaced on a cassette, and can now also be heard online: https://soundcloud.com/optimo-music/robert-rental-different-voices-for-you-different-colours-for-me-demos-1980-mini-album

Coinciding with this month’s launch of the exhibition of the Scottish pair’s work, this very special limited edition record is part of Electronic Sound’s celebration of the DIY electronica boom of the late 1970s and 1980s. https://electronicsound.co.uk/product/issue-46-vinyl-bundle/

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