My Pop Life #137 : Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker) – Parliament
we gotta turn this mother out….
…Owww…we want the funk, gotta have that funk…
My brother Andrew was born in Mum and Dad’s upstairs bedroom on May 6th 1964. Mum wondered afterwards if she’d been given too much gas, but Andrew was a perfectly healthy bonny boy. One year later Mum was in Hellingly suffering a severe mental breakdown. She was there for nine months all told. (Discussed in My Pop Life #55). Within a year after coming out of hospital she and dad had divorced on the advice of her doctor. It was a turbulent start to my brother’s life. Mum’s second marriage in 1969 and 2nd divorce in 1972 happened before he was 10 years old. Middle brother Paul and I were only 2 years apart, and we shared a bedroom, it was always RALPH, PAUL………..(and Andrew). In that order. Always. We joked about it. We still do. I’m sure growing up with two parental divorces, numerous maternal hospitalisations for mental illness and two older brothers who didn’t include you much was traumatic and scarring. But Andrew has turned out all right, when he lifts his head from the bellybutton of self-pity which we all get tempted by in our family, Rebecca excepted. Rebecca is the youngest, our sister. Resilient as fuck. But we all are in our way. None of us went to prison, got addicted to drugs, vote Conservative. Dysfunctional childhood sure, but who didn’t ?
the great George Clinton
Andrew suffered my 1970s taste as he grew, before he could afford to buy music, he had to listen to ours, being forced to consume the likes of Gentle Giant, Osibisa, Jimi Hendrix, The Sweet and The Moody Blues alongside Mum’s pop genius – Motown, Joe South, Johnny Nash and Hurricane Smith and Paul’s adoption of Bowie & Roxy while getting more into disco as the decade advanced and he moved out to Eastbourne: Barry White. Chic. Candi Staton. Andrew had a lot to choose from, plus we all watched TOTP together for years, and religiously tuned into the Top 40 Countdown on a Sunday afternoon, almost always presented by Alan Freeman. I think initially he drifted towards prog rock.
Andrew went to school in Hailsham but was so many years below Paul that seeing his older brother crossing the playground in 4-inch stack heels and red flares with his friend Vince was probably like spotting a badger at dusk. I was 25 miles away in Lewes. I’ve become closer to Andrew as we’ve got older, as the age difference narrows as it must, now we’re both in our 50s it seems foolish for him to still look up to me, but he does. We’re just not on equal footing. So he asks questions, and I answer them in an irritable voice.
When Andrew was young, in Selmeston village in the 1960s, we enjoyed watching him learn how to talk. Sugar was “oog“. Yellow Submarine was “Mam Mamfreen“. And Andrew, his own name, was “Godrib“. That was so biblical and semi-satanic that it stuck, we have called him it for years, and then Andrew himself adopted the moniker so that now he often signs off emails and letters as Godrib. Thus early scars become tattoos. Perfectly normal.
At some possibly pre-ordained point in the 1980s when Andrew was studying either in Anglesey where he read Ecology or perhaps in Bristol where he and Debbie settled post-education he got seriously involved with The Funk. This moment combined with Andrew picking up a bass guitar and deciding that it was his instrument. And the deadly combination of The Funk and The Bass Guitar could only mean One Thing.
Bootsy Collins, a native of Cincinatti, Ohio, has been playing music since the 1950s. His funk band The Pacemakers, which included his brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins, Phillipé Wynne and Frankie Waddy, joined James Brown in 1969 after Brown had sacked his entire band. In 1970 they played on Sex Machine, Superbad, Soul Power and über-sampled The Grunt (as The J.B.s) before they too parted ways with the exacting Mr Brown, and thereupon moved to Detroit in 1972 to join forces with the genius of George Clinton and Parliament, who’d released one record at that point, called Osmium. It was a match made in heaven, and together Collins and Clinton with their outstanding band of funkateers re-invented funk music using science fiction, LSD and fake fur.
Parliament/Funkadelic early 70s looking normal
Parliament/Funkadelic mid-70s looking trippy
There followed a string of outlandish and brilliant funk records where Clinton placed the black man (and woman) in situations where they would not normally be found, notably science fiction. When Parliament and their sister band the rockier Funkadelic toured, their stage show was a massive supersized spaceship, The Mothership, and the psychedelic clothes, make-up and drug intake was almost unique in black musical culture. Perhaps Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone got there first, and perhaps Rahsaan Roland Kirk got there before them…but this band were like no other before them to be honest. A little bit of ELO, a touch of The Tubes, some Hendrix, but no one had done theatricality and funk music quite like this before or since. Genesis had their moments when Gabriel was the lead singer, and The Tubes were pretty astounding too. Most bands just stand there and play though don’t they ? Parliament looked like they were having a whole load of fun onstage and the crowds loved them for it.
George Clinton steps out of the Mothership
I was lucky enough to see this show at Hammersmith Odeon in December 1978 in my 3rd year at LSE, when a bunch of us got heavily stoned jumped on the Piccadilly Line and became One Nation Under A Groove. It was an amazing show. But after that night I really didn’t keep up with the groove I have to admit. Or the funk. I was very much post punk/two tone around then, with an interest in reggae and pop, and George Clinton & Bootsy Collins faded from my radar. In this sense I have to hold my hands up – both my younger brothers are groovier than I. Paul was by now deep into disco, and Andrew was following Bootsy and George.
It was around this point that Collins created Bootsy’s Rubber Band, releasing albums alongside the continued Parliament/Funkadelic LPs, some claim them to be the funkiest records ever released. Andrew would be among these disciples. Andrew has always been attracted to ‘difficult’ music – difficult to play at least – including Bill Bruford, King Crimson, Herbie Hancock, Delius, Messiaen and yes, Van der Graaf, and I’m guessing that he tried to play some of these, including Bootsy Collins on his bass guitar. Funk might be simple, but making it sound funky sure ain’t.
Bootsy’s star-spangled bass guitar
Andrew next travelled to the Colombian and Peruvian rainforests for ecology work then split with Debbie, moved to London and met Katie at Middlesex College. They had a beautiful baby boy called Alexander together in Enfield around the turn of the century and we have a photo of Andrew throwing his two-week-old son into the air. They moved to Bournemouth together to make house, and ever since his birth my nephew has been affectionately known as Bootsy. Even at primary school he was called Bootsy. We call him Bootsy too, but when secondary school started a few years ago there was a general feeling that Alex would be the preferred name. Alex is a fantastic bright and funny cricket mad young man who has carried on the family tradition of rapping, loves his video games and sees Andrew his dad on weekends and holidays since Katie and Andrew separated. Having a teenage son has kept Andrew in Bournemouth, an honourable decision for a father. Paul and I have no children, and Rebecca has three. Whenever Andrew whinges about wasting his life, wishing he’d done this or that, wondering what to do for a career, I remind him that he has created and nurtured this child. Alex. Bootsy.
Bootsy’s Rubber Band 2nd LP
In actual fact Andrew has links with many of Dorset’s wildlife projects, helps on the heathlands, is a trained bat-spotter, and runs the dragonfly society and website of Dorset from his flat. It’s a terribly competitive world to get paid work in, but it gives him real pleasure, and again having grown up in a tiny Sussex village, we both share an affinity for the changing seasons and the local flora and fauna. Bird-watching we both enjoy, and while my passion is butterflies, Andrew has adopted the dragonfly as his creature of excellence, and become an expert.
Our musical tastes overlap slightly – we both adore Wagner, Debussy and Mahler, we are both capable of buying tickets to see Van Der Graaf Generator (see My Pop Life #85 ) when they occasionally play live and swooning over a track from Pawn Hearts being included in the set list, and we’re both inordinately fond of The Stylistics (see My Pop Life #70). We both love Public Enemy and other early hip hop, and this love has passed to Alex who has grown up with rap as a natural form of communication. And we both love this track, from Parliament’s 4th album Mothership Connection (1975) and the big hit that allowed them to play stadiums. I’ve recently bought a load of Parliament albums (more of a soul vibe), I prefer them to the harder rockier sound of Funkadelic, and today I downloaded the first three Bootsy’s Rubber Band albums in honour of my nephew Alex and his Dad. They sound great. Hopefully as I gently approach 60 years of age I can get a little funkier, a little more funktastic, perhaps a lot more funkadelic with a little help from Dr Funkenstein, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and Andrew, my funk soul brother.
short hit single version :
P-Funk live 1976 at their interplanetary best :