I’ve heard this refrain a lot. The one time I completely bought into it was in October 2002. Hammersmith Apollo. I remember being overwhelmed with admiration for the musicians on stage that night and a sense of euphoria at hearing a concert so determined to showcase new music, loved music and, at it’s heart, musicianship. I remember being consumed by the intentions of the show and passion on display that night. It may have been showmanship – ok, most of it was showmanship – but there was a sense of authenticity and urgency that made my heart pound. Naturally, as some may have worked out, I am talking about Prince’s One Nite Alone performances from this time. There was a paradox at the heart of this concert – for me at least – there was Prince’s determination to let the music of his latest album be heard and affirmed (The Rainbow Children) and there was a communal joy at the collection of talent on stage. This led to a fiery performance and, in my mind, culminated as Prince launched into Strange Relationship and decried the programming of radio stations the world round. He wanted out of the loop, out of the industry dominated predetermined success and a validation/recognition of talent and diversity. At the time, I believed there was a sincerity about Prince’s outburst…with hindsight a smidgen of petulance may have been in there too – a recurring theme in Prince’s career. (God, he is an accomplished showman!)
(as a side-note – and please don’t tell anyone this – this was the one time when I forgave Prince a cover version – he performed Whole Lotta Love that night and I believe I smiled. Heartily.)
What, though, makes for authenticity in music? The other stuff I’ve written about The Trendees makes me blush when I think back to the opinions I held as a child. When I was but a slip of a thing, in my youth, I can remember arguing vehemently against bands that “said something” in their music. I argued that pop-music was a bouncy, lovely, bubblegum thing that should be swiftly digested, light on the stomach (to allow for all that bouncing, I suppose), listened to, enjoyed but not pondered about. Being young in the early 80s meant that the influence of my older brothers and their like for never-ending, bizarre prog-rock (albeit my developing appreciation for King Crimson aside) or for rock’n’roll standards (the memory of my brother’s all-day tear-streaked face when Elvis died still haunts me) meant that I hit music with something of a confused palate. My first heroes were imitators of greatness – Showaddywaddy and Gary Glitter – my first proper hero was Adam Ant, but I came to him at the time of Kings of the Wild Frontier and not during the Dirk Wears White Sox era which I would probably have balked at. Such naivety. I could never appreciate Madness, for instance, – what was wrong with me? (It’s alright…I do now).
Pop music does work in all shapes and sizes. Inner City’s Good Life is spectacular pop, as is Superfly Guy by S’Express – then so is Heartland by The The and Hooverville by The Christians. They are all sparkling pop songs and each of merit. Hmmm… I feel criticism coming my way…Inner City, S’Express, pop? Yeah, to me they are… ok how about Katrina and the Waves, Walking on Sunshine or A-Ha!, The Sun Always Shines On TV? Perfect pop…and no links… you all know what they sound like! So again, I ask, what is meritorious? My youthful self would combust. Which is real music by real musicians? Is Kings Adam And more authentic than Dirk Adam? It is interesting that once he had burst the bubble of the punk persona and became a pop-star that people quickly tired of Adam Ant’s music…meaning that by the time Vive La Rock came around much of his audience had deserted him (Oh, Adam…Live Aid!…What were you thinking!?). A pity. They’ve missed out on some cracking music. Much the same could be said of Prince’s output since the name change farrago of the 90s. Once he had rendered himself obscure, the audience fell away and much good music has fallen by the wayside…not even on deaf ears.
A by-product of this is where the “real music” part fits back in. There seems to be two parts to this: firstly real in the sense of having an authentic origin and real as it played from the heart. Watching my two heroes on stage now I’m really torn. Adam Ant’s last incarnation Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter is another paradox – the music still has adventure but the visuals are born of nostalgia – not being able to let go of the success of the past. It’s infuriating. Prince is another matter entirely. What was refreshing in his evolution of the NPG to the stripped down 3rdEyeGirl has now become standard. And, appreciating the hypocrisy of what I’ve just written about nostalgia – it was fun the first couple of times, but can we now hear Let’s Go Crazy (as this is a song that the world does still need to hear on a regular basis) – can we now hear it at the right speed? And, the less said about HitNRun the better… Does Like A Mack have heart? Does its composer really believe in it? Where is the real music here?
In the middle of this we have one other artist. Here’s a Kevin Bacon variation – Adam Ant to Prince in one step (no…not Vanity) – Andre Cymone.
Andre Cymone played as part Prince’s band up until 1981. His close relationship with Prince can be seen in the shared credit he takes in much of Prince’s early work. Cymone later went on to produce and play on Adam Ant’s album Manners & Physique (a gem so many missed and an album that put me in ridicule because of my appreciation of a ballad! You Can’t Set Rules About Love – a lovely song!) ahem…anyway…what’s wrong with liking a ballad? Yes, it’s a cheesy ballad…but …enough!
Andre Cymone recently released The Stone, in 2014. This is an album that wears its heart on its sleeve. Being born and bred in Minneapolis, Cymone had all the exposure to music that comes with living in the American heartland…albeit the northern, colder, nearer Canada heartland. The anecdotes that come from Prince about the kinds of music available to kids in the 60s and 70s growing up in Minnesota are many and legend. Andre Cymone shared those experiences too. And it can be heard in their music…and it can be heard in his music today. There is the feel of country, there is the feel of folk, there is the feel of soul, there is the feel of pop in the songs. It is a delight. You can feel the disappearing absence poured into the work – he’s been away for quite some time. I enjoy the Anglophile sounds he has allowed to appear on the record, there’s some enchanting use of some by-gone-age, trans-Atlantic noise on here. It has something to say…what would my youthful self say? Perhaps it would appreciate this real music from a real musician.