31/08/2014

11/08/2014

16/05/2014

Prince: More Than Music

Last night, I was lucky enough to see Prince perform live with his latest band, 3rd Eye Girl. The show was unlike any I’d been to before, in that, I couldn’t help but feel I was witnessing one of music’s true greats. At fifty-six years old, he displayed effortless grace on stage, seamlessly gliding between vocal, guitar and synthesiser duties. He exuded an electric presence as his lithe silhouette exerted total control over the crowd. Today, words like ‘great’ and ‘genius’ have lost all currency, being overused to the point meaninglessness, but if anyone were ever worthy of being hailed as such then it must be Prince Rogers Nelson. Upon leaving the LG Arena, I began to wonder what Prince has that makes him such a special talent.

At this point, I must state I’m not a lifelong fan or aficionado, in fact, I’d say I'm little more than a casual listener. I have, however, always been intrigued by Prince, because for such a massive name I’ve always found him an elusive figure.

Obviously, at twenty-five years old, I missed his heyday by some distance, but the same can be said for Michael Jackson, of whom, with no effort, I’ve always know plenty. Indeed, for someone so firmly cemented in pop culture as Prince, I’m not sure how many of my generation know how truly talented he is. Perhaps it’s this typifying element of unknown quantity that’s responsible for his unique standing in popular music, if not also making him a harder gem to uncover. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I decided to investigate the legend of Prince. After listening to all of his albums from the late 1970’s to the mid 1990’s, and a few of his offerings from his post Warner Bros. era, I finally appreciated how gifted he is and why he evokes such unique devotion.

In terms of pure technical ability, Prince is peerless. A masterful multi-instrumentalist, he not only possesses an extraordinary vocal range but also plays the majority of instruments featured on his recordings with astounding aptitude. He has an innate musicality; often writing and giving away successful songs to fellow artists, while also finding time to launch and orchestrate the careers of his numerous protégés, it's as though music naturally cascades from him. Indeed, such is his creative overflow that his prolificness eventually led to him leaving Warner Bros. Records due to their insistence that he produce less work so they could adequately promote that which he’d already released. With so much music continually being written, Prince shows unbelievable shrewdness when it comes to choosing how, when and where to implement his ideas, so that they’ll best serve his creative vision. It's this vision that, when combined with the aforementioned innate musicality, elevates him to a higher artistic plateau.

The idea of total personal freedom is manifest in Prince and his music. Indiscriminate of race, gender and sexuality, he projects his convictions through a series of perfectly honed looks, lyrics and performances. From his unique androgynous appearance, and songs so frank they required the creation of Parental Advisory labels, to his multi-gender, multi-race backing bands, Prince authentically conveys an all-inclusive attitude that transverses social barriers and resonates with large cross-sections of the public. There’s a joyous liberation in his unapologetic approach that’s so visceral it can make him and his music a threatening proposition, which, in turn, adds to his allure. It’s very rare to find such honesty in the cynical world of modern pop music, where artists are always accused of being manufactured and lacking legitimacy, but, with Prince, there’s never a sense that he’s the product of market research or focus groups.

It's strange how musicians of my generation achieve such stratospheric levels of devotion, given how incredibly boring they and the opinions they propagate appear to be. In today’s homogenised pop culture landscape, Justin Bieber can be swapped for Miley Cyrus and no one would notice, such is the general similarity in much of music's sound and look. This demand for risk-free, tabula rasa pop-bots is nothing new, but what separates the great artists, like Prince, from the rest is a combination of their willingness be themselves, while genuinely having something more to say. They provide sublime moments of fantastic imagination that release us from our otherwise ordinary lives; connecting us to a spirit of freedom that’s all too often stifled by balance sheets.

The culmination of my growing appreciation for Prince’s exceptional talent resulted in me watching him perform last night, and it was an absolute privilege to see as musically and visually complete a performer as he. Prince is a rare musician, an endangered species whose scarcity makes him all the more precious. Such exotic animals aren’t often seen in society and it’s us who are spiritually poorer because of it. As I said at the start, people of my generation may not know what they’re missing because of his elusive nature, which is sad given he's an undeniably gifted performer, as well as a genuinely interesting person. If you’re looking for the real deal, a true great in the world of modern music, then look no further than Prince.




09/05/2014

David Moyes: Manchester's Martyr

This weekend sees Manchester United’s season of woe finally come to an end. The first full year since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure will have been a harrowing experience for supporters of the club. For a generation of fans that began following United under Ferguson, this season was an unwelcome journey deep into unknown territory.

The appointment of David Moyes as successor to Britain’s most successful club manager was a romantic, if not idealistic, one. Moyes, like Ferguson, was a tough and uncompromising Scotsman, who’d put in 11 years of tireless work to build his own footballing legacy 34 miles away from Old Trafford at Everton. Although unable to capture any silverware during his time at Goodison Park, Moyes’ morals and work ethic set him up as the embodied of everything Manchester United wished to represent: honesty, integrity, determination and ability. Dreams do come true, as Moyes, the unglamorous underdog, finally got his big break. This was his moment to ascend to Old Trafford’s vacant throne and proceed towards managerial greatness. However, such fairy tail narratives rarely occur in reality, and, for David Moyes, flaws exposed in his personality would tragically prove fatal to his ambitions in Manchester.

In football, the ability to make your players think like, and thus play like, champions is perhaps the most important quality a manager must posses if they're to succeed and win trophies. From the outset, the startling lack of silverware on Moyes’ CV was a concern that suggested he didn’t have the requisite skills to elevate the performances of his players to that of trophy winners. Arguably, Moyes' predecessor's greatest ability was his knack for extracting the very best from almost everyone who played under him. From Park Ji-Sung to Cristiano Ronaldo, every player, regardless of talent, was given the confidence to go toe-to-toe with football’s very best. In this sense, Sir Alex Ferguson, a habitual creator of champions, was sublime.

So, it was damning for Moyes when, 10 months into his tenure, Manchester United stalwart and dressing room mouthpiece, Patrice Evra, spoke about a lack of confidence throughout the squad; pointing to this as the reason for the season's many abject performances. Indeed, so bad had the team's displays been, that they'd resulted in the club’s sharp decline from champions to mid-table also-rans. For someone managing a team with a reputation as daredevil as Manchester United's, Moyes was terminally uninspiring when addressing the media, with United's performances subsequently reflecting their manager's prosaic persona. For a club that had been defiantly confident since the dawn of the Premier League to now be found so lacking can only mean Moyes had cut the supply. His earnest approach sapped successful, established players of the cocksureness they and their badge were synonymous with.

At the pinnacle of British football, his set-piece dossier and state-of-the-art transfer ‘bunker’ were preposterously inadequate. Studiousness was not enough, what he lacked was something rare and intangible. The air of conviction - the charisma, the aura - that inspires belief in players, and devotion in fans, was glaringly absent. Without this, Moyes was exposed as a managerial mortal, unable to rule in the arena of the elite, and leading the champions of England towards footballing catastrophe. Cue Moyes' public crucifixion by incredulous fans and the preying press pack.

Ultimately, the tenure of David Moyes was a human tragedy. Here was an honest man, who, after years of humble service at Preston North End and Everton, was hoping to begin his journey towards a place amongst British football’s greatest managers. Alas, he was handed a poisoned chalice and baptised in fire; the Theatre of Dreams hosted his worst nightmares, and ultimately he was a lamb led to slaughter. Compounding the red stain, now forever on his CV, Moyes' humiliation was completed by his former club, Everton, who, in the same season, exceeded all expectations he’d once set.

At the season’s conclusion, pious David Moyes is a figure of martyrdom who'd been made to pay for the decades of unprecedented success at Manchester United. After a 26 year glut of silverware, his demise serves United's followers with a reminder that being champions is not their prerogative, and that greed is a sin for which even devils must eventually pay. Moyes’ deference to the badge's legacy and inability to assert himself made him the latest casualty of a modern football machine without mercy. Played out on football’s biggest stage, Moyes' 10 month tenure provided audiences with a gripping tale of romance and tragedy.