Saturday, 14 June 2008

The Harder They Come Now at the West End



Remember I told you about this fantastic play recently? Well it's now been granted a lengthy stint at the Playhouse Theatre in the west end, which is great news. If you caught the London Lite newspaper during the week you would have seen pictures of Mick Jagger embarrassing his daughter by doing the whole 'daddy dance' thing during press night. I saw the pics and laughed. But it's okay, I understand entirely Mick. It's such a feel good show that your inhibitions (and your troubles) are truly left at the door. For bookings visit http://www.thehardertheycomelondon.com/

Friday, 13 June 2008

Stressed, bloated and broke!

Soz I've been a bit quiet this week, it's that time of the month again... No not that one silly, it's deadline week. Now being overworked is part and parcel of my crazy ass job, but this month my boss is deffo taking the proverbial piss. I'm going on holiday next Thursday and can't even muster one single iota of excitement due to my constant 'waking up in the night' type anxiety over getting everything in on time. Plus, I'm broke! And I'm wondering if you can truly enjoy a vacay if you're forced to live on a staple diet of rice cakes and H20? Okay, so I'm exaggerating slightly but you catch my drift. Although the final straw occurred when I stuffed up my tankini diet (refuse to do bikinis since having Khy) by gorging on comfort food all week. Even though, that said, I've hardly been sticking to a strict regime. More like trying to maintain the head start I received a few weeks ago when I lost about 4lbs after not eating for 3 or 4 days following a dodgy stomach. Tut tut, I guess cheaters never prosper after all.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Estelle's 'No Substitute'



Estelle has just released the third video from her supa dupa fly album - Shine. If you haven't gone out and bought the album yet, then what's the hold up? 'No Substitute' is one of my favourites from the CD. It's inspired by the reggae classic by 'Halfpint', a song which was always on rotation at my family gatherings, and reminds me of my youth. The video look as if it has a decent budget: it's all very classy and shiny, with full-on glam.  Kelly Rowland even makes a cameo appearance, but in all honesty, it's all about the leading lady who wears a number of figure hugging dresses, and rocks a punked up version of her pixie hairstyle. A lot of British folk are still unsure about the 'revamped' Etelle, and favour the cutesy little tomboy of the '1980's 'era. But I think she looks great. And as Ms Swaray rightly says "I've discovered that I've got boobs and legs, so I want to show them off". Who are we to argue with that?

See below for the Estelle of yesteryear, to me there is no comparison...Can you believe this was filmed a mere four years ago?


Sunday, 8 June 2008

A Prince Comes of Age



One of my all-time favourite artists turned 50 yesterday. I've been a fan of Prince from around the age of 14. Initially, I was strictly team MJ, but after hiring Purple Rain at my local video shop, I was smitten. Soul stirring ballads like 'Baby, Baby, Baby', 'Adore', 'When Two are in Love' 'Ssh' and 'If I was Your Girlfriend' were forever on rotation on my cassette player. And being able to see them performed live by the man himself last summer at the 02 Arena will go certainly go down as one of the highlights of that particular year. My friend and fellow Prince fan, Sam Bleazard, was lucky enough to get an even more up-close and personal experience with the man himself, when he visited the legendary Paisley Park studios in Minneapolis - home and recording studio of the reclusive star. Read his remarkable account of his journey below. And when you're done check out some of Sam's music on www.myspace.com/samjb2


N.B. I've just been kindly reminded that the song I've referred to as 'Baby, Baby Baby' is in fact entitled 'The Beautiful Ones'. Please forgive me... I was obviously dreaming when I wrote this.

Admission is Free For Those Who Believe
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.

There aren’t any rules in Paisley Park?



The lyrics to Prince’s mid 80s psychedelic ode ‘Paisley Park’ imagine a utopia where there are no rules but in the studio complex and sound stage of the same name there were actually quite a lot. Upon arrival we had to routinely pass through metal detectors, and it was strictly no phones, no smoking and no alcohol – water was all that was consumed.

So what’s it like inside? Well firstly it’s several miles out of Minneapolis or its transport system so you have to drive or take a cab to get there. Initially from the outside it looks like a mix of industrial estate and a modern looking leisure centre, which sets the tone when you pass through the doors. On most occasions we had to enter via the back door near the soundstage, but during the day a guide was showing people round. The corridors which linked the guest area with the recording studios and large soundstage were adorned by a large number of awards and platinum discs. There’s even (or was then) a small club room where he can play intimate sets for much smaller audiences – which includes a staircase up to a DJ booth - (the doors to this particular annexe of the soundstage must have been at least 15-20 feet high and have his symbol painted large across them.

Upon walking through the front door the complex is on two levels from memory, with staff offices, pool room and ‘thinking’ room (bathed in blue light) on the upper floor with a walkway which looks down onto a light filled atrium with marble floors while doves cooed somewhere in the ceiling above. Prince had also left a painting on display that Miles Davis had done especially for him, which was clearly a matter of pride (and rightly so!).

As promised he played seven nights in a row, with a completely different set of songs each night. One night there was an acoustic set filled with virtuoso rhythm playing and a lot of humour (some of the group’s children were onstage dancing at one point). On other nights there was jazz, some with the focus on his pop hits, covers, pure blues, hard rock, funk and also solo performances on the piano. The tickets were reasonably priced at approximately £150, so you suspect he didn’t give the public such exclusive access for money. During the day you were also granted entry to Paisley Park and Prince had left his tour guitars, pianos, outfits, Purple Rain film memorabilia and much of his musical life on show for visitors.

Admission is easy?

One night during bluesman Bernard Allison’s set, he appeared at the corner of the room with his then wife and possibly a family member or members, at which point they climbed up some stairs to a raised platform with a couple of sofas on. It was slightly out of the ordinary to think that at the back of the room Prince was watching the concert with us, but we were guests in his ‘house’ which was how he referred to the building. To loosen up the atmosphere the support act for the evening decided to go for a wander while soloing on his cordless guitar, wandering up to where our host was, even climbing the steps. Perhaps out of playfulness or even embarrassment, a suited Prince sprayed him with a water bottle, the audience laughed and he soloed his way back to the stage. It seems likely that Prince wasn’t comfortable walking through the crowd, however small, as he was flanked by security on this occasion. At other times however he frequently popped up walking briskly with a sense of purpose through the crowd. I did a double-take one night as he walked towards me but as quickly as I’d clocked him he’d gone (seemingly unnoticed by others in attendance). But even superstars want to make contact with the privileged few. One night a friend and I found ourselves in conversation with a young woman who’d travelled across the states to see the concerts, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Jennifer Lopez – if anything she was more striking than the global star. While we continued chatting a security man with an earpiece tapped her on the shoulder – and before we had a chance to find out more about her – she’d been summoned by the boss. We never had the pleasure of her company for the rest of that evening.

Making history



We spoke to people who worked with him closely on a daily basis, and one of them, sound engineer Femi Jiya, talked of long stretches of back to back 18 hour+ days in the studio with Prince urging him on by saying, ‘…we’re making history here.’ While we were there, he suddenly appeared out of nowhere, elfin like with a bandana on his head and carrying a Gretsch style guitar over his shoulder but disappeared again as quickly as we’d clocked him. Others we talked to spoke of their frustration from working on brilliant pieces of music that were never released, and their subsequent confusion when they were replaced with throw away pop songs or generic sounding R’n’B tracks instead. Other musicians were wandering around the complex, backing singers and old legends such as former James Brown saxman and sidekick Maceo Parker. All seemed happy to chat but when the subject of Prince came up, the eyes focused, the ears pricked up and the face became earnest and serious, almost to suggest that the walls themselves had eyes and ears that could somehow transmit to their omnipresent master.

Faith

Another self imposed rule which was very important to Prince – and still is – was that swearing was strictly out of the question, you certainly didn’t hear any from him and he was in the process of re-branding his act as a family show.

His faith caused him to go so far as banning swearing on record and onstage in the 90s, following advice from fellow Jehovah’s Witness and former Sly & The Family Stone bass player, Larry Graham – and it’s also unlikely he’ll celebrate his birthday because of his beliefs.

When fans screamed for him to play all the old tracks complete with profanity and sexual swearwords, one night he retorted that ‘for anyone who misses the old lyrics, it probably says more about you than it does me.’ Touché. Sexy M.f. wasn’t played, and although 90s hit Gett Off wasn’t either, its new configuration now contained the line ’23 scriptures in a one night stand’. Too much?

On the last night it certainly was for some, as his soundstage became a temple of worship brought on by an intense version of Purple Rain on the piano, during which Prince did a lot of preaching beforehand. This unfortunately seemed to divide the audience and not bring it together as hoped, and while many of the European contingent were seriously turned off, it became practically a prayer session to many of the American faithful in the room. As they all began to close their eyes I wandered out into the car park in the summer night air. Various people had scrawled messages of devotion to their idol in chalk on the concrete, but as I read these I felt sad for him in some ways. There was a loneliness which came through in some of the performances that week no matter how brilliant each of them was. Did Prince need an audience more than they needed him?

Prince is now spreading ‘The Word’, which his beliefs call on him to do – and while The Watchtower has probably never sounded so funky, his transformation to rock deity has been achieved over a rocky road, and his spiritual devotion has clearly had to overcome struggles with his libido. At his peak Prince’s dirty imagination captured the minds of the public at large as he hoped it would, but like Marvin Gaye before him there has been clear tension throughout his career between the secular and the sacred, which continue to drive him and provide the inspiration behind much of his music. Less high profile albums such as Around the World in a Day, Lovesexy and the jazz-funk infused ‘The Rainbow Children’, all make it very clear that temptation and the Devil are always ever present and all around us, but that spiritual fulfilment is where the party’s at, whether on earth, in Heaven or the afterlife. So who wants to join him at the heavenly party? It’s a question he’s posed to live audiences for almost thirty years, so let’s just hope whoever’s in charge at the pearly gates has a soundstage and a recording studio set aside for him when he gets there. In the meantime enjoy this unique talent in his twilight years while you can.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Oh Yeah...



...How could I forget. AND Stevie played an exclusive set to a bunch of journos at the Hardrock Cafe this afternoon and announced he will be touring the UK the first time in over ten years - YEAH!!!! Signed, sealed, delivered - I'm there. Is this the coolest summer or what??

Be Back Soon Button Moon

Phew, it's been a crazy week...What with a birthday party to organise for my three year old. Then having to partly organise a small gathering two days later for my daddy's 65th birthday. Shopping in Primark, Bromley for 3 hours in preparation for my summer hols to Jamaica. Witnessing Obama make history by winning the Democratic candidacy (could we ever have such a gripping political campaign in this country?). Watching Davina announce the Big Brother arrivals while shrieking "Yes, yes" to my television screen because the producers have finally got it right (no wet-behind-the-ears Samanda types in sight).

This weekend should be a quiet one hopefully, so I'll be back on the blog. If all goes according to plan I'll be introducing you to a guest blogger who will be writing about a once in a lifetime encounter with a certain diminutive superstar who celebrates his half century this weekend. Any clue?

About Me

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I am a thirty-something African Caribbean female from South East London. My blog will shine a light on Black British culture offering the best in entertainment, fashion, beauty, community, film & music, with the occasional personal musing thrown in from yours truly. Thank you for taking out the time to peek into the pages of my diary. Now grab a cup of cocoa, relax and enjoy.