Though great live music remained plentiful, there was only really one performer who gave Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL’s Hit and Run tour any competition for the title of best live event of 2014, and as such, it feels appropriate that I start with an apology to Kate Bush’s miraculous Before The Dawn comeback. In any other year, her series of concerts would have stood head and shoulders over any rival event you’d care to mention - Glastonbury, Coachella and the World Cup included. It was truly, truly great, and perhaps the best thing you can say about Prince’s brief, dizzying UK tour was that it was just that little bit greater.
Beyond hearing that he was coming to town with his new band – namely Hannah Ford on drums, Donna Grantis on guitar and Ida Nielsen on bass – to play a set at new buddy Lianne La Havas’ living room in Croydon, details were sparse. That living room show on 4 February turned out to be more of a press conference for one lucky journalist; at which Prince discussed the release (which was to be hugely delayed) of new album Plectrum Electrum, played a few acoustic tunes, and jumped in a car across town, not even telling said journalist his destination.
This was where my story, loosely titled "Ten Days Indulging The Massive Prince Maniac Within" began, and forgive me for being over excited in my retelling of it all, but I figure it’s the best way to get across quite how fantastic this series of gigs was. It started with receiving a call alerting me to the fact that “something” “might” be going on at Camden’s Electric Ballroom that evening. I headed down to find myself first in the queue, and proceeded to ask the security if Prince was playing there that night (which is a strange question, and not one I’ve ever had to ask anyone before). They shrugged, and told me they knew nothing about anything. Given the fact that there was security there at all on a night when the venue had no other booking, I decided to hang around. Soon, others joined me, but not that many – by the time we were let in after a couple of hours of wondering if there would really be a gig at all, I found myself being one of less than 50 people watching Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL run through a “sound check” set.
But some “sound check” this was – more like a full band show, smoke machines and all, with new tunes, covers, and drastic but brilliant re-workings of Prince classics making up the hour or so he spent on stage. It flew by so fast that I barely know what to make of it, even now. In retrospect, due to the exhilerating but rushed nature of it all, it actually wasn’t the best Prince gig I’ve ever seen – though I wouldn’t have to wait long for that – but, in terms of the bizarre nature of the experience and tantalising secrecy surrounding being there in the first place, it was one of the most dazzlingly strange evenings I’ll probably ever have.
Of course, the next morning, the internet was going Prince loopy. He quickly announced he’d be playing another show at the Electric Ballroom that night, with £10 tickets available on a first come, first served basis. A mammoth queue formed all the way up Camden High Street almost instantly, with people standing with teeth chattering for hours in the rain with no guarantee they’d even get in. Prince rewarded them first by handing out food from a nearby diner, and then with a set that justified calling the previous evening’s mini extravaganza a “sound check”. The show was magnificent, and far fuller than night number one’s; reinterpreted renditions of “Let’s Go Crazy”, “She’s Always In My Hair” and “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” sounded arguably better than the can’t-be-bettered originals; 3RDEYEGIRL-specific cuts like “Plectrum Electrum” and “Marz” suggested that the promised new Prince LP might be the first one in about ten years not to kinda suck; and in “Bambi”, Prince and his new band dusted off a deep cut from his second album so brilliantly that it closed a set better than any rock song I’ve heard from the past 30 years.
I’ve seen Prince a few times before, but this was the best I’d ever seen him. That is, until he came back on stage about 45 minutes later – with a whole second venue’s worth of people having been allowed in from the queue outside (I hid in the gents and hung around for part two) – and trumped it straight away. Though the initial part of the set was nearly identical to the first one of the night (I’ve spoken about both at length, here) – it was the encores that really sealed this one. The solo piano turns and additional flexing of the considerable music chops of 3RDEYEGIRL for new songs were a delight, but the hits medley was the biggest party I’ve ever been to, and the only time I’ve ever jumped up in to the air and punched the floor in delight. In my defence, I’d never heard him play “When Doves Cry” live before, and I really like that song.
My tally stood at three Prince gigs in just over 24 hours, and I was ready for more. Ever the mischieif maker, he went quiet on us for a few days, until 3RDEYEGIRL appeared as last minute guests on BBC 6Music one Sunday morning (9th February) to announce that they and Prince would be performing at Shepherd’s Bush Empire that evening. So, I shook off my customary hangover and joined the queue as soon as was physically possible. There were a few hundred people ahead of me this time, and I knew I’d have to spend a good eight hours in the cold and rain waiting to be allowed in. Also, it was £70 to get in that night, rather than the previous ticket price of £10. I was, it’s worth reiterating, incredibly hungover, so I decided this all sounded like sensible behaviour and started to chat to the people around me.
Thankfully, they were all as nuts as I am. One, a music student, had a very important recital first thing the following morning, but she'd never seen Prince before and was determined not to miss another gig. One man behind me, desperate to visit the gents, asked if I’d mind his place in the queue for him and his mate, who was at that very minute on a train down from Edinburgh. “I could never take the place of your man”, I told him, or at least I should have, because that would have been very funny. I just said “sure”, and got chatting to the woman behind him, who had seen Prince countless times since she was a teenager - including a night in the front row of the Dirty Mind tour in 1981. She was an absolute sweetheart. In fact, they all were, and by the time we were told Prince had dropped the ticket price to £10 after all, we were all dancing drunk in the streets before we’ve even entered the venue. When we did get inside, with a spare £60 in our pockets, we were treated to the greatest show of our lives bar none. Even the aforementioned woman - who makes me look like an amateur with a Prince gig CV dating back to the early Eighties - said it was in her top three shows ever, and I don’t think she was exaggerating, either. The atmosphere could not have been bettered, or masterminded any better. Here was the plan; get thousands of people who would gladly pay £70 to watch you to queue for hours, thereby ensuring only your most die-hard of fans will be in the venue, and then drop the Price to a tenner and play them new songs, huge hits, B-sides and fan favourites for the best part of three hours. It was genius. Genuine genius.
I sadly didn’t make it to the Ronnie Scott’s, Roundhouse, Manchester or Glasgow gigs (though I tried), so my final encounter with the Hit and Run tour was at Kings Place, beneath the offices of The Guardian, on Valentine’s Day. Again, I got a call saying “something” “might” be happening, and immediately found myself en route, in so much of an ill thought out blur that I left a very expensive camera, and a full pint, in the pub. I then found myself so far back in the queue that I missed the evening’s first performance. But, if the last show of the Electric Ballroom run had taught me anything, it was that it was worth sticking around in the cold for a bit, as the second show of a night – if there is one – is often better than the first. And - with the necessary apologies to anyone I’ve ever celebrated the evening with before - watching Prince on my own was by far and away the best Valentine’s Day of my life. I landed, completely by chance, in the front row of a few-hundred capacity venue watching 3RDEYEGIRL run through not only “Purple Rain”, “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” and “Take Me With U”, but also an acoustic cover of “Train In Vain” by The Clash. I punched the floor again. I need to get better at expressing my emotions.
But, really. Fuck the Cat Café, Winter Wonderland, Crossrail, Frank’s Campari Bar, the Monty Python reunion, the Shard, the Jubilee, the Notting Hill Carnival, Boris Bikes and especially the Olympics - the Hit and Run tour made my city feel like a more exciting place to live than at any point since Prince played 21 nights at the O2 Arena in 2007. And, in comparison to those astonishingly cool few weeks this Spring, being here since has totally sucked. We’ve got nothing. People are genuinely starting to talk excitedly about contactless payment replacing Oyster cards for Christ’s sake. Come back, Prince. For god’s sake, come back.