Pierre Moerlen

Percussionist with the space-rockers Gong

Pierre Moerlen made his name drumming with the space-rockers Gong and eventually assumed leadership of the group. Under his stewardship, Gong evolved away from their earlier cosmic incarnation and grew into a jazz-rock fusion outfit of note.

Pierre Moerlen, drummer, percussionist and composer: born Colmar, France 23 October 1952; married (one son); died 3 May 2005.

Pierre Moerlen made his name drumming with the space-rockers Gong and eventually assumed leadership of the group. Under his stewardship, Gong evolved away from their earlier cosmic incarnation and grew into a jazz-rock fusion outfit of note.

Moerlen also worked with Mike Oldfield, whose concept album Tubular Bells put Virgin Records on the map in 1973. He was one of the many musicians who backed Oldfield for the first ever concert performance of Tubular Bells at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, in June that year. He subsequently toured extensively with Oldfield and contributed to the albums Ommadawn (1975), Incantations (1978), the double live-set Exposed, Platinum (both 1979), Crises (1983) and Islands (1987).

Equally at home behind a drum-kit or playing timpani, timbals, a vibraphone or a synthesizer, Moerlen also recorded with the vocalist Sally Oldfield, the Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott and the former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor.

Born in Colmar in the Alsace-Lorraine area of France in 1952, Pierre Moerlen grew up in a musical environment with both parents music teachers. His father Maurice was the organist at Strasbourg Cathedral and taught Pierre the piano, but he showed a greater interest in percussion instruments. He studied at the Conservatoire Régional de Strasbourg between 1967 and 1971, and was awarded a First Prize by Jean Batigue, the leader of the ensemble Percussions de Strasbourg, which Pierre Moerlen would later join.

He made his recording début with the Alsatian folk musician Roger Siffer in 1969 and played with various progressive rock bands. In 1973, Moerlen was told that the drummer Laurie Allen had left the hippie group Gong, so he simply showed up with his kit at their commune in Voisine, near Sens.

Originally formed by Daevid Allen, an Australian beatnik, Gong had become a loose, multi-national conglomerate, wearing "Pothead Pixie" hats and pioneering a brand of cosmic psychedelia heavy on drugs references and bilingual puns. They developed a cult following in the UK when Richard Branson signed them and re-released their album Camembert Electrique (originally issued in France in 1971) for the bargain price of 69p on his newly launched Virgin label in 1973.

Pierre Moerlen and his then girlfriend Mireille Bauer (also a percussionist) joined a line-up comprising Allen (guitar, vocals), Gilli Smyth (space whispers), Didier Malherbe (saxophone, flute), Steve Hillage (guitar), Miquette Giraudy (vocals, keyboards), Tim Blake (synthesizer) and Mike Howlett (bass). Moerlen was instantly credited as "bread & batteur" on Angel's Egg, the second part of the group's "Flying Teapot" trilogy. "Cosmic and complex go very well together," Moerlen said later.

Gong moved to the UK and recorded You in 1974. Moerlen then toured with Percussions de Strasbourg but returned to Gong in 1975 just as Hillage and Giraudy were leaving. The parting was amicable and Hillage guested on Shamal, the 1976 Gong album produced by Pink Floyd's Nick Mason.

Moerlen became de facto leader of Gong on Gazeuse!, the 1976 album which saw the arrival of his brother Benoît on vibraphone and the British guitarist Allan Holdsworth, who also featured on Expresso II (1978). The group was subsequently renamed Pierre Moerlen's Gong or PM Gong, signed to Arista in 1979 and released three more studio albums.

Moerlen's career went full circle when, having played with a reunited Gong again in the late Nineties, he began teaching percussion back home in Strasbourg.

Pierre Perrone



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