Who Are You: Cleis Pearce


Cleis Pearce

In de Jaren ’60 en ’70 verscheen een groot aantal albums van artiesten, die bij het grote publiek nooit bekend raakte. Daardoor was dit soort albums gedoemd om in de zogenaamde “uitverkoopbakken” te belanden. Hopend, dat er een persoon langs zou komen, die nieuwsgierig genoeg zou zijn om de betreffende artiest eens te gaan uitproberen.

Om die artiesten nu eens uit de vergetelheid te trekken hebben we de rubriek:
“Who Are You”

Tekst: Peter Marinus

Dit keer hebben we aandacht voor de Australische violiste Cleis Pearce. Een naam, die heel misschien wat herkenning oproept door het feit, dat zij in het begin van de 70’s deel uitmaakte van de Australische jazz-rockband Mackenzie Theory.

Daarna bleef zij flink actief met bands als Kangaru, Coolangubra en Curried Grooves. Ook verscheen er een soloalbum ‘Sweet Earth’ in 2000 waarop zij klassieke muziek, folk en world music met elkaar vermengde.

Alsof dat allemaal niet genoeg was was Cleis ook te gast op heel veel albums van voornamelijk Australische artiesten.

Door middel van een online interview, dat ik met Cleis had, gaan we proberen om haar naam bekender te maken.

Hi Cleis, can you tell me something about your youth. Do you come from a musical family? How old were you when you started playing the violin? Did you have any musical heroes?

I started out in the fifties living in a little shed in the bush on the edge of Sydney, Australia.It was a wild and beautiful place at that time and was the foundation of my life long intimacy with the world of Mother Earth. I was the eldest of five children eventually. Our parents were very left ,arty and impoverished and both orphans. We did not have much stability in our lives but the arts was the saving grace that brought meaning…and politics. When I was 10 or 11 my father brought home a violin and I had to become a famous violinist. We were immersed in the music of Russian composers and players. I did what was expected of me. They also loved to listen to ethnic music from Africa and Australian Aboriginal music which moved me. I ran away from home eventually just before completing my uni degree in classical violin.

How do you look back at your years with Mackenzie Theory? How would you describe the music of that band?

The first time you appeared on a record was on the album “The Great Australian Rock festival, Sunbury 1973”. What kind of festival was that? Comparable to Woodstock?

By incredible chance I met guitarist Rob Mackenzie and we started the band which was my introduction to rock and bands and that whole world. Rob was 22 at the time and a very inspired and brilliant guitarist who saw the band as a force to educate people about the insanity of capitalistic habits that would bring about our worlds demise. We were on a mission so to speak and travelled round and round playing very high energy loud alternative rock I suppose you would call it..all originals and no vocalist..I very slowly started to develop my ability to improvise.

My years with Mackenzie Theory were exciting..the idealism and energy of youth… and we played a lot of University gigs where there was a lot of tumult around the Vietnam war…aboriginal rights ..food security..start of environmental movement..so for a lot of young people at the time we became a force for change. Mackenzie Theory was a head lining band at the Sunbury Festival near Melbourne Australia. This was one of the first large scale festival in Australia. Huge audience..much hotter than Woodstock I think.After a few years of hard slog Rob became burnt out a bit and we moved to England.

After Mackenzie Theory you joined the band Kanguru, which is described as a raga rockband. What kind of band was that?

I returned to Australia and met Paul Gibson who played sarod and sitar and we formed Kanguru which was my first baby steps into exploring Indian music and improv. Our group included tablas…percussion..sarod ..myself and dancers.

After the Kangaru album “Dreaming” from 1976 you appeared on a lot of albums by other, mostly Australian, artists such as Paul Hemphill, Greg Sheehan, the Larrikins, JIm Haynes, Kamal, Jamie Fielding, Goddess T, Gondwanaland, Fats, the Moodswings, Blue King Brown, James Cruickshank, Carl Creves, Red Bantoo, Gyan, Cathie O’Sullivan and Marryn Jeann.  Artists who are mostly unknown over here. Can you tell me something about your work with  those artists?

The drummer that I had been playing with in Mackenzie Theory, Greg Sheehan,  returned from England and we started playing in many bands and projects together including Circus ,Theatre and percussion bands…very active in Sydney. I was constantly adapting to the needs of the different styles that artists wanted .We were very inspired by all the incredible recordings coming out at the time by Miles Davis, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin and so many others. Only when I was about 32 I really started to understand more about the skills I needed to develop and work constantly in that direction.

I started to play with artists more in the jazz world and that gave me more direction as well. I played  with Sandy Evans and the band Women and Children First for some tours which was wonderfull and then with an incredible sax player Mark Simmons.

I started to develop my own style of improvisation hearing the violin/viola more as a voice rather than a string/bowed instrument and became dedicated to studying rhythm.

After that I met another guitarist Steve Berry who was involved in an environmental campaign to stop logging Native Forests and I felt compelled to join my music again to the cause. This band was Coolangubra and we toured and were well known on the festival circuit. We put out 3 albums you can hear on Apple Music now. I moved to a small country town in 1992, had my son Marley and eventually started working with groups like Camoon, a middle eastern group featuring Yuval Ashkar on Oud, Dha, an exciting mix of three percussionists , double bass and Sikh brothers Ben and Sukhi on qawali style devotional music.

Your first solo abum Sweet Earth was released in 2000. I’m interested to hear about the recording of that album. Any plans for more solo albums or new projects?

I was starting to write my own ideas at last and decided to try my hand in the studio which resulted in my first solo album Sweet Earth. I invited different local artists that I liked to collaborate with me on exploring the sounds and pictures I was into at that time.

I continued working with the percussionist Ben Walsh on multi media projects and we produced an album Bow and Brush, improvizations in collaboration with live visual art with Sandra Walsh, which album is available on Bandcamp.

Since that time due to health reasons I have retired from performing and touring and occasionally put some music on Bandcamp.

There are plenty of Digital tracks by you to be found on Bandcamp. Is this how you’re gonna release your music in the future? No albums but separate tracks?

I just put out single tracks now on Bandcamp..But I recently became homeless and am living in a van so I am not sure if I will be able to do any more recording.

I am glad I got to put out all those tracks of music and life is a process of change and loss and beauty.

I’m 72 now. Many of my fellow musicians are no longer alive so I’m glad if this interview helps to spread a litter glimmer of beauty and compassion in this word.

Thank you  Cleis for your time and your answers.

Website: https://cleis.bandcamp.com/