We gathered in the foyer for the music and chatted to the DJ. He asked me what I wanted him to play but didn't have the ‘Station to Station’, album so couldn't play my absolute favs, but did a good job regardless. It was great to see the LPs and turntables out and playing centre stage.
It was billed as: "No ordinary tribute night". This special Queensland Poetry Festival event will see the work of the two late greats, Prince and Bowie, remixed and responded to in the form of music, spoken word, hip-hop and dance by 'The Stress of Leisure' (duo mode), Zenobia Frost, Eleanor Jackson, jiveswallow, Toby Fitch, Hannah Makk (MKO Sun), Dylan Hoskins, Amrita Hepi, Janet Rogers (Canada), Ben Brown (NZ), and Jeet Thayi (India), hosted by Meg Bartholomew (Ruckus Slam).
Setting the Scene: the poster
We didn't realise at the time but we were mingling with the performers of the evening and would identify people later as they made their way to the stage. The woman with the great purple hued 70s form-hugging dress with two hands attached to the front echoing one of Bowie's Ziggy period costumes was from 'The Stress of Leisure' and the woman with the Ziggy Third eye makeup and tight corset was the feature dancer for their rendition of Sound and Vision.
Meg Bartholomew MC'd the event, resplendent in a sequinned two piece she announced as scratchy. She started with a deliberately squeaky rendition of the ending of ‘Purple Rain’ and announced her allegiance to Prince and did a quick audience survey for bias: "Say ‘Hot thing’ for Prince and 'Let's Dance’ for Bowie,” and found it was predominantly dancers there. She took this disappointment calmly but asked each performer which 'side' they were placed on the night. I confess my devotion to Bowie but also appreciation of Prince. They both had a huge impact which continues and both deserve celebration as often as possible.
All the performances were interesting, personal and clever, but these were my favourites for various reasons and are skewed towards the musical as that was what I was more in the mood for that night.
Dylan Hoskins launched into a rousing A Cappella version of 'When Doves Cry' . He started in a slow conversational spoken voice highlighting the poetry and identity introspection of the song and built to a stirring and emotional rendition of the famous chorus.
Hannah Makk played an emotive and soulful version of Prince's 'How come U don't call me anymore?' made famous by Alicia Keys. Using keyboard and her soaring and powerful voice to give the lament its full meaning.
The Stress of Leisure (duo mode) played Bowie's 'Sound and Vision' backed up by Jeet Thayi (writer, poet, musician) and the aforementioned dancer who by now had grown some black organza wings to go with her third eye and corset, echoing Bowie's Kansai Yamamoto costumes.
Eleanor Jackson's powerful poem talked about Prince's impact on her childhood, especially seeing his film Purple Rain for the first time on TV in the nineties. How his virtuoso control and group of artists empowered her as a child growing up on the outskirts of Brisbane 'where the newcomers are sent'.
After rejecting all Meg's attempts at intro banter Jiveswallow did an impassioned version of Bowie's 'Looking for Water'. It was an interesting selection showing an appreciation of the breadth of Bowie's oeuvre. 'Looking for Water' is another Bowie song that shows how ahead he was of everyone else, not just in music and cultural trends, but in environmental awareness and an understanding of the issues facing the planet and humanity.
Toby Fitch read his poem about the impact of Bowie and Prince using their famous lyrics interspersed with his own words.
Introducing their second appearance of the night, Ian Powne of The Stress of Leisure, said, "We could have chosen 1999, Changes – anything – but we chose ... well, just listen," and started the thoughtful, reflective, and moving 'Where Are We Now' from Bowie's penultimate album 'The Next Day'.
The evening finished with a full screen viewing of David Bowie's outback and Sydney set
'Let's Dance' video, still some twenty years later, a powerful indictment on Australia's treatment of its First Nation Peoples.
Thus endeth 'The Prince and The Duke'. A celebration of two musical geniuses who passed away much too soon leaving millions of fans around the world, adrift, bereft and asunder. Collectively we need these events to gather, remember and marvel at their incredible works, output and influence. Because there's sure as hell no one else like them out there any more.