As Dr Funkenstein brings his Mothership to Manchester, Getintothis’ Shaun Ponsonby reaches a level of euphoria that is difficult to convey with mere words.
George Clinton, alias Dr. Funkenstein, has been busy recently.
Not only has he released the first Funkadelic album in 33 years, the triple disc First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate, and a brilliant autobiography titled Brothas Be Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? (greatest biography title ever?), but he’s also reportedly putting together a new Parliament album, is more visible in the media than he has been since his commercial peak and playing three hour sets every night.
A few years ago, Clinton, absolutely one of the most important and influential figures in the history of urban music, would essentially make cameo appearances at his own gigs while the band played for hours without their leader. But since giving up crack in 2010, shaving his iconic rainbow hair and swapping baggies for a dapper suit, he’s been completely re-vitalised and now takes centre stage, conducting this world of P. Funk, uncut funk, the bomb to another plane.
Starting off early, but slowly with a jam of Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic?, Clinton makes his way on stage to a crowd that was still filling up, spouting catchphrases like “free your mind and your ass will follow” and starting the chant “shit! Goddamn! Get off your ass and jam“, before launching into the classic Mothership Connection.
Early in the set, the huge band of anywhere between 15-20 members – including a cat woman and the evil unfunky pimp Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk, who eventually finds The Funk and climbs on top of the speakers to cut some acrobatic dance moves – launched into an extended set of tracks from the new album. It seems part of the reason for the new record was to showcase some of the younger talent in the entourage. Given the huge influence the P. Funk universe had on hip-hop (Dr Dre‘s Greatest Hits album would likely be almost identical to a P. Funk compilation), it’s no surprise that most of the kids are rappers. Special mention must go to Tra’zae Clinton, who commanded the stage like it was his own solo gig.
What is incredible about Parliament-Funkadelic in the flesh is how they seem to give you an entire history of popular music in three hours. Who else links doo-wop to hip-hop, and everything in between? Sure, there’s the heavy funk that they are best known for, but there is also early soul hits like (I Wanna) Testify (a northern soul classic in Manchester’s northern soul venue), the hip-hop of Get Low, and some of the heaviest rock to come out of Detroit, as guitarists Blackbyrd McKnight, Michael Hampton and Garrett Shider trade licks on an awe-inspiring rendition of the 1971 instrumental Maggot Brain, one of the seminal guitar pieces of all time.
The thrill is in the utter chaos. There is so much happening on stage and no way to predict what will come next, and that’s the way it should be. This is music at it’s utter purest, and the crowd – mainly made up of youngsters who have found P. Funk through hip-hop samples and Clinton’s work with bands like Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Primal Scream – lap up every minute. Virtually nobody stays still for the marathon show, and when Clinton signals us to scream, or cheer, or bounce (yes, the 73-year old Clinton bounces up and down on stage as hard as the 21-year old kids in his entourage), we don’t question him.
The big hitters are scattered throughout the night. So, Flash Light and One Nation Under a Groove come early on, (Not Just) Knee Deep is aired mid-set and Give Up The Funk (featuring interpolations with Bootsy Collins’ Bootzilla, Parliament’s Up For The Downstroke and a stonking Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples) come towards the end, each one climaxing in total euphoria that is difficult to convey with mere words. This is something every music lover needs to experience at least once, and if you’re not into it, you should probably never listen to music again.
After Clinton’s solo hit Atomic Dog, undeniably one of the most sampled songs in history (by the likes of Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, Bow Wow, Digital Underground, Iggy Azalea and Zeus knows who else), and a quick hump of the speakers at the side of the stage, Dr Funkenstein left, leaving the band to jam for another couple of minutes.
When they realised there was still a couple of minutes until curfew, and with calls for more, they led the crowd in a couple of chants; “there ain’t no party like a P. Funk party cos a P. Funk party don’t stop”.
Sadly, it did stop…and we all had to go back to our comparatively unfunky lives. Luckily, they’re on Jools Holland this Friday (24th April). That will help with the comedown.