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Leo Robinson - The Temple

Leo Robinson - The Temple

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For a few years Leo Robinson was the sort of hidden secret you sometimes come across in local music scenes. First in Manchester and now in Glasgow, he’d pop up regularly on DIY bills or as local support to a touring act, quietly blowing them off stage with his rich baritone vocal and homespun lo-fi tales of folklore and animism. With The Temple – his debut on PRAH Recordings – he looks set to cross over from being a cult concern.

“There's a spectrum [within the album] between fully mythologising or symbolising my lived experience, and just stating it in very matter of fact terms - that push and pull between the need to abstract and the need to break through the abstraction and have an honest moment with oneself” he explains. “This is one of the themes of the album as well as part of the process. The aim was to take all these anecdotal or symbolic elements and merge them into one narrative and one world, in a way that you can find your way through the record as if it were a landscape or language with its own logic.”

The record takes on a pastoral, slightly baroque nature that Robinson partly attributes to a friend screening a lot of ‘70s BBC material in his book shop that they used to hang out at. There are also elements of jazz, flickering to life in “The Spring”’s piano-led finale and coda.

Thematically, Robinson likens it to a Jungian ‘Hero's Journey’, his voice possessing a character who goes through several defined stages of consciousness. From conception and the beginning of an earthly life, the first half of the album recognises the development of the protagonist’s narrative and identity, before “The Pink Light”’s freeform departure from the hitherto more song-based suite devastatingly shatters this. The second half of the album then sees the protagonist witness “the uncontainable” water; learning that true divinity lies not in the individual self or lofty notions of gods and temples, but in the unremarkable nettles, insects and dogs on the roadside riverbank - referenced on tracks “The Cormorant” and “The Spring”.

Although now residing north of the border, The Temple was written while Robinson was finding his feet in Manchester, having moved there to go to art school as a teenager (as a visual artist, he has exhibited at the Tiwani Contemporary in London and Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre). As a result, many of the tracks bear out the shadows of his experiences in the northern city – at their most visible and explicit on the beautifully fragile storytelling of “The Pavement”. Written the day after the Manchester Arena Bombings, it recalls Robinson waking up to go to work on a hot summer’s day to discover that his street had been blocked off for terrorism investigations; it then progresses through the rest of his day, amidst the grimly surreal aftermath of the previous night.

Having written the chords, melodies and lyrics to the album, Robinson fleshed out the tunes by scoring out parts for the additional instrumentation, but it was only when a friend sent a demo to PRAH that he was able to fund its full recording. Guitars, vocals, piano and French Horn (the latter recorded by Lauren Reeve-Rawlings) were put down at Green Door Studios in Glasgow. Microphones were placed around the room and the sound of the musicians stepping on creaky floorboards and opening creaky doors were left audible to further the record’s live feel. The harpsichord heard on “The Serpent”, meanwhile, came from University of Glasgow lecturer David McGuinness. Strings were then recorded at PRAH Studios by Francesca Ter-Berg and Raven Bush, the Social Singing Choir adding their choral vocals to “Temple II”.

The result is an album that feels both luscious and yet intimately raw; as grand as Richard Dawson at his most panoramic but containing the rough edges and skeletal looseness of a Calvin Johnson work. At times Robinson lyrically moves towards the surreal, but ultimately this is a record grounded in reality; a true showcase of Robinson’s skill as a lyricist and songwriter.
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