2016. I hate you.
If you know me personally or have followed my Twitter for any period of time you'll probably be aware that Prince is my favourite artist. I was at a work presentation for our new office in London when I heard the news last week. I got literally a dozen messages in a five minute spell. I froze and didn't speak for the next hour or so. Then later when we went to a bar I got pretty drunk speaking about Prince to work colleagues, many of whom didn't share any real love for the man, I needed someone to listen (or talk at). When I got home that evening I fell asleep listening to Parade and stumbled into work the next day, in a purple shirt, numb. I ended up leaving work early and heading to Empire Records here in St Albans, I walked there listening to The Gold Experience and as I arrived I heard them playing the Love Symbol album. I smiled at the closeness of strangers and had a brief chat with the guy behind the counter, clearly a year or two older than myself about our retrospective Prince entry points. I listened to Prince lots over the weekend. I'm sure many of you have too.
I'm not sure what I'm going to write here, I'm just going to ramble a lot but I feel like I have to write some words down about Prince so that I can get back to posting about the new music that this blog thrives on. I was a teenager of the 90's, I liked Brit-Pop growing up and I worshipped Queen and Meat Loaf thanks to my Dad and Uncle but Prince was my first, real, true love. It started with my Uncle playing me the Purple Rain album, I think the lewdness of "Darling Nikki", the ferocity of the vocal on "The Beautiful Ones" and the sheer incredibleness of the back-end of the album (have two tracks ever gone into one another as well as "I Would Die 4 U" & "Baby I'm a Star"?) blew me away but it was a little later that I got the bug, with the release of the single "Gold" in fact.
I would spend weekends whilst I was at sixth form working on my grandparents market stall and in a local garden centre to earn enough money to take a bus/train to Stafford and buy CD's from Our Price or a little 2nd hand shop at the bottom of town. These were the days before the Internet, well I think I may have had a 56k line which I constantly got told off for using as it stopped people calling my grandparents to order flowers, before the days of a free instant fix (well that's arguable in the case of Prince's music but the argument still stands) when people valued music enough to pay for it. I remember being tangibly excited on the train home in anticipation of listening to a new CD or two, with, especially in the case of Prince, only one 'hit' on it and a whole album of complete unknowns. I remember blaring out Dirty Mind, Parade, Around the World in a Day and so on constantly and then repeating the process each week. I remember ordering Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic from the US as it was unavailable in the UK and being stung by a hefty customs fee for the privilege. I remember trying to get Prince onto the sixth form common room stereo at every available moment amongst the usual Oasis / Paul Weller / Ocean Colour Scene thing that boys my age should have been listening to and then later I remember spending huge chunks of my student loan cheques on Prince picture discs and singles from eBay. I got rid of most of them when I moved from the midlands down south, especially now, that stings - I have the 80's LP's on vinyl but 90's Prince on vinyl is super rare and expensive. Prince was my musical life for a big period of time in the late nineties and early 2000's.
2002 was the biggest year in my Prince music life, the One Nite Alone tour at Hammersmith Apollo. I'd spent $100 membership to the NPGMC to gain pre-sale access and then another $100 per ticket for two of the three shows (I've no idea why I didn't go for the hat-trick). They gave access to a pre-show "soundcheck" and an "after-show/party". They probably were the greatest music nights of my life and now I wished they happened when I was a little older than 20 so I could truly appreciate, savour and remember them. The first night, a Thursday, I got to Hammersmith at around lunch time and spent the afternoon in a nearby Weatherspoons with Prince fans. I'll not bore you with the problems we had getting into the venue and in our seats but eventually we got in and I was end of the row on the second aisle. For my first ever Prince show.
I don't really remember the order of events or which happened on which occasion but during the 'soundcheck' we got say a half an hour pre-show with all sorts of experimentation, Prince on the drums, a brilliant version of "Days of Wild" (edited of course) and most amazingly Prince amongst the crowd, casually chatting with fans (his big question at the time was about the media and radio stations, he was obsessed with the radio and had recently had a go at creating his own playlists of Prince and associated artists through his music club - they were good of course). Throughout he was basically ten feet away and I don't think my lower jaw was ever in contact with my mouth. These shows were some of my favourite Prince shows, I'm a huge fan of The Rainbow Children album, a challenging but rewarding experience it remains. A brilliant fusion on Jazz/funk/rock/pop. These were the days when he'd not play "Purple Rain" but many of the other hits brought down the house and a piano medley on the Saturday show was incredible (what possibly gave birth to the solo shows which he'd play until the week before last Thursday).
More was to come those nights. I was spoilt. On the Thursday I landed in a queue with some guys I may or may not have chatted to earlier outside some posh Mayfair club where the official after party was to be held. Only it wasn't. It was changed at zero notice and after a good length of hanging around we were told it had been moved to Soho. This is where me and the five chaps I was with got lucky, I don't remember any of them but perhaps Steve who lived in London and he said he knew the way quicker than the tube if we ran. We ran. We arrived at the venue, The Click (a typically seedy club where the barmaid ran her fingers down my hand as she handed my change for a drink) before anyone else. The venue claimed to have no idea about a Prince after party, then all of a sudden we were let in and escorted to the VIP area of the venue. I'm not quite show how or why. We were five/six guys of assorted ages (I was the youngest) and none of us were dressed well. Anyway, we tried to sit at a table in the corner "you can't sit there, that's reserved for Prince" was something close to the response. 'Okay then... we'll just sit here opposite if you don't mind'....
A good while later, say an hour, John Blackwell who was the drummer on the tour came in and sat down and perhaps other members of the NPG too. Then Prince entered the room and either sat with him for a bit or nonchalantly came up to our table and remarked "where are the girls". Prince. Walking up to where I am sitting and asking questions. One of the us replied something similar to 'not here', it was true, and then Prince chatted about bootlegs (before the Internet it was bootlegging of live shows that attracted Prince's lawyers attention) , the radio again, the NPGMC and other things. The only real thing I can remember asking him was "when are you going to release "Empty Room"". He'd played a blistering full band version of the track earlier at the show, a well known unreleased track, his remark was something similar to "we'll see". His responses were typical for what you hear about Prince, calculated, mysterious, vague, seductive, enticing. He'd later that month release a live version of the track through NPGMC, my input of course. He was in a fun, casual mood that evening and would soon be out DJ-ing the the crowd in the main room and dancing along too. This was not the Prince you read about in the shit papers.
I recall wandering to Kings Cross to head back to my then girlfriends house on the first train home in a haze, the happiest, tiredest kid in town. That's the effect that Prince had. October 3rd, 2002. The day I spoke with my hero.
Without approval of Mr Nelson I'd spend endless hours collecting Prince bootlegs around this time. I had hundreds of CD-r's in a folder with countless concerts I'd never listen to. Collecting, compiling, obsessing, I think they are all things I'm good at. I regret not taking better care of them in house-moves and hard drive failures. I still have some but a mere skeleton of what I had. I've been enjoying listening to them these last few days.
Anyway, I've gone on too long and I've not even mentioned the Saturday after-show experience at the New Marquee gig (now Islington Academy) also in 2002 or 2007 and my seven shows at the 02 or 2010 in Belgium when as Prince played "Purple Rain" the heavens opened or 2014 and the three incredible 'hit & run' shows I saw in London at the Electric Ballroom, Shepherd's Bush and Koko, where six hours queuing in the rain was rewarded with as intimate, raw and extraordinary show as you could ask for.
Thanks for the memories Prince.
Here's a dozen or so tracks I've been listening to these past few days. Not particularly cheery listening!
"Under the Cherry Moon" (from Parade)
"With You" (from Prince)
"Partyman" (from Batman)
"Joy In Repetition" (from Graffiti Bridge)
"My Name is Prince" (from Love Symbol)
"Shhh" (from The Gold Experience)
"Empty Room" (released via NPGMC)
"The One" (from New Power Soul)
"Adore" (from Sign O' The Times)
"Gotta Broken Heart Again" (from Dirty Mind)
"God" (b-side from Purple Rain)
"Sometimes it Snows in April" (from Parade)