25 years on, one of the most collectable and influential UK indie singles remains 1979’s Private Plane by Thomas Leer.  It appeared on his own Oblique label and was a groundbreaking mixture DIY electronics, tape loops and hushed vocals.  Cut-and-paste music in a cut-and-paste sleeve.  It was, as remembers, “compelling pop with a dark heart, swooping between the pretty and the pretty disturbing.”

It sent out ripples across the music scene. 
Thomas was a huge influence on me,” Matt Johnson told Johnny Marr in 2002, “particularly his single, Private Plane.  The fact it was just one guy in his bedroom doing the entire thing made a massive, massive impact on me.  He was years ahead of his time and actually inspired me to create The The really.  He later told me that the reason his vocals were so whispered on that song is because his girlfriend was asleep in their bedsit while he did it!”


Leer followed Private Plane with another influential release – the industrial/ambient headcharge of The Bridge, recorded in collaboration with Robert Rental.  Originally released in 1979, it was re-released by Mute Records in 1992, and was half full-on electronic clink-clank industry and half serene, looped atmospheres.  The album was originally released on Throbbing Gristle’s own label and, as the experimental music archive commented recently, “If TG had had less of an agenda, and less of a desire to shock/offend, their music might well have sounded more like this.”


From The Bridge, Leer started a solo career, signing to Cherry Red and releasing the EPs Four Movements and Contradictions in the early 80s.   He mapped out a gloriously low-tech, soulful alternative to the sterile synth-pop scene of the time.  And they still stir the emotions now.  “This is the masterpiece of Thomas Leer,” says a recent blogger on of Contradictions.  “He borrowed a lot of equipment (guitar, bass, r-box, synth) from some musicians and recorded 7 tracks on 4-track.  And this is a mixture of soul, funk, electronics, industrial and new wave.  And it's fantastic how much soul this has.”


This “one-man anti-Heaven 17” then signed q to a major label, Arista/BMG, and started work on a new, sampler/Fairlight-driven excursion.  The resulting album, 1985’s Scale of Ten, was Leer’s attempt to ‘subvert the mainstream from the inside’ and contained the singles International, Heartbeat and No. 1.  The whole project was ‘anthologised’ by BMG records and given a long-overdue CD release in 2004.


Critically acclaimed, although always working just on the edge of mass appeal, Record Mirror called International “one of the finest, most invigorating, unquestionably vital records of 1984.”


From Scale of Ten Thomas Leer tried a new approach.  He moved backstage from centre stage and in 1987 formed the avant-garde electro-cabaret duo ACT, with Propaganda’s Claudia Brucken.  I wanted to do something totally different to what I'd done before,” he remembers, “and I wanted it to be more project based, theatrically-inspired and most importantly with someone else fronting it… 





Claudia’s sound was unmistakeable and it seemed to me that whatever context you put her in it was always gonna be recognisably her.  I was looking for an identity for an unidentifiable music and she fitted the bill...”


ACT released four singles and an album across 1987-1988 including Snobbery & Decay, the making of which was so hi-tech it was the subject of a BBC/Tomorrow’s World documentary.  But when fourth single Chance was scrapped over legal troubles with an Abba sample, and the whole record company machinery became far more of a burden than a platform, Thomas jumped ship.


It was a scene reminiscent of The Prisoner, Patrick McGooohan’s 1960s psychedelic spy trip.  Thomas Leer resigned from the music industry.  No one knew quite where he was or, for that matter, why he resigned.  But he had, and he stayed ‘in the village’ for the next 14 years. 


By the early 2000s, the music scene was changing and – in some ways – catching up with Thomas’ original DIY techno ethos.  His name started to be dropped in all sorts of places: in 2002, Day Breaks, Night Heals from The Bridge was featured alongside Kraftwerk and Aphex Twin on Mute Records seminal compilation Rough Trade Electronic 01; in 2003 The Human League’s Phil Oakey spun Private Plane on Radio 1 in an electroclash special, sandwiched between Yello and Pete Shelley; and in 2004 ZTT released a three-CD box set of the complete ACT archive, which followed a Cherry Red compendium of his early material.

None of these really swayed Thomas Leer in returning to the music scene.  It was hearing Ninja Tune/Solid Steel’s manic DJ cut-up radio show in 2003 that did that.  “I’d hung up my synths and moseyed off into the distance,” he says, “and I'd have probably stayed there if I hadn’t tuned into Cold Cut’s Solid Steel show on Kiss FM.  One Saturday night, the Future Sound of London doing two hours of musical mayhem.  It was fantastic and immediately made me want to start working again...”


By 2004 this work was beginning to leak out.  Web-based MP3 samples, an whole album of wide-screen soundscapes for Avatar (a Tel-Aviv trance label) and an early version of Parts of Greater Hole, mailed on CDR from a new website,  Now finished, mastered, remastered and remixed, and with a suite of extra tracks, Parts of a Greater Hole (Karvavena Records, 2005) marks Thomas Leer’s return, proving he has lost none of his experimental vigour, while at the same absorbing many new influences and styles - from drum & bass to glitch-music – that have emerged in the years since his ‘resignation’... 


In 2005, Dr Who isn’t the only timelord to reappear after 17 years…