Trust me to have some type of spiritual awakening in the middle of a field in the deep, dark depths of the English countryside. It couldn’t occur within the usual manner i.e. at a church, religious convention, or in the midst of a life crisis. Nooo, not me. That would be far too, well… normal. Instead it happened on a balmy Sunday evening amongst 30, 000 revellers two-stepping and swaying to the sounds of Prince. And there lies the magic word, or should I say name – Prince. I’ve been to hundreds of concerts during my lifetime and can safely say that I’ve never had such a heightened and moving musical experience. So I’ll take you on the journey to how I ended up with my arms outstretched to the open sky, amped by the funky sounds of the Purple One and his funky cohorts, head slightly buzzing from the pungent stench of weed, while on the verge of tears (happy ones) with purple confetti falling in my face and Afro.
A few days prior to Prince’s headline making performance at the Hop Farm Festival in Kent I can assure you the only tears sprouting from my eyes were ones of anger, frustration and despair. I had the crappiest of weeks. On the weekend prior to the show we were sold a car that literally packed in an hour after it had been purchased. I knew something wasn’t quite right when the scumbag who sold it to us wouldn’t answer his phone, despite him being readily available before money had exchanged hands. Naturally, this caused my blood pressure to soar. Then to make matters worse, I was also experiencing a bone crushingly painful toothache that was second only to the pain of childbirth. The toothache had me literally running to my local dentist, and I think the culmination of the stress of the week and the unrelenting pain that had me blubbering like a pre-schooler once I sat in the dentist’s chair and found myself facing an 8 inch needle. My dentist took pity on me and asked me to re-book as soon as I felt better. Needless to say I haven’t booked an appointment yet. Put it down to part fear/part shame.
To make matters worse, Khy decides to fall sick on the Friday night (the show was on Sunday). That really was the icing on the cake. I thought to myself, forget Prince. All I wanted to do was curl up with a good book and a bottle of wine and wallow in self-pity. Also, with Khy being unwell it meant that Rich couldn’t come along with me and there’s was no way in hell I was going to make the journey to Kent on my lonesome bearing in mind that I’d be travelling by public transport alone after midnight.
So yeah, Prince – woo hoo! Can’t say I was feeling particularly thrilled about the prospect of going, despite the fact that his 21 Nights concert at the 02 was one of the best concerts I‘ve ever had the pleasure of attending. I think it was that very thing that kept my persevering in my quest to attend the show. The next morning I sent my mate B a text asking if she’d like to come along. Her response was something along the lines of – What? For free? Hell yeah! Result. I sprung out of bed with new vigour and set about making plans for the day.
We arranged to set off around 5pm, but B didn’t arrive outside my house until an hour later. Worryingly, when I opened my front door I saw her standing over her car engine with a concerned expression. Oh shucks, signal crisis number 234,484. I remained calm while Rich came down and checked it out for her. He made a few clinking noises and declared it was fine. Yay, we were on our way. The evening was lush. It was warm with a slight overcast – perfect festival weather. We headed onto the M25 and reached Paddock Wood Town where the festival was being held, in no time at all, but could we find our destination? Both our sat navs directed us to a quiet, narrow road that was virtually empty and definitely looked like it was off the beaten track. Although common sense told us we weren’t in the right location, we continued to drive up the narrow road until we reached the top. Lo and behold it was a private road with a quiet little cul de sac. Haha, shameful, right? So we U-turned and headed back up the main road. Ten minutes later we spotted some folks in high vis jackets and it seemed like we had finally reached our destination.
By the time we arrived it was just after 8pm. We could hear mutterings amongst the other late-arriving festival goers that Prince was scheduled to take to the stage at 8. Yikes. We started to up the pace and before you know it we were facing the stage with throngs of folk lining up to see the man himself. Not content with our spot, I’m ashamed to admit we did the annoying thing of bobbing and weaving through the crowd to get closer to the stage. 20 minutes later and we had a fairly decent spot. Spirits were high. And so was I practically from the potent ganja fumes wafting through the air. We were kept waiting by a soundtrack of vintage Paisley Park tracks, music written and produced by the diminutive genius, performed by other artists. It has to be said – the back catalogue hasn’t aged well. The videos were corny, the styling of most of the artists diabolical, and the music sounded terribly generic. The only high points were two tracks by Mint Condition – What Kind of Man Would I Be? And Pretty Brown Eyes (Breakin’ My Heart). Oh and of course the classic hit by Taja Sevelle – Love is Contagious.
While shaking a leg to Taja, the music faded. Then the frenzied screams began. I can’t recall a big entrance. The band simply started playing and the next thing I remember was Prince standing on stage looking like some funky, musical deity dresses in a flowing ivory suit. He started his set with a song I wasn’t familiar with called We Live 2 Get Funky. The sound was spine-tingling. That’s the only criticism I have of 02 gigs. I’ve been to that venue on a few occasions now and as much as I love it, the quality of the sound is really hit and miss. But tonight there was no mistaking – the music was seriously foonky. Ever brilliant, Prince used the opening track to do his soundcheck, getting each of his band members to play a little riff while instructing the sound engineers to do the necessary tweaks off stage – genius! Next up was Let’s Go Crazy. From the opening lines of: ‘Dearly beloved’ the crowd went bananas. Wow, and all this within the first five minutes? I did begin to wonder how he was going to keep up the momentum. But hey, I should’ve known better than to cast doubt. I was watching a master at work and Mr Rogers Nelson was just getting warmed up. The next highlight for me was a slow, stripped down version of Little Red Corvette, that would speed up during the chorus. It was seriously sensual *fans self at the memory*.
Prince’s second in command, Shelby J then took centre stage for a gut wrenching version of Nothing Compares 2 U. I remember Shelby from the 02 gigs, the chica has talent for days and a presence that exudes star power. Prince made a wisecrack about it being Sinead O’Connor’s song and when they crowd responded with boos, he pacified them by saying he bought a whole house with that song. Hilarious. By the time Take Me With U and Raspberry Beret came on I was positively floating (two of my favourite Prince tracks). Up next was the uber funky ‘Cool‘, a track I’ve only recently become aware of. Mid way through, the track segued into a blistering version of ‘Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough‘ performed by Shelby and another lady who I’m not familiar with. It was such a touching moment. Those who were around in the 80’s will be aware of the rivalry that existed between Prince and MJ, fuelled mainly by the press, but never strongly denied by either artist. This musical tribute I think was Prince’s way of saying no matter what may have gone down in the past, the respect is there. It really was a beautiful mark of respect (signal: teary moment no.1). Other classics were fired off such as U Got The Look and Cream. By this time the party was in full swing.
Purple Rain is what did it to me. I’ve loved this song since I first heard it as a young girl, and having played it within an inch of its life throughout the years, I had no idea it would have the ability to move me the way it did on that night. “Can I take my time with this one?” Prince asked tentatively. As if we wouldn’t offer up our kidneys if he asked us to at this point. So take it slow he did. Drawing out every syllable, every word heartfelt, every note strummed on his guitar an expression of love. Midway through the guitar solo an explosion of purple confetti burst across the field. I looked into the sky and all I could see was wild, purple iridescent flickers everywhere. Like excitable children, we all attempted to grab onto a piece, hoping for a keepsake of what was turning out to be a remarkable evening. It was at this point – arms outstretched, gazing at the purple flickers, on a musical high- that I felt a moment of true bliss. It’s kinda hard to put it into words peeps without sounding dramatic, pretentious or straight up bat crazy. But that’s what I felt. And I wasn’t the only one. Following a post-show breakdown with my mate, and with another mate who was there with his friends and family – they also felt some kind of spiritual peak (teary moment no.2).
Three encores later and Prince was done with us. We chanted, begged and stomped for him to come back, but glancing at my clock, I realised it was 11pm which was the curfew. I’ve got a few pieces of the purple confetti in my bag to remind me of the night. As one young lady who stood next to us kept saying – it was simply a privilege to be there. And indeed it was. To witness first hand the transformative, mystical and healing power of music is an experience I’ll carry with me for the rest of my days (teary moment no.3).
“Real Music. Real Musicians.” Prince
Thanks to Loren and The Hop Farm Festival for inviting me along. What a magical night.