Jon Cleary plays a mean cowbell…and some piano

A flaming meteor of New Orleans Jazz Funk crashed into Piccadilly Circus last month coming to rest deep below street level in a the sumptuous, velvet, leather and mirror lined shoebox that is the Pigalle Club. The Pigalle is a “Supper Club”, a throwback to the Jazz Clubs of the 1940s where you can get a good meal served at your table whilst enjoying some great sounds. Jon Cleary is a respected piece of New Orleans furniture now, steeped in its musical traditions, but this Kent-born pianist and singer seemed in his element in front of a home crowd with his band The Absolute Monster Gentlemen.

The Monster Gents are Derwin “Big D” Perkins, a 500 pound cherub of a man who seemed virtually motionless above the wrist. Sitting with his immaculate Telecaster resting, sometimes almost flat, atop his impressive gut he mixed his sublime, understated licks and riffs with heavenly harmony vocals. Eddie Christmas, described by Cleary as “a young lion coming up from the streets of New Orleans” provided a blistering back beat while Cornell C Williams (hidden in shadow for most of the gig) made his presence felt with a combination of writhing baselines and cracking backing vocals.

Cleary’s mind-blowing funk piano means that his impressive vocal chops are often overlooked, in much the same way that you almost never hear anyone talking about what a great voice Stevie Ray Vaughan had. It is simultaneously smooth and gravelly, like a bucket of warm, Cajun-spiced nails. The intimacy of a venue like The Pigalle means that the entire audience is bathed every drop of unadulterated joy wrung from the instruments by the four pairs of experts hands on stage and it was impossible not to be uplifted and borne along.

When not singing, Cleary’s craggy features frequently cracked into uncontrolled and contagious grins of unalloyed delight. During one instrumental he swung round in his seat and, pulling a cowbell off Christmas’ vibrating kit, used it to inject a wickedly syncopated second line into the proceedings before tossing bell and stick over his shoulder to jump back on the keys.

Below is some footage of Cleary and The Gents at the Gloucester Blues Festival 2008. It’s nothing like being there (or like being at The Pigalle for that matter), but it it’s a taste of the flavour.


South Ossetia

Alan is a client of mine whom I have known for many years.
He runs a very successful private equity firm in London with offices in Moscow and Hong Kong.
He’s also one of the nicest people you could hope to meet with an easy smile and a charm that instantly puts people at their ease.
I received the following email from him this morning.
I hope it can help provide additional perspective to the current situation in South Ossetia that is perhaps lacking from the current media coverage.
My dear friends,
It is with unbearable pain in my heart that I am writing this letter to you. I want to tell you what happened in Ossetia, a place where I grew up and where my family lived until few days ago.
First of all, some historical background. Ossetians are a tiny nation, the only remaining branch of the ancient Alans (Alan is still the most widespread name in Ossetia). Like many other nations, they have a great heritage and great culture.
Historically, Ossetians have co-existed with Georgians. There were mixed marriages, even on a Royal level, the two cultures intertwined. Unfortunately this co-existence has not been peaceful in the 20th century. In 1920s, over 4000 Ossetians were killed by the Georgian Menshevik government. During that terrible ethnic cleansing, my grand-grandfather had lost all his family but managed to save one son (my grandfather) carrying him over the mountains to the relative safety of Russia.
Then came the times of the Soviet Union, when Stalin changed the map and the structure of many small nations in the Caucasus, including Ossetia. Part of Ossetia found itself as Autonomous Region of Georgian SSR. I spent 12 years in Ossetia at the end of the soviet period (1975-1987). Even though I was a child, I could clearly see the unfair treatment, shameful discrimination of South Ossetians by the politicians governing Georgia. Those who lived in Ossetia were quite limited in their rights.
Around 1990, following the collapse of the USSR, Georgian president Gamsakhurdia went even further. He decided to annul the autonomy of South Ossetia, adopt Georgian language as the only official and do other things aimed at annihilating the Ossetian culture and their national identity. Ossetians resisted, but Gamsakhurdia sent in armed men to force the “samachablo” (the Machabeli slaves, as he arrogantly referred to Ossetians). A massacre erupted, with my compatriots tortured and killed, entire villages erased from the face of the earth, the capital city of Tskhinval half-destroyed. Many of my friends have died in that war, trying to protect their families, their land, their way of life. My family survived thanks to the courage of young Ossetian boys who gave their lifes and thanks to the Russians who stepped in as a buffer force between the two sides and stationed UN-sanctioned peace-keeping troops in South Ossetia ever since.
It had become obvious for Ossetians at the time that no future was possible together with Georgia, and they declared independence. Ossetia adopted its own constitution, elected a government, created armed forces to defend themselves. The independence was not recognized by Georgia, of course. Moreover, Georgian PR machine did excellent job discrediting the South Ossetian government, misinforming the world about what really was happening in Ossetia. I bet you have never heard about the non-stopping economic blockade of Ossetia by Georgia, about Georgia-sponsored terrorist attacks on Ossetians, etc. And I bet you’ve heard a lot about the “democratic” and “progressive” leadership of president Saakashvili and about the “illegal separatist regime” in “Tskhinvali region” (a bit more politically correct label for Ossetia than that of Gamsakhurdia). Extremely artful is the Georgian government’s propaganda, very smooth, very efficient, skilfully and convincingly serving whatever lies they invent in the interests of the rulers of “democratic” Georgia.
President Saakashvili often says Ossetians are criminals. He says he only attacked the criminals. My mother was not a criminal, neither was my aunt. One was as an ill elderly woman, the other one was a doctor. They both believed in good, they wanted their country to prosper and they refused to run from Tskhinval to a safer or more comfortable place, no matter what hardships life in represented. My mum believed in God, she was asking me to pray, pray, pray. She believed the Russian peace-keepers would protect them if something bad happens. She hoped though that Saakashvili was a well educated, civilized man and that he would not start a brutal war as did some of the earlier Georgian rulers. She was so wrong.
Not only Saakashvili turned to be a lying, cynical bastard, he is a ruthless murderer. In 3 nights and 3 days in early August 2008, he killed my mother and my aunt and many, many, many more innocent people just because they were Ossetians. His plan codenamed “the clean field” was executed by his NATO-trained army. They came to kill Ossetians and take away their land. They used military aviation, tanks, missiles, special force troops to kill children, women, elderly and the sick. They have destroyed schools, hospitals, they run people over by tanks, burned them alive, all without hesitation. These animals are not an army, they have no honour, no humanity.
The dead body of my aunt could not be collected in one piece. We had to carry parts of her brain and skull and hair in a plastic bag. The face and the body of my mother was turned into a blood-chilling mess. Two of the best people in the world have been killed by hundreds of sharp metal pieces, a weapon supplied to the Georgian army by the “democratic” countries of the West and applied against Ossetia by a maniac who must be tried for his crimes.
Mr Saakashvili’s hands are all dirty, covered with blood of the innocent. And he dares to talk about Russia destroying the “democracy” in Georgia and present white as black and black as white, and the Western governments and media, particularly the US is giving him a helping hand (or do they have their own agenda?). I hope you will not be fooled by all this noise. The main thing to know and to remember is that Mr Saakashvili, inspired by some people in the US administration, decided that he has a right to mark innocent as criminals and murder them, that he attempted a genocide of a small nation, that he took away my sweet mother. God will judge him.
Kind regards,
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