By Sam Bleazard
Prince fans gathered at the Hammersmith Apollo Autism Rocks show on Friday and Saturday night last week to pay tribute to the diminutive pop music genius of Prince Rogers Nelson. Hardcore fans expressed trepidation on message boards before the Friday opener and although it was far from a perfect evening’s entertainment, they needn’t have worried, as celebration was very much the order of the day. Latecomers would also have been surprised to learn that legendary inventor of the slap bass Larry Graham (of Sly & The Family Stone fame) had already been and gone by 8pm, having kicked the show off promptly at 7pm on the dot.
Was this a scheduling error? His set seemed to strike a note with the most cynical of fans, even if it was odd to see his flamboyant troupe playing to a half empty room. In a long flowing purple tunic with gold trim, he led his seemingly ageless band through one or two of his own Gospel-funk classics, such as Release Yourself, while also playing great versions of Prince classics such as Alphabet St and an emotionally charged Purple Rain. He described the star as a best friend and a brother.
Cee-lo Green kept the flamboyance high with a white tasselled satin outfit that wouldn’t have looked out of place at the Woodstock festival, and his band were equally glam in gold and white. If there was one complaint about his performance it was the heavy reliance on backing tracks – but he lit up the room with his own songs such as Crazy (Prince often covered it in concert in later years) and Bright Lights, Big City. Nods to vintage Purple Rain tracks such as Take Me With U and a cover of the Beautiful Ones also seemed to strike a chord with the crowd which was filling up for the headline act.
Growing up in Minneapolis alongside Prince at High School were local rival band The Time, who made it into the Purple Rain movie – making stars of lead singer Morris Day and sidekick Jerome Benton. Sadly Benton wasn’t present (possibly staying Stateside for the BET tribute), neither were legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, but to the faithful this hardly seemed to matter as the 2016 vintage brought the night to a peak. Party anthems like Cool, Jungle Love and The Stick had all in the crowd dancing – with a number pulled onstage during participation favourite The Bird.
Media darling Mark Ronson then joined proceedings on the decks, regaling those left with one or two anecdotes, scratching up old skool jams like Wanna Be Your Lover and playing the crowd his favourite Prince ballad – “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore”. Most enjoyed it, but why wasn’t this the warm up with Larry Graham jamming with The Time at the evening’s conclusion? Scheduling anomalies aside celebrity fans such as Beverley Knight were dancing in the aisles and as ticket holders spilt out onto the street band members mixed with audience members to keep the ambience of the evening going. It was an event that made you realise what a vacuum Prince has left in the world of music – not least when the screens were playing vintage live performances. But it was surely the type of party and spirit of togetherness that the little man from Minnesota would have smiled at and enjoyed.
To find out more about the charity work that Autism Rocks do visit here.