Morris Pert: Composer, percussionist and member of Brand X

Saturday 24 July 2010 00:00

Throughout the 1970s and most of the '80s, Morris Pert was an in-demand session musician, adding an array of percussion instruments – conga, gong, marimba, tambourine, timbales, timpani, Vibraphone – to big-selling albums by Bryan Ferry, Judie Tzuke, Nick Heyward, Elvis Costello and Elkie Brooks. Pert's contributions particularly enhanced the more recherché output of percussive-minded artists like Mike Oldfield, John Martyn, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Talk Talk.

Still, he is probably best known for his association with Brand X, the formidable jazz fusion group featuring the Genesis drummer and vocalist Phil Collins, and his participation in the recording of their albums Moroccan Roll (an unlikely Top 40 album in 1977), Livestock (also 1977), Masques (1978), Product (1979) and the collection of out-takes, Do They Hurt? (1980).

The classically trained musician also played piano and other key-boards; his symphonies drew on lifelong interests in mythology, astronomy and cosmology. His first, The Rising of the Moon, was premiered in Tokyo in 1981. The Beltane Rites, was commissioned by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The Ancient Kindred was premiered by the Munich Opera Orchestra in 1980. He had recently completed a fourth, De Situ Albanie.

Born in Arbroath in 1947, Pert studied music at Edinburgh University. After graduating he was awarded a scholarship to study composition and percussion at the Royal Academy in London. He was taught by James Blades and Alan Bush and made a strong impression with a 20-minute orchestral work Xumbu-Ata, which won the 1970 Royal Philharmonic Society Award. At the Aldeburgh Festival, he saw Stomu Yamash'ta perform and struck up a friendship with the virtuoso Japanese percussionist and composer. Kindred spirits keen to merge jazz, rock and avant-garde music, they collaborated on Yamash'ta's Red Buddha Theatre and Come to the Edge projects, particularly the Floating Music album issued on Island Records in 1972 (subsequently used as part of the soundtrack of The Man Who Fell to Earth, the 1976 Nicolas Roeg film starring David Bowie).

The following year Pert formed jazz-fusion group Suntreader and em-barked on a career as one of Britain's foremost percussionists. He proved adept at crossover ventures such as the New Symphonia live album (1974), the quirky Quantum Jump and Isotope, which brought him into contact with keyboard-player Robin Lumley.

Collins, Lumley, guitarist John Goodsall and bassist Percy Jones drafted Pert into Brand X in September 1976, three months after their debut Unorthodox Behaviour. Pert composed half of the Masques album and toured with Brand X in 1978 but left the next year. As well as recording the albums Ommadawn, QE2, Platinum, Five Miles Out and the soundtrack to Roland Joffé's The Killing Fields with Oldfield, Pert co-wrote "Family Man", the Oldfield single which was also a hit for Hall & Oates.

While compositions like "Sirian Blue" showcased a certain edginess, Pert's own albums – The Voyage, The Music of Stars and Desert Dances – often had the same bucolic serenity and fluid, other-worldly quality as Oldfield's, and mirrored his gentle, thoughtful, self-effacing personality.

In the early 1980s his Ancient Rites (Nine Incantations from the Hebridean Isles) for choir and strings was performed by the John Currie Singers and Orchestra. Pert blurred the lines between contemporary classical and chamber music, electronics, ambient music and free jazz. He enjoyed mixing pre-recorded tapes and live instruments to create groundbreaking works such as Continuum, an electronic ballet score for the London Contemporary Dance Theatre at Sadler's Wells, Chromosphere, Luminos, Eoastrion, The Ultimate Decay, The Book of Love and Ankh, which used the carnyx – an ancient Celtic warhorn – and premiered in Tromso, Norway in 2004.

Pierre Perrone

Morris David Brough Pert, composer, percussionist, pianist: born Arbroath, Scotland 8 September 1947; died Sutherland, Scotland 27 April 2010.

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