Amid the understandable outpouring of grief that surrounded the untimely death of #Prince last week at the age of 57, numerous TV and radio commentators -- and members of the general public -- expressed deep regret that they never got to see one of their musical heroes perform live. I did and I would like to share the memory.
Prince changes his name, the artistic decline begins
When running the story of Prince's tragic demise, news channels all over the world inevitably played snippets of some of his biggest hits: "When Doves Cry," "Little Red Corvette," "Raspberry Beret," "1999," "Kiss," "U Got the Look," "Alphabet Street," etc., although it quickly became clear to me -- and I'm sure to many others -- that virtually none of his songs from the 1990s onwards was featured in the bulletins, not even his 1994 smash "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World."
As part of a much publicized battle with his record label, Warner Bros., in 1993 Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol (known as the 'Love Symbol'), a decision that alienated some of his hardcore fans. He would never again reach the dizzying heights of his celebrated 1980s and early 90s output, despite releasing some top quality material over the next two and a half decades.
Prince performs in London on August 26, 1998
So when I saw that the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, as he was being called, would be playing at Wembley Arena in London on August 26, 1998 -- in what turned out to be his last ever gig at that particular venue -- I knew it wouldn't be to promote an earth-shattering new album or a daringly risqué single rocketing up the charts. I needed little persuasion when it came to deciding whether or not to go, however, as the diminutive superstar was still one of the biggest names in pop.
In the weeks leading up to the concert, I had read that he was reluctant to play the hits and as a result a number of people had come away feeling disappointed. On that particular late summer evening, the purple one did wheel out a few of the classics, but tended to tease the audience with a verse or two before moving on to the next song.
On "Purple Rain," for example, he only did one verse and one chorus, but witnessing that explosive guitar solo firsthand more than made up for any vocal parts that were missing. Even today, I think many people just don't realise what an amazing guitarist Prince was... Another thing that left me open-mouthed was his unbelievable skill as a dancer, something I had previously been unaware of. His sheer energy and flexibility was akin to watching James Brown on steroids.
Prince: the definitive all-around entertainer
The show provided an awe-inspiring display of musical and sartorial flamboyance, vocal dexterity, and showmanship, and I feel extremely privileged to say I was there. Although there were numerous, drawn-out funk jams that went on for far too long, the good definitely outweighed the bad.
At one point, the Minneapolis-born musician pointed to a piano adorned with his famous symbol and yelled out provocatively "Shall I play that thing?" The crowd enthusiastically encouraged him to do so. He played a short, but rapturously received set while seated at the instrument that included "Diamonds and Pearls," "Nothing Compares 2 U" and "Raspberry Beret."
The opening acts on the tour were Soul/R&B icon Chaka Khan and Larry Graham (bass player with Sly and the Family Stone) and the pair came back out towards the end to help the then 40-year-old bring what had been an unforgettable evening to a close.
The Artist Formerly Known as Prince would revert back to his original name a couple of years later, but I'm pleased to say I got to see him during an interesting period in his career -- a time when some genuinely believed he had lost his mind. Whatever you want to call him, Prince Rogers Nelson was truly one of the greats. #Music #Celebrities