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Prime minister of funk gigs for Glasgow dudes

George Clinton has learned many lessons in his 60 or so years in the music business, the most important of which requires a little doctoring for consumption via a family newspaper.

OLD MASTER: George Clinton has been an influential musician for decades.
OLD MASTER: George Clinton has been an influential musician for decades.

"Don't," the mastermind of Parliament, Funkadelic and P-Funk pauses for emphasis, "ever do business when you're messed up because it's not called messed up for nothing. There are people in the business who prey on that, they'll take advantage. So if you're going to get messed up, make sure you have someone who's not messed up who can take care of things until you're not messed up any more."

Now aged 72, Clinton shows no signs of taking it easy. He's always been prolific and has a new album due for release that consists of 33 songs and a book. Generations of musicians have grown up and moved into the music business - quite a number of them seem to have passed through his entourage - since he combined the edge and adventure of rock music with the groundwork laid by James Brown and created the Parliament-Funkadelic mothership in the 1970s. But while he says he's too old to be a sex symbol, he keeps up with what's new and he's not about to leave the field clear for the younger guns.

"I've always worked," he says. "Since I was a kid I've always had jobs. I worked for a grocery store delivering food when I was in short trousers. I had a job in a record shop at school, worked in the hula-hoop factory before I got started as a songwriter and I used to straighten people's hair in a barber shop."

It was during this time that Clinton began to get really serious about his music. He had a doo-wop singing group, who became known as the Parliaments, and they used to rehearse in the back room of the barber shop. "I had a barber shop quartet, it's just that there were five of us," he says with a throaty chuckle. On his days off he used to travel from New Jersey into New York and hawk his wares around the record companies. Eventually he landed a job in the Brill Building, where the hits of the late 1950s and early 1960s were being turned out.

"Those were inspiring times," he says. "I'd hear the latest song by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, or someone like that, and try and write something that was up to that standard. I didn't get a hit but years later I discovered that some of the records I'd been involved in early on were popular around the north of England; Northern Soul, they called it."

Moving to Detroit he became a house writer with Tamla Motown then signed The Parliaments to another label, Revilot, where they had a hit, I Wanna Testify, before the label ran into trouble and was taken over by Atlantic. Clinton chose not to move to Atlantic, which was making popular soul hits by the dozen. He had other ideas that involved making the Parliaments' backing musicians the focal point of the group (and the singers a more anonymous entity) and borrowing not just the edge and attitude of rock music but the clothes and sense of theatre that were then prevalent.

"I've always felt that you have to put on a show," says Clinton. "It's not enough to just stand there and play music. You have to look like you've come to entertain people - and we did. A lot of rock musicians looked like they were heading for Broadway and that seemed to work for them, so we got ourselves some costumes and gradually the costumes got crazier and crazier. We went from wearing suits to sheets to diapers. We'd wear anything."

The fact that their Casablanca Records label mates Kiss were, at the time, going for the full-on theatrical image, may not have been lost on Clinton. Whatever, Parliament/Funkadelic went on to sell truckloads of records and Clinton became quite the multi-media personality. He produced Red Hot Chili Peppers, worked with Primal Scream and Snoop Dogg, starred in films including Graffiti Bridge and House Party, appeared on television as both a cartoon character and a sit-com guest, became a voice-over artist and a video game hero and had his hits sampled endlessly. A perhaps more unexpected compliment came when he was awarded an honorary doctorate of music from Berklee College of Music in Boston in 2012.

Of the musicians who have passed through his organisation, the most significant, he says, is bassist Bootsy Collins.

"I chose him because he had the funk, lots of it, but in a lot of other cases, the musicians chose me," he says. "They just seemed to come on board and enjoy the lifestyle and before you knew it, there was an army of them."

As for his Glasgow gig this weekend, that'll be business as usual, putting on a show and keeping faith with the funk.

"They know about funk in Scotland," he says. "I remember hearing the Average White Band for the first time and when somebody told me they were Scottish, I said stop talking doo-doo - that's the polite way of saying it. I thought they were dudes from the projects - turned out they were the James Browns of Europe."

George Clinton and P-Funk play the 02ABC, Glasgow on Friday

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