As we still try to come to terms with the untimely passing of Prince, we revisit happier times, such as when Sam Bleazard was lucky enough to spend time at Prince’s famed recording complex known as Paisley Park. Read below
Depending on who you believe, pop superstar and genre-dodging one man band, Prince, turned 50 on June 7. And perhaps his greatest legacy, aside from helping to define the zeitgeist of the 1980s, will be in keeping the live music concert vital as a must experience event.
Everyone has their stories of course, but before Prince went mainstream with his late night ‘aftershows’ – experienced by the lucky few at London’s IndigO2 last year – or with recent Hollywood soirees attended by a stream of A-listers, the reclusive star threw parties that were less well documented. And as one of those in the right place at the right time, I got closer than most while the limelight was relatively dim.
When the ‘Artist’, as he was then known, dropped off the radar in the late 1990s, a lucky few were fortunate enough to experience less well publicised happenings, of the kind which help perpetuate a legend Prince has been careful to build. Following a show at London’s Wembley Arena in ‘98 a tip off from the Prince ‘underground’ suggested he was going to play a late night show at Leicester Square’s temple of neon ‘The Hippodrome’. No-one could believe the truth of this but without the threat of work the following day this music appreciator went willingly. As most of the remaining audience were about to leave a largely empty disco, complete with irritating voiceovers from the DJ, at around 2.30am a roadie scuttled out onto the raised dance floor in front of me and left a small snare drum behind. Bits and pieces of musical apparatus then began to appear – keyboards, guitar stands, the rest of the drum kit…and within 15 minutes Prince (wearing dark wrap-around glasses throughout) and his band, mysteriously emerged out of the shadows. The hundred and fifty or so who remained then stood mesmerised as a very loose sound-check began to turn into an impromptu jam session, which then morphed into a concert. Prince, seemingly frustrated by the resident sound men at times, still managed to play an incredible show which left those in attendance speechless, eventually leaving the stage at around 5.30am. As he walked off he stopped at the top of a staircase that led away from the stage and turned to stare at his audience, they in turn stared back at him for a moment, neither party possibly sure of what they’d just experienced…and then he was gone.In the summer of 2000 rumours began circulating on the internet that Prince would open the doors of his Paisley Park recording complex to the public, Willy Wonka style, for a week-long music festival that he would host and play at every night. Not wanting to miss something to tell the grandchildren a group of friends and I caught a flight out to the Twin Cities and were joined at his ‘home’ by artists such as an up and coming Norah Jones and various jazz, funk, R’n’B and blues artists well known in the U.S.