‘I worked with David Bowie and Prince - and they were more alike than they realised’

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
David Bowie and Prince were “two sides of the same coin” and pioneers as technology changed the music world forever, says Alan Edwards.

David Bowie and Prince were “different sides of the same coin”, according to a top music publicist who worked with both across the decades.

Alan Edwards says both were “intellectuals” and both changed the way the industry works. The 68-year-old has just released a memoir - I Was There: Dispatches From a Life in Rock and Roll - recounting stories from his time with some of the biggest artists in the world, including the Rolling Stones, the Spice Girls, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Edwards first started working for David Bowie in 1981, just before the Serious Moonlight Tour in support of Let’s Dance. He writes: “It was the moment that David went from being a very well-known but essentially cult artist to arguably the biggest music star on the planet. He was playing enormous stadiums and had, briefly, made peace with the role of mass-market entertainer.”

Prince was already a ‘mass-market entertainer’ when he began working for him a decade later, in 1991. In the book, he describes the job as “a strange and wondrous place”, which required a dedicated office phone (’the Batphone’) just for the artist (soon to be known to many as ‘The Artist’).

Although he was closer to Bowie, Edwards’ work gave him a window into the workings of two of pop’s great pioneers.

"David could be very academic, he was clearly very intellectual,” he told LondonWorld, “even though he would be eating eggs and bacon for breakfast, and holding a tabloid.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He tells the story of a night with Prince ending at private members’ club Boujis, with Prince discussing Egyptology.

“He could talk about the most extraordinary subjects,” he said. "It came to me at about four or five in the morning that I had better make notes because he's talking about all these interesting things - but we were in the dark in the club. He came to me and looked over my shoulder and he said: 'Alan, it's a funny thing, you write just the way I do.'

"I said: 'What do you mean, Prince?’ And he said: 'You write in hieroglyphics too!’

"I don't know if he was taking the piss out of me, or whatever, but Prince was really intellectual too in a completely different, completely unstructured way. You had no idea where the conversation might go when you got talking.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
David Bowie in 1983 and Prince in 1990.David Bowie in 1983 and Prince in 1990.
David Bowie in 1983 and Prince in 1990. | Michael Putland/Getty/Bertrand Guay

The ‘90s gave a front-row view as the two stars led the way during the reshaping of the music industry by the internet.

Boujis was not the first stop of that night with Prince. Earlier, they were in Prince’s suite at the Dorchester.

“We spent an hour on the internet with him, which was still quite a newfangled thing then,” said Edwards. “He was talking about ways that distribution could change.”

Prince was obsessed with the business side of the industry and would experiment with methods of distribution, from online fan club releases to free albums with the Daily Mail. He would talk about it a lot, in public and in private.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"It would often be complaining about record companies and how the structure worked, and how he wanted to break free of it. They (Bowie and Prince) were more similar than they probably realised,” said Edwards. "Of course, they knew who each other was, and they must have met each other, but to me I looked at them as different sides of the same coin, in a way.”

PR guru Alan Edwards of Outside.PR guru Alan Edwards of Outside.
PR guru Alan Edwards of Outside. | André Langlois

Bowie was “evangelical” about the internet, says Edwards, who was behind the famous (and often described as ‘prophetic’) 1999 interview with Jeremy Paxman - the BBC presenter clearly sceptical about his guest’s claims about how revolutionary the internet would be. Not only could Bowie see the internet changing music distribution, but he saw a direction that would lead to social media ("it's about the community - it's becoming more and more about the audience").

“He was so far ahead,” said Edwards. “Nobody else was talking about it and people didn't really care about it.”

He tells the story of being dragged to the Apple offices in New York late at night to watch the first online-only single release by a major artist.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I didn't understand,” he said. “There were a couple of guys with computers. They uploaded a song called Telling Lies and I'm sitting there and slowly seeing the future unfold. About 320,000 people downloaded the song, and it was extraordinary - you could see where they were getting it from, some in Florida, some in Denver, some in San Diego. At the end of this session, over a quarter of a million copies of this song had been distributed around America at the flick of a switch. Even I, a big Luddite, knew I had seen the future."

David Bowie in 1973 and Prince in 1987.David Bowie in 1973 and Prince in 1987.
David Bowie in 1973 and Prince in 1987. | Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images/Bertrand Guay

He said both Bowie and Prince could see how the internet was bringing them closer to their own communities, and that it “wasn't something that traditional marketing and advertising and manufacturing knew how to connect with”.

"Bowie and Prince, I always thought, had a lot in common as artists,” he said. “They were both really frustrated by the record company system. They hated - both in different ways - the idea that you make a record and then it sits around, and then it gets pressed up, and then about a year later it's out.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“They both didn't like the idea that they were bound by specific times and space. Both of them were prolific artists and they wanted to get stuff to the public as they made it, almost - to the public, their community. They envisaged exactly that - the bubble of Prince people, the bubble of Bowie people. Like a newspaper, really, they wanted to be able to talk to them on a daily basis. I think they both found the constraints of the system, as it was then, really difficult. And they both broke the system, in different ways.”

David Bowie died on January 10 2016. Clips can be found online of Prince performing excerpts from his song Heroes during a piano concert in the months after his death.

Prince himself would die on April 21 2016.

I Was There: Dispatches From a Life in Rock and Roll by Alan Edwards is out now, published by Simon & Schuster.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.