I don’t quite know how to process this. It has been announced this morning that Keith Flint, the unmistakeable singer in the Prodigy, has passed away.
The Penguin has tears in his eyes. The Prodigy are a band of almost unrivalled brilliance in my mind. One of the greatest live acts in the world; a band who helped to make dance music pre-eminent in the album and singles charts, as well as headlining festivals around the world. The blend of energy, rock, punk, dance – of various forms – and yet more energy appealed to fans of so many types of music.
I remember my mum buying Fat of the Land. It’s never great when your parents are cooler than you – well, one of them at least, my dad stopped following popular culture in 1977 – and whenever she drove home you’d hear her long before you saw her, so loud was the album blaring out. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. It was a seminal album for lots of people, but for me it was a gateway into a world I never wanted to end.
The first festival I ever went to was Leeds Festival in 2002. The Friday night had three major acts playing, with the Offspring and Guns and Roses either side of the Prodigy. I think about that set every week. The band were struggling at the time, having toured for years and struggling to get on. But for a 16 year old fan seeing them for the first time, it was absolutely magical. The energy. I’ve never seen a crowd bounce in unison for so long. The tunes. The bass. It was unforgettable.
Maxim would scream ‘where the fuck is Leeds?’ and we’d go crazy in response. Keith Flint would swagger around the stage, delivering the words to songs that were now part of our DNA. I don’t know if any manager looking to put a band together would ever think of bringing those three men in the same room; but their chemistry was undeniable. They leave a live crowd reeling, but desperately wanting more. It was absolutely addictive.
Which may explain why I’ve been back to see them so many times. I’ve lost count of the exact number, somewhere around ten. My first solo trip to London in 2004 involved watching them at Brixton Academy. There was the hilarious time they headlined the second stage at V Festival and – according to the rumour that went around – refused to go on stage unless the volume was turned up. The main stage headliners the Scissor Sisters had to apologise for the bass that kept wafting across. That was the gig where I’d said I was going to take it easy; then the riff to Their Law started and I was on the third row by the end of the first song. I’ve had my phone stolen at one of their gigs, and didn’t notice because the crowd were bouncing so much. You always came away with sore ribs and legs, but smiling from ear to ear.
Flint was not the music man. On some Prodigy albums he wasn’t even involved in the recording. But he was the heart and the ethos of the band. The stage got a little more electric when he came on. He embodied the attitude of the band and it was his face that became synonymous with their mainstream success and number 1 singles.
I’m so very sad right now that I won’t get to experience it again. But I’m so very grateful for what he did. He made a young kid from Yorkshire fall in love with whatever he did. And I hope he knows how much I – and so many others – appreciate that.