Last Friday was the mystical combination of Valentines Day and a full moon, so as a suave and sophisticated international playboy, my night was to be filled with exciting adventures, heart stopping romance and other acts too lewd to mention in public. By which I mean staying in, watching movies and getting organised for my friend Sheila’s wedding to the lovely Matt, now Mr Woodbridge (congratulations both!!). Yes, I rock that hard.
Then everything changed. The artist formally known as Prince, now formally know as symbol was in town, performing last minute gigs to lucky souls. Through the wonders of Twitter and social media ‘#PrinceWatch’ was on constant refresh on my phone, and then came the fateful message – “Prince is playing. Now. At Kings Place near Kings Cross”. WTW!
Romantic night in plans scuppered I grabbed everything I could and shot out the door. I ran swiftly through the streets of Walthamstow, texting friends as I went, testing my knee fitness down the epic stairs of Blackhorse Road tube (when will they fix that escalator?) and straight onto a tube. Kings Cross was but a few short stops away. The signs were in place. I would make this gig, oh yes!
As I caught my breath the tube wound its way under the streets of London. My mind raced. How many people in this carriage were on the way to see the small purple music god in all his glory? With every minute I knew the exponential laws of digital communications and London transport would be extending that queue. Another 10, 100, 1000 people – what was the rate of growth? The train paused, waiting outside of Seven Sisters. “Please move train, please! Prince awaits!” I quietly willed the train to go, the lights to change and eventually they did, more precious minutes lost.
Then the tube pulled into Kings Cross, laces freshly tightened on my red tiger trainers I raced along the platform and up the stairs. Past friendly police helping some lucky chap put his hands behind his back to gently cuff. Past drunken groups of friends laughing too loudly with each other on their night out without a date, each hoping without hoping that tonight some other desperate soul would change their lives and create a story for their wedding – yes, we met on Valentines, how funny is that? My mind was focussed, no thoughts of soul mates intruded on my calculations of the fastest route out of the warren of Kings Cross to my destination.
The rain was starting to lash down as I raced up York Way. As I passed some people they realised we were heading to the same place and started running too, shared madness making us laugh and smile at each other even in our very competition. Then I was there, to the sight of a line already snaking from the venue and up the stairs onto the road. It had only been 40 minutes since the announcement. My friend Sanj had been nearer than me and was 50 people further down the line – queue etiquette kicked in and I resisted the strong urge to play the “my mate’s holding my place” card. We were both there, now all we could do was wait.
As new friends were made in the line, someone from the venue came past with a clicker. The prognosis was not good.. We were past the cut-off for this 300/350 seat venue and, no, there was only one show tonight. This couldn’t be, we reasoned. Surely we’d all invested so much the fates would be on our side? The line kept growing along with our nervousness. The wind and rain howling around us to represent our inner turmoil hidden behind smiling faces.
The line started to move, soon we would know the truth. A slow edging and the slight shelter of the building kept us more out of the wind. Small mercies. The thoughts of toilet breaks and warming beers crossed our minds, but no-one would dare to leave the line. Closer and closer we got to the door. Then, disaster, the line stopped moving. Murmurs and questions started to rise up from everyone. We were so close, only 15 metres from the door. The line was now so long that it still stretched far beyond where I’d first joined up an hour or so before.
Official news came down the line – the show was on and was full, I was just that bit too late. Oh damn that short delay in the tube! Damn not living in the Guardian offices! Then, more news – a second show would be put on! We’d gone from being at the back of the venue to now being almost first in. Oh happy day, callooh callay. Smiles erupted on us all, with sad thoughts for those people still waiting out in the new torrential rain back where we’d started as no third show was on offer.
Shortly we were inside the venue, tickets bought, warming whiskey in hand courtesy of Sanj. We could hear the first show in progress, doors sometimes opening to give us a brief blast of Prince sound, cheering and warmth. Then the first show was over, people streamed out faces glowing and red, smiles from ear to ear. It would soon be our turn, not long now.. Then the security guards told us we would go in, “slowly please!”, the crowd didn’t want to hear that – a surge began – security got anxious. Somehow I ended up near the front and got let through to the doors early, racing along to the door I was in. The venue so small, I got to the middle of the second row and grabbed seats for Sanj and myself. Prince’s symbol attached to the mike was but a few metres away, could this be any better?
Waiting for everyone else you could see the smiles on everyone’s face. We all knew how special this was. The security guards also knew, but didn’t want us taking photos – a harder task to prevent these days with every phone a camera. The anticipation was rising and then, the three women who formed 3rd Eye Girl – Prince’s current band – came out. Elegant and tall, they welcomed us and asked that we didn’t take photos – while telling us of the next few gigs; Koko tonight, Ronnie Scotts on Monday – then a few in Manchester and Brixton Academy soon. After all the sneaks of information this was a welcome flood. Then they left the stage and the lights dimmed..
Suddenly he was there, Prince, the man we’d come to see, striding confidently onto the stage with an afro and back hair jacket, shoes with perspex souls that flashed with red lights. We all stood, seats abandoned and didn’t sit for the rest of the show. He moved gracefully to sit on a chair at the front of the stage and smiled warmly at us all. The crowd erupted in cheers, everyone grinning wildly. Then he launched into an acoustic version of Raspberry Beret and all was good with the world as we sang along.
The show was only an hour or so long, but what an hour. Hits mixed with cover songs flowed effortlessly from one to the next. Acoustic became electric, classic songs became jams, hits became singlaongs. His band were tight and talented and though obviously deferring to his lead they held their own and jammed fluidly with him across many riffs. I’d forgotten just how good of a guitarist Prince is, his face bright with the obvious pleasure of playing as his fingers flew over the frets. Later his bass and keyboard playing would also astound, as would his dance moves. And that voice, oh that voice.
I’d only seen Prince play once before, sitting high in the nose bleeds at Madison Square Garden in 2004. He’d held us all in thrall at that large space so to see him in a 300 seat venue was beyond sublime and to be within two metres of him, well. I suspect at some point he made direct eye contact with almost every single one of us, but what struck me was that it wasn’t about a sexual pose I might have expected from earlier songs, but a feeling of warmth and intimacy and true pleasure in being with close with his audience. This was a valentines day for us all, and he was glad to share it.I can’t remember every song, the full setlist is here, but I do remember it ended with Purple Rain – smoke flowing out across the stage as Prince sat behind the keyboard encouraging us to try and reach the high notes. And though we clapped and cheered and hoped, through the return of the band to bow and smile one last time, the gig was over and it couldn’t have ended any other way. The moment though, will last forever.
So huge thanks to the crowds of people on Twitter who post to #PrinceWatch to share the love, if you get the chance to go and see him yourself on this tour then do it – you won’t regret the time spent lining up and you may make some good friends in the process. But most of all thanks to Prince for still playing smaller venues like this, and showing us a world through your purple tinted glasses.