The Prince of Rock

The Prince of Rock

Raising a dram in tribute to the Royal Highness of pop

Thoughts from... | 03 Jun 2016 | Issue 136 | By Neil Ridley

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I want to live life to the ultimate high,

Maybe I'll die young like heroes die,

Maybe I'll kiss you some wild special way,

If nobody kills me or thrills me soon,

I'll die in your arms under the cherry moon.

Prince, Under The Cherry Moon, 1986

A difficult start to the year, is it not? When the world said bon voyage to David Bowie on 10 January, the huge public outpouring of sadness all over the world hit hard, leaving fans of his artistry gasping for breath. Here was a man who, chameleon-like, had maintained a level of artistic integrity and credibility for almost every second of his 50 plus years as a performer, songwriter and creative force.

I felt this particularly, living in Beckenham, on the borders of South London where Bowie also lived for a number of years. His story about coming up with the main vocal melody to Life On Mars on a No. 54 bus from Beckenham High Street to Lewisham demonstrated how human he was, but also ironically, just how utterly detached his acute observations of the human race were. I quietly raised a glass of something suitably in keeping with Bowie's personality on the night of his passing - with layers of evolving complexity in every mouthful, whispered a few words in his honour and played Hunky Dory, shedding a tear at the loss of a genuine great, who had been a true inspiration to me.

Today, I find it hard to believe that I am now sitting here, glass in hand again, about to select another dram, marking the untimely passing of yet another genius, whose musical ability was almost impossible to fully comprehend.

To an eight year old Neil Ridley, Prince Rogers Nelson immediately stood out from the pack. The flamboyance; the sheer fluidity of movement; that voice; virtuosity on the guitar. Prince was the whole package right from the word go. To write, produce and perform every instrument on his debut record (and of course on subsequent albums too) seemed almost criminal in its audacity.

The transition to become a mainstream pop icon in the mid 1980s was inevitable. Yet at no point did any of his work seem commercialised or indeed 'mainstream' in the conventional sense of being compromised by success or an expectation to deliver exactly what his record company wanted. He, along with Bowie, was one of the very few artists who managed to successfully create an aura of unpredictability about what their next move would be. His shows got wilder and more awe-inspiring and the hits more incredible - not just for himself - but a host of other artists that he wrote songs for.

About 15 years ago, I had an opportunity to meet Prince albeit very briefly at a party that was being hosted by my former employers, Warner Brothers and like an uber fan, I totally blew it. Despite his diminutive stature, his power over the entire room was palpable and I was paralysed by his presence, unable to successfully raise a hand to shake his, before his attention moved elsewhere and the moment was gone forever.

So tonight, as I dust off my vinyl copy of Parade, the album which contains the song Under The Cherry Moon, I'm left seeking a whisky that can adequately pay tribute to yet another legend taken all too soon. I need a whisky that brings virtuosity and complexity; one with a distinct sense of direction, but one which also takes the drinker on a journey into unchartered territory. I also want to use this opportunity to reflect on the positive memories I have had - both of the man's music and also of enjoying a whisky seemingly one step ahead of everything else.

It would be crude of me to reveal exactly what this dram is, suffice to say that it is the very last measure in the bottle and it was distilled in 1999, conveniently the title of one of Prince's greatest moments and a remarkable time of positivity across the world as we rolled into the new millennium, partying just like Prince predicted.

Rest in peace Prince. May your purple reign never be forgotten.
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