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George Clinton Interview: Anarchy Of the Soul In Kentish Town

31/07/2014 11:30 BST | Updated 29/09/2014 10:59 BST

The three women, stage right, led by Tallahassee-born Kendra Foster in an emerald green dress, win your gaze as they move as one, a six-legged chimera straight out of an opium dream. George steps to the microphone in a gold fedora, suited and booted, the stage behind him crammed with almost 20 players, each one a master of his instrument. There are beards, shades and basses, keyboards and Stratocasters and the sound careers between soul, jazz and rock over the top of one of the sweetest inventions known to man: the funk. Then enters Sir Nose, a superfly to the max, all wide-brimmed, angled hat and a midriff like a vibraphone.

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English blood runs hot tonight as the funksters, youngsters and dilettantes, the groovers and shamen have come along with the intelligentsia, represented by a clearly overjoyed Stewart Lee whose smile and loose-fitting shorts proclaim that, tonight, he also is ready to have fun.

Hotter than a jungle in the Kentish Town Forum, the relentless funk frees limbs as heavy as lead. Those who know better have made the trek. It's a modern-day sermon on the mount. It's P-Funk royalty in the shape of George Clinton, a musical totem who, since his doo-wop days as a boy in the 1950s through to the funk, soul, psychedelia and rock of Parliament in the '60s and '70s, has woven P-Funk into an enduring message that sounds as fresh today as it did in 1970 when his band Funkadelic released Free Your Mind...And Your Ass Will Follow.

As an American original, he's a purveyor and innovator of funk, the New Orleans-born form of music that writer and film-maker Nelson George defines as "the bridge between '60s soul and '80s hip hop".

The extraordinary energy generated by the George Clinton band makes the ensuing two and a half hour gig seem like fragmentary moments that pass too soon. And to think, the man is 74. He was born in North Carolina in 1941, but the passage of time has left little mark upon him, save for his well-fed bulk.

It's 1am and this last man standing has just finished a gig of incomparable power. Having sparked up twice on stage, blowing tobacco smoke into the lights before attempting a joyful humping of one of the monitor stacks, he blows kisses at the crowd and slinks off into the darkness. Upstairs, ensconced, he looks as fresh as someone who has recently awakened from a long, deep sleep, seated in his armchair-cum-thrown, holding court.

"I ain't the last man standing because Sly [Stone] is still here. And I ain't going nowhere. I still tour all over the States but my favourite places to play, well, that changes all the time, every time we get somewhere else. But over here in the UK, it's always good. We played Russia recently, in St Petersburg, and they were a crazy crowd. This has been the most exciting tour we've done in years.

"This audience was fantastic, wilder than the American crowd," he tells me. "Last night in Paris was like this, but this was the liveliest so far. It was like the old days with the Mothership."

As part of Parliament-Funkadelic mythology, the Mothership existed as a concept of deliverance via P-Funk, while also serving as a prop that, mid gig, would land on stage. Such is its place in popular culture, it now resides in the Smithsonian Institute.

"We gave the Mothership to the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture," he laughs. "It'll be on show from next June. The next Mothership will probably be a hologram."

George got married last June and says that "music is easier to play now". But how does tonight compare to his first ever gig? "Well, there was more of us tonight. My first gig was in grade school in the gym in 1956 in Newark, New Jersey. We sang Why Do Fools Fall In Love by Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers."

George's stage foil, Carlos 'Sir Nose' McMurray, stands besides us and coolly gets his bag together. These men are half artists, half sportsmen, age an irrelevance, and if P-Funk keeps you this energised I want a shot of it.

But being remiss is not in my nature, so I mention the backing singers, and George grins. "Kendra's been in the group for 15 years and she's coming into her own now. Yeah, she tries to take over the stage. She's like that," he laughs, "but she's been busy, working with D'Angelo too. The other two were my granddaughters."

With Boy George in the audience and also on the new album, George says that "funk always changes. When parents say 'That ain't music!' you know that that's the funk". The gig caught fire, I say, and he agrees. "There's a lot of publicity out there at the moment about the book and the new album, which has got Kendrick Lamar, Rudimental and Boy George on it. Things always get hot when you put out new work.

"I like Kendrick Lamar. Eminem too. I've known him since he was a child yay high. Pharrell [Williams] is another one. But whatever older musicians or parents don't like, that's what I like. It's usually the new music that changes everything. But at the other end of that spectrum with the old guard, Sly Stone for me is mystical. He's one of my favourite artists of all time."

There comes a banging on the door and voices in the hallway. Another wave of fans has made its way up to the inner sanctum. "I believe in god, yeah, I believe there's a supreme being. I wouldn't be around here without him, and if he ain't on your side," grins George with a final shake of his head, "well man, you gotta problem."

Photograph courtesy of Nick Szatmari

Listen to George Clinton & Funkadelic here