Thank you for visiting my website. I thought I’d use this part of it to tell you a little bit about me. My name is Stuart Willoughby, and I’m forty-six. I live in a little town called Stockton-on-Tees in the north east of England. Railways were invented here.
I’ve been a follower of Prince’s career since the early eighties – 1983 to be exact – and I spent most of my pocket money on his records when I was growing up. Once I started work I then spent most of my wages on his records too. I’ve been fortunate to see him live many times, and he is easily the greatest performer I’ve ever seen. I’ve attended many aftershow parties too, which gave me the opportunity to see him up close. If any of you have been lucky enough to have seen him, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say that he was from another planet as a musician. My favourite show was from the Lovesexy Tour in 1988. The revolving stage was in the centre of the auditorium and it featured a bedroom and a basketball court. Prince arrived on stage in a white Thunderbird which travelled through the audience on hydraulics. It’s still the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.
I work in a record store called Sound it Out Records, and I’ve been there for almost seven years. It’s a great place to work – particularly for someone who has a love of music – and during my time there I’ve been able to make lots of people aware of Prince’s work, which is fantastic.
When I was growing up, I didn’t know any other people who liked his music, so Prince was a pretty solitary interest for me. I’d spend weeks in my room playing the latest records and CDs, and I’d draw pictures of the covers and try to perfect the fonts of the song titles on the sleeves. I became particularly adept at the Purple Rain and Sign o’ the Times writing, and I’d practise writing my name over and over again in those styles. I collected magazines and books which featured Prince, and I kept them in a box together with concert tickets and posters and pretty much anything else related to Prince.
As I’ve grown up, my collection has expanded and I now own pretty much most things he did music-wise. I have dozens of singles and LPs and if it’s been released on vinyl I own it. I’ve also collected virtually every book that’s ever been written about him and I still have them all in a bookcase in my dining room. I’ve read them all back to front a dozen times.
Throughout my life, I’ve been able to tie events that have happened to me to periods of Prince’s career or particular releases. For example the day that the Diamonds and Pearls album was released in 1991 was the day after I had my appendix removed, so I sent my mother to town to pick it up for me while I was in hospital. Similarly, when The Gold Experience album was released in 1995, I had a new baby daughter who was just a few weeks old. I learned the album while feeding her. Luckily she didn’t understand the words to ‘P Control’.
Going further back, I remember buying the seven inch single of ‘When Doves Cry’ from Charlie’s Hardware Store and preferring the b-side, ‘17 Days’. I can recall the walk home from Charlie’s like it was yesterday, and it’s been thirty-three years! I have lots of memories from my youth like that.
In 1987, I bought the VHS version of the Sign o’ the Times concert movie, and the day I got it I didn’t get a chance to watch it until my little brother was in bed. My dad went to the pub that night with his friends, and they arrived home while I was watching it. By this point my dad was used to Prince’s music playing at home, but his friends didn’t really know Prince, and when they saw I was watching it they began poking fun at me and Prince, saying that he couldn’t play guitar and was a terrible singer. Slowly but surely, they all stopped talking and began watching the movie. After ten minutes, my dad’s friend Ray said, ‘Wow. He’s really good, isn’t he?’ and me and my dad started laughing. My dad won’t remember this at all, but I do.
In 1988 I remember walking into town with my friend, John Flanagan to buy the Lovesexy album. When we got home I played it and he didn’t like it at all! A few months later I started my final year at college. In my first art lesson, our teacher asked us to draw or paint something that meant a lot to us. One kid painted the word ‘Lovesexy’. The teacher asked him what it meant, and the kid couldn’t answer him. I then said, ‘I know what it means’, and told the class, much to their mirth. If you don’t know, check out the album sleeve. It’s right there. I’d memorised it! I painted something Prince-related too, but I can’t remember what mine was!
In 2007 I saw Prince perform several shows at the O2 in London during his ’21 Nights’ residency. The shows AND the aftershow parties were astounding. One night when I was there I spent an hour in a bar inside the dome with Stephen Merchant from the TV show, Extras. He was a really nice guy, and a big Prince fan. He laughed when I told him I’d driven two hundred and fifty miles to see the show. ‘I travelled two miles on the bus,’ he said. ‘You must be a proper fan!’
The last time I saw Prince was in 2014. I saw a few shows with 3rdeyegirl. He still had that spark. At the show in Leeds I stood ten feet from him and a girl next to me – who was no more than twenty – asked if I’d seen him before, and if he was any good. I told her that it would be the greatest thing she’d ever seen. After the show she came over to me, crying, and said I was right. At the same show, I met a few guys who were around my age and big fans, and we talked about all the same shows we had attended over the years. Prince fans are pretty full-on!
When Prince died, it hit me really hard. The trip to Minneapolis made his passing easier. If anyone is thinking of doing the trip, I’d say go for it. The experience I had was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was truly incredible. Everybody I met was amazing too, so friendly and accommodating. Minneapolis is a great place.
I hope you enjoy the book. It’s written with love and I’m over the moon that people are interested in it. It was difficult to write as getting the chronology of the trip right was really important to me, but I think I managed it! Ultimately, my only aim for doing this is to get people who might not have heard it listening to Prince’s music, or if people ARE aware of his work, to investigate it a little deeper. My publisher, Graeme, has already started doing just that, much to the annoyance of his wallet!
Me with Shelby J.