I met Prince when I was asked to open for him at his festival in Copenhagen. I was always such a fan and excited about the prospect of seeing him live again. I never for one second suspected that I was about to endeavour upon the most career changing and inspiring 48 hours of my life.
I was very inexperienced at the time. I had just finished my first album cycle.
When I was playing I was on very early in the day and the field was only partially full as people had mainly bought tickets to see Prince himself and Chaka Khan. As I was playing I felt so out of my depth. I couldn't stop thinking to myself "you are not good enough to be here and the crowd know it".
Mid set the audience began to cheer profusely and I couldn't understand why. I turned to my band who were all nodding their heads to their left while glaring eyes at me. I turned in the direction they were pointing me towards and was shocked and in awe to see the man himself sitting on a chair singing along and clapping to the music smiling and laughing. I couldn't believe he would want to watch let alone know the lyrics of my songs. I think he could tell I was surprised because he kept laughing and winking at me.
After the show he asked me why I didn't play Stargazer which was an obscure album track on my first album which I couldn't believe he knew. Then he said "I would like you to come and watch the other shows with me". On the Saturday I went with him to every show and watched Raphael Saadiq (who I later went on to work with on album three through meeting him there), Chaka Khan and then Prince himself play. During the shows he was constantly trying to teach me what to learn from the more experienced musicians. I made a mental note of all he told me. Also watching him with his band and the way they interacted had a profound effect on me. This was something which has influenced my style of live performance to this day. I always give everyone a solo and put the musicians in the spotlight just as much as myself and I always change the arrangements every show by directing them with glances and arm gestures. This is what Prince taught me.
That evening I was invited to his hotel room with a friend. He opened the door smiling and wearing red pyjamas and offered me some tea and lemon drizzle cake. He told me he had recorded my performance and asked if I wanted to watch it back. He said he always watched every one of his own shows back in order to learn from his mistakes. He was a real perfectionist. I stated that I was too ashamed to watch myself in front of him as I was too much in awe of him. He laughed and said I was silly! What I remember about being around him was his contagious laughter and sense of humour. The rapport he had with his band was that of old friends. It was a really great energy to be around.
Later that evening he introduced me to Janelle Monae and the great Larry Graham who he told me "invented slap bass". I felt like I was part of some glimpse of history. I was humbled and unable to sleep that evening.
On the Sunday he asked me to watch all the shows with him again. I did. Wide eyed and absorbing everything. Janelle Monae played the same slot as me the day before and I was astonished by her skills on stage. I knew I had to make some changes to my own live performance style and the people I played with.
At one point Chaka Khan's security guard approached me with a mic and asked me to sing I'm Every Woman with her. I didn't know all the lyrics. Everyone was side of stage pushing me to go on. Prince included. I went on mortified in front of what felt like around 40,000 people and completely murdered the song and came off crying, frantic and worried. I went to my dressing room and called my mum and said I wasn't made to be in music. All these people had made me realise I wasn't good enough. When I had pulled myself together and freshened up I walked outside. All Janelle Monae's band were outside applauding and saying they loved my voice and I was really surprised. Everyone there was like a family. They made me feel like I was worthy of being part of it all despite my doubts. The people Prince brought together were all passionate about music but humble and encouraging of one another. It was a real eye opener.
That evening we did a small show with Prince in a 200 capacity venue on a housing estate in Copenhagen. It was completely unassuming. Prince was in his element. Jamming, playing his hits, remixing his hits, experimenting the whole time. There was a feeling that no performance he did was ever the same as it was about that moment in time. Every time I saw Prince live in my life I felt that. Like every time was a special exclusive glimpse into his world. That evening he let me close the show with his band. I sang Etta james At Last. As I walked off the stage he waved goodbye and left. And from that moment my life had irreversibly changed.
No one has ever taught me as much as he did in that 48 hours. He taught me about style, about grace, how to engage with an audience, how to learn to be comfortable with who I was, how never to think my learning would end and to always push for improvement. He taught me how lucky I am to do the job I do. What stood out about him mostly was his passion for his art, his humour and his desire to pass on his knowledge and experience to a new generation of musicians. I know he had very strong bonds with two of my friends, Laura Mvula and Lianne Le Havas and he wanted to cultivate talent.
I feel so grateful for that 48 hours, although I saw him several times after that, that was the time that really made a huge impact on me. I was in the presence of greatness and I knew it.
I am so sad for the world that we won't be able to continue to appreciate his live shows. And I know that anyone who got to witness him really and truly got to witness something special. He was a hero, an Icon, a God.
This post first appeared on Paloma's official website here.
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