A couple of months ago the list of festival headliners, with the exception of Pulp, was a pretty unappealing load of cobblers. We had U2, Bongo and The Privet hoping they wouldn’t slip a disc at Glastonbury. Coldplank hopping around like a special needs Morris Dancer, and Beyonce giving it Hair and Lungs but no tunes. Eminem and Arctic Monkeys hold little appeal and for many a lack of Acne or Ginger Hair (dyed black) makes them ineligible to like Muse or My Chemical Romance. Watching The Strokes these days is even less appealing than suffering one.
Then, out of nowhere came the news that Prince, The Purple Yoda, was going to be giving it some leg in a (potentially muddy) field in Kent. A tacked-on day at The Hop Farm Festival. To a long suffering Prince Anorak like myself this is incredible. He doesn’t do Festivals. Not since the catastrophe (so rumour has it) of when, as a fledgling artist, he nipped for a pre-show wee at an open air gig, became trapped after his heels sunk in the mud, and thousands of people unwittingly walked past him thinking he was a ‘cheeky gnome’ water feature, installed by the organisers, subsequently his band got booed off after playing a set of instrumentals without him.
But seriously, none of Prince’s peers and parallel artists enjoyed the lengthy and steady rise and plateau of creative and commercial success that he did, Stevie Wonder peaked, in that sense, for 3 long players, Sly Stone for two, Marvin Gaye for two, Michael Jackson for three, Hendrix for three. For James Brown only ‘In the Jungle Groove’ and a couple of live albums were truly cohesive. But Prince had seven consecutive superbly executed and presented albums, they were the three before, and the three after and including, ‘Purple Rain.’ Plus many great B-sides and rarities from the same period. Prior to ‘Dirty Mind’ he was finding his feet. At ‘Lovesexy’ the quality of his output became spasmodic.
Presented with this aspect even the die-hard fans agree that his edgy days are behind him, but that wasn’t the concern at Hop Farm tonight, it was whether he could win over an audience outside of the boundaries of his comfort zone, a sleepy smallholding in the English countryside, consisting largely of Newbies and Cooler Box Casuals.
Luckily the (regular coloured) rain stayed away. Prince and his band ambled on stage, he apologised in advance for using the opening instrumental as a soundcheck. It wasn’t the intro people wanted to hear. There was apprehension.
He could have played George Formby songs and we would have been convinced it was appropriate. He finished the main set with ‘Purple Rain’. I saw people crying as they swayed
He then proceeded to play the greatest show I have ever been lucky enough to witness. He blasted through pretty much everything one would hope for. Gave us exactly what we wanted. ‘Lets Go Crazy’, ‘1999’, ‘Raspberry Beret’, ‘Little Red Corvette’ ‘Kiss’, ‘Cream’, loads more, interspersed with lesser known numbers and interludes, during which he displayed serious footwork, spins and pirouettes, and remind us what a superb guitarist he is.
As the sun set it dawned on the audience that this performance was special. Hop Farm was no longer a gig, it was a party. 40,000 people danced, they didn’t mosh or get crushed or wait for the anthems or express angst or beat their chests, they danced! Shimmied their Tushes and waved their hands like they just didn’t care. He is not just the world’s finest song and dance man, he is an entertainer with the prowess and chutzpah to make the punters feel that the show is a celebration and it belongs to them.
Amongst the choice pickings from his archive he dropped in Michael Jackson songs, cracked a few jokes, cooed through a couple of ballads, thanked Sinead O’Conner for paying for his house, then stepped aside and let the backing singers cover Adele, by this time the choice of tune didn’t matter. He could have played George Formby songs and we would have been convinced it was appropriate. He finished the main set with ‘Purple Rain’. I saw people crying as they swayed. The whole audience was won over. Job done. It all seemed so effortless.
He then returned for several encores, more favourites plus covers of ‘Play that funky Music (White Boy)’ by Wild Cherry, Sly Stones ‘Everyday People’ segued into a groovy-gospel version of The Beatles ‘Come Together’ then segued into Sly’s ‘I Want To Take You Higher’ plus other shamelessly full-on disco workouts. It was a Funk Frenzy. He kept reminding us that ‘This ain’t nothing but a party y’all.’ He was having a ball, we were having a ball.
Long after the floodlights came up people chanted for more. On the way out I saw a girl sat inspecting her feet, telling her friends that she’d danced her toenails off. I asked strangers what they thought of the evening. Their opinions matched mine. If word of this incredible night gets out the biggest draw at future of festivals may well Prince. Fit some dance floors!
Live musical performance is the domain of Prince. He continues to set the bar. If you don’t believe me go and see him for yourself, or ask the people there tonight. He makes every other act look stale, clumsy, inept or boring. Yesterday was a great day. Thank you little fella!
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