Funk R&B musician Jon Cleary was born in Cranbook England, but somehow the music and the spirit of New Orleans was in his blood. It was only a matter of time before Cleary found his way to his musical home.
‘I was lucky enough to have three uncles who were musicians, and my dad was a musician, and both my grandfathers played music. Also, my grandmother had been a singer in the thirties. So there was a lot of music around. And everyone dug Black American music from different eras, so I got this kind of comprehensive access to old jazz right up to R&B and funk, right up to the seventies when I was a little kid. But the main thing everybody dug was New Orleans music, so I grew up listening to New Orleans stuff.
When I was little, my uncle moved to New Orleans and lived there for a while, and when he came back he was full of exciting stories and had two suitcases full of 45s, all these great records and photographs. So I grew up hearing about this exotic place as a little kid and just thought this sounds like somewhere I wanna go. The bug never left me and when I eventually left school I was able to get on the first plane and go there. Without any real plan, I just wanted to get to New Orleans as quickly as I could. So I came here and stayed, fell in love with it. Been here now for thirty years.’
Starting off as a guitarist, it wasn’t long before Cleary found his way to the keys. It was something inspired by his musical uncles who were continually exposing the young Cleary to pivotal music influences.
‘One record my uncle made the whole family listen to when he came back – I can remember it because I was at my Grandma’s house and the only record player was up in my Auntie’s bedroom so we all stood at the foot of the stairs while he played this one tune. It was only the introduction, the piano start that was the most important thing.
‘I can remember it so vividly, because I melted, I just thought it was the most wonderful thing. The piano player I later found out was a guy from here called Dr John. It wasn’t even his record; it was somebody else’s record, and he was just a session man on it. But I thought that’s it, that’s what I want to do, so it meant jumping onto another instrument. But that was the moment, that was the record.’
So what should players be expecting from Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen?
‘I don’t like planning things out too much because it doesn’t leave you too much room to improvise and be spontaneous, which is really a large part of what New Orleans music is about. But all I try to do is mix it up. I’m a student of New Orleans, a fan of New Orleans music. So I take pleasure in playing as many different aspects of New Orleans music as I can. Sometimes we’ll play some New Orleans funk and make it loud and raucous and then other times we might play a 100-year-old tune that has Caribbean influences, which takes you into another kind of mood. There are so many different kinds of textures and colours so I try and mix it up a little bit.’
Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen at the Hotel Great Northern on Thursday.
Find this and many other great gigs in Echonetdaily’s North Coast Gig Guide.