Funk legend Nile Rodgers – producer, writer, raconteur – regales the Belfast faithful with tales and tunes aplenty
So deep has Nile Rodgers’ involvement with the music industry been over the past 35 years that even those not familiar with the man himself – distinctive as he is – have almost certainly been touched by his work.
Best known as the driving force and creative mind behind legendary disco pioneers Chic (along with late partner Bernard Edwards), Rodgers penned an endless stream of seminal floor-fillers including ‘Good Times’, ‘Everybody Dance’, ‘I Want Your Love’ and the instantly recognisable ‘Le Freak’.
He also wrote smash hits ‘I’m Coming Out’ and ‘Upside Down’ for Diana Ross, as well as producing albums for David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran, Madonna and Mick Jagger, to name but a few. And that really is the tip of the unrepentantly funky iceberg.
There is little breathing room (let alone space to do the hustle) in a packed out Stiff Kitten for Rodgers’ pre-gig Q&A. Hosted by lifelong fan, BBC Radio Ulster producer and presenter Paul McClean, hundreds of aficionados of all ages have turned up to hear a slew of rocktastic tales.
While McClean’s knowledge and love for the subject matter is evident, he barely gets a word in edgeways as the verbose Rodgers recalls episodes from his incredible career.
A gifted storyteller, Rodgers covers a wide array of topics, from his unorthodox upbringing (the child of a teenage interracial couple with drug problems) to grindhouse cinema, Studio 54, talking back to Michael Jackson’s dad, Stevie Ray Vaughn’s love of barbecue and partying down with the cops.
It takes a very special man to sound humble while dropping such sentences as, 'I was round at Madonna’s place doing coke with Mickey Rourke and talking about how to save the world', but Nile Rodgers somehow manages it.
Proceedings step up a notch when McClean urges Rodgers to pick up his nearby guitar. Describing how he joined every band he produced, the highlight of the evening is arguably Rodgers’ live recreation of how David Bowie’s smash hit ‘Let’s Dance’ was conceived.
After the man of the hour signs a few copies of his autobiography, Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny, the audience make their way to the Mandela Hall at Queen's University for the forthcoming funk-a-thon.
Following a groove-laden DJ set from Space Dimension Controller, Chic take to the stage dressed entirely in blinding white. The current incarnation features a full nine piece band, but Rodgers takes central stage sporting his trademark bandana, yellow Stratocaster and a distinct lack of shirt under his jacket.
Exploding into ‘Everybody Dance’, the band's stage presence and level of showmanship is remarkable. The audience response in kind, busting moves left, right and centre. It is a testament to just how wide Rodgers’ influence stretches that he feels the need to announce early on, 'We are not a cover band – every single song, we played this shit in the first place.'
Hit after hit is cranked out with youthful exuberance, Rodgers’ economical funk guitar playing providing a perfect counterpoint to stomping rhythm section.
Duran Duran’s ‘Notorious’, Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ and INXS's ‘Original Sin’ all get an airing, although the best is saved for last with trademark track ‘Le Freak’ turning up the heat before an (almost) all-female stage invasion during ‘Good Times’.
Segueing into ‘Rapper’s Delight’ (a hip-hop redo of 'Good Times' by rap pioneers The Sugarhill Gang), this ending is a fitting testament to the timeless influence of Rodgers and Chic. Tonight in Belfast, disco is alive and well.