Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Lafayette Clearmont vs The Funkerberg

Lafayette Clearmont vs The Funkerberg

There have been few more absurd rivalries in the world of popular music than the one that simmered for over two decades, between the self-styled, smooth soul sensation, Lafayette Clearmont, and his polar opposite - a garishly attired and coiffured individual known as 'The Funkerberg'.

For a quarter of a century the pair sparred for dominance in the US singles and album charts, and on the pages of the music press. Following an apprenticeship in The Beamers, Clearmont recorded mainly as a solo artiste (the 'e' on the end was his own addition). The Funkerberg was guitarist and band-leader in a succession of extraterrestrial-themed funk outfits, among them - The Apollo Funk Program, Apollo Moonbase and King Pimps of Saturn.

The roots of their rivalry can be traced back to a nightclub in Detroit called Larry's. Prior to the venue's brief rise to prominence as the upper east side's premier nightspot, the building had been occupied by Larry's Used Motors. When the club took over the premises they didn't bother to take the sign over the door down and the name stuck.

Delroy Patterson worked behind the bar at Larry's during the early days and recalls the tension between the two artists:

“At the back of Larry's there was a VIP booth on a raised platform. People used to call it 'the throne,' because whoever was up there had a tendency to hold court and call the shots.

“In the beginning it seemed like almost every night there would be an argument over who got to sit on the throne. Eventually Elijah Deacon, who was the manager of Larry's back then, got sick of all the fighting that was going on. He drew up a rota so that everybody who was interested got a turn at sitting up there and playing at being King of Detroit.

“Everyone in the joint respected his decision with the exception of Clearmont and The Funkerberg. Those boys were always sitting on the throne when they shouldn't have been. Elijah would say to Clearmont: 'I'm just trying to make sure that everybody here has a good time. Why you got to make life so hard for me?'

“Clearmont would reply: “Well I was king here yesterday and I ain't ready to abdicate.'

“The only explanation you would get from The Funkerberg was for him to remind you that he's 'The Funkerberg.' When somebody bases their defence on definitive statements like that, there's not really much you can offer by way of a counter argument.”

In 1985, Clearmont released an album titled Clear Horizons, in which ditched his tried and tested bedroom-soul in favour of socially-conscious proto-hiphop. Although the album received encouraging reviews in the music press, it failed to connect with his core audience and was a commercial flop.

The Funkerberg was quick to capitalize on the situation. In an interview on Atlantic Heights FM, he publicly claimed credit for the decline in Clearmont's fortunes, pronouncing himself “the iceberg that sank the Titanic of Adult Contemporary Soul,” before adding: “Lafayette was a cruise liner sailing on a smooth ocean until he was sunk beneath the choppy waters of the funk. All the men on-board drowned. Only the women and the children were saved because the funk is merciful.”

The Funkerberg went on to list the various marine animals who he felt best embodied the tenets of the funk. Among these were whales, which he erroneously described as “the biggest and funkiest of all the fish” and the octopus, which he rechristened “The Funktopus.” As his monologue descended into incoherence and the DJ, Alice Ward, cued-up an old Apollo Funk Program record, The Funkerberg mumbled: “Ain't never been no lobster ever had the funk. Ain't never gonna happen.”

Despite his triumphant posturing The Funkerberg's career was arguably experiencing a bigger slide than Clearmont's. While his rival eventually returned to commercial success with an album of duets titled Lafayette and..., The Funkerberg was too unpredictable, and to much of his era, to ever regain the standing he had once enjoyed..

In November 2012, footage of him being ejected from a bank, after he was refused a loan, appeared on Youtube. As he is escorted off the premises by security he yells to the baffled crowd of onlookers: “I'm' the Funkerberg!”

In January of this year an article titled: When the Funk melts where will all the polar bears go? appeared on the inexplicably popular hipster blog – Poseidon Media. The writer of the piece (one James Rushbrooke) illuminated the plight of The Funkerberg and pondered on whether global warming had played a role in catastrophically depleting world funk deposits.

At the time of writing Lafayette Clearmont is enjoying strong sales with his 2012 album Lafayette Sings Marvin. He is currently on tour in the US and will perform at a variety of UK venues over the summer.

The Funkerberg's Apollo Funk Program will play a single date at the Oakleigh Farm Festival in July. I have been asked to point out that this act has absolutely no connection with The Original Apollo Funk Program, which is also touring.

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