Jimi Love has fond memories of discovering the music of Prince.
“I was ten years old,” he recalls. “I was in my godfather’s car and he put the Purple Rain album on. I think I got about ten seconds into Let’s Go Crazy and I was like, ‘Wow, what is this?’
“I was completely hooked straight away. I did loads of chores, saved up my pocket money and bought that as my first album.”
The appeal of Minneapolis’ most famous musical export was manyfold. “It was just all of it,” Love says. “The guitar, the singing, everything, the whole energy and vibe that came from it, the album artwork, back when you used to have [12-inch vinyl] albums, all of it.
“I saw the movie as well after I had the album and I was just like ‘Wow, how is someone that good?’ And I was ten years old and hadn’t even picked up a guitar or anything.”
Today Love fronts the eight-piece Prince tribute band Purple Rain. Proving interest in Prince’s music remains undiminished a year on from the singer’s sudden and unexpected death, the band have a full schedule of dates all the way through to mid-December.
Love started performing Prince’s songs around 12 years ago. “It was kind of a bet, a sort of challenge from a mate of mine,” he says. “I was already playing in bands and doing bits and pieces. We did a gig [playing Prince covers] and it was great fun, I really enjoyed it. I hadn’t really played any Prince before – I’d played pretty much everything else but that was the first time and it was so much fun that we just carried on with it.
“The keyboard player [Tony T] now is still the original one but we went thorough loads of other musicians and it’s just continued to be fun. There’s so much material there to take from to perform that it’s just endless. You never get bored of it, it’s so eclectic.”
Love says Purple Rain “definitely try to” play more than just Prince’s big hits. “Obviously there’s his commercial hits – Raspberry Beret and 1999 and Kiss and all that, that everybody knows – but there’s such a huge pool of great album tracks and B-sides. We get a lot of serious Prince fans who come to the shows, and we are too, so it’s as much for us as them, but we do put in things based on it’s fun to play or we really like that one or people have asked us for it. It’s not just the classic greatest hits; there’s all sorts of stuff in there.”
One date that Purple Rain will definitely not be playing on this year is April 21, the anniversary of Prince’s death. Love says the singer’s passing, at the age of 57, came as a shock. “Still now it’s very devastating,” he says. “He’s such a loss to music as a whole. I completely thought if I’d have stopped doing this and retired I’d still be able to go and see a Prince concert, you just thought of him as like an ageless entity almost, Prince will be there forever, in a weird sort of way.
He’s such a loss to music as a whole. I completely thought if I’d have stopped doing this and retired I’d still be able to go and see a Prince concert. You just thought of him as like an ageless entity almost, Prince will be there forever.Jimi Love
“Now I’m listening to stuff, working through things for shows, and there’s just a sense of loss and sadness. He’s not going to be putting out that album that you used to get every year, doing little pop-up gigs.”
Since Prince’s passing Love feels Purple Rain shows have taken on a different tone. “It’s really bittersweet the whole thing because we’re all fans and we miss him and his music. Also part of going to a Prince concert was the whole getting together with other fans, that whole community thing, the Prince army, and it was an event, and leading up to it everyone dressing up. The vibe that we have now at our shows is us and all of the other fans celebrating him together.
“We get to meet up and see all the people who we don’t see very often and sing the songs and dance. The whole thing is a celebration of his music and his life as a tribute, not trying to be an impersonator – I would never try to do that because you’d be doomed to failure, nobody could sing and dance and play guitar like him, he was a one-off, but it is trying to celebrate and create the vibe of joyousness with the music and everyone coming together.”
Purple Rain play at York Barbican on April 12, Leeds City Varieties on April 16 and Holmfirth Picturedrome on December 2. www.celebrationofprince.com