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Byron Shire
May 18, 2021

Interview with Jon Cleary

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Jon Cleary is at Mullumbimby Civic Hall on Saturday

Jon Cleary & The Monster Gentlemen

Mullumbimby Civic Hall  |  Saturday  |  7pm  |  $50/35/20 

British blues pianist and composer Jon Cleary has worked with rock, blues, and soul artists like Bonnie Raitt, D’Angelo, Maria Muldaur, Taj Mahal, and Eric Clapton. Originally a guitarist, Cleary began playing at age five, and started his first band at 15. Raised on blues, jazz, and soul records, his love of New Orleans blues and jazz in particular took him across the ocean to New Orleans. He developed a reputation as a talented and gentlemanly musician. He returns to Mullumbimby with his Monster Gentlemen, as part of his Australian tour.

You’re originally from Kent in England, but you’ve spent the last 35 years in New Orleans. Even this far away we hear of the legend of The Crescent City – in your words can you tell us what you think it is about New Orleans that captivates people the way it does?

New Orleans appeals on many levels, not just all the incredible music. It’s a physically beautiful city with an exotic history: pirates, alligators, swamps, voodoo queens, etc. Then there’s the food: jambalaya, gumbo, etoufee, red beans and rice, pickled pigs lips, crawfish and dirty rice. You get the picture.

What was it that took you there in the first place? And what was it that held you there for so long? Was it the music, the women, the river?

It was the music, and stories I’d heard from my uncle who lived there in the early seventies. Stories about Professor Longhair and the Johnny Mattassas bar, Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. What has kept me there for nearly 40 years is all of the above.

How much has your adopted home influenced your music?  Were you a musician before arriving in New Orleans?

I learned music from my mum and dad, my grandparents and uncles and aunts, New Orleans Jazz and Blues, and I learned more sophisticated musical ideas from pouring over Beatles records. I started fooling with my dad’s guitar when my hands weren’t even big enough to fit around the neck. I was about five. I put a band together at school when I was seven and started playing in the orchestra pit of a local theatre group when I was 11. Started doing paid gigs in local pubs when I was about 14 or 15 and formed a band with Roger Hubbard, a really good slide player, who was about 10 years older than me, and we gigged around the south east of England until I split for New Orleans at age 18.

Your bio reads like a who’s who of the New Orleans music scene; must have been some good times! What was one of the highlights of making your home there over the years?

Playing alongside Allen Toussaint and Mac Rebbenack at various times and my first gigs with Earl King and Snooks Eaglin at Tipitina’s.

You’re currently on a world tour and are playing in Mullumbimby on Saturday. What can folks here in and around Mullum expect from your show?

Soulful funky R&B and the combined expertise of my sidemen – real music played real good, and a whole lot of fun. Did I mention funky?

What’s on the cards for the rest of the year for you and the band?

I leave for Amsterdam straight after the last gig in Australia, to do the first gig in a month-long duo-tour with guitarist John Scofield. Then we have two weeks back at home before we leave to perform a couple of gigs in Havana, with some Cuban musicians.

Is there any other news you’d like to let our readers know? New albums or new tour dates?

All the news is on my website, Joncleary.com and soon we’re going to start a Patreon site where people who subscribe can get extra content. There are some very exciting other plans in the pipeline – but I’m not at liberty to discuss those just yet…

Jon Cleary & The Monster Gentlemen, Saturday 12 October at the Mullumbimby Civic Hall 7pm – tix $50/35/20 on trybooking.com

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