When the young Ian Prowse stood in the audience at the Liverpool Empire on November 1st 1978 to see The Jam, he knew immediately that he wanted to be on stage playing music. Coming from a working class family, and growing up on the other side of the River Mersey in Ellesmere Port, he has taken his adopted city and made it flow through his songwriting.
It’s not just the city that inspires him though. Songs like “My name is Dessie Warren” from his album “Companeros” speak to his deeply held Socialist beliefs just as the Pele song “Fat Black Heart” points loaded prose and fires both barrels at those who put greed before compassion with lines like “‘How can you close your eyes to the pain of someone’s loss helping your gain”.
From the Merseybeat days of the 1960s through to today, Liverpool and Merseyside have always had a vibrant and thriving music scene thanks to its diverse population, be that the Irish immigrant population who lent their Celtic lilt or the sailors who brought back early R&B records from America, its outlook has always been international, and that is part of the Prowse inspiration.
“We didn’t have a musical family at all” Ian tells me
But seeing [The Jam front man] Paul Weller looking so cocksure of himself on that stage at the Empire back in ’78, and I felt like I’d been hit by lightning.”
It’s the fuel I still run off today”
Chatting to me while he takes his young daughter to the zoo over half term, It’s easy to listen and talk to a man whose writing is unashamedly personal and at the same time international in its outlook. Early Pele songs like “Fair Blows the Wind for France” speak to a young man eager to get out and see more of the world than just the view from a bedroom window. It’s this outward look that has made so many people fall in love with the music Ian makes.
One of the first things I notice is just how open and honest Ian is, not just about his music, but his outlook on life. There are times when you speak to a musician that they are guarded and following a carefully prepared PR or record company script, but not with this man. An unashamed Socialist, he is to be found at marches and demonstrations arguing for things that he passionately believes in. Asked what he does when not performing, He says bringing up his Daughter and going to the gym are the things that keep him busiest.
Formed in 1989, Pele is still a cult band today and nearly 30 years since they first formed, Prowse has spent two years touring those songs across the UK and Europe to packed venues. I asked if he expected the songs he wrote and recorded with Pele to still reverberate and be relevant nearly three decades later;
“I wrote them with conviction, and my convictions haven’t changed.
Songs like “Raid the Palace” about the unfairness of the British Establishment, I stand by that today. I’m not about to do a butter advert like [former Sex Pistol] John Lydon, or start selling insurance like Iggy Pop did.”
I’m still the kid who wants to make a difference.”
The seminal single from his second band, Amsterdam, Does this train stop on Merseyside, has been covered by artists such as Christie Moore and was, according to his widow Shelia, a song that made the late John Peel weep, it reminded him so much of the place he loved.
It was a paean to the City that had made such an impact on music, not only across the UK but is still reverberating around the globe to this day.
You have to listen closely to the lyrics to get some of the Liverpool references. In the final verse, he manages to get in the James Bulger murder and the Hillsborough disaster;
“Can’t conceive what those children done
Guess there’s a meanness in the soul of man
Yorkshire policemen chat with folded arms
While people try and save their fellow fans”
The Beatles only mention is an aside, mentioning not them, but instead, their first manager Alan Williams, who spent his days in the Marlborough Arms pub, telling his Beatles story. Ian says the track took about 15 minutes to write, apart from that final verse, which he says he had to think long and hard about.
His 2019 album “Here I Lie” has a very personal feel to it, but he’s not afraid to explore themes of loss. The closing track, Ned Maddrell is about the last speaker of the Manx language on the Isle of Man who died in 1972. I asked Ian what it was about this Manxman that made him write the song;
“I did a Masters degree in Irish studies, just for fun, and I’d heard about this man who was the last speaker of this ancient Gaelic language, and I thought, you know what, He deserves a song.
“When he died, thousands of years of culture went with him.
He used to wander into all the pubs on the island, and speak so people would buy him a pint. He was proud to show off his language, as long as there was a drink in it for him!”
The track is a beautiful ballad describing the loss of one of the very few native languages in the Gaelic traditions.
Ian Prowse is a proudly adopted Scouser. His love of the city across the water from his home town of Ellesmere Port echoes Bruce Springsteen and his looking across from New Jersey to New York.
Prowse is openly in awe of his idol, Bruce Springsteen. When asked about what it is about him that he admires so much, he gushes (quite sensibly) that it’s his writing that makes him stand out.
“It’s always honest and open, whatever perspective he’s been going through in his life, and I’ve always been like that, writing with conviction.
You’ve got to mean it, man!” he laughs.
Asked if he could cover any of his heroes songs, he goes for an album track.
“It’d have to be ‘One step up’ from the Tunnel of love album, but it’s one of those where he nailed it and I don’t think it could be done any better.”
He went on to say “There was also one on his Tracks album called Lions Den, I always thought we could really do a killer version of that, so maybe one day, I’ll give that a go.”
Once a year, Ian makes a kind of pilgrimage back to Liverpool for a Christmas concert. This year featuring a 15 piece band, it takes place on the 14th December at the Liverpool O2 academy. It’s become a fixture of the Liverpool music scene for over 12 years now, and is always sold out as people begin to get into the mood of the festive season, however every Monday night you’ll find Ian at the Cavern pub on Matthew Street hosting what has become another Liverpool institution, the Monday Club.
“I was asked if I would host a Monday night, and I said absolutely not!
I don’t want to listen to lads playing [Oasis song] Wonderwall on my Monday nights.
“They said do whatever you want with it, so I said we’ll give it a name, and a rule.”
The name was The Monday club, and the rule? No Covers…Ever. He also wanted it to be open to all sorts of artists, poets, full bands, comics. Anyone with talent was free to come along and take a spot. After a 6 week run, it’s still going strong nearly 10 years later. Pop in on a Monday night and you’ll find artists and tourists from all over the world appear on Monday nights. The former to play their three songs at the spiritual home of The Beatles and tourists to get their photos taken with the memorabilia that adorns the walls.
After the two year tour of the UK and Europe celebrating the 25th anniversary of Fireworks, followed by touring Here I Lie, he is off on tour again in early 2020 supporting his friend Elvis Costello before embarking on a solo acoustic tour of the UK telling his story as well as a new album, he’s calling this his “RaconTour” tour. The new album will include classics Pele and Amsterdam tracks as well as favourites from his three solo albums.
As the decade comes to a close, it seems Ian Prowse is ready and able to carry on producing music that not only echoes his love of Liverpool, but it’s Celtic connections as well.