After the sad and unexpected death of Prince a year ago, many fine tributes were paid to him. But nobody did a better job of honouring his unique talent than Merseyside radio presenter / journalist Shaun Ponsonby. He put together 6 exceptional 2 hour shows for the radio station KCC Live telling Prince’s story chronologically and as Shaun puts it “let the music do the talking telling his life story as he would’ve wanted it”
We really can’t recommend these programmes highly enough, essential listening whether you’re a casual or hardcore Prince fan or even a newcomer to Prince’s music wanting to understand what all the fuss is about.
Here are links to his Prince shows followed by our interview with Shaun.
What was the first music you heard that got you interested in Prince?
I think if anything got me interested in Prince, it was his live performances. I was born in 1988, so I’m not old enough to have witnessed his commercial peaks. When I first became aware of him, he was a symbol and not being treated particularly well by the press. So I didn’t think much about him, he was just some weird dude. I liked 1999 when it was being blasted during the whole Millennium malarkey when that all went down, but I didn’t think much beyond that. It wasn’t until circa Musicology and 3121 when he started making more high profile appearances that I started understanding his depth, importance and sheer musicality. I kind of had him in the Michael Jackson/Madonna category before I learned more about him. I consume music in quite an obsessive way, and as soon as I become a fan of somebody, I dive in and learn everything, collect everything etc. So, I just got hooked.
Your shows provided a great balance between the 4 categories of Prince’s music output as defined by author Matt Thorne in his excellent (definitive?) book on Prince: officially released stuff, live recordings, unreleased material and side-projects with various proteges. There must be a lot of material that has never found its way out to the public. What have you never heard that you wish you could hear?
Up until recently, I’d have said The Flesh, but that finally leaked a year or two ago. Obviously Wally is something that we all really want to hear. I have always been fascinated by Wednesday. It was on an early running order for Purple Rain but was removed to make way for Take Me With U or something. I’m surprised that it has never leaked, given that it was so close to being on his biggest album.
I think your programmes, especially the last 2, did a great job of highlighting some of the less well known stuff.
Thank you, that does mean a lot.
So why do you think Prince lost so much of his audience after the early 90s?
I don’t think there is any one answer to this. I guess the obvious reason is the whole Warner Brothers fall-out. People didn’t understand what he was talking about. He was ahead of his time a bit there. Plus, he was selling stuff independently through the internet. I think Bowie was the only other artist doing that at the time, and people didn’t really know what to make of it. There are also the personal setbacks that he suffered, that I personally believe might have stifled his creativity a bit.
Some of the albums he was making were also either too much for a general audience (Emancipation), not designed for a general audience (Crystal Ball, N.E.W.S.), not what the public might have wanted from Prince at that time (The Truth) or the religious material was hard for people to stomach (The Rainbow Children). Come to think of it, I do wonder how much he really lost *his* audience. He might have lost the mainstream pop audience, but it seems as though the people who were really fans, and who were willing to go with him anywhere he was going to go musically did actually stick around, and he was able to utilise this when he went for his big comeback in 2004. I think Alan Leeds said “There are Prince fans, and there are Purple Rain fans.” I think that sounds about right.
Great quote that. So if someone is a newcomer to Prince’s music, one of those “Purple Rain” fans, what album would you recommend them listening to first to “get it”?
Oooh, that’s a tough one. I guess it depends what they’re into. There are so many different avenues to explore. If someone just liked the pop hits, I’d give them the likes of 1999 and Diamonds and Pearls, but if they liked things like Computer Blue, I’d get them into the likes of Sign “O” The Times. If they liked Darling Nikki, I’d go for Dirty Mind. If they went for Let’s Go Crazy, maybe The Gold Experience. Maybe I’d just show them some live performances! It is a tough one!
Do you think his insular lifestyle and individuality helped or hindered his music career commercially and/or artistically?
I think it depends on the project. If you want to have a big pop success, going all Howard Hughes is probably the wrong way to go about it. But at the same time I don’t think it made that much difference in the end. Given the success of Purple Rain in 1984, Sign “O” The Times was nowhere near as successful just three years later. But at the same time, was he even going for a huge, world conquering success with SOTT? I doubt it. And yet it was a huge artistic and critical success, and probably his definitive album. Similarly, he was able to pull out the Batman soundtrack and Diamonds and Pearls, which weren’t really huge critical successes, but sold bucketloads. With the exception of Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic I think when he actively tried to have commercial success, he was able to achieve it. Ultimately I see Prince as a creative cult artist who flirted with the mainstream at certain points in his career. It is interesting comparing Prince post-Purple Rain with Michael Jackson post-Thriller. Prince used Purple Rain to put him in a position where he could pretty much do what he wanted artistically. He used the Purple Rain money to build a massive studio complex so he could achieve what he wanted artistically, and he never repeated the Purple Rain formula. As much as I do love Michael, he used the Thriller money to build a zoo and an amusement park, and followed up Thriller with a series of albums that followed the Thriller format.
Right at the start of show 1 you call Prince “the greatest musician in the history of popular music.” Can you think of anyone else who can compete in being **that** good in so many musical areas?
No. Not one. I’m dead serious. There is really nothing to say here. To be a virtuoso on so many instruments, to be an incredible singer whose voice I don’t think I ever heard truly falter, to be an incredible ferocious James Brown-esque dancer, to be one of the most charismatic performers and bandleaders on the planet? Damn. I’ll let him off for his lousy acting. He had to be a musician. There is nothing else he could have done with his life.
Nothing compares to him then.
He was notoriously possessive about the rights to his music. What little of it gets shared online is taken down very quickly. What do you think about his music having been made available on Spotify after his death?
He was very clear on his thoughts on Spotify, and he gave exclusive rights to Tidal for a reason. That said, I am glad it is on there personally, because I think he didn’t quite understand how the “current” generation comsume music (maybe he did and he just didn’t approve). But I wonder how much further into younger generations he could have reached if he would have allowed his music on YouTube and Spotify. For example, Beyonce covered The Beautiful Ones when she played Glastonbury. How many kids wondered what that song was and typed it in to YouTube, but couldn’t find it so just sacked it off? I agree with him on principle – and I do feel like it was a principled approach. He put his money where his mouth was and removed his music from platforms that didn’t pay the artist sufficiently. I don’t think it was just about him, I think it was about how he felt artists in general were treated.
Are there any tracks that you kick yourself for not including in the podcasts?
I don’t know if there are any I kick myself over, but the last programme covered a longer period of time than the others, so I would have liked to have gone into more detail and play more of the later stuff that I think deserves to be heard. But, I don’t think it would have worked thematically to split that into two halves or whatever. There are a few extra proteges and leaked material that I would have liked to have played too. But I think overall I gave a pretty good overview, and I think I did it justice.
Got to say I was surprised not to hear Release It from the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack, which as well as having all the quality dialogue between Jerome and Morris also has the funkiest drum loop in the world!
Ha! Well, I didn’t wanna dwell too much on Graffiti Bridge cos it was a bit of an odd period, and things were about to get interesting behind the scenes. I thought it was better to cover The Time in that period with Jerk Out from the Pandemonium! album. Although Donald Trump (Black Version) from the same record would be interesting now too!
It was great to hear Love Song, the song Prince collaborated with Madonna on her best album. I’d forgotten all about that. It starts off like a proper collaboraton then as it goes on it becomes far more of a Prince song than a Madonna song. Was there only ever this song that they worked on or has any other stuff surfaced from that session?
Prince actually played a bit of uncredited guitar on that record, including the title track. She was also supposed to be in the Graffiti Bridge movie, but turned it down because she felt it wasn’t worthy of her talents. That says a lot about the quality of the Graffiti Bridge movie seeing as Madonna of Shanghai Surprise and Who’s That Girl turned it down for being a lousy script!
Who else would you have liked to have heard Prince collaborate with?
It’s funny, he wasn’t really much of a collaborator. He worked with people, but it usually felt like it was mostly him taking the reins. Although, according to Susannah Melvoin, when Michael Jackson wanted him to work on Bad, Prince re-recorded the whole track, sent it back to MJ and said “Now, that’s funky”. I wanna hear that!
Presumably you’ve seen him live a few times. What are your best memories from that?
I got to see him three times, and they were all very different shows with totally different setlists. I missed the 21 Nights In London (exams, getting ready to go to uni, no money etc). I finally got to see him at the Hop Farm Festival in Kent in 2011.
[The pictures below are by Shaun]
It was pretty much everything you’d want the first time you see Prince – he just played the hits for two and a half hours. Jammed a bit at the start to sort the sound out a bit, and then he just went “Dearly beloved…”, and kicked off Let’s Go Crazy, Delirious, 1999, Little Red Corvette, Nothing Compares 2 U, Take Me With U, Raspberry Beret, Cream, Cool, Let’s Work, U Got The Look, Purple Rain, Kiss, Controversy, If I Was Your Girlfriend and Baby I’m a Star.
At various points he covered Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan and Sylvester and brought out Larry Graham to jam on some Sly & The Family Stone tunes. I know a lot of fans can’t stand Larry, but I’m a huge Sly fan so I got a kick out of it. If I was a veteran I may have been disappointed, but for the first time you see Prince, it was exactly what you want.
The second time was at the Manchester Academy on the small 3RDEYEGIRL club shows he was doing in 2014. We were right up the front, and it felt more like one of the legendary aftershows than a regular gig. I kind of had a moment at that show where I realised he was human. Could not believe we were there. My friend said to me “That was the closest I’ve ever come to a religious experience”, which pretty much summed it up.
The last time was on the 3RDEYEGIRL arena tour a few months later, and it was somewhere between the two shows. Not a stadium pleaser cos he played some real deep cuts (he played Empty Room as I recall), but it was definitely an arena show at the same time. He also pulled out Paisley Park at that show, which is a song I never considered he might play.
I only saw him once on the Nude tour, Wembley Arena June 22nd 1990. I remember him playing Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You at the piano which is one my favourite song from one of my favourite albums. I assumed that was a regular part of the live show at that time but I was checking that tour on setlist.fm recently and discovered that was the only time he played that song until about 5 years later!
That’s incredible. I love the way he would just slip things in like that. I think him and Springsteen are the only people who have the balls to do that so regularly in a stadium setting.
Just going back to something you said earlier, what have people got against Larry Graham?
From what I can gather, a lot of the fans hold him to task for what they perceive as talking him into the Jehovah’s Witness faith at a vulnerable time in his life, after he lost his son. They see it as pretty underhanded. I haven’t read Mayte’s book yet, but I was flicking through it in a shop the other day and she seemed (emphasis on “seemed”) to reference it at some point too.
Right then, then et’s play “Fantasy Football for Bandmembers” Who from the various different lineups would you choose for the ultimate live Prince band? Obviously Prince can play his usual free role, he’s a utility player and can pop up wherever.
Oooh, interesting. I guess Sheila has to be on drums. I guess I’d go for…
Bass- Rhonda Smith
Keyboards- Dr Fink & Lisa Coleman
Guitar- Wendy Melvoin
I’d also have the NPG Hornz. I’d like to have Shelby and such there, but with considerably less “Get your hands up” bellowing.
What about Cat? Don’t you need her to rap?
Ha! Of course! Rather her than Tony M to be fair!
I was glad to hear you include that great bit of dialogue about The Time from Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. Presumably you’ve heard Kevin Smith’s lengthy anecdote about the difficulties of trying to work with Prince.
I got the feeling that it was more just that he has lived in a bubble for so long. If I had spent 20 years getting everything I want at the drop of a hat, I am pretty sure I would be a bit entitled too. Musicians often tend to be pretty entitled as a rule anyway! Haha.
Have you ever heard Sinead O’Connor’s account of meeting Prince and what do you make of it? (video here). You’ve already mentioned Michael Jackson so this question is maybe more relevant to him but how easy is it to separate somebody’s conduct in private from their music?
I have heard the Sinead O’ Connor thing. I’m not sure how literal it is. She does have form for being a bit inconsistent, even within the different times I have heard her tell that story. Didn’t she say Arsenio Hall was responsible for Prince’s death last year and that she had proof and then took it back?
Kind of. She said that Arsenio Hall supplied him with drugs and then later retracted that after Hall threatened to sue. That’s not to say there’s nothing in it though. I’m a huge Sinead fan but she’s not the most reliable person even on events from her own life!
I wouldn’t excuse all the bad stuff he did (I think that’s the fundamental difference between Prince fans and Michael fans!) but there are certain things I’ll shrug off a little. He seemed to display some casual homophobia at times that is a little troublesome for me.
I have a couple of lyric questions that I’ve been wondering about for decades. I’m never gonna get to ask Prince so I thought I’d ask you instead.
From Sign ‘o’ the Times: “At home there’s 17 year old kids and their idea of fun is being in a gang called the Disciples high on crack and toting a machine gun”
Don’t you think that *does* actually sound like quite a lot of fun?
Ha! In a muscle-bound Hollywood kinda way, I guess! Funnily enough, at first I thought he was saying “being in a band called The Disciples”, so I thought he was just singing about some mega-violent, drugged out hair metal band.
It was sampled by the Young Disciples but they’re definitely not hair metal.
That sounds familiar actually, I’m sure I have heard it around! It’s a groove anyway!
From the same song “September my cousin tried reefer for the very first time. Now he’s doing horse. It’s June.”
This song came out around the time that me & my friends were trying reefer for the very first time. It is now 30 years later and none of us are doing horse. What do you think that says about Prince’s cousin?
I think the bigger question is should we have been doing horse all this time? Maybe life would be different!
Right, last one.
“I knew a girl named Nikki, I guess you could say she was a sex fiend,
I met her in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine”
Maybe it’s just me but a little clarification is needed here regarding locations and activities of the individuals involved.
Which of these do you think is accurate?
Scenario 1: Prince is in a hotel lobby and he’s masturbating (you can probably get away with that if you’re Prince). He sees Nikki who is also in the hotel lobby.
Scenario 2: Same as above but Nikki is actually in the magazine
Scenario 3: Nikki is in the hotel lobby and she’s the one who’s masturbating while looking at a magazine.
Scenario 4: Prince is not in a hotel lobby. He is masturbating in an unknown location whilst looking at a magazine in which he “meets” Nikki who is pictured in a a hotel lobby.
You’re the Prince expert, tell me what’s going on.
Honestly? I always thought that Nikki was literally masturbating with the magazine. Like, she had rolled it up and…you know…
I hope she didn’t get any paper cuts.
I was going to offer that as Scenario 5 but I thought that was just too far fetched.
Check out this picture of my bedroom in 1989.
Note the lifesize naked cardboard Prince. Do you have any unusual bits of Prince memorabilia?
Ah! That’s cool! No, I don’t have anything like that – just boring albums, DVD’s, old VHS, bootlegs, magazines, books and t-shirts. I wish I did have that kinda stuff though. I want a symbol necklace!
Us wizards have a parlour game we invented called One from Each. This is where you have to make a playlist but you are only allowed 1 song from each album.
These are gonna be off the top of my head, and they fluctuate quite a lot. (Chorizo’s choice from each album shown in brackets)
For You: Just As Long As We’re Together (same)
Prince: I Wanna Be Your Lover (Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad)
Dirty Mind: When You Were Mine (same)
Controversy: Do Me, Baby (Jack U Off)
1999: Little Red Corvette (1999)
Purple Rain: I Would Die 4 U (The Beautiful Ones)
Around The World In a Day: Condition Of The Heart (same)
Parade: Mountains (same)
Sign “O” The Times: I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man (same but because it’s a double album I’m going to cheat and pick a song from disc 1 as well, Forever in My Life)
Lovesexy: Lovesexy (Anna Stesia)
Black Album: Le Grind
Batman: Trust (Vicky Waiting)
Graffiti Bridge: The Question of U (Thieves in the Temple)
Diamonds & Pearls: Insatiable (Money Don’t Matter 2 Nite)
O(+>: 7 (same)
Come: Letitgo (I’ll sit out the rest because I don’t really know the albums from here)
The Gold Experience: Dolphin
Chaos and Disorder: I Like It There
Emancipation: Get Yo Groove On
Crystal Ball: Good Love
The Truth: The Truth
New Power Soul: The One
The Vault…Old Friends 4 Sale: Sarah
Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic: So Far, So Pleased
The Rainbow Children: Muse To The Pharoah
One Nite Alone: A Case of U
Xpectation: [don’t really have a favourite, I only ever put it on in the background]
N.E.W.S.: [don’t really have a favourite, I only ever put it on in the background]
The Chocolate Invasion: U Make My Sun Shine
The Slaughterhouse: Northside
3121: Get on the Boat
Planet Earth: Chelsea Rodgers
MPLSounD: No More Candy 4 U
Plectrum Electrum: WOW
Art Official Age: Clouds
Hit N Run Phase 1: 1,000 X’s & O’s
Hit N Run Phase 2: Baltimore
Favourite b-side: How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?
Oh man, the b-sides. Can I have a few b-sides in my list to make up for all the albums I don’t know. 17 Days! I Love U In Me! Horny Pony from the Gett Off cassette single! She’s Always In My Hair! 4 the Tears in Your Eyes! Scarlet Pussy!
Here’s a playlist with all the “One From Each” songs listed above that are available on Spotify.
So where can people hear your radio show?
The programme’s off air for a few weeks but it usually goes out Wednesdays at 8pm and can be heard on www.kcclive.com. It will have a different name when it comes back, but should still be that time slot.
Thank you Shaun and may U live 2 See the dawn.
Other interviews on this website:
- Q&A with Steve Nieve
- Q&A with Terry Edwards part 1
- Q&A with Terry Edwards part 2
- Q&A with Smug Brothers
- Q&A with ONSIND
- Q&A with Thousand Yard Stare
- Q&A with M.J. Hibbett
- Q&A with Pete Momtchiloff
- Q&A with Graham Repulski