International Leer jet-setter
Thomas Leer gets about a bit. Glasgow. London. Wales. Edinburgh. Whoo, rock ’n’ roll! Martin Townsend takes the bus to interview the man behind ‘International’.
Thomas Wishart was born in a slum area of Port Glasgow, about 20 miles from Glasgow itself.
His dad was a bricklayer and his mum worked in a shop.
“I can’t remember much about school,” he says, “except that I was good to start with and then lost interest later on when I started chasing girls!”
After he left school, he worked as a gardener in the local parks department and moonlighted in semi-professional bands, playing Motown cover versions —
At 17 he left home and came down to London.
“It was a romantic thing to do, really,” he says with a laugh. “I just had this notion that it’d be great to get off on the road and experience a bit of life.
“So I just packed my swag-bag and left!”
Tom worked as a green-keeper on a golf course, a postman, but mostly he just ‘bummed around’. He also worked on some songs for acoustic guitar, influenced by his heroes Kevin Ayers and ex-Pink Floyd madcap Syd Barrett.
“They seemed very profound at the time but if I heard ‘em now I’d probably cringe.”
Eventually, bored with London, Thomas went off with some mates to live in a “derelict farmhouse in the heartland of Wales”.
It was a very trendy thing to do in the ‘70s, but he got fed up with that, too…
…So he went back to Scotland, settled in the Edinburgh area, and formed a pre-punk group called Pressure.
“We’d started to get wind of things from America like The Ramones, Patti Smith and Television,” says Thomas. “Pressure was loosely based around those sounds.”
Following another trend, he changed his name to Leer —
Pressure came to London in 1977 just as punk was exploding. They played a few small gigs, but then the inevitable happened.
Thomas got bored.
“It was more boredom of being in a band rather than with punk,” says Thomas defensively. “So I jacked in the group and decided to make a single.”
That was ‘Private Plane’, recorded in the front room of Thomas’s “crummy little flat in Finsbury Park” using a hired four-track recorder and a Stylophone!
The single earned a lot of praise from the critics and sold out its pressing, but it was two years before Thomas made another solo record —
In the meantime, he recorded experimental LPs with a chap called Robert Rental and avant garde group Throbbing Gristle.
Then came a deal with Cherry Red Records.
Thomas sighs: “That was a big mistake.”
The deal, nevertheless, produced the brilliant ‘Four Movements’ EP —
But the straw that broke the camel’s back was ‘All About You’ —
“That single should have been done properly in the studio with proper production and string arrangements, not at home on a four-track.”
Thomas quit Cherry Red amidst much legal wrangling and signed to Arista. The result was ‘International’, a beautiful ballad about the drugs trade!
“I like irony in music,” says Thomas. “I mean I could’ve done it like ‘White Lines’ —
So could solo synth player Thomas end up like Howard Jones and Nik Kershaw?
“No! I don’t see myself near to them at all. I don’t want to be a teenybop idol.
“I’d like to think mine as a more intelligent approach then theirs.
“I see myself more allied to the ZTT attitude and way of doing things…”
Thomas Goes To Hollywood? Well, when he gets bored with London again…