Sunday, June 25, 2017

Why Prince is the King

Prince Paisley Park StudiosBefore he got picked up by the cool kids, Prince was a freak. I found him via a pirate radio station that I used to listen to late at night, aged 11/12 when anxiety about going to school prevented me from sleeping. I was struggling to learn English, but somehow I knew that “Do me Baby” was a song that was speaking to me. The melody soothed and enticed me in equal measures; I had never heard music like that before. I thought the singer was a girl. The broadcaster mentioned Prince’s name and at the weekend I went to the nearest ‘Our Price,’ and handed over pocket money to buy music. I still couldn’t work out if he was a girl.

My obsession grew into love. I picked up the sax because of Candy Dulfer. I skipped school to wait around for him at the Intercontinental hotel during his ‘Lovesexy’ tour. I made my mum tailor clothes copied from his designs. I looked ridiculous but he was my friend when I had no-one else. His songs taught me things that I’ve carried on throughout my life.

Yet this was never a sexually-driven adoration. It was far more deep and meaningful than that. At the time I was too young to appreciate the reason for his impact, but I – and millions of others- connected to him because he seemed to be as confused as we were. We were finding out who and what we were together. Prince became our moral compass over three decades. He educated us on race and gender equality, aids, drugs, love, guns, social unrest...all without preaching, just through his beautiful ballads and infectious grooves that are social commentary in poetry form. He also taught us how to funk and instructed us in music and it’s genius masters. Larry Graham, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchel…before I’d reached my 15th birthday I had been schooled about these icons at the academy of Prince.

Prince Paisley Park StudiosLegendary Musician Prince The King
Exclusive Prince DJ Set - copyright Paisley Park

He taught us to fight for what's fair. ‘Slave’ was far deeper than a shallow PR stunt. He led us into embracing technology and his shop/early internet cafe in Camden was an Aladdin’s cave of beauty and gloss. He encouraged creative freedom- that’s why my favourite colour is glitter. As I got older, (for I’ve never believed in growing up), I may have f*cked to Hendrix, the Stones and other Rock Gods, but I always- ALWAYS made love to Prince. He made us all feel beautiful- we were all the most beautiful girl in the world to him.

I wrote to him when his baby passed away. It felt like a dear friend was having their heart pulverised in a horribly public domain, and I wanted to comfort him and tell him we were all thinking of him. ‘Sometimes it Snows in April’ was played at one of my closest friend’s funeral and every time I hear that song I don’t feel sad. Because she is there next to me through the power of his words. I have fallen in love to too many of his songs and taken comfort in break ups through others. I’ve partied all night long at festivals, clubs and house gatherings with nothing but Prince and Symbol material; celebrations, commiserations and every possible emotion in between, all have several purple soundtracks available as soundbeds.

So coming full circle to his home- Paisley Park- I saw my 12yr old outcast self reflected in the collective middle-aged teenagers around me. We've all been through life’s challenges together, but guided, bonded and comforted by Prince, who told us it was ok to be different, to wear what the hell we wanted, to love our imperfections and one another. But unlike every other show I have seen and lived, this one was just raw and exposed. He presented himself to us as naked as we are ever likely to see him, and in that moment he once again rose the musical bar from spectacular to ethereal unicorn. Something so impossible of actually existing in real life, which means we must have collectively imagined him as the perfect musical deity who manifested himself before us.

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And Paisley Park…it was everything we have imagined. Prince is notoriously private, so as we were in his home I will only share some brief details. The experience is all-sensory and immersive. Incense, plush purple velvet furnishings, thoughtful lighting, mirrors that spell ‘love.’ Iconic posters, a black custom motorbike with his familiar glyph, staff in co-ordinated black or purple uniforms depending on their roles. The performance room is so well architectured and balanced that you can hear every nuance perfectly in his musical delivery.

Prince Paisley Park StudiosPrince Paisley park Studios

His stage was strikingly simple. A custom made baby grand- purple of course- surrounded by nine ecclesiastical candles, three red and the others white. Simple spotlights, one mic and a delicate kaleidoscope of fractal visuals projected on to the symbol, at times a little trippy but which drew the audience in further with their hypnotic pull. As we waited we sat and chatted in quiet excitement, almost as if expecting a theatre performance to start. Which it kind of was. And then, behind a subtle cloud of dry ice, Prince appeared in lilac PJs to rapturous applause.

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Shyly at first, he took us for the ride on (unbelievably!) his first-ever solo show. A musical autobiography interwoven with teasing comments, “does that feel good for you?” and candid revelations, “ I thought I would never play the piano like my dad- and he never missed an opportunity to remind me of it.” He joked, opened up about his sometimes troubled childhood, and gave us a melodic masterclass “the space in between the notes is how funky it is…or how funky it ain’t.” He praised his peers- Lisa for coming up with THE melody “but not the song..” in Raspberry Beret, Miles Davis for “coming over to play at my house,” and the radio broadcasters who educated him in what to listen to. “When radio was cool and localised.”

Prince Paisley park Studio tiny pirate lifestyle cabarete

He paid respectful homage to Bowie, sharing with us that he’d met him once and “he was very nice to me. He seemed to be very nice to everyone.” And on each and every song his impeccable range from jazzy lows to trademark falsettos were pitch perfect and delivered from the soul. He took us through some of his songwriting process, and how his playing has always been about “finding out who he is”. He paid tribute to a couple of his idols – Joni Mitchell and Ray Charles- by delivering blistering covers of their tracks. 

Prince Paisley Event Pirate Lifestyle CabareteThis modern day Mozart dazzled us with his contemporary piano recital. PIANO. RECITAL. How many other artists could captivate an audience with such force with just a piano? Old songs became new classics and even the raunchiest of tracks were transformed into innocent love letters with the deft fingerwork of Prince’s musical mastery. It was like hearing for the first time. The multi-hued audience laughed and cried together, and let Prince make spiritual love to them through his stellar compositions. We skipped along with his whimsical playfulness and listened intently to every single word, every single note. As it should be. No phones, no cameras, nothing to stop us not only being in the moment but BEING the moment.

He left us breathless and speechless, having experienced yet another epiphanous moment in the characteristic way only Prince can deliver. A gospel choir and Philharmonic orchestra could not have filled a concert space as much as this single man and his piano did.

“This was the first. You were here, and so was I.”

Only I’m still not quite sure if we were really there- as I was dreaming when I wrote this…

SET LIST:

  • Batman Theme Tune (YES!!!) 
  • Who’s Loving You (cover) 
  • What Are We Gona Do? 
  • Wanna Be Your Lover 
  • Dirty Mind 
  • Do Me Baby 
  • Something In The Water 
  • Free 
  • Case of You (cover) 
  • Motherless Child 
  • The Beautiful Ones 
  • U’re Gona C Me 
  • How Come You Don’t Call Me 
  • Condition of the Heart 
  • Venus de Milo 
  • Raspberry Beret 
  • Paisley Park 
  • Sometimes it Snows in April 
  • The Ballad of Dorothy Parker 
  • Eye Love U But I Don’t Trust U Anymore 
  • Unchain My Heart (cover) 
  • Baltimore 
  • Rock n’ Roll Love Affair ENCORE 
  • Starfish & Coffee 
  • The Breakdown 
  • Anna Stesia

General Photos: Claudia Avila-Batchelor

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