Prince’s regal gramophone: It was five years ago today

Incredibly, in terms of album sales Prince was the biggest-selling artist in the US in the year after his death. The purple one shifted more than 2.2 million long-players in the months after his untimely demise in an elevator at Paisley Park.

Unsealed court documents, released just days ago, also show that the star travelled under the name Peter Bravestrong to help conceal his identity.

That name was on a luggage tag he used while travelling to Atlanta for what proved to be his final concert, on 14th April 2016, exactly a week before he expired in a Paisley Park elevator.

The Piano & A Microphone Tour, Prince’s final set off performances began in Australia, and continued for only five shows in Canada and the United States before the remaining were cancelled. His dual performances at the Sydney Opera House marked a bona fide moment in history. I’d seen the second ‘Sydneyapolis’ show late one Saturday evening February 20th, and it was, without a doubt, one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever seen. Proving it with just himself at a piano, it was amazing what you can do with a couple of lights, a bit of a screen and a few strategically placed candles.

But when you have that amount of musicality and a pitch perfect voice still very much intact, you don’t really need to hide behind props and stupid stunts even Spinal Tap would have baulked at. The subsequent concert I saw was Madonna. Enough said.

The performance was a tribute to his entire creative life, bookended by Love…Thy Will Be Done (a Martika cover) and Purple Rain—which he dedicated to Vanity, his former muse and partner who had passed away a week earlier.

His set was 28 songs deep and, for any Prince fan, a feast: classics like Little Red Corvette, audience join-in anthem How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore, covers of Bob Marley and Ray Charles, and rock cuts like Big City and Screwdriver from HITnRUN Phase Two, his 39th and final studio album. Following these shows, Piano And A Microphone 1983 was released posthumously containing recordings from his infamous Vault archive being released for the very first time — his last gift to us.

At some point between Australia and the Georgia swansong, the Minneapolis marvel often slipped in a few lines of Bowie’s Heroes. Go search for a recording if you can, because the poignancy, knowing these were Prince’s final weeks on Planet Earth, is electrifying. Almost unremittingly sad.

I’d bought my first Prince record in 1985. It was the double-A side of 1999 and Little Red Corvette that early in that year’s chart, became his biggest UK hit until his surprise chart topper of 1994, the pretty but slight Most Beautiful Girl In The World.

Don’t worry, be party

The edited 7” version contains one of Prince’s greatest intros, in fact one of the most euphoric pop intros of all time. If you think about it, 1999, When Doves Cry and Kiss – his three biggest British hits of the 1980s – all boast the most incredibly recognisable intros that other performers would have hocked their last bottle of Purple Grape Juice to have come up with first. What a cad.

On Channel 5’s Prince Story: Icon, Genius, Slave, broadcast at the weekend, Mica Paris came up with the assertion that (in the ’70s) “Bowie pushed it. In the ’80s, Prince was our black Bowie.” Pretty accurate so far. What a shame that when the Thin White Dame referenced the purple one, it happened to be on the ghastliest album of his entire career.

Everything’s bottoms to you people

For what it’s worth, like Bowie, my parents never really ‘got’ Prince. I remember bringing home that 12” of 1999 and my mum taking one look at the bum-crack suggesting back cover and snorting: “Oh, look at him trying to be sexy. Honestly!” And laughing hysterically as she went in search of a cup of tea.

When he burst on the scene, the diminutive one was a veritable fireball of sexual explosion. You could never imagine him ever drinking tea. Boy George he most certainly wasn’t.

Go here for a fantastic recording of that final Atlanta performance. You won’t be sorry. But one thing’s for certain, we’ll never see his like again.

Steve Pafford

“I am so sad and shocked to hear the tragic news about Prince,” she wrote. “He was the most incredibly talented artist,” she wrote. “A man in complete control of his work from writer and musician to producer and director. He was such an inspiration. Playful and mind-blowingly gifted. He was the most inventive and extraordinary live act I’ve seen. The world has lost someone truly magical. Goodnight dear Prince.”

Kate Bush, April 2016

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