George Clinton @ The Ritz
“Shit, goddamn, get off your ass and jam...”
Do I need to give George Clinton an introduction? If you don’t already know who he is, I’m not sure we can be friends. Equally, if you don’t know George Clinton, or P-Funk, or Parliament, or Funkadelic, or Parliament Funkadelic, I think I’m going to have to school you. Sit down at the back. This might take a while.
Let’s start with some facts and figures. George Clinton was born in 1941 - making him 73 in 2015 - in North Carolina. As a teenager in 1955, while straightening hair in a barber shop, he formed a doo-wop group called Parliament which still exists as a touring entity, 60 years on. During the 60s Clinton started his illustrious and diverse career as a songwriter and producer. In the 70s & 80s to cut a long story very short he continued releasing and touring an enormous amount of music with tons of fellow musicians under the names of Parliament, Funkadelic and the P-Funk All Stars, as well as under his own name as a solo artist. George Clinton’s discography of albums reaches over 140 releases, not including the ones by other artists he has collaborated on and produced.
He is simply one of the most prolific artists, bandmasters, performers and producers of the 70s and 80s, whose relentless dedication to the Funk genre took it to new heights, responsible for his very own sound affectionately known as P-Funk. But Clinton has never tied himself down to a genre – his collaborations span Hip-Hop, Rap, Rock and Gospel. You probably didn’t know that Clinton contributed several tracks to Primal Scream’s Give Out But Don’t Give Up in 1994. But now you do.
I arrived at George Clinton by way of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Clinton produced the Chili’s second studio album, Freaky Styley and was responsible for the unique hybrid Funk/Rock/Rap raucous sound that punctuated a couple of decades of their music and makes it so delicious to my soul.
Little did I know when discovering George Clinton a few years ago while investigating my favourite band’s influences that P-Funk was already part of my history. While riding shotgun in my Dad’s Volvo estate with the dog screaming murder in the back, my dear Reverend father pulls out a copied CD labelled 'One Nation' and sticks it on. The smooth harmonies and irresistible grooving percussion of One Nation Under a Groove, Funkadelic’s seminal album and most successful single of the same name fills the car. My Mum is getting down on the back seat like it’s 1978. I’m laughing incredulously, as surprised as they are that the three of us know all the words.
“This was what me and your Dad listened to when we got together!” says my Mum without missing a beat. She has an enormous grin on her face and my Dad is looking pretty smug too - it’s appearing increasingly likely that Mr Clinton may have had a part to play in my very existence. But that’s a lesson for another day, kids.
So when the opportunity to see George Clinton live came up, it had to be a family affair. My Dad was flabbergasted to learn that Clinton is still touring – he is an old man now after all – and suggested that perhaps he wouldn’t be on for long.
How wrong he was! The 73-year-old P-Funk powerhouse played for no less than three hours. In true Parliament Funk style he was joined by a host of incredibly talented musicians including slap bass, keyboard, guitar, trumpet, percussion and sax players, plus at least four singers at a time. At one point I counted 20 people filling the stage, creating that groovy party vibe that was born in the 70s. The music and dancing was nonstop, and Clinton was the centrifugal force of the whole thing, orchestrating the band and outlasting some of the much younger members.
The crowd at the Ritz was made up of a lot more younger fans than I was expecting - clearly I’m not the only 90s baby to be brought up on P-Funk. The whole place was grooving, clapping and singing along, rapturous and euphoric especially when the classic hits kicked off.
By the end of the first hour things were really heating up. From where we were standing on the balcony the heat from the crowd below was overpowering, while onstage towels were being distributed and quickly drenched with sweat but still, the music didn't let up for a second. Clinton was decked out in a full suit, shirt and tie with a hat (minus the trademark dreads which gave him that iconic look in the 80s) but clearly for a truly passionate and dedicated performer getting sweaty on stage is all part of the buzz. Clinton is an infectiously voracious character and according to his crew a “big brother” figure, which manifested in their comfortable and laid-back interactions with each other on stage.
Throughout his career Clinton has existed to support and uphold his fellow musicians; his show was testament to that, with Clinton repeatedly drawing attention to the individual members of the band and conducting moments for each of them to come forward. There was not a hint of ego in his performance; he was hooked on the energy emanating from his musical family - the head of a living, breathing Funk machine.
Following on from that, it would not be a fair review without highlighting a couple of distractions on the night. There were some interludes from Clinton’s classic hits where members of his crew performed their own original material consisting mainly of more modern Hip-Hop and Rap. Clinton was clearly really into it and the audience was happy to dance to anything at this point, but I have to admit I didn’t feel it fitted in with the beloved songs my parents and I were eager to hear and I would have preferred a shorter show overall without the modern segments.
That aside, it felt like a huge privilege to see such a legendary performer and musician like George Clinton and to witness the powerful energy that has kept him rocking and rolling for so many years. Clinton is a timeless creative force and a walking piece of music history. Not many other artists can boast such a vast collection of work and such a colourful, dedicated life.
“Ain’t no party like a P-Funk party ‘cause a P-Funk party won’t stop...”
Words: Scarlett Pares Landells | Photos: Anthony Firmin