Impromptu Duet with Prince
George Butler of Leeds, England is a Prince famfriend if there ever was one. He lost count of the number of times he saw Prince live and when asked to pick a favorite he points to a tour rather than a single concert: The 2002 One Night Alone Tour that started March 1 in Saginaw, Michigan and concluded November 29 in Nagoya, Japan.
George, alone or with friends, trotted the globe to attend 23 of the ONA concerts across three continents starting with Atlanta in April and ending with Tokyo in November. Being a card-carrying member of the NPG Club George was able to purchase tickets that put you in the first few rows and gave you access to the pre-concert soundchecks; he recollects on several occasions interacting with or speaking directly to Prince, who would typically sit down with a microphone and have a casual chat with his famfriends. George has many precious memories of that tour, and here's one of them in his own words:
"Berlin was a bit special. We were so close to the stage that our legs were up against it and the stage was really low. So Prince is playing during the concert and he goes to turn around and in doing so he almost whacks me in the face with his guitar! We're both laughing with each other as he's just watched me swerve to avoid it. There and then he stops the song, grabs my arm, pulls me on stage and says to me, ‘Dance like me.’" That was a tall order but George did what everyone ever asked by Prince to dance would do (well, except for that Kim chick) …he danced.
Exactly one month later George found himself in Toyko for what would be his final show of the tour; November 19, 2002 was to be a very special night for George and it all started during the soundcheck.
“Prince asked, ‘Do we have any singers in the audience?’ Immediately I shout, 'Yeah, me!’ and I jumped the barrier and bound up the stairs only to trip and nearly fall flat on my face. Well, Prince found this quite hilarious and said to everyone but me ‘Off the stage!’ I smiled and walked over to him at which point he asked me in his low voice, ‘Where are you from?’ I told him England, and he asked what I was doing in Japan so I said I was there to see him and to have a holiday.”
Prince then asked George what song he'd like to sing and George suggested “Avalanche” but Prince quickly shot that down and decided upon “A Case of You”. George sang along and felt the song went fairly well, except when he badly missed a high note and thought he’d be done for sure. The song ended and George assumed he would return to his seat, but Prince surprised him by asking what song he'd like to sing next.
“In my head I was like WOW, I get to do another one! By this time, I had got over my nerves and was really relaxed so I decided to have a bit of fun. ‘Something funky!’ I responded cheekily, and we laughed together."
Prince suggested they sing “When You Were Mine” and George felt he did that song justice by singing in a lower octave than Prince. Oblivious to George, while he was singing several others had come on stage and gathered behind him. Prince told everyone the next song would be “Last December”.
George continues, “I took a step back away from the mic to allow other people to sing the song and Prince was in my eye line. Everyone was murdering it. I didn't know the song that well so I took a step further back. Prince made eye contact with me and we smiled knowingly at each other."
And then George's duets with Prince were indeed over as everyone was ushered off the stage, but not before George walked over and extended his hand to Prince who returned the handshake, whilst George expressed the kind of heartfelt thanks one would expect from a soldier in the Purple Army who had trekked across three continents over seven months to witness 23 of the 64 dates in the One Night Alone Tour of 2002.
Never, in the history of ever will there be anyone as authentically fan-centric as Prince. So doesn't it just feel right that this happened?
"Back in the summer of '95 I was in London working at Prince's then PR company for the UK and Europe. I ended up staying at the company owner's house. One day he brought home a tape (yep, a cassette tape) put it in and hit play. It was hot off the press, the final, soon-to-be-released version of Gold. I was the first "fan" who got to hear the album. I remember being blown away by what I was hearing, and he asked a barrage of questions as to what I thought of it. He knew what I thought about our Prince...of course I liked it! At the time it was so fresh and different and so damned creative. It was cool to have an album with segues, for instance.
Anyway, a few days later at 1:00 am there came a phone call to the business line of the house. It was the head of Warner Brothers. I was told to take the call and I proceeded to chat about Gold with this man who was to make all the decisions about singles, when things were released, and so on and so forth. Our attention came to Gold. He wanted to release it immediately. I said to him 'No way!' and told him in no uncertain terms without a hint of shyness that this Prince single should be released at Christmas.
At the end of that summer I returned to University and forgot all about the telephone conversation. Then, when Christmas came I was delighted to find out they had taken my advice. Gold went Top 10 in the UK, not quite number 1. I remember being in my car and the DJ Chris Evans on Radio 1 said, 'This is the song that should be number 1,' as he announced it. Right!
I was so happy. I never got any credit for the advice but no matter, I did it for Prince."