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.

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