I recently had the pleasure of watching singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas perform at a festival in London. As I revelled in the honey-sweet sounds coming from the stage, I was struck by how much her stage presence reminded me of Prince. There was something in the way the 32-year-old musician held herself that day that was so evocative of Prince’s performance at the 1985 AMAs. Like Prince was on that night, La Havas was perfectly in sync with her backing band, and she showcased the same all-consuming, unfaltering talent.
Looking back, the similarities between the two musicians shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. Prince acted as something of a mentor to La Havas in the early years of her career, when she first started making waves in the music industry. In a recent interview, La Havas explained how the friendship between herself and one of rock’s biggest icons came about, stating: “My manager told me Prince wanted to talk to me because he’d seen a live stream of my show,” she began. “He called weeks later because he’s Prince so he does what he wants in his own time.”
But, as La Havas explained, Prince’s call couldn’t have come at a worse time: “I didn’t have my phone and I missed Prince’s call, can you believe it? But he called again when I was in a noisy bar. I went outside and found a quiet spot in an alleyway. He was like, ‘Are you in an alleyway?’ He’s Prince. He just knew. We spoke, then my battery died, but we stayed in touch and became friends. When he came to London he invited me on stage to sing one of my own songs and I went to Paisley Park and that was insane.”
Their friendship quickly blossomed, leading to Prince turning up at La Havas’ London flat: “I said, ‘You should stop by when you come to London’ and he said, ‘I’ve got this idea. I want to do a show in your living room’. I was in a flatshare in Leyton. So Prince was literally in Leyton. For a whole day. I was like, ‘I’m really sorry, but this is happening today’ to my flatmate”. La Havas went on to add the surprising reaction of her neighbours, describing how she’d “had to tell my neighbours about the abnormal activity, shall we say, and they were like ‘Who is Prince?’ There was a stage set up, and they came in with smoke machines and lights and a PA, and they turned my bedroom into a dressing room.”
The bedroom concert would not only cement Prince and La Havas’ friendship, but it would also spawn Prince’s Hit And Run tour of small London venues in 2014. Prince’s death in 2016 hit La Havas harder than most. With his passing, she lost a friend and creative mentor, someone who had always taught her to write music for herself, not to impress label executives. In an interview held soon after the news of the funk legend’s death, La Havas looked back on her their friendship: “That time in my life, knowing him, was so surreal and special. It didn’t hit me for a long time, the reality of his passing. He’s very missed. I also wish that I could have sent him this new album, because I feel like that’s what he was always wanting me to do: make something that I was really proud of.”