Given that we had Niall and Rob over from Ireland last Monday for work, I figured a good idea would be to take them out to a gig rather than leave them to leave them languishing in some hotel room somewhere with only an expenses-paid room service account for entertainment. Based on a fairly random choice we found ourselves down at Hammersmith Apollo to see George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic.
One of the great joys of going along to see a band you know nothing about is turning up late and working out what in the hell is going on. We walked into the venue to what seemed to be the tail end of the support act, and discovered the venue to be about 25% full. It was all a bit weird really, because the band – numbered about 5 – wasn't playing as such, but they weren't finished either, and they weren't between songs – they were just kinda… DOING STUFF! A few minutes later a dreadlocked guitarist came out naked except for a giant nappy and asked if we were ready for the funk. Crowd consensus was that we were indeed ready for the funk, and the band fired up with some music. A few more people joined the stage and just kind of joined in with the groove, and then a couple more. Before long there were about a dozen to 15 people up there, and then with no introduction a big old bloke with coloured dreadlocks peeping out from under a trucker's cap shambled on stage, and the meagre crowd went ballistic. It seemed that this was in fact George Clinton, in the least trumpeted lead artist arrival I think I've ever seen.
I spent the next 20 minutes or so trying to work out why & how this guy had become such a cornerstone name in music history, because all he seemed to do was periodically shout an unintelligible word or two into the microphone, or turn around and start finger-conducting his entourage. As far as rubbish goes though it seemed to be enjoyable rubbish, so I was content to watch it unfold.
Entourage indeed seemed like the correct term for the variety of people up on stage – there were several guitarists (including nappy guy, already mentioned), a drummer, a couple of keyboard players, a bass drummer with a shaved head and some sort of chinese-style suit who bore an eerie resemblance to Ming the Merciless, and then a variable number of other people – presumably backup singers – in various garb. At one point there was a bloke wearing a gold shiny jacket & crown, a guy who looked for all the world like a tramp that Clinton must've grabbed on the way in, a girl on rollerskates, and a bloke wearing a long coat, trousers & pimp hat covered in what appeared to be feathers.
The feathers dude shed his jacket and then started dancing all over the stage, and introduced himself as Sir Nose – an explanation of what the hell that's all about can be found here – and proceeded to mount the speaker stacks at side of stage and dance about on top of them. A bit later a girl came out the front and started rapping about something or other, and then launched into a commentary of her inclination toward recreational use of herbal psychoactives. Meanwhile George has moved to front of stage and is gesticulating madly at the crowd. Spurred on by the moment, some lucky punter's surrendered a big spliff, which George takes great delight in polishing off as he walks up & down the stage, before snatching the mic off the rapping girl and moving the band into the next phase of their funk odyssey.
I went along assuming I wouldn't know any of the songs, but it turned out that many of the were very familiar, and this is possibly due to the fact that George Clinton is reportedly the 2nd most sampled artist after James Brown. One of his songs (Atomic Dog, I think) seems to form the basis of one of Snoop Dogg's hits, and I swear one of the other songs had been heavily sampled for the soundtrack for Need For Speed:Underground.
Weirdly, the gig seemed to peak quite early, at which point Clinton & entourage mostly left the stage, and the guitarists, drummers and one keyboardist went off on a reasonably cool but thoroughly misplaced prog-rock journey. It was good, but it fit into the gig about as well as when you're listening to a load of Metallica and for some reason a Mozart piece finds its way into the mix – it might be excellent, but it just doesn't sit right !
Following that Clinton & entourage resumed the stage and – bizarrely – launched into a rock'n'roll jam, loosely based around “Whole lotta shakin' goin' on”. I'm not kidding, it was a bit like a slowed down Jive Bunny festival, but with more dreadlocks and bling.
Pretty much the sole justification for going to the gig in the first place was that I'd read that George Clinton produced the Red Hot Chili Peppers' early album, Freakystyley. Though the gig had some fairly bizarre beginnings it rocked on through to the end, and left the entire building chanting “WE WANT THE FUNK!”. Unfortunately, the funk didn't rematerialise, and that was that.