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Jean-Marc Lederman by Jean-Marc Lederman (1)

by François Zappa

Although, I am sure that all of our readers know Jean-Marc Lederman, now that we are posting this “self-biography” in chapters, I would like to remind you that he was one of the Weathermen and part of Kid Montana. He played with Fad Gadget, The The, Gene Loves Jezebel and composed music for the great Alain Bashung. On his own he has recorded a few incredible instrumental albums but has also released great albums such as 13 Ghost Stories and Letters To Gods where he has collaborated with different singers. Now he is part of the duo Rohn-Lederman that has released a couple of full albums that you should listen to as soon as possible. He also runs the Les Disques De La Pantoufle record label that is releasing tomorrow the first album of Intrusive Pinky and in May the new double album by Rohn-Lederman.

Digital Dance (1978-1979)

The year was 1980 and I had just quit, well I was sacked, to be honest, from Digital Dance, the first band I was in.
We were doing post punk/cold wave/new wave stuff and it was really exciting. I started doing bass with them on an… ARP 2600 which I had bought working on building sites, yeah, far too much of an overkill I agree. We were rehearsing here and there but at the time we had our room at the famous Plan K where we supported Joy Division. Actually, that day I went to pick up Ian and Bernard Summers at the very seedy hotel they were in and I drove them to the gig. They were laughing like kids, you know, young musicians being happy to play abroad. It was such a cold day, everyone was freezing and Ian even came near Stefan Barbery (Digital Dance guitar player) who was close to an electric heater to tell him “Well, I guess this is why they call it Cold Wave…” We also opened to Magazine and Fisher-Z and it was becoming too much of a routine for me: the Brussels band that does all the new wave support slots but hasn’t even got a decent recording contract…
Oh, we had one, and they made us record our very fast cover version of Kraftwerk’s “Radio-Activity”. At the end of the session, they made me do some terrible sound effects, hoping to catch on the fad of the moment, and it just ruined the whole song. Tells you that if a thing sounds bad and contrived and cheesy on Monday, still sounds the same the day after and 40 years later. Sorry Stefan, my fault.
Then Phil Wauquaire (whom I had met from Streets, the punk band he was in and I actually played with them live on a couple of songs with a…AKS, another overkill) joined us and I moved to play synths with a Korg MS20 and a Yamaha CS50M who weighted like half an olifant after a drinking binge.
Anyway, after a couple of gigs with Digital Dance at the Gibus in Paris, I was let go (which was fine, really).
Two days later, I call Daniel Miller whom I had met in London a few months ago. Digital Dance had been foolish and crazy enough to believe that if you go to London, you can pretty much be sure you’ll find a gig. All we did was rehearsing (below Beggar’s Banquet where I met Peter Kent from the future 4AD label) and waiting in our hotel off Kings Road. Anyway, we were trying to get Geoff Travis from Rough Trade to listen to our demo and he stopped it 20 seconds in and tell us: if you go to “Better Badges” now, you’ll see a man called Daniel Miller (from label MUTE RECORDS) and maybe he’ll like your stuff…
So, off we went to Better Badges and there we met Daniel, with a green basket full of The Normal badges.
Daniel and I hit directly like if it was an “International Conference Of Synths Fanatics”. I mean: synths weren’t as known or popular then as they are now. It was still a relatively rare sight on stage or in gigs or in bands that weren’t poppy or prog rock.
No, we’re talking new industrial scene in the UK: noisy and determined, not minimoogs played by long haired musos…
So, Daniel and I exchanged phone numbers and we traded letters and phone calls here and there.
So, remember, I’m sacked from Digital Dance and I then realize that if I wanted to really go anywhere in music, Brussels isn’t the place to be and I must move to where things are happening. At that time, London was THE centre of music in Europe and I decide that I want to try my luck and the two major chords I know there.
I pick up the phone and call Daniel, asking him if he knew any musician that would be interested in moi?
Yeah, I know someone, he’s on my label now, he’s looking for musicians, call him… His name is Frank Tovey

Frank Tovey/Fad Gadget #1 (part 1)

The audition was simple: we didn’t even play a note or try to do a song, we just sat and drank coffee and laughed a lot. But there was no try-out, no keyboard or synths tinkering…
And that’s how Philippe Wauquaire and I became members of Fad Gadget #1 for a few months in 1980: a simple coffee cup meeting and an unmistakable good chemical feeling between us.
Frank had played a few gigs on his own but wanted musicians around him so he could concentrate a bit more on being a little bit less concentrated if you know what I mean.
There was Frank: clever, astute, open, funny, with a lot of wit doubled with a good dose of sarcasm: totally my alley. But he knew what he wanted musically, there was no doubt about what he wanted to sound like.
The plan was: rehearse at my place in Brussels, a first gig here, then play a few gigs as support for Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft in Germany and going to tour the UK as support for The Monochrome Set.
So, we start rehearsing in my attic: Frank on vocals, Pearl Syncussion and distorted electric piano, Phil on Fender bass and Korg MS 20 and myself on handling the cassette player (each song had its drums/rhythmic parts on a single cassette and I would feed the machine with a new cassette every song) and my 4 notes polyphonic, Yamaha CS 50M. Again, an overkill.
After a few hours of rehearsals, we have our first gig: support-act for Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. We are all extremely nervous but the gig goes well: Frank doesn’t go into the mad behaviours he’s known for yet but you can see he’s holding up something big inside, something is boiling there.
After the gig, we proceed to the German border and sleep in a motel there. In the morning, I’m being handed an envelope with my per diem (every day allowance a musician gets when on tour): it is the first time someone hands me money for doing something I love doing: playing music. I couldn’t believe it and I took a second piece of bacon and refilled my coffee cup. We are about to go to Dusseldorf to play The Ratinger Hof as support for Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft.
Something started to happen at the Ratinger Hof: maybe it was the roughness of the place, the German lager (naaaaah) or the history of the place but this thing Frank had inside him but it slightly came out at that gig. See, there was an animal inside Frank, and that animal was as extrovert as Frank was introvert: FG was then frontal and loud and, yes, obnoxious but in a gentle and friendly way but he wasn’t the shy Frank. In response to Frank’s changing live attitudes, Phil and I started to play loser and noisier and wilder (and there were far more bump notes on my part) but the band started to make sense. The crowd wasn’t there for us, they were there for what would later become DAF, but the reaction was good and people liked us. I recall Frank and I going out in front of the place and that guy comes out dressed as a mod, full parka mode with a patch “Remember Brighton” which made Frank laughed a lot, people were out there with their beer and… oh my god, what am I saying: IT JUST FELT GREAT.
Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft at the time was a five-piece band and they were fun and chaotic. You couldn’t miss Chris Haas, the synth guy, who was classy and special. He had a very specific body language when playing live: he would stand back, have a smile and just come here and there to play a few notes… He is the real grandfather of EBM as he introduced the famous 1/16th bass line (Korg MS 20 and SQ 10 sequencer) that will be the bone of so many records later on.
The morning after, we went out to the next gig. Daniel, Phil, Chris and I embarked in my mum’s yellow Civic and we went down the motorway, singing loudly “Fahn Fahn Fahn Auf Der Autobahn” laughing and laughing…
I guess Chris must have done that thousands of times before but, for Daniel, Phil and I it meant something different: we were doing it. We were travelling in Kraftwerk‘s motherland and going to play electronic music there: it was immense.
We only played one more gig in Germany and then the whole tour was somehow cancelled…

Something had clicked in Frank after a few gigs: it’s like he had been showed by practice that it could work, that the songs were good, the voice was good but even more than that his FG personae and ideas had an impact on the crowd. He would go out, do his thing, see people respond to his songs, lyrics and theatrics and then he would retrieve after the gig in the gentle and shy Frank Tovey. Phil and I were providing a background that wasn’t perfect but for Frank it was a great practice for FG future.

When we toured as support for The Monochrome Set, we were sometimes in fire and I could really feel people’s amazement at that born-to-be showman. He would play with the crowd and slowly take them into the show. Our sound might not have been very sophisticated but with Frank’s distorted piano, the CS50 brutal in and out sounds, Phil’s impeccable swirling bass, we were like The Stooges with synths and Frank was a perfect bionic Iggy Pop… I began to be very proud of us, we were quite something indeed and I was going on stage with a mission: to show people the songs and to let them fall in Frank’s performance.
I also remember that after the last show of the tour, possibly at the YMCA gig, one of the roadies came at the CS 50 and started to play some Bach’s prelude. I was stunned and shameful of the snobbishness I may have shown the roadies on that tour, or before to be honest. I learned a lesson that night and never again would I be feeling above anyone on a stage, or in studio, be them multiple charts success artists or simple roadie.
Something wild happened after our gig at the 100 club. Jock Mac Donalds (from the future Bollock Brothers) was very drunk and he started to look for a fight with us and being extremely aggressive, a bottle in his hand, waving it at us. Phil, FG‘s bass player, was a karate black belt and he was looking very calm, coming closer to Jock inch by inch. Suddenly he jumped at Jock, put two fingers on his Adam’s apple and said with a slow voice: “OK, let’s kill”, his eyes deep into Mac Donald’s eyes.
The bottle instantly fell on the ground and the guy just ran out the club swearing loud and clear…
Phil and I were sleeping at Daniel’s mom place for a few days and we were making music late at night. One of these nights, Daniel was on Phil’s MS 20, I was trying Daniel’s infamous Korg 700S (the one that was on “TVOD” and “Warm Leatherette”) and Phil was on the CS 50M but it was visibly too loud and too late as Daniel’s mum came down and asked us to PLEASE STOP!
Next gig to come was going to be the Clarendon, but we were told this would be our last gig with Frank as he wanted a full band behind him to totally free him from any other duties but vocals.
I was devastated…
So, we were invited to headline Stevo’s kinda festival at the Clarendon, on June 27, 1980. Stevo was a very colourful character who will make himself known later when managing bands like Soft Cell and The The.
The bill was very symptomatic of the time: DAF, Naked Lunch, B.Movie, Vice Versa, Clock DVA
So, Fad Gadget #1 had started touring as a relative unknown a few months ago and we were by now talk of the town and headline this festival. It felt good and it felt also important and I was nervous. Everybody was.
Frank had a song by Georges Formby playing before we would go on. Formby was a Lancashire working class comedian and he was famous for playing double entendre ukulele songs. It was a known and safe thing for British people and Frank used it as contrast as chaos would start when we would cut Folmby and go straight into “State Of The Nation” and follow that with most of what is on the album Fireside Favourites.
“State of the Nation”
“Back to Nature”
“The Box”
“Fireside Favourite”
“Coitus Interruptus”
“Ricky’s Hand”
“Back to Nature”
Yes, Frank wanted shock and chaos, and he got that except that at the Clarendon it went a bit further than expected.
During one of the early songs, Fad had already taken over Frank, he smashed up his face with one of the two Syncussion drums and it started pouring blood. Phil and I looked at him and he made us understand it was fine and let’s continue… So we continued until someone took Frank off stage as it was just like a fountain of blood by now.
The gig was stopped.
We went backstage and Frank was adamant he was fine but Babra (his wife) disinfected the wound and placed a cloth on it.
We went back on stage.
The crowd went MAD. Frank was standing there, his white clothes with red blood all over it, singing to the public that was all won. It was an incredible sight, and being on stage, playing the songs with a singer that went beyond the call of duty was something unexplainable.
After the gig, we had to take the 5 am ferry.
I was sitting on the stairs of the Clarendon and, yes, I was crying, letting all the tension, the fears of the gig off my system but also the sadness I felt after having lived some incredible times with Frank, as synth player in Fad Gadget. I saw Frank playing with Fad Gadget #2 a few months later and he invited me to play in the encore: we were cool.
Still, I wasn’t done with London and would come back later…

Mark Beer, Polyphonic Size and JJ Burnell (1981)

It didn’t take me long to bounce back from the sadness I felt after the end of Fad Gadget #1.
I was back in Brussels and met Mark Beer, an English songwriter who was living here at the time through, I believe, Annick Honoré from “Les Disques du Crépuscule”.
Mark was all the poet-singer one can imagine and he could have been imported straight from the roaring twenties: flamboyant, arty to the extreme end of his nails.
He was very talented and when he asked me to do some recordings with him in a London studio, I immediately obliged. The Mekon studio was in Brixton, on Medora road, and there I met Clive Pierce and Hugh Ashton who later on would form Hard Corps, with Regine Fetet on vocals.
They totally embraced Mark’s wild ideas on production and sound making, out of “WTF not trying that mad trick” I believe. Mark used to work with layers of sound, and took it to extreme limits, having multiple track songs ending up with just one vocal, one drum and one synth (but played by Thomas Dolby) like the song “The Small Death”.
I like that kamikaze method: the track is what you aim for, satisfying your ego because your bass solo is wicked isn’t.
I would come back to Mekon later, for my first Kid Montana EP, and I would introduce them to Daniel Miller.
Michel Lambot had a musician friend called Roger Mark Vandenvoorde who had a band called Polyphonic Size and I ended up doing quite a lot on their EP “PS”.
It was recorded at Michel Rorive studio, far far away in the countryside. They had a very rare synthesizer: the RMI Keyboard Computer. The sounds were on IBM cards and you could alter the sounds but it was more a very capable organ than a synth. But hey, I always enjoyed going to the studio to face up new instruments.
JJ Burnell was the producer and I tell ya it did take a few days to get over just being scared of the man. The reputation, the physical presence, he was really special indeed.
I came up with the cover version idea of “Mother’s Little Helper” but it took me hours to get the bass right.
It is strange, sometimes you are IN the song and it has no mysteries for you and you find your way within it with ease and sometimes you are just out and cannot get anything to work.
Anyway, we got the EP in the box and I drove Jean-Jacques Burnell back to the airport and got a smile and a small conversation with him when I started talking about Triumph motorbikes…
But 1981 is first and foremost the year I started my mandatory Belgian army time. To kill time, I tried to learn the trumpet (what? I thought I could do good in the fanfare!) but the colonel of the barrack had ears and he absolutely forbade me to use that instrument and instead ordered me to go hide deep in the forest if I wanted to practice. Oh, well, your loss.
The army is a strange thing, especially if you are in a mini country with a mini army and have giant neighbours.
But I did my time. I ended up being moved to the main HQ in Brussels and I had it quite good there: I would even go back home at lunch time.
I recall the winter was really cold and one day it was absolutely freezing. I usually had long johns so the cold wouldn’t numb my legs but I couldn’t find them one morning so I took a pair of stockings from my mum.
At the HQ, there were so many army VIP and high ranked officers that you used to not salute anyone below a certain rank.
And of course, that day, I had to cross the path of three of the highest ranked officers in the Belgian Army and salute, which I did. They salute back, they are obliged to, but I couldn’t erase the slight smirk on my face at the idea that they just salute a simple soldier wearing women’s stocking below his army trouser and walking around in the sound of the delicate textile…
I would come back 10 months later, filled up with musical ideas and projects…

𝐁𝐚𝐜𝐤 𝐢𝐧 𝐋𝐨𝐧𝐝𝐨𝐧 (𝐦𝐢𝐝 𝟏𝟗𝟖𝟐)

I’m finally relieved of my army time duties end of March 1982 and, after spending a month in Africa (mostly Cotonou in Benin) where I see one big favorite of mine, Fela Anikulapo Kuti (and most of his wives) playing in Lomé, I’m in London again.
Peter hooked me up with the lovely Rod Pearce. Rod, who is sadly not with us anymore (he was brutally murdered near Mexico in 1997), was a great, funny, witty guy who had that amazing record label where he was releasing seminal industrial music by bands like Throbbing Gristle, 23 Skidoo, Clock DVA and Rod offered me to help him with the label (which he was slowly closing down). It also helped that Rod was a fervent motor biker but he had been caught speeding too many times in London with his black Kawazaki 650C and offered me to ride it while he was suspended.
One day he asks me to go to East London to bring a package to Genesis P. Orridge. Fun little totally non-essential fact: Jim Thirwell and Genesis lived in the same street (I would be meeting Jim in the future, one year later).
So, here I was, in Genesis‘s kitchen, having tea with the guy. In the kitchen, on the wall, you know, three flying ducks, except the ducks were little Hitler’s and I thought that was actually funny. Genesis was funny himself and he offered to go and visit TG‘s rehearsal studio as he had to pick something up there. He explains me how they use sub bass to make people uncomfortable and such but I keep listening and, for a change, I’m rather quiet. Interesting day for sure.
Through Rod, I got to meet Perry Haines and they asked me to participate in some songwriting jam session. Sure. So, there I go and I find myself with the cream of the cream of London musicians with none other than Marc King from Level 42 on bass and JJ Belle, Trevor Horn’s guitar player on Grace Jones‘s ZTT records. Okaaaaaaaay…Again, guys, thank you for inviting me but I really should be going now 😉 I manage not to ridicule myself (I just lowered the volume of the Jupiter 4 so it was barely heard)… and ended up being very close with JJ Belle. JJ played guitar on “Being Boring” from The Pet Shop Boys and he introduced me to Neil Tennant in Brussels a few years later. I was happy to invite JJ to play on The Weathermen‘s Global 851, 2 years before he went to jam with Elvis and Jimi Hendrix 😞
I stopped working with/for Rod a year later when the whole Fetish records operation stopped but it was amazing to meet Rod’s friends who were as much in the fashion industry/press (Neville Brody and The Face, Perry Haines) than at the forefront of music provocateurs or genius music labels.
This is why I loved London: you could meet everyone everywhere, you weren’t stuck in a case, you could open it and be your own.

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