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Baker's Dozen

Getting Hypnotised: John Robb Finds The Funk In Unusual Places
Julian Marszalek , July 12th, 2017 08:35

How did it take us nearly a decade to ask Brother John Robb for his Baker's Dozen choices? The Membranes frontman sits down with Julian Marszalek to discuss 13 favourite records where over the years he's dug out the most funk

John Robb is a many-faceted creature. Bassist and singer for post-punk mainstays The Membranes, author, journalist, DJ, publisher and talking head, he's all these things and more, and right now he's settling down with The Quietus to discuss his 13 favourite funk tracks and albums.

Hold on just a second there? Did he just say "funk"? Just when did John Robb, owner of one of the most recognisable punk barnets in the UK, get bitten by the funk bug?

"I have to admit that I'm not a world expert in funk but I do like the music," says Robb in an accent so chewy you could spread it on toast and eat it as a nutritious meal. "I remember back in the 70s being with a kid in school who was into Parliament/Funkadelic and, what with me being raised on chart music, it was weird to find this whole, strange esoteric scene. And bizarrely, it was on the edge of glam when you were that age because they had funny outfits as well, which made sense."

Warming to the theme, Robb continues: "There was always something hypnotic about funk. I always preferred funk over disco; it felt more raw and loose whereas I found disco to be more clipped and tighter. That looseness is much sexier and it has that carnal energy about it, but you don't really think about that when you're 14-years-old!"

In common with a lot of people whose musical awakening occurred to the contemporary underground sounds of the late 70s and early 80s, funk was an ever-present presence in so many of the bands that were emerging: Gang Of Four, Orange Juice, The Pop Group and even The Birthday Party of the Prayers On Fire vintage all contained trace elements of funk. Little surprise, then, that it would consciously or otherwise seep into the deepest recesses of a generation's collective brain and trickle down to the hips and feet.

"Even though punk was the opposite of funk with its 4/4 beats, you couldn't really escape the energy of funk which became very influential during the post-punk period," explains Robb. "And I'd been reading the music press since 1972 so there were names that you were always aware of like James Blood Ulmer. You didn't know what he sounded like but you knew his name and then you heard him on John Peel, who of course was an important conduit. He'd been playing the more avant-funk kind of stuff and the weirder fringes of it.

"And then you'd read interviews with bands like The Pop Group who'd talk about how they'd been influenced by funk. They'd grown up in Bristol and gone to clubs where they'd play that kind of music. And Blackpool, where I'm from, was a big Northern Soul town but there was always funk, too. And the same with Liverpool which was big on jazz-funk. You were always aware of that stuff."

Whether John Robb is likely to trade in brothel creepers for stack heel boots and star-shaped sunglasses is a moot point, but to paraphrase the words of the mighty Sylvester, if you wanna funk, then let John Robb show you how...

The Membranes' 5-CD box set, Everyone's Going Triple Bad Acid, Yeah!, is out now on Cherry Red Records. Click the image below to begin the countdown