Tag Archives: Parliament

getting the horn

Dear reader, please don’t turn away in disgust. This is not an entry from the Diary of a Smutty Adolescent but my love and appreciation for the amalgam of wind and brass players that gives your favourite pop or rock songs that extra bit of oomph.

Brass section, horns, call it what you want. It can be anything from a trumpet/saxophone duo to a big band of four or five trumpets, three or four trombones and a five piece saxophone section (two altos, two tenors and a baritone for all those fellow anoraks out there.)

My first experience of hearing a big band live was when I used to sneak out for my lunch break on a Saturday when I worked in a music shop and witness the George McGowan Big Band in a small Glasgow venue called Shadows. The band, all 15 or 16 of them took up about half of the bar and the punters the rest. When George and the lads were at full pelt the sound they made almost pinned you against the back wall. And that was with no amplification. It certainly stirred something in this novice sax wannabe.

I did get the opportunity to play in a ‘section’ with a trumpeter all through the late seventies in a funk/soul band and more recently with a trombonist in a jazz combo.

Havana Horns

My big band work has been sporadic and wrought with anxiety. I filled in on baritone sax at a school music camp that my wife ran and that was fun. A decade earlier I was asked if I could play 2nd tenor for the Strathclyde University Big Band for an up and coming gig. I agreed as long as they could get the sheet music to me so I could practice. My sight reading has always been a bit rusty. A week went by and no music was forthcoming. I was getting a bit nervous as the gig was a few days away. Eventually the music appeared – on the bus going to the gig ! Nauseous with both trying to read on a moving vehicle and from the blind panic I was in, it took every fibre of my being not to puke over my father’s borrowed dinner jacket !

I muddled through the gig, playing quietly and missing out certain sections in the hope the other 4 saxes could carry me through. The last number came and I relaxed a bit only to discover each member of the band was being pointed to by the conductor. Everyone was to be highlighted with an 8 bar solo ! I gave what was the musical equivalent of an incomprehensible mumble barely straying from the route note. I got through it though. Nobody pointed and laughed at me but I did have to return my dad’s DJ resembling a sponge !

I’ll leave it to the professionals. My flute teacher depped or deputised in bands for a living. He recalled one venue where the band were set up on tiered concrete steps. He had a quick change from baritone sax to piccolo. Unfortunately in his haste he hadn’t returned the bari to it’s stand properly and had to watch it unceremoniously bounce down the steps. Ouch !

Australian trumpeter James Morrison on greeting his fellow dozen horn players for a tour by the Philip Morris All Stars exclaimed  Do you realise you are putting two synthesizer players out of work ? Sadly ironic on several levels considering it took the sponsorship of the tobacco industry to put a big band on the road.

But what about the songs we remember from the seventies I hear you ask. Let’s go back a bit further to the sixties when the JB Horns were helping James Brown strut his stuff. They would later appear as the Horny Horns with Parliament. Then there’s Kool & The Gang and Earth,Wind & Fire with their catchy fanfares. Going down the more jazz/funk route were the Brecker Bros.

JB Horns

A song I really liked from an artist I’m a bit indifferent about is Honky Cat by Elton John. I love how the baritone sax scoops up from the bottom. I was convinced it was my old buddies Tower of Power providing the ballsy brass but it turns out they were French session players. Never forget the humble session player be it Muscle Shoals or the Funk Brothers of Motown.

Elton John: ‘Honky Cat.’

Power did provide some classics like What Is Hip? and Squib Cakes. They were certainly horns for hire and were the icing on the cake for that Little Feat classic Spanish Moon.

But the two all time classics must be must be Chicago’s 1970 hit 25 or 6 to 4. (Whatever that may mean. Gran’s favourite bingo numbers perhaps) Long before they churned out syrupy love songs Chicago could really rock. Power chords intro then BLAM full brass attack. And what’s with the crazy chords and the winding down at the end.

Chicago: ’25 or 6 to 4′

The second classic must be the 1968 Blood, Sweat & Tears locomotion Spinning Wheel coming right at ya ! We’ve got merry-go-rounds and folk songs amidst the grittiest of bare knuckle brass. It certainly put songwriter and lead vocalist David Clayton-Thomas on the map.

Blood Sweat & Tears: ‘Spinning Wheel.’

So don’t be hard on horns (!) It just might get you going !!


(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia – March 2022.)

George Clinton & co

If I were to say to you Make my funk the p-funk, I wants to get funked up, would you a) nod with a slight wry smile that says I dig or b) seek a restraining order.

If it’s a) then you have some idea of the George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic story.  If b) you’re confused by the connection between mostly old white men in suits gesticulating in chambers and something you might hear in Austin Powers movies.

Let me take you back to 1956 New Jersey where young George Edward Clinton worked in the barbershop were all the cool kids hung out. Young George and his friends straightened and slicked back their hair, got sharp suits and matching ties and sang doo-wop.

The Parliaments

Rejected by Motown for being too similar to The Four Tops or The Stylistics, The Parliaments finally got a record deal in 1967 with Revilot records in Detroit and recorded (I Wanna) Testify. Clinton added5 more musicians to accompany the singers and after touring for a while, the band realised they couldn’t keep up the image. Their hair was dishevelled, their suits grubby and ties mismatching. They were on the crest of the hippy wave so decided to dress (or undress) accordingly and let the music (with the help of a few stimulants) become more free.

Due to contractual difficulties with Revilot, the band were temporarily unable to use the name Parliament and so became Funkadelic, the latter being more rock guitar influenced by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Vanilla Fudge and Sly and the Family Stone. If you listen to the track Maggot Brain (what becomes of your mind after too much LSD apparently) you’d be convinced you were listening to Hendrix or Led Zeppelin.

George Clinton & Bootsy Collins

Parliament took the slightly more commercial route and with the help of Bootsy Collins (brother of Catfish of course) and the Horny Horns from James Brown’s backing band moving toward a more funk, rhythm and blues sound.

Two names, two record companies but basically the same core of about 10 musicians which combined to create the P-funk.

Live shows with a cast of up to 20 characters (singers, dancers, narrators and musicians) all dressed up somewhere between a Star Trek convention, Mardi Gras and a voodoo sacrifice. Space ships descending from the heavens were lapped up by the stoner fans as more of a tribal ritual than a rock concert.

Mothership Connection was the stand out album for Parliament in 1975 with it’s tight grooves, quirky horn riffs and it’s call and response chanting.

One Nation Under A Groove by Funkadelic in 1978 another highlight of the enterprise.

Album covers became cartoons with characters coming to life in live shows, the more exuberant, bizarre and over the top the better.

Parliament: ‘Mothership Connection.’

Eventually Clinton’s empire came crashing down in the late 70s after a series of bad management decisions and continual feuds with record companies. The circus was over.

George reinvented himself to a lesser degree with the P-funk All Stars in the 1990s and 2000s with a bit less razzmatazz and (illegal stimulants)

The P-funk influence is widespread. Just look at Prince and Earth,Wind and Fire for example.

Parliament/Funkadelic are the most sampled group used in Hip Hop today. Every Dr Poop Doggie Doo Showaddywaddy and his motherf#*cker stanky hoe has looped some P-funk in their time. To his credit, Clinton released several P-funk riffs for the sole purpose of being sampled so he wasn’t such a bad businessman after all.

I remember being introduced to this seductive sound in fellow musician Robin’s Hillhead flat one wintry afternoon in the mid 70s. With no more than a strong coffee, we skinny middle class white boys were bopping around his kitchen with gay abandon as if there was no tomorrow.

But there was .

Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Of The Sucker)