Without getting involved in a speculation who this British keyboard player was, one can easily admit that the “Distance” between the legendary status of this recording and the actual quality of the contained material is less than in many other cases of overhyped “classics”. Don Bradsham-Leather bequeathed a double LP of precocious mellotron and piano explorations, exhibiting knowledge of Stockhausen’s taboo-bending studio manipulation and imagination limited only by the congenial, but somewhat unwieldy keyboard instrument routinely associated with the sounds of the 1970s.
“Distance Between Us” is a one-off – or rather a one-off among many other solitary statements left over from the axial era of unprecedented musical experimentation (1969-1972). Often considered an island on itself, it rather forms part of an archipelago that stretches from Bruce Palmer, through David Stoughton, Joakim Skogsberg, Cro-Magnon, Friendsound, Red Noise, Min Bul, Zweistein, Komintern, Frolk Heaven, Haboob, Syrius, People, Triode, Kokezaru Kumikyoku, Walter Wegmüller, Fille qui mousse, Surprieze, Gruppo d’Alternativa… All these names disappeared after recording one, usually highly idiosyncratic album. No wonder they are highly sought-after. Importantly, many of these records have aged better than “Distance Between Us”.
The dark, mostly minor-scale set begins with a poorly recorded pianist, deeply focused on the left-side of the keyboard. Seconds later, he will shift from the drenched, earthbound chords, through exalted concerto style and over to a repetitive delirium. This oscillation between the three piano styles will remain a recurrent pattern on the album. It will be augmented by a heroic mellotron with alternating “reed” tones. The molten piano jerks and yanks, but it is slowly, ineluctably drowning in the faux reed aquifer. When it resurfaces, the intense piano figure is accompanied by hand drums, multitracked on both stereo channels – another trademark of “Distance…”, probably novel at the time. In the meantime, the panoramic mellotron swaps its “reed” tones to magniloquent “strings”. The hand drum beat is saved from tedium by gravimetric tympani accents, giving the mellotron tune a quasi-dance quality. But soon, the drumming speed accelerates and demolishes the meter. This makes space for a Hammond organ solo, with the rhythmic support from the surviving hand drum beat and a gasping piano working hard to catch up. The deadpan, curvilinear organ spirals conservatively and the overall perspective is retained when it comes to the fore. When it stops, the triumphal concert piano returns solo. After a welcome moment of vacuum, the simple hand drum beat re-injects some life into the form with tambourine. The last 4 minutes mark the most diverse and accomplished fragment on the album. It begins with a rhythmic acoustic guitar redolent of German hippy communes, but rendered nobler by female vocalization and some unorthodox vocal clicks and grunts. The piano moves away from the Homeric overdrive and improvises within scales dominant in Spanish zarzuelas. The rhythmic gesture is aptly framed into an illusion of horse riding.
Distance Between Us, p.2
The second part opens with solo piano, quickly condensed into an ominous, obsessive ostinato, not dissimilar from the manner later adopted by Alvaro. Hollow hand drums are concealed somewhere in the mix. But we are still in 1972 and the mellotron has to reappear in its string form – introspective and brooding. It will occasionally venture into other pre-recorded tones (consolatory flutes and cellos). This multi-tracked “trio” of acoustic piano, mellotron and discrete hand drum will concentrate on mood generation, rather than melodic progression. When the mellotron strings unfurl their wings, and the first signs of its majestic choral sound appear. The oniric tone becomes gradually more intense, until overlaid by a nocturnal piano etude, continually hesitating between serene romanticism and convulsive ostinato. When these two paths are fused, an unexpected baroque figure looms up with trills, much to our relief.
Dance of the Goblins
Intimidating waves of libidinal mellotron lurk behind the unconscious horizon. Its menacing ferocity is compiled by the dynamic shifts and a largely indecipherable hand drumming endlessly vacillating between the stereo channels. The atmosphere is one of foreboding augur. But where Jasun Martz several years later exploited the pathways leading to an eventual oxidizing climax, Bradsham-Leather’s procedure concentrates on tension build-up and build-up only. On occasional sharper arêtes, the instrument’s “organ” sound spikes, in vain. After another failure to reach the imposing peak, the expedition revisits a romantic melody, sketched forlornly on mellotron’s “reeds”. After such sumptuous exploration, inscrutable percussive clusters surge forward. Their lifespan is limited.
Distant, bereaved piano solo cuts an unattractive, circular theme. The tremendous mellotron swells again, forcing the piano to define itself in modal terms. The dynamic contrast here is stronger than on previous tracks and halfway through the composition, the track almost ebbs into nothingness. It is rescued by a slovenly piano and reedy mellotron. The mythomaniac piano will continue its Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 – wannabe drivel. The mix-down is extreme, as if suffocating the keyboardist’s efforts to assert himself. Until the closing sections of this arcane musical wrestling, it will remain a heroic tussle opposing the Babylonian mellotron, the narcotic piano and the totalitarian mixer.
This is Don Bradsham-Leather’s only known recording. Many search for this LP due to its legendary status as the ultimate mellotron galore. Although directly unrelated, Jasun Martz’s “The Pillory” (1978) and Niemen’s “N.AE.Katharsis” (1976) offer a good proxy.
Don BRADSHAM-LEATHER: “Distance Between Us” (1972)