Prince obituary: Artist defied convention and courted controversy
Multi-instrumentalist fused traditional rock and roll guitar licks with a broad vocal range
A file photograph dated August 9th 2011 of US musician Prince during a performance at the Sziget Festival in Budapest, Hungary. Photograph: Balzas Mohai/EPA.
From the very beginning of his nearly four decades in the music industry, Prince defied convention and courted controversy in equal measure.
The multi-instrumentalist fused traditional rock and roll guitar licks with a vocal range that mixed soul, funk and mainstream pop.
He could sing about sex and spirituality in the same verse, discuss both religion and science, and compose toe-tapping rhythms to accompany the darkest of subjects.
Famously flamboyant, he would stun dedicated audiences the world over with impromptu concerts, unlikely solo cover versions, and extravagant outfits.
It was often said that his incredible vocal range masked the fact that he was one of the greatest guitarists of his generation.
Prolific until his final days — he was working on another new album and planned to resume his much truncated Piano and a Microphone tour — the 57-year-old was said to have a cache of unreleased music in his Paisley Park mansion that would fill 100 records.
Born, Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7th 1958, he managed just one UK singles chart- topper - 1994’s The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.
However, one of his most famous numbers was in fact recorded by another artist. When Sinead O’Connor released Nothing Compares 2 U in 1990, it catapulted the Irish singer to the top of the charts and into the public eye, partly due to its accompanying music video which featured the protagonist breaking down in tears.
The song’s composer eventually bowed to public pressure and performed the track live - a decidedly more upbeat version in a major key - but never released it on a studio album. His sound has been imitated, too, notably through artists such as Bruno Mars, vocalist on long-time chart-topper Uptown Funk.
Prince sold out 21 consecutive nights at the O2 Arena in London, often followed by after-parties or secret sets.
During his more than 50 hours on stage during the residency, journalists recorded that he played a total of 504 songs to audiences of half a million people.
His dedication to audiences was mixed with a temptation to tease them. Initially this was through his music — he asked in 1981’s Controversy, at the dawn of his career: “Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay?”
By the mid-90s, at the start of a fractured relationship with record company Warner Bros, Prince changed his name to a symbol designed to depict both male and female genders — though he was more commonly referred to during this period as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.
He fiendishly played with his audiences, particularly during his hastily arranged and scarcely publicised ‘Hit And Run’ tour of the UK in 2014, when he told fans of a handful of live shows at a moment’s notice.
This began with a late-night performance, initially spread by word of mouth among in-the-know members of the Prince Army and then circulated on Twitter, at Camden’s Electric Ballroom on February 4.
A short series of shows followed — including one at Shepherd’s Bush Empire which was announced only hours earlier on BBC Radio 6 music by his backing band, 3rdEyeGirl.
Fans that night were charged just £10 for the two-hour set, which was followed by another impromptu performance later that night to cater for the legions of fans who queued patiently in the grim winter weather in the hope of getting a ticket to the original gig.
A series of cryptic tweets dating back to August the previous year had hinted at plans of Prince’s return to England, cultivating hungry rumours of an extensive tour and a possible Glastonbury headline slot.
Yet he was to never play the Somerset festival during his career, despite the clamour for it.