The artist formerly known as Prince had been one of my teenage idols from around the mid 1980s up until around the time of his 1992 Love Symbol Album; the combination of his music, lyrics, dance routines, exuberant clothing and all-round showmanship really packed a punch for me. So it’s fair to say that I was gutted to hear of his passing back in 2016; sometimes it really does snow in April, to use the words of the great man himself.
I had seen Prince (when he was known as such) perform live many years ago at Wembley Arena, and watched his movies Purple Rain (1984) and Under the Cherry Moon (1986) countless times in my youth. So when I heard that his former backing band, The New Power Generation (NPG), were set to appear locally at Oxford’s Common People festival this year I bagged myself a ticket without delay
I sure felt envious of the ‘approved’ photographer who’s secured himself access to that hallowed gap which separates audience from famed folks on stage, but I figured that having secured and defended my front row position for almost an hour, just right of centre stage, that I had faired only slightly less favourably than the official guy with the swanky camera. Indeed upon reviewing my photographic gatherings the next morning I was extremely pleased with my image collection (I bet they were better than yours ‘pro camera’ guy), and would love to share my favourites here, but I read something about copyright and live music images the other day which is making me err on the side of caution, for now.
Musically, NPG’s dirty bass lines still packed a real punch, You Sexy MF being a particular case in point. Where Prince’s absent vocals were most conspicuous the group simply held the mic out to the audience resulting in a collective attempt at standing in for the great man, a strategy which was most effective in the case of Nothing Compares to You (most of the audience thus left simultaneously singing and crying). The group very much framed the performance as a tribute to Prince and frequently brandished heart shaped hand symbols to denote love and indebtedness to Prince.
Commemorative sentiments aside though, I can honestly say that these guys were the most exciting live act I’ve seen in over a decade. They are not young men by any stretch of the imagination, but boy could they move. Prince’s unique vocals are irreplaceable, and it was great that their new front man didn’t try to emulate them. Arguably the songs which the NPG performed are so ingrained in the public consciousness that the audience could still ‘hear’ Prince anyway, but hats off to the rest of the group for taking turns at stepping in to sing up front. Vocally, the new front man really doesn’t compare to you Prince, but there’s no denying he has the right spirit; he’s got the look, he’s got the hook, he sho’nuf do be cookin’ in my book. Thanks NPG for helping to keep Prince’s music alive. I’d watch you every day of the week if I could.