The Beat Separation
This month’s stop at rock obscuria’s cobwebbed ghost station: lysergic avant-symphonies to the apocalypse.
In the pre-internet ’90s, David Tibet, founder of experimental collective Current 93 and record labels Durtro and Coptic Cat, was investigating the still-buried world of ’60s acid-folk. “Someone recommended Don Bradshaw-Leather,” he recalls. “I remembered seeing his album Distance Between Us everywhere across London in the late ’70s, in second-hand stores, often priced at 10p. It had this bizarre cover, a guy painted in black oil, with his name and album title in Germanic gothic lettering.” Tibet’s friend Steve ‘Nurse With Wound’ Stapleton had also clocked the bargain-bin record, and bought one. “Steve said, ‘It’s really doomy, orchestral and dramatic, I think you’ll like it.’ And I ended up falling in love with this unknown man and his unknown record.” Released on the Distance label, Bradshaw-Leather’s sole release was a one-track-per-side double LP, all-instrumental bar side one’s passage of female chanting, all interconnected by shifting melodic themes. The laminated sleeve was highly unusual for a private press. Besides the alarming front cover photo, the gatefold images were frankly demonic, while on the rear, Bradshaw-Leather grapples with a naked woman, who screams into the lens. The title and artist name – seemingly misspelled ‘Don Bradsham-Leather’ – are the only words on the cover. It’s how music cults begin.
“SHE SAID, ‘IF PEOPLE HAD HEARD THOSE TAPES, IT WOULD HAVE DESTROYED THE UNIVERSE.’”
As the internet grew, the record gathered accolades including “DIY horror symphony” and “mellotron apocalypse on toast”. The classical/jazz/avant sounds have an hypnotic, liquid momentum, fusing piano, organ and mellotron with periodic Afro-rhythms. Think Messiaen meets Stravinsky meets Popol Vuh: intense, beautiful, unsettling, haunting, totally sui generis, and worth a lot more than 10p. In the mid-’00s, Tibet was desperate to reissue the album, so he started digging online. He read a rumour that, possibly because of the classical/ prog flavour, Bradshaw-Leather was a cover for Robert John Godfrey of The Enid. Then a post from Bradshaw-Leather’s sister Geisha revealed the truth. It transpired that her brother – who called himself Odin – “was raised within a respectable Jewish family – he grew with and into music more by genetic destiny than environmental consequence. He became a classically trained musician of the highest level. His understanding of music as a language… was at a depth and complexity unknown to most.” Geisha also reported that Odin had been advanced money by CBS (Columbia Masterworks was busy assembling a reputable avant-garde catalogue at the time) to make a record. The money funded a studio in Sussex, complete with church organ. “Here,” she wrote, “on his own without the use of any electronic sequencing equipment, he recorded Distance Between Us using simple multitrack tape by layering each part of the composition… which communicates judgment and mercy in equal proportion.” Yet it seems CBS baulked at the finished record. A friend of Tibet’s recalled Bradshaw-Leather, while squatting in Notting Hill Gate, having up to a thousand copies of the album, all self-pressed (all are marred by occasional surface noise). Lacking distribution, the only way to get it into retail outlets was by selling it second-hand, hence its ubiquity in London junk shops. Tibet contacted Geisha. “She said Odin was very spiritual, like his music. And that he’d died, in 1999. She seemed very keen on me reissuing the album, though with a different cover, one that wouldn’t put people off.” Geisha confirmed the master tapes were lost, and other cassette recordings damaged by water – “but she said that, if people had heard those tapes, it would have destroyed the universe by its power, beauty and transcendence.” Tibet also heard from a family friend, Stella Moon, whose late sister Micola had lived with Odin from 1973-78. In a park café, MOJO meets Moon, who brings her signed copy of Distance Between Us, and a photo album that once belonged to Micola. Here’s Odin at 13, in his bar mitzvah suit, or grown up, kneeling by a gravestone, or brandishing a dagger – but he’s also shown smiling. “He was a gentle character, but extreme,” Moon recalls. “He’d been in and out of mental hospital. He was often very withdrawn. He’d sleep for three days, having been up three days. But when he was happy, he was vibrant. I’d never met anyone with such charisma.” She remembers Odin moving his Steinway piano into Micola’s house in north London: “His playing could be thunderous, or calm, like his moods. Raging or sweet as a baby.” This might explain the album title – the distance between his two distinct moods, between ‘us’. Moon doesn’t know what might have influenced the album’s astonishing dynamics and range. “He didn’t watch TV, or like films, or listen to other people’s music. The only thing he’d read was the Talmud [Jewish scriptures].” Still, Moon admits Odin “drank a lot, and took who knows what. My sister really loved him, but he just drained her. She eventually moved to Spain, and wouldn’t give Odin a forwarding address. I never saw him again.” Before Tibet could agree a deal, Geisha moved to Israel, and all contact stopped. An e-mail trail to her daughter has also gone cold, so it’s possible the family are simply letting Odin, or Don, rest in peace. Original copies now sell for up to £500, but bootlegs exist. The music lives on. “It’s dramatic, profound, unsettling, a work of genius, yet it never falls into melodrama,” Tibet concludes. “It feels like a side project of a classical musician who’d never done anything with rock or prog before, or since, but had something to get off their chest. It shouldn’t work but it more than works. It’s a complete success in every way – except it was a total failure.” Martin Aston