'So many hits, so little time", says the little tease, a coy smile flickering over his lips. "You wanna hear 'Diamonds And Pearls'?" (Crowd screams) "'Pop Life'?" (Louder crowd screams) 'Raspberry Ber...'" (Loudest crowd screams) "Nahhh. You don't UNDERSTAND! I got so many hits I'd blow this place APART!" It's long been a theory that if Prince were to play all his hits in one show, then the power unleashed would be so overwhelming that it might trigger some apocalyptic catastrophe. Well, in August we'll find out for sure, because for 21 nights at what used to be called the Millennium Dome, at a cost of £31.21 (eagle-eyed readers will get the reference to his latest album), the greatest genius in the history of popular music will be "playing his hits for the last time", as the massive billboard next to the M4 spells out for us.
Tonight, we're safe. This, despite the teasing introduction, is not a hits show. Instead, in what used to be called the Camden Palace, it's one of Prince's legendary semi-secret after-hours shows. As a veteran Prince-follower I've attended several of these late-night sessions, so I know what to expect, and while everyone else cheers the words "It's gonna be a long night" during "Satisfied" (the 3121 track which opens the show proper, after former James Brown saxophonist Maceo Parker and his band have loosened up with Parker's own "Pass the Peas"), I sigh with mixed feelings. After all, historically Prince has been only too happy to fade into the background and be a bit-part player in a never-ending jazz-funk jam.
Tonight, taking the stage just before midnight in a black suit and a vanilla beret, that tendency is kept pleasingly in check (I'm trying to obliterate the 20 minutes of chanting "Hey, funky London!" from memory) and, contrary to his latterday image as a humourless, sexless Jehovah's Witness doorknocker, he's actually having fun with it. You want hits? You've got "Girls & Boys", "Cream", "U Got the Look", a double-whammy segue of "Black Sweat" and "Kiss" ("You don't have to watch Dynasty" altered to "You don't have to watch Desperate Housewives" for contemporaneity) which could dazzle a blind man, a showstopping, ultra-emotional "Nothing Compares 2 U" (reclaiming the song from Sinead once and for all), and a finale of "Let's Go Crazy" straight out of the Purple Rain movie, complete with huge searchlight behind him. And you want unexpected cover versions? You got Sly and the Family Stone's "Sing a Simple Song", Amy Winehouse's "Love Is a Losing Game", Aretha's "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You", Funkadelic's "One Nation Under a Groove" and Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy".
You want intimacy? He invites fans up onstage to dance and sing (though one girl is hauled away for getting a little too close), he gives away three guitars, and at one point I look up to see him boogying with the balcony crowd. Hell, he even stage-dives. August is gonna be something else, but The Kid is on rare form tonight.
With her peroxide Dusty Springfield bob, sleeveless floral-print dress, Mary Quant make-up and red rose hairclip, Lucky Soul's Ali Howard could be a mannequin from the V&A's recent Sixties Fashion exhibition come to life. Standing with her back to the audience and facing a soberly-dressed backing band (we really don't see enough waistcoats in pop any more) and a curtain of black velvet and fairy lights, she spins around, sings a song with the words "I need you/Like a lifeboat needs the shore", and you know that this is, in every possible sense, a good start.
Lucky Soul are a band to fall in love with, and to. A Motown- and Spector-influenced pop sextet from Greenwich, their delicious sound will be adored by anyone who already has time for Saint Etienne, The Cardigans and Blondie, but mere pastiche isn't all that the songwriter Andrew Laidlaw has up his cufflinked sleeve. Drawing mainly from their debut album The Great Unwanted, a disarming and enchanting show includes six-beats-to-the-bar ballads, four-to-the-floor stormers and neat covers (a funked-up, en-Raptured take on the Bunnymen's "Killing Moon").
Right now they're too modest and nervous to have real stage presence, and Ali lacks the glacial confidence of, say, a Debbie Harry (applause makes her giggle), but that will come. One exchange sums up Lucky Soul perfectly. "We've got a slow, smoochy one for you now", promises Ali. "Smoochy?" asks Andrew, "I thought it was pure misery". Beaming, she concedes: "Well yeah, a bit of that too." This is heartache you can sway to.Reuse content