Nb By the time the artist formerly known as Prince had changed his name to O(+> , an unpronounceable love symbol that fused the masculine and feminine parts of hisself, so that’s what I’ll be calling him in this article.
What can I say? O(+> was epic, otherworldly… The artist had a connection to Camden throughout his life, and while he was always a Minneapolis-born performer, he had his fair share of gigs in the capital, and in Camden itself.
He had a difficult childhood, and music was the thing that he used to escape his life, to escape everything. He created his own world and spent so much time doing music that he could play all of the instruments extremely well for his funkaliciously magnificent first demo tape.
In 1988 O(+> performed at the Camden Palace (aka KOKO) on the 26th of July. He played a cover of ‘I’ll Take You There’ by The Staple Singers, along with classics, ‘Strange Relationship’ and ‘Under the Cherry Moon’.
In 1994 he set up a shop on Chalk Town road, named after his 1987 album, Sign o’ the Times. Fans piled in having waited for hours to see O(+> wave from the balcony above the shop with his future wife and (at the time) backing dancer, Mayte Garcia (who went on to act, dance and sing professionally in her career). Fans then piled into the shop, which was full of pungent purple incense, lots of candles, the classic ‘cloud’ guitar, purple trench coats and a few records and CDs.
The press called it a money spinner. I reckon it was just another way O(+> could share a bit of his world with his fans. The cloud guitar, possibly the coolest and most ‘flowey’ guitar ever made. It was a maple wood, giving it that signature clean sound that O(+> has on ‘Purple Rain’.
O(+> always did what O(+> wanted to do… so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to fans when he decided to set up a series of his own private secret mystery tour around Camden in 2014.
Having painted the word ‘slave’ on his face, feeling that he was being controlled too much by the industry and his record label, O(+> managed to break out, feeling that tours should not be restricted by set times and dates and venues.
The thing is, for many other people, this would just mean a disorganised mess. But with O(+>, he always had a vision, he was very capable, driven and hardworking, and he knew what he was doing. Plus, if O(+> says he’s doing a show, even to one person, they’re sure to come in droves, just on the off chance that there’s some truth to it.
The series of secret awesome gigs in Camden took place after he had gained more creative freedom following his battle with Warner Brothers, made public when he wrote the word ‘slave’ on his face. He felt creatively restricted and didn’t mean to compare himself to any other slave, past or future.
Fortunately, this gig series were totally his own decision, as he felt he didn’t want to be tied to rigid schedules or large venues. The first one at the Electric Ballroom only held about 70 people. Another started at 12:30am. “Everyone was just pinching themselves. We couldn’t believe what they were witnessing,” said journalist, Paul Kramer, on BBC Radio 5 live’s Up All Night.
Lines of people waited around the block to see if the rumours on twitter were correct, and Prince was actually going to be playing at the Electric Ballroom, KOKO and King’s Place.
Just a few months later, he set up two gigs at the Roundhouse as a part of his ‘Hit and Run’ tour. Fans were given 48 hour’s notice, but tickets had sold out within four minutes.
In February 2015, he also played at the Autism Rocks concert at KOKO, another surprise appearance. You were lucky if you saw this last gig in Camden, as only 5 months later Prince died.
After years of hard work, obsessive dedication to his craft and jumping off of pianos, and holding guitars, the work took its toll on his body. It was following a hip operation that O(+> was taking the painkillers. He had been taking painkillers laced with fentanyl, an opioid 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroine.
Fentanyl was responsible for 20,000 deaths in America from 2012-2016. More people who overdosed that year were dying because of fentanyl than heroine. Prince was one of these people. Many of them did not even realise the drugs they were taking were laced with opioids.
The sad fact is that usage and overdoses are increasing in the US, even in 2021 opioid overdose-related deaths are up 54% in America. This is the kind of drug that ends up in the hands’ of famous musicians, who are working tirelessly on tour. Tom Petty’s daughter is campaigning against the use of the drug and to share the dangerous effects it can have, since her father died of the same cause in 2017.
The artist formerly known as Prince was an icon, a revolution, a symbol of being exactly who you want to be. His image was painted in 2018 on the back of the Electric Ballroom – across the loading doors where his gear would’ve been shipped in for his performances there. It’s a beautiful image by artist, Mr Cenz, which includes O(+>’s love symbol entwined in his hair. So part of him will always remain in Camden’s history and heart.
The world lost a beautiful person when they lost O(+>. I can only hope he’s up there ripping a sick riff up in rock n roll heaven.
Were you one of the lucky fans who went to one of his shows? I want to know everything. Tell me in the comments below.