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LIVE REPORT: Trouble Funk
Andy Thomas , March 28th, 2013 09:26

Andy Thomas heads to the Islington Academy for a much-anticipated gig by the legendary Trouble Funk. GO-GO GO!

“Upon walking into the venue the sense of panic grew, the noise was overwhelming, the whole place was vibrating to the sound of air horns… ‘Were they on already…has it all kicked off… what’s going down? We need to get in there!” Once in there we were amazed to find the whole place was simply responding to the DJ set.” Paul Bradshaw, ex Editor of Straight No Chaser magazine, is recalling one of the most legendary live shows in 80s London. The venue was Hammersmith Palais and the band about to hit the stage was Washington DC Go-Go collective Trouble Funk.

The Chocolate City band had developed a cult following in the UK thanks to seminal warehouse parties like The Dirtbox. “Ironically the ‘Black Sound of Washington’ was being played at first by white trendy post-New Romantic clubber/DJs who were playing that kind of funk alongside The Clash, rockabilly, James Brown and electro,” explained conga player, DJ and collector Snowboy in Kip Lornell’s essential book The Beat – Go-Go’s Fusion of Funk and Hip Hop. The DJ most responsible for promoting Go-Go in the UK was Jay Strongman who I first heard playing this heavy brand of percussive funk at The Electric Ballroom in Camden in late 1986. This was at the height of Go-Go’s ascendancy in the UK with compilations like Island’s Go-Go Crankin charting and Arena making an incredible documentary that Snowboy claims to have watched 30 times. It was also around this time that Trouble Funk would return to London for a show at The Town & Country Club that remains one of the gigs I most regret missing. So when word spread of Trouble Funk’s imminent return to London I was more than ready this time to meet them at the Go-Go.

An air of anticipation filled Islington’s Assembly Rooms for the first of two sold-out nights. While there were no air horns to welcome us into the hall there was a serious dose of funk coming from the decks of DJ Snowboy who built the atmosphere nicely with his collection of Go-Go classics and rarities. Last year’s Kindness collaboration with Trouble Funk ‘That’s Alright’, which itself was inspired by the Go-Go influenced tracks of Washington producer Rich Harris, is helping to introduce a new crowd to what remains a very local sound. So alongside old club heads in their vintage Trouble Funk T-Shirts was a healthy smattering of younger faces all desperate to get a taste of what remains a resolutely underground music.

“Welcome to the Go-Go,” announced the towering bassist and front man ‘Big Tony’ Fisher dressed in a white suit. Looking down into the pulsating crowd the gravel voiced leader called out “I’ve seen some young folks but this is for the old school,” as the whistles from all corners of the hall responded to the opening strains of ‘So Early In The Morning’. Looking behind him where the driving percussion, so integral to the Go-Go sound, was building he opened the first of many exchanges with the crowd as he instructed “Get Your Hands Up”. Call and response is central to the communal ethic of Go-Go, and Tony soon had the band responding to his every shout. “The whole band hit on one so hard I thought I was going to fall over,” stated DC native Henry Rollins after witnessing a Trouble Funk gig in his hometown and we can feel that force as the band launched into their classics.

The Latin flavors that Go-Go legend Chuck Brown introduced back in the 1970s were in full effect, with the timbales and congas creating interlocked rhythms that had the dancers moving as one with the band. The polyrhythmic breaks from “the hard working man” Geronimo on percussion reminded us of the African roots of this music while the sci-fi keyboards helped inject the set with a deep amount of P-Funk. The energy reached a crescendo as the break laden and much-sampled ‘Pump Me Up’ rocked the hall to its foundations. The crowd responded to the instruction for “all the ladies in the house say yeah, all the fellows in the house say freaky deaky,” but the biggest reaction was saved for the sleazy funk of ‘Don’t Touch That Stereo’ when the battle between Big Tony’s bass and the electric guitar of Chester Davis threatened to send the crowd through the wooden floor of this old venue. Returning for a storming encore of ‘Drop The Bomb’ Trouble Funk cranked it up once more for a crowd only two willing to succumb to the incendiary power that is Go-Go.

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