Saturday, 14 June 2008
Friday, 13 June 2008
Monday, 9 June 2008
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
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.
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?
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?
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.
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
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?
- 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.