By Arne Sjostedt
For Jon Cleary, it will be all about talent and experience when he returns to Canberra to deliver a brand of music nourished from the soul of New Orleans’ soil.
Supporting his 2018 release Dyna-Mite, follow up to his Grammy Award-winning album Go Go Juice, Cleary and his band the Absolute Monster Gentleman promise to bring a variety of tracks. Sometimes, he says, they will be well-known numbers, and others will be more obscure. But whatever they play, you can be sure their collective experience in that magical city will be at the core.
“The musicians are all from New Orleans. New Orleans informs the songs,” he says. “Music is such an important part of the social glue here. It’s an essential part of the social life.”
Having shared a stage and gained respect from the likes of Tom Jones, Bonnie Raitt, Fats Domino, Eric Clapton, BB King, and Brian May, Cleary moved from England to gain an authentic experience of the music from that hallowed region.
“I saw lots of bands that were playing American music, and it was imitation. And I decided to cross over to the other side and do it for real.”
Wanting to play that music from the inside out, all about soaking up the same information that was around the musicians who played on the records he grew up loving, Cleary “drank the New Orleans water, lived the life and got informed.”
And though it is steeped in its own unique and rich history, Cleary is pointed about the way he defines the type of music he offers and shies away from definitive or restrictive descriptions of genre.
“Other people have given the music names. It all comes from the same place. The musicians here don’t really distinguish. Those labels are labels for people who don’t play music.”
In an environment where musical proficiency is highly valued, “The musicians who are dealing with the notes and the structure and the theatre, it is all linked,” he says.
“We play for each other. I get really good musicians and we entertain each other by what we play and how we play it.”
What evolves is an organic style that responds to each musician’s experience. It is representative of New Orleans because that is where he and his band practice their craft.
“When you take it forward, you basically write new songs and the songs become vehicles for using all those tools that you’ve learned,” Cleary says.
And though he is proud to associate himself with New Orleans, and the music that is made there, the irony is, once you make your mark you spend less and less time performing there, says Cleary.
“There is a big old wide world,” he says, rattling off a list of countries he has played in this year alone: China, Korea, Cuba, Bulgaria, Iran, and England. Constantly on the move, “Today I woke up in New York. Tomorrow I’m in Nashville. So, we are on tour all the time.”
Cleary sees his constant touring lifestyle as a privilege and is proud to be part of the New Orleans musical family.
Catch Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentleman when they visit Canberra to play the Playhouse on Wednesday 9 October 2019. For more information visit canberratheatrecentre.com.au