In a year that saw more celebrity deaths than we care to remember, the passing of Prince in April 2016 came as a massive blow to fans of his unique brand of rock and funked-up pop.

Yet the iconic singer-songwriter’s music failed to die that day in Minnesota. His songs live on as some of the most beautiful ever recorded, and his music is being kept alive by his band – The New Power Generation.

The NPG worked with Prince from 1990 to 2013 and once again two years later for his final studio album Hit n Run Phase Two. And they have now made it their mission to share his classic tunes with audiences across the globe – including the crowd at Oxford’s Common People festival this weekend.

The New Power Generation took their name from the line “Welcome to the New Power Generation” on the opening track of 1988’s Lovesexy and were first credited on the 1990 film Graffiti Bridge – with a song in their name appearing on the soundtrack album.

Many of the NPG’s members – Morris Hayes, Tommy Barbarella, Damon Dickson, Levi Seacer, Jr. Tony M, Michael Bland, Kirk Johnson and Sonny T – knew Prince Rogers Nelson better than almost anyone else alive. Sonny was a friend of the singer-songwriter from the same neighbourhood in Minneapolis and had taught him how to play bass. Prince had even once played guitar and backing vocals on a tune by his own former band The Lewis Connection.

Now, he says, he is just happy to be playing the great man’s music – keeping his legacy alive with electrifying live performances of such tunes as Purple Rain, Little Red Corvette, Raspberry Beret, I Wanna Be Your Lover, 1999, and Diamonds and Pearls.

“We’d always been friends,” says Sonny, speaking from his home in Minneapolis and recalling his early days. “Then he called me one day and asked me to join his group.

“Even though we were friends, he was just doing his thing and I was doing what the hell I was doing. We were kids and he had his band and I had mine. I was walking around with a guitar and he was walking around with a guitar. We’d end up at home and we’d play all night.

“We’d be listening to music and playing and showing each other chord structures.”

He pauses, sighs, and adds: “His death came as a real shock as I’d seen him two weeks before. He wanted to see a show at [Minneapolis venue] Bunker's, and that was the last time. He seemed okay but a bit tired. And I gave him a big hug.”

He sighs deeply again. “I thought he’d go on forever. When I heard the news I didn’t believe it. I thought someone was lying. Then every station repeated the news, and I thought ‘Oh my God!’

“I really didn’t know what I was going to do. I was in shock.

“He was my friend for many years and I’m still not over it.”

He got together with his NPG bandmates and after some deliberation they decided to continue.

“He was a remarkable man and we wanted to continue getting his music out there," he says.

“We want his music to live on along with the wonderful memories of the things he did.

“The music is so great and someone who knows it well needs to play it. And we are like a big family."

And, he says, he grew to love all sides of the flamboyant performer – even his famous eccentricities.

“He had a temper but I never felt it as I knew him as family.

“He was a real workaholic since we were kids, and we had the same attitude. It was great to get a band that rock-solid tight.

"He wanted to hear his music in a certain way and if he wanted that, he’d hear that.

“He had a strong idea of what he wanted to do.”

And, he says, his spirit lives on. “I sometimes think about him being there,” he says. “I always think about how he’d carry himself on stage and how happy and into it and tight we’d be as a band. He was a great band leader.

“I miss so many things about him, especially how happy he was on stage with us and enjoying the creative process in the studio.

"That’s something you can’t beat. Oh man! That drive and focus, the harmonies, the rhythm structure... he was a genius and the stuff poured out of him.

"He would just lay it down and it was so beautiful. And there were sounds no one had heard before.

“I hope he’s with the Lord now though, and not here. It’s too crazy down here!”

Sonny says the band can’t wait to get to South Park to play Common People. He gets even more excited when I tell him that his old friends The Jacksons will be topping the bill.

“I can’t wait to come to the UK,” he says. “I love the UK, the people there, everything. It’s one of my favourite places on earth – and this is going to be a great show. There will be high-energy songs which will sound exactly as he wanted them to.”

His bandmate Morris is also determined to play the great man’s songs exactly as they were intended.

“Prince always said ‘I want you to carry on’,” he says, speaking from his home in Arkansas.

“After he died in 2016 it was clear someone had to pay tribute to him, and that had to be us.

"Prince’s music is legendary and there will always be people who want to hear it.

"We can’t replace him but we can continue his music.”

  • The New Power Generation play Common People Oxford in South Park on Saturday. Tickets:
  • Alternatively, get your ticket on the gate