The Vinylist: Prince Collector – Stephen Shipperlee
Prince’s releases have become more valuable since his passing. But for committed fans, collecting helps forge a special connection with our musical heroes. Andrew Dineley peruses his collection…
From his first album, For You in 1977 through to his final HITnRUN duo of albums in 2015, Prince was an artist who could never have been accused of starving his fans of material. When combined with multiple formats for different territories, bootlegs of innumerable live performances and albums that were never officially released, staying on top of the man’s prodigious output would have proved a challenge for the most committed of fans.
We met with Prince superfan, Stephen Shipperlee, at his home in south Liverpool to explore his extensive Prince collection. Boxes and storage containers of vinyl and other related ephemera surrounded us as we spent an afternoon reminiscing about Prince’s life and signs of the times.
Prince seldom took a break from releasing music, and his voracious appetite for collaboration and experimentation meant that there was always plenty for a serious fan to get their teeth into. Stephen realised this in mid-1980s, perhaps a little later than some, but quickly made up for the lapse. At the same time as following every new release, he expediently worked his way back through Prince’s back catalogue, acquiring everything released in the preceding decade.
“I remember being aware of Prince as a casual fan from the Purple Rain era, but became a bit obsessive when the album Parade was released in 1986. That was probably the turning point where I started going out and buying all the albums and singles I could find. There was something groundbreaking about the track Kiss – its sound and video were both so different to everything else around at that time, so I was hooked in. Up until then I had been a heavy Beatles fan and by the time I was about 14, I had all their albums and most of the solo stuff. I had also picked up on Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and a few others, so Purple Rain broadly fitted with my tastes at that time.”
There’s a palpable excitement that all music collectors will be aware of, where you’ve discovered an unknown gem, the obscure release you didn’t know existed, and there it is, in your hands…
“It was always that thrill of collecting that excited me. I loved sourcing materials in the most unlikely places. Wherever we went when I was younger, on day trips or holidays, I’d always find the little independent record stores or charity shops and spend ages rifling through the racks and discount boxes. It’s difficult now for young fans to appreciate how hard it was back then to stay on top of what was released. There were magazines and specialist fanzines, but even then, you would discover things out of the blue that you never knew existed. It was a great time to be a fan and collector.
“It’s so much easier now. Anyone with money and patience can find things on the internet with online sellers or eBay, most stuff comes up eventually. It may take a while, have a long distance to travel and cost stupid money, but it’s all there, nearly. The thrill of the adventure has waned a little as I’ve got older and everything’s gone online, but the items I have, I’ll probably keep forever now. I remember years ago, I was in Brighton digging through a box of £2 albums in a hip-hop specialist shop, I found a rare Madhouse album. Madhouse was Prince’s jazz-funk project, an instrumental band where he played nearly all the instruments. It was a Prince album in all but name, a really rare release; I was thrilled to get it, especially for two quid!”
For fans with Stephen’s level of dedication to a specific artist, this desire to complete your collection by owning every release can be all-consuming. Then, of course, if you ever do manage to get into the enviable position of owning almost every release by your favourite artist, would you be able to select just 10 of your favourite things? What is it that makes particular pop artefacts special? Is it their design, condition, contents or the personal story behind each and every piece? We’ve all collected things during our lives, particularly when young, so there’s almost certainly no definitive answer, perhaps beyond current market value, but for superfans, it’s rarely about something so crass as resale profit. When an artist dies, their entire body of work rises in monetary value and collectability, so when selecting seminal pieces, the decision has to be based upon more than just the money.
Over the follwing pages, we ask Stephen to do just this – select his own personal diamonds and pearls from his enviable Prince collection of records and ephemera, just 10 precious items that mean the most to him from an archive of thousands.
Naturally, there’s plenty of classic vinyl to choose from, but also some interesting and rare curios that were sourced while seeing Prince live in various venues across the world…
Strange Tales From The Rain
Promotional album Japan, 1984
“Any Prince fan will know that this is a ‘holy grail’ item. As well as being nicely packaged, it’s got a great label design that has the centre hole perfectly aligned with the pupil of Prince’s eye. The official soundtrack to Purple Rain only included the Prince songs, but he worked with his protégés on other tracks for the film, including Apollonia 6 and The Time, and they’re included on this double LP. This was only issued to radio stations in advance of the film being released, but I managed to get a copy that I paid dearly for. It’s worth a lot more now, though, and regularly sells for anything in the region of £300 to £500.”
Fanzines and book
Controversy UK 1986 to 1993
Uptown Sweden 1991 to 2004
“The UK Controversy fanzine was published between 1986 and 1993 and eventually became an official publication. There was also a title that came out of Sweden entitled Uptown, that ran from 1991 until the early 2000s, before Prince finally closed it down. In 2004, a book followed, lovingly authored by the fans that created Uptown – it was expensive and expansive at over 700 pages, and billed as ‘the definitive guide to the musical world of Prince’. It covered everything – from his international catalogue of releases, to reviews of the most obscure shows with set lists and diarised précis of TV and public appearances.
I have all of these fanzines. The earlier ones were put together, pre-computer, with a typewriter. These are priceless now and I’ve never seen the earlier editions come up for sale, there must have only been about 100 of them printed. Back in the day, these fanzines were the only reliable source of information about gigs. This is how I bought a lot of stuff, including tickets for live shows. The later fanzines will sell for anything between £10 to £60, with The Vault book now regularly selling for prices in the region of £250.”
Shaped picture-disc single UK, 1984
As the 1980s went on, the variety of ways in which we could buy music grew as bewildering as it was costly. Multiple versions of the same single were often released in up to a dozen different formats, all of which counted toward a sale in the music charts. This practice was eventually regulated, much to the dismay of the diehard collector. Shaped picture discs were one of the rarer and more gimmicky formats, they offered inferior sound quality and usually nothing beyond the same tracks that would be found on the regular 7-inch format. For the completist, though, they were an essential purchase. “Its condition is as good as the day I bought it. You do see these occasionally for sale now, but often Prince’s foot is missing! My version is perfect. It’s even in its original plastic sleeve with sticker intact. These now sell for anything between £100 to £200.”
Did you know?
As the 1990s came to an end, Prince’s relationship with his record company, Warner Bros, grew increasingly strained. Famously, as a protest, Prince demanded his name be replaced with a ‘love symbol’ glyph. The symbol was unpronounceable and made journalist’s lives difficult as it also couldn’t be typed. To get around this problem, floppy discs were distributed to media channels that contained a special font that allowed the user to type the symbol when selecting an uppercase letter P.
VIP Seat Reservations
Ticket stubs and fan club laminates
“I saw Prince more than 50 times, and in the early days was lucky to get seats in the first five rows. These are souvenirs of some amazing times. Often I’d see multiple nights of the same tour and would get into the soundchecks and even managed to get into some of Prince’s legendary aftershow gigs. Prince was famously creative with his setlists and the lengths of shows varied massively. When I saw him at Le Zénith, Paris in 1998 with Chaka Khan as support, he played for nearly four hours – despite coming on at 10.30pm. That was a long night, a challenge for even the most ardent fans.”
Purple Rain maxi single
Limited-edition purple vinyl USA, 1984
“I paid about twice the standard price for this 12-inch import single from America at the time. I was seduced by the purple vinyl, it’s a thing of beauty. I remember when I’d buy these records, even the smell of the vinyl as you split open the plastic sleeve was wonderful. These now sell for about £45 if you can find one in good condition.”
Did you know?
In 1985, Prince released his Around The World In A Day album. This semi-psychedelic masterpiece was a complex affair, notably in the choice of cover art by Doug Henders. A series of characters from the scene were also used on the singles taken from the album. Yet, prior to its release, even his record company had no idea of what was to come. Prince kept the whole concept a secret, which made advertising it in advance problematic. With no information or cover design to use, Warner Bros’ marketing team trailed its forthcoming release with no images, just text telling us “Everybody’s looking for the ladder”.
Limited-edition picture-disc album 1986
“I remember coming across this in HMV, Liverpool. I didn’t have enough money on me and neither did the friend I was with. I never knew it existed, so was amazed to discover this one copy sitting there in the rack, just waiting for me to find it. I didn’t want to risk anybody else discovering it, so I hid it among some other obscure artist’s releases, where no Prince fan would ever dream of looking. I jumped on the bus out to suburbia to get the cash and within an hour, it was mine. I always loved this period for Prince – the sleeve designs, videos and songs were just faultless. This was a turning point in my appreciation of the man. Finding this die-cut sleeve in mint condition now is extremely rare – expect to pay over £100 for it.”
Night Club AKA The Small Club and Pop Life, Live at Wembley Arena
Bootleg albums 1986 and 1988 respectively
“These bootlegs are special because the attention to design detail with the glossy gatefolds and the full-colour inner sleeves means they sometimes have better packaging than some official releases. The sound quality is also pretty decent and they can contain rare collaborations with artists such as Sting or Ron Wood. It was also in the aftershow gigs that Prince would play the more obscure stuff and hardly anyone would get in to see those, so it’s great that these sort of releases were put together by fans for fans. These now sell for about £60 each.”
Prince branded tambourine
“I was quite close to the stage at Wembley Arena, when I saw the people in front of me ducking. Mayte, Prince’s dancer and soon-to-be wife, threw this into the crowd like a frisbee. This was in the days before lawsuits – now anything thrown into the audience is gently tossed upward for people to gently catch, but this almost took my eye out. Nevertheless, it was worth it! What a brilliant souvenir. They went on to sell these on the tour and now they’re collectable, I’ve seen them sell for around £200.”
Girls & Boys
12″ single with Personality poster UK, 1986
“This isn’t really that rare, you can get them for less than £30 now. I’ve included it because it was the ‘personality poster’ in this release that alerted me to the fact that Prince was coming back to the UK. It turned out I was was too late to get tickets, but I did get some the following year, when he toured his Sign O’ The Times album. The tickets requested that fans wear Prince’s favourite colour at that time, but I never did got much wear out of the peach-coloured shirt I bought specially for the occasion, loads of the shows were sadly cancelled.”
The Rainbow Children vinyl album – 2001 “This would complete my vinyl collection. It was released when Prince’s mainstream success was behind him and vinyl was considered a thing of the past, so very few copies were pressed. It’s rare to come across these… It’ll cost somewhere between £200 to £400.”
Thanks very much to Stephen Shipperlee for granting us access to his collection and for sharing his stories with us.