planet gong archives

pierre morlen

1973 March-May : Paragong
Didier Malherbe, Mike Howlett, Didier Tibault, Pierre Moerlen, Steve Hillage, Tim Blake : Live '73

born 23rd October 1952, Colmar, Alsace-Lorraine
died 3rd May 2005, age 53, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, near Strasbourg

Pierre came from a rich musical heritage - both parents were music teachers. His father taught piano and organ at the Strasbourg Conservatory, as well as being organist of Strasbourg Cathedral.

Naturally, Pierre was taught to play piano from an early age but soon declared a preference for drums. He started with a snare, progressing to a drum kit and then full percussion. In '67 he went to the Conservatory to study percussion under Jean Batigue, leader of the percussion de Strasbourg. He graduated in '72 with the Premier Prix du percussion. It was there that he met Mireille Bauer, who graduated in '74 having won the same honour. Benoit Moerlen - Pierre's younger brother - also went to the Conservatory, specializing in the vibraphone. Before joining Gong in June '73 Pierre toured with the Company Claude Confortes of Grenoble and worked briefly with Gabriel Federow, who went on to the group Magma.

Pierre's relationship with Gong was musically rich, if personally a roller-coaster. He appeared on and co-composed two of their most beloved and accomplished albums - 'Angel's Egg' (Virgin 2007) and 'You' (V2019) - both released in 1974. But between the recording sessions and tours Pierre left and re-joined the band and their communal house several times, vacating the drum stool to be replaced by a succession of drummers, including Bill Bruford and Brian Davidson, all of whom had to be at the top of their game to try and match his almost imperious excellence during this period.

On the demise of the the 'classic' Daevid Allen-led 'Trilogy' Gong and the departure of other key members in 1975, the band in continued, recording 'Shamal' (V2046), and 'Gazeuse' (Virgin V2074), in 1976. Each of these albums moved steadily musically towards a purer jazz-fusion sound which would eventually lead to the formation of Pierre Moerlen's Gong. 'Expresso II' (V2099) was released in 1978 under the name Gong (to complete the Virgin contract) with Mick Taylor, Allan Holdsworth, Bon Lozaga and François Causse guesting, but was released in North America under the name Pierre Moerlen's Gong. This band then toured Scandinavia and Germany where they gathered a large following.

Pierre and Benoit also played on several Mike Oldfield sessions, including those for 'Ommadawn' (Virgin V2043), 'Incantations' (VDT 1? 01), 'Platinum' (V21 41), 'Crises' (V2262), 'Islands', and the live version of Tubular Bells. Pierre also appeared on 'Iskander' with Supersister (Polydor 2485134) in 1973, 'Desperate Straights' with Slapp Happy/Henry Cow (Virgin V2024), 'Mathematicians Air Display' with Pekka Pohojol a (V2084), 'Vibrarock' with Robert Wood (Polydor 23931 37) - on which Mike Howlett also appeared - and Mick Taylor's eponymous solo album (CBS 35076).

He signed to Arista in 1978 and recorded 'Downwind' (SPART 1080?) with Didier Lockwood, Mick Taylor, Terry Oldfield and Stevie Winwood guesting. 'Live' (SPART 1130?, 1980) was recorded during the Downwind tour in early '79.

His next album, 'Time is the Key' (SPART 1105) was recorded in summer '79 with Peter Lemer and guests Alan Holdsworth, Darryl. Way, N. Ramsden and J. Kirby; 'Leave it Open' (Lifetime 202 995 320 '81) in March 1980 with Charlie Mariano and Brian Holloway guesting. There followed tours of America and Europe in Summer to Winter 1980, then the band split.

Pierre joined the Swedish band Tribute from 1985 to 1986 recording 'Breaking Barriers' and 'Live' both released in 1986. He reformed Pierre Moerlen's Gong and recorded the Scientology-inspired 'Breakthrough' in Sept '86 with Tribute (Eulenspiegel EULP 1053) '86, and 'Second Wind' (LIDLP 50003) in '88. Toured Europe '87 and '88.

Tiring of the rock world and leading bands, through the end of the 1980's and most of the 1990's Pierre toured the crisscrossed the world as resident 'pit' drummer for several big musicals such as Evita and Les Misérables before unexpectedly joining Brand X in 1997 for Japanese and European tours. And despite missing out on their 25th Birthday concerts in 1994, due to touring commitments, Pierre also re-joined Gong in 1997, touring the USA and UK with the band, forging once more one of the best rhythm sections the band ever had with his old friend Mike Howlett. However all this touring was once more proving too much and he left Gong for the last time in the middle of a European tour in 1999.

In recent years, away from the stresses of the road Pierre led a quieter life in his home in Strasbourg where he taught drum and percussion seminars, held regular classes and worked on new compositions. After two brief attempts to resurrect Pierre Moerlen's Gong Pierre was tempted to Russia in 2002 where he worked on what proved to be his last recording sessions for the album 'Pentanine' (label unknown) with a group of Russian jazz musicians.

Pierre died unexpectedly in his sleep on May 3rd 2005 whilst rehearsing a new band in the mountains near his home town of Colmar. He was excited and happy to be birthing a new version of Pierre Moerlen's Gong, which included brother Benoit - sadly a band which we will now never hear.