May 22, 2022. The Mothership has just moored in a North London car park. It’s five hours before showtime at the Kentish Town Forum. Inside the smaller of two purple tour buses, 81-year-old George Clinton – Uncle Jam himself – is resting up, not to be disturbed. Tonight’s show is part of a ‘farewell’ tour – this may be P–Funk’s last ever spectacular in the capital – and Clinton is marshalling the strength to do it justice, one more time.
It’s a blustery day, gusts of rain hitting the concrete expanse, as members of the latter-day P-Funk tribe stroll in and out of the soundcheck – where the funk is being fine-tuned. These include storied ’70s lifers – guitarist Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton, for instance, no longer a kid now but a grizzled pensioner – as well as Clinton’s grandchildren, continuing the family funk business, all dressed in bright tie-dyed and polka-dotted tops.
Uncut is here too, contemplating the remarkable saga which has brought George Clinton to this point – from a ’50s barbershop group in Plainfield, New Jersey, through radical, funk revolutions to the pinnacle of ambition and invention in the late ’70s, where a spaceship would land on stage during the band’s stadium shows. “It was like a twisted Wakanda, with the same power and pride,” says former Bride Of Funkenstein Satori Shakoor. “P-Funk was bigger than black. It was a place where you thought, ‘Is this what it feels like to be truly free?’ And now generations of people globally are sustaining this. It’s a legacy, an institution of funk.”
“This band is sometimes as sweet as The Beatles, sometimes as sloppy as the Stones, sometimes as radical as Bowie,” says Clip Payne, the keyboardist-vocalist who joined in 1978. “It has its metal thing – but it’s ghetto metal. It’s the people’s band. George makes sure that his audience is completely served. His audience isn’t usually the people you’d look at. They’re not at Ticketmaster, at all. They’re Funkateers, they’re Maggots. That’s where it’s at.”
Indeed, a clutch of fans from Belgium are also hovering around the tour bus this afternoon. Hanna Affi recalls seeing his hero perform at Prince’s Paisley Park. “It was too funky,” he sighs. “There were around 30 people on stage, it was crazy. George was wearing a crown, like the King of Funk.” Meanwhile, Bart Hermans is happy to see Clinton at all. “He seems to be in the mood again for live shows. And he recently said that he’s stepping off the ‘farewell’ thing. He’s just going to see when it ends.’”