At the turn of the 1980s, as punk morphed into electro, two men released an album that was highly rated at the time, but most people today probably haven’t heard of them.
This collaboration is the topic of an underground exhibition by the Horse Hospital, From the Port to the Bridge, which covers the early years of the two musicians, Thomas Leer and Robert Rental, along with their struggles and later careers.
“The Bridge spans the gulf between punk and electro. It’s as good as the best of ‘79 and still potent, still the future.” – Ian Rankin
The exhibition looks at how the two musicians found their first record label, were essentially dumped in a room with a load of equipment and told to basically get on with it. Their original album, The Bridge, was recorded in Robert’s tower block flat, in a space later described as “just a big ashtray, fish and chips everywhere”. The album cover of Albert Bridge was chosen as the duo lived on either side of the river next to it and were regularly crossing to get to each other’s flats.
As a display then, it’s both a look at two musicians and their work, but also a look at how the young musicians were sometimes treated, the musical freedoms, as well as the bad, in a manner that probably wouldn’t happen today.
A poster advertises gigs for £1.50, which is another thing you won’t get today.
Lots of photos of the two men in their youth, flyers, newspaper clippings and letters fill a number of poster frames. Details about problems with later promoters and struggles with live performances that held the duo back. An anecdote about the effort to get hold of a synthesizer that cost the same as a small house back then.
Along with the usual paraphernalia on display, there’s an early promotional single that was sent out as a model aircraft.
Sadly, Robert died in 2000, but Thomas is still active as a musician, and their first album, The Bridge has just been reissued.
“This a record way ahead of its time, made by two pioneers of sound with ingenuity, basic electronics and a world of young minds to distort. Love it!” – Clint Mansell
The exhibition fills the small room in the basement of the Horse Hospital, and along with the memorabilia, they have a small stand selling everything from CDs to LPs, posters and a booklet about the duo.
For fans of the two, it’s a trip down memory lane, for everyone else, it’s an insight into that moment in time when electronic music was just starting to get a foothold in the UK.
The exhibition, Thomas Leer and Robert Rental – ‘From the Port to the Bridge’ is open until Thursday 10th February, and is free to visit.
It’s open Mon-Sat, noon to 6pm, and the Horse Hospital is just around the back of Russell Square tube station – exit, turn left, and left again, and it’s on the corner.