Prince - In Celebration

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)

3RDEYEGIRL & Prince - Live at the Electric Ballroom - My Day

If you follow my twitter account you'd have noticed a certain theme over the last three days or so, a very Prince related theme. Since the announcement was made that a certain Mr Nelson and his new band 3rdeyegirl were heading to London to play a series of dates in advance of his latest, their debut album Plectrum Electrum I've been checking various news outlets, twitter accounts and Prince fan site constantly. And I mean constantly. Like worrying for my job levels of constantly.

Prince and I go way-back (well it's one way really). He was/is my first true musical discovery after Brit-Pop. I was obsessive in my listening to Prince during sixth-form / university and whilst over the past few years I've let that wain in favour of the acts you see posted here on a daily basis he is still my favourite artist alive (if Freddie and Queen were still here, perhaps he'd be in a fight for that title). Who did I see seven times over the space of a month at one of my least favourite venues in London the O2? Prince. Who was my first gig in London whilst I was still a midlands-based student in 2002? Prince. Who was my first main-land continental gig? Prince. Whose had me sleeping outside train stations, getting cabs across London in the hope of getting into aftershows and parties? yes, you guessed it, Prince. (It worked, I got to 'talk' with Prince in the VIP area of a sleazy Soho nightclub in 2002 and saw an incredible aftershow at Islington Academy (then the New Marquee). I could go on.

The latest bout of hardcore obsession started properly on Monday, the day when the tour was announced to start, yet the day came and went with no news, Tuesday saw the press conference finally happen (I don't think I need to go into the Lianne' La Havas house story) at around 7pm but we didn't actually hear any news from it apart from that Prince likes ping pong. That's awesome of course but it's not news of a tour. Then at around half ten at night bang, twitter explodes with news that Prince is playing the Electric Ballroom for an 'open soundcheck'. My heart races, what the hell is an open soundcheck? Can I get in? Can I be bothered to try and get there from my computer chair? The decision was to stay in my lounge pants and live the moment through twitter, I think I made the right choice, a press only start saw 'fans' enter for a four track set, I'm not sure that would have sufficiently satisfied me and would have perhaps changed the course of what was to come the next day.

Wednesday started as a normal day, I went to work and looked around. Rumours were rife about a repeat show at the Electric Ballroom. My productivity was at an all time low as I constantly refreshed pages to sources in the hope of being first to find something concrete and grab a ticket. The show became official news soon after, we knew Prince would be playing at the venue again but we didn't know how we could make sure we were there... At about half eleven again rumours spread like wildfire via Twitter about tickets going on sale from the venue at 2pm. It kind of made sense, it was too late in the day now for a Ticketmaster sale. I decided to risk it, shortly after midday I downed tools and ran for the station phone in hand and jumped on a train. I walked up to Camden from St Pancras ignoring potential tube problems and arrived at the venue just before 1pm. I headed straight for the queue and landed myself just outside Camden Town Market. I'd estimate at that time I was around 80th in line. Then came the toughest hour of the day.

There was no news at hand or concrete information to go on, the entirety of the queue seemingly checking their phones for the slightest whiff of information. The last thing anyone standing in the February chill wanted was for tickets to go on-sale online and their efforts made all in vein. At this time it was a little quiet and time went slowly, I started chatting with the guy next to me about his take on the story but he too, seemingly knew very little and came to Camden chasing down whispers. To make matters worse the rain was pretty heavy at this time, fine persistent rain that annoys you, the drilling from the nearby road-works did little to aid the mood.

It stayed that way until 2pm, the time when we hoped tickets would be coming on sale. A couple of security guys turned up and one of them slowly walked down the line and answered a few questions. The official, non-official line was this was the queue to enter the venue at 7pm. No advance tickets but if we were willing to wait, a Prince show would be ours for just £10. A couple near me with a buggy left shortly after, a few people who were probably taking extended lunches also departed with a further five hours of queuing not an option. I made the decision quickly, it was a no-brainer really. I could get the train back to work and hope I could get back later or wait, I decided to wait.

Soon after group mentality kicked in and a bunch of strangers brought together by a common goal; to see Prince started talking and then we began to take it in turns looking out for each other whilst one of us needed to go to the toilet (there was a nearby pub whom I'm sure weren't too happy about the number of people walking in and out to use their facilities!). It's possibly the perverse nature of the committed fan-boy I am but I can honestly say I enjoyed the next five hours standing outside in the cold and talking about Prince, it's not often you get chance to do just that without having something else to do. Right now though, we literally had nothing else.

The rain wasn't so bad either and when the heavens did attempt to open at about 4pm we were quickly given a free umbrella. Fair play to the marketing department at Zoopla who quickly put two and two together and hunted out their boxes of purple umbrellas from storage to hand out to the front of the queue - the see of purple looked great.

Beers were in full flow by now and that certainly helped to take the edge off the cold as the fleeting visit of sun was followed by the outset of evening, it wasn't until around six pm that it started getting noticeably busier. A tourist asked the best question of the day to us at around this point. "Is this the queue for the bus?". The queue in front had swelled and all of a sudden we were possibly 150 back. Some of the difference was people returning to the queue or friends joining sole survivours after work, not all bosses take too kindly to you walking out of the office with no notice and some were chancers who jumped in. This got to be a more serious problem just before doors opening time. I was hoping security would hand out raffle tickets or something similar so you knew you were getting in and I actually asked them that question earlier in the day, the response was they would have more security guards in place by the time they would be needed. Unfortunately that didn't quite happen and lots of people took advantage of the lack of barriers to push in just before 7pm.

When seven pm came I was pretty surprised that the shutters on the venue opened not long after, a guest-list line had appeared from nowhere spanning in the other direction and then suddenly security moved the queue from one side of the road to the other now the shops nearby had shut - it caused mayhem and a surge of people rushing forward, on a personal note it didn't cause much problem as I reacted quickly enough but I've read some horrible stories about trampling occurring, it's a shame not everyone is quite the same as the great bunch of people I'd had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with.

Soon we were inside, a quick toilet and bar stop later we were at the front, about four rows back and in a perfect spot for the gig to come. At that time we didn't know there would be in fact two shows that evening and I was anticipated a long wait until the show started. In fact it wasn't long at all, shortly after 8pm 3rdeyegirl's latest single "Pretzelbodylogic" started firing out of the PA soon followed by the three girls, Donna, Ida and Hannah and then Prince himself, it caught the crowd a little unawares at first but soon the expected hysteria started. A level which only increased with the opening of "Let's Go Crazy". A re-worked version I'd previously heard from a teaser video, it sounded incredible and to be standing about ten feet away from Prince and seeing his facial expressions only made the experience the more rewarding.

The set progressed with track after track of rock-heavy beats that satisfied every single inch of me. I'd earlier said I was desperate to see a Prince rock show and now here I was being treated to one, Donna Grantis on electric guitar especially impressive dueling with Prince with her metal-inspired riffs and wide-eyed stares into the audience. "She's Always In My Hair", a track that's long been a favourite of mine and a slowed down version of "I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man" both bringing instant goosebumps. The best was still to come. An album track from 1999 "Something In The Water" starts with Prince on piano before he moves to more tradition place front, centre to bring a stadium-esque rallying call of the chorus, the crowd are quick to react. It almost feels as if you've been transferred into the set of the Purple Rain movie. I'm in heaven.

Prince changed to conductor during the 3rdeyegirl song "FixUrLifeUp", standing at the side of the stage orchestrating this tight, three piece band. An instrumental closed the main set (both sets started almost identical) before the band returned for a beastly version of the underrated "Chaos & Disorder", noisy, rhythmic heaven. The band disappear again and the house lights come on but those with experience of the 21 Nights shows will know that with this being Prince, lights means nothing and sure enough a good five minutes later the band return again and get straight into the phenomenal "Bambi", "it's better with a man" the well known chorus cries go but seeing Prince backed by this incredible band instantly calls that into doubt. 3rdeyegirl have definitely breathed new life into Prince (55 and looking younger than ever) and a creative Prince is an incredible sight, one I'm delighted to have seen in such intimate surroundings. Would I do it all again? You betcha!

Prince and 3rdeyegirl are reported to have begun a UK tour / London residency, I don't know the facts, what I do know is that whatever comes next, I'm going to be there for the ride. Unmissable.

January 2013 - A Month in Music

A new feature (although I previously tried something similar) that may or may not continue with time dependent. Basically the idea is a summation post where I give all of or some of my favourite things from the month. It could be an EP, an album, a gig or a discovery made. It doesn't have to be from this month either, just when I happen to come across it. Then it wouldn't be me without adding a bit of waffling praise. It all sounds utterly self-pleasing but hopefully you might find something which you agree with. As ever these sort of things are highly liable to change. Let's give it a try anyway...

Gig(s) of the month.

Daughter - St Mary's Church, Brighton - January 17th
Serafina Steer - St Leonards Church, Shoreditch - January 24th

January was quieter than normal for me, in fact I only went to five gigs, probably less than half my normal monthly return. It was quality other quantity though with my favourite of the month so close between Serafina Steer's majestic album launch at St Leonard's Church in Shoreditch last week and Daughter's set at St Mary's in Brighton that I've decided not to attempt to split them.

Both were impeccable sets delivered by incredible singer/songwriters, Daughter's spine-tingling show highlighted everything you've already read about her/them. Elena's haunting vocals and bruised, intimate song-writing alongside subdued percussion and shimmering textures. It had St Mary's completely silent, half in awe, half just enjoying the moment.

Serafina Steer's show was equally wonderful. For this, her album release gig, her delicate harp patterns are joined by a string quartet and a whole host of other musicians, one of which was none other than Jarvis Cocker (he produced the album too - more on that below). He joined Serafina for three tracks, one on guitar, one on tambourine and vocals and another on a wind-up air machine. Incredible.

So was the show, serenely beautiful at times and other eccentric and fun, "Disco Complitation" and the Jarvis duet "The Removal Man" especially, the highlight though Serafina's gorgeous, dream voice, it pulls you and sends you off to a better place. Much like the album, head to the next paragraph for that!

Album(s) of the month. 
Serafina Steer - The Moths are Real

I try and avoid album reviews for the reason simple reason that I'm not very good at them so I'll try and avoid that trap here (too much). I first came across Serafina Steer on her Bloody Hell EP a couple of years back and it's a track re-worked from that EP that blows you away first...

"Night Before Mutiny" is arguably too good to be an opening track, it completely blows you away and leaves the rest of the album an almost impossible task of competing with it. Something The Moths are Real generally manages to achieve through with a striking collection of brilliant folk-ish tracks (it's not really an album you can define to any particular genre) and Serafina's inventive, story-telling lyrics.

The emphasis throughout is on Serafina's voice with fluttering harp often leading beautiful melodies, with the odd bit of quirky instrumentation thrown in for good measure, never better than on the funk-laden "Disco Compilation" and "The Removal Man", a track so witty and good that I'm sure co-vocalist Jarvis Cocker would love to snap it up for a (forthcoming? please!) Pulp album. "Ballad of Brick Lane" is softer and gentle ballad and after an amusing start "Skinny Dripping" turns to a pastoral, tender beauty. 2013, you might only be one month old but you've started off alright to me.

Runner up. The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law.

I'm finding it really hard to review Wolf's Law, if you know me and this blog at all you may know my love affair with The Joy Formidable goes back a good three years now and in that time I've seen them forty-odd times with a handful more to come over the next month. That makes being subjective quite difficult...

I'm going to serve a review here too, I'll possibly do one when I'm happy with it. Wolf's Law is definitely more of a grower than TJF's earlier work and it's the softer, tender moments that are my early highlights. "Silent Treatment" and "Wolf's Law" I already knew from live airing but it's the string-laden "The Turnaround" that strikes me most, woozy and gorgeous, it highlights the power of Ritzy's voice, restrained and beautiful perfectly. "Forest Serenade" is perhaps the closest to the bands earliest work, energetic and powerful with a killer, joyful (pun intended) chorus. Anyway, I promised I wouldn't do a review and this is in danger of turning into one.

I love this band, buy their album and more importantly see them live, you won't regret it.

Single / track(s) of the month.
Can't split these two I am afraid.

David Bowie - Where Are We Now?

Ask anybody one month ago if we'd have a new Bowie album due in the first quarter of 2013 and I'm sure they'd have laughed at you. Everybody would have been wrong too because we do.

The first preview from it "Where Are We Now?" is instantly Bowie, reflective and philosophical from the get-go, a moody track with a brooding whisper to his vocals that reminds me of some Heathen work, vulnerable and beautiful, Bowie has kept us all guessing and returns from apparent exodus to blow our minds. The album apparently contains a couple of heavier tracks that will do more than that - I can't find the link to the article on that on just now, sorry.

If you've been on Mars, head to Bowie's website to find out more about The Next Day, due March 11th - I cannot wait.

Prince - Screwdriver

After Rock & Roll Love Affair towards the end of last year I got excited thinking that Prince was back, it sounded like the Prince we all love (well not all), like a lost song from The Revolution and better than much of his post The Rainbow Children output (which in my opinion is a criminally underrated record). Sure Prince has turned in a few good tracks in those years, Guitar, F.U.N.K., Dance 4 Me, Black Sweat all jump straight to mind but his albums have lacked any consistency. Now though, perhaps, the signs are looking good...

Latest single "Screwdriver" makes it two for two, after an incredible short live cut of the track was released via the 3rdEyeGirl youtube channel a few weeks ago highlighting a raw, guitar led jam. The actual single came last week via the video embedded below. Whilst not as raw, a Chaos & Disorder esque version would be amazing, the single still rocks out and is nothing short of great, with a female trio making up his new backing band (3rd Eye Girl?) "Screwdriver" is full of playful and suggestive exuberance, characteristics nobody does better than Prince. The Guardian say everything better than me so I'll keep that short and sweet.

His new website looks cool too, but that said I'm still feeling bitter about however much money I wasted on Prince's Lotusflow3r website a few years and shall not be early-adopting to any potentially new pay-for-play sites just yet...

EP of the Month.
Sea of Love - So Loud

I gave this one a glowing review already on my Introducing feature so I'll keep it brief and just tell you to go and buy the limited to 300 10" vinyl.

So Loud is an affecting EP that leaves you longing for more... stark soundscapes and spine-tingling intimacy, displaying heart-wrenching fragility of love lost around a haunted wall of sound and delicate guitar nuances.

Below is the video which introduced Sea of Love to me, make sure you've seen it too...

Runner Up
La Luz - Damp Face

Another EP I've reviewed this month so I'll keep this short and rely on copy and paste (head to the original post for a better write-up). Actually from 2012 but I didn't discover La Luz until a earlier this month. Their debut EP Damp Face is ace...

A Ennio Morricone homage is the hazy "Clear Night Sky" with spidery guitar patterns that jangle and twang around an infectious, creepy melody while the closing track is another stunner, "Easy Baby" slows things down with a languid, lazy day melody and brings those Spector girl groups straight back to the fore with gorgeous backing harmonies, super, super sweet.

Discovery of the Month.

Plaid Dragon

There's been some good discoveries this month so this was a tough one, good have easily picked Waterbaby or Dog in the Snow or Torres but I'm going to go with Plaid Dragon, "Dog Physics" is just an incredible track.

The highlight of the EP though is the title track and closure, which spends three minutes of its duration as a blissful folk-ish tune, with languid instrumentation and mellow vocals before exploding in a cacophony of noise. A wonderful signal of intent with the five piece from Missouri due to release a follow up early this year.

Prince - Rock and Roll Love Affair

Even though this is a predominately new music blog I don't spend (quite) all my time listening to new music (although it may feel like it sometimes!), my favourite ever artists are long established ones, top of the pile (and a few of you may know this) is Prince and even though in the past five or so years I've a love/hate affair with him his new single "Rock and Roll Love Affair" might just start a new one of that.

I'll not ramble too much about Prince, I doubt many of you are too interested and I could go on for a very long time. If you take every one of his releases since the exceptional Rainbow Children album back in 2002 I probably like a dozen or so songs, that number has definitely increased by one with "Rock and Roll Love Affair", I think it has a very 'revolution' era sound with smooth guitars, keys and a cool as f- vocal lines. Looking half his 54 years in the accompanying live performance video, Prince has pulled out his best song for years...

The single is out now via Purple Music on CD / Vinyl and Picture Disc Vinyl. Watch the video below: