Prince heads north to Manchester in search of festival payday

Tickets for Prince's Manchester gig are selling online for £1,500

After three weeks of “pop-up” London gigs which have delighted and exhausted hardcore fans, the Prince roadshow finally headed north to Manchester on Friday night.

But as tickets for the Manchester Academy shows were traded online for £1,500, there are two questions the interview-shy Prince has yet to answer – what exactly is the purpose of this extended sojourn in Britain? And will he ever leave?

It’s three weeks since Prince arrived in the capital and made good on his promise to play a series of “intimate” shows at “iconic” venues, giving fans as little as two hours notice of the on-stage arrival of his new band, 3rdEyeGirl.

Fans who queued up outside Camden’ Electric Ballroom and Koko, the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire and Kings Place in King’s Cross were treated to extended performances with multiple encores.

However by the time A-list celebrities such as Stephen Fry swept into this week’s Ronnie Scott’s show, to jeers from the snaking line which had begun to assemble the previous night, the novelty of providing nightly pavement evidence of Prince’s enduring mystique had begun to pale.

Dismissing requests for interviews - bar a chat with BBC broadcaster Matt Everitt at the Hackney flat of singer Lianne La Havas, which in true Prince style, he would not allow to be recorded – the 55-year-old musician has preferred to stay out of the limelight in-between  performances.

Believed to be staying in the sumptuous surroundings of Claridge’s, Prince has made himself available to festival operators who might be able to offer one of music’s greatest live performers a payday worthy of the multi-instrumentalist’s enduring talents. 

Michael Eavis, the Glastonbury founder, is determined to get his man and came away from a meeting believing that he had secured the first ever headline performance this Summer from one of the few “legends” to have so far eluded him.

Whilst Glastonbury offers live BBC exposure and the opportunity to deliver a legacy-defining performance, Eavis is unable to match the multi-million pound upfront fee promised by promoters with deeper pockets.

AEG Live, the entertainment giant which owns the O2 Arena, where Prince played 21 sold-out shows in 2007, wants the star to headline two nights at Hyde Park as part of its British Summer Time concert brand.

Sources believe Prince has been guaranteed every penny of the box office take from the 100,000 ticket sales, ensuring that he will receive a minimum of £8 million for two “greatest hits” performances, possibly reuniting the Purple Rain siner with his New Power Generation backing band.

Prince’s fortune is estimated at $250 million but his finances have taken a hit in recent years. In 2012, a judge ordered him to pay $4m to Revelations Perfume and Cosmetics after allegedly backing out of a promotional deal. Prince challenged the award.

A 20-acre property in Chanhassen, Minnesota, Prince’s home state and home to his Paisley Park studio complex, fell into foreclosure until Prince paid an outstanding mortgage demand of $368,000. Previously he was required to pay $1.3 million in outstanding property taxes on land he owns in Chanhassen.

He has sold 80 million albums but the traditionally prolific artist’s recording career has stalled.

There has been no new Prince album since 20Ten, given away free as a newspaper covermount four years ago. The first 3rdEyeGirl single, Pretzelbodylogic, failed to trouble the charts despite the PR coup provided by the “hit and run” tour.

A late adapter to the digital age, who declared the internet “completely over”, Prince has sought to keep his music off iTunes and YouTube and even threatened to sue his own fans for sharing bootlegs of live performances before dropping a $22m lawsuit filed in January.

The “guerrilla” concerts, a gift from Prince to those fans who have followed his every twist and turn for 35 years, has reminded promoters of the undiminished musical potency of one of the few artists whose stagecraft and hit catalogue could rival Michael Jackson as live attraction.

His UK stay is indefinite, according to Kiran Sharma, Prince’s manager, a Luton-born former advertising executive, who has built a multi-million pound entertainment bookings and management agency.

A former Entrepreneur of the Year nominee at the Asian Woman of Achievement Awards, it is Ms Sharma’s tweets which have alerted fans to the gig locations.

However, moving the Prince circus northwards may prove more difficult to stage-manage. Prince’s party has settled into the five-star Lowry hotel in Salford but his preferred venue, the Bridgewater Hall, already had a prior engagement with the BBC Philharmonic.

Manchester fans are complaining that secondary ticketing sites are profiteering from the two announced shows. Seatwave advertised tickets for £1,500 each hours after they went on sale.

Some have taken offence that the official ticket price for the 2,500 capacity Manchester Academy shows is £77 whereas Prince charged a nominal £10 fee for his Camden concerts.

“Is Manchester footing the bill for Prince’s PR jaunt?”, thundered the Louder Than War blog. “There is a sneaking feeling in Manchester that the two gigs are being used to pay for the whole jaunt that was built around an appearance on the Brit Awards and a series of profile small gigs. Brilliant PR but why should the north pay for it?”, the blog asked. An additional £1-a-head concert is hastily being arranged, the rumour mill suggests.

Whether Prince plans to venture further north remains unclear but it appears that he still has plenty of unfinished business with UK music fans.

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