Lovers of live music will have sensed a magic in the air lately, a purple-hued sparkle that has cut through the clouds over the capital and made gig-going a vital, spontaneous experience again.
Only a tiny proportion of Prince’s fans will get to see him this month in his series of guerrilla gigs that began in Lianne La Havas’s living room before moving on to small venues throughout London. The rest will either have been left shivering outside the wrong venue and cursing the day they ever heard “Purple Rain”, or sitting at home wishing they had got off their backsides to score a ticket. Even so, in turning gig-going into something akin to a treasure hunt – sniff out the clues on fan sites and social media and you stand a chance of landing your prize – Prince has offered a refreshing alternative to the torturous rigmarole that one must usually go through in order to see a band.
Many is the hour I’ve spent hunched over my laptop, waiting for tickets for a favourite artist to go on sale, finger poised hopefully over the “buy” button, only for the website to crash, and then re-boot itself a few minutes later to tell me that the show is sold out. Clearly there is no fun in this.
But guerrilla gigs? These are worth a punt, encapsulating all that is thrilling about live music. They are intimate, spontaneous, risky and often cheap or entirely free of charge (tickets to see Prince are currently averaging a tenner).
The tradition of ad-hoc shows goes back to the days when Jefferson Airplane played a hotel rooftop in Manhattan while Jean-Luc Godard looked on, clutching a camera. Back when I was a whippersnapper, new to the big city and happy to stand in queues, I found my way into small, secret gigs by Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Nirvana. There was another spate of guerrilla gigging in the early 2000s, sparked off by The Libertines, who would set up shop in fans’ living rooms until the police turned up.
Nowadays, though, most “secret” performances are soulless VIP affairs, arranged and watched by industry types while underlings pass round canapés. So, for mega-selling artists wanting to show some genuine guerrilla spirit, I have an idea. Consider it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’ve got beer in my fridge and a power socket in my living room. You’re welcome at my place any time.