Ian Prowse is one of this country's finest living songwriters. Regular visitors to my blog will be more than familiar with his work. He performs the length and breadth of the UK - nigh on constantly - with his band, Amsterdam, as well as solo, and was championed back in the day by fellow scousers John Peel and Janice Long. These days his peers, including Elvis Costello, regularly namedrop him and ask him to come on tour with them. And, as he will tell you, despite the rigours of touring he will always make it back to Liverpool on Monday nights for his legendary Open Mic session at the Cavern pub on Matthew Street.
I managed to nab Ian when he had a (rare) spare minute to ask him a few mildly probing questions.
You're going through a real purple patch at the moment. You must be buzzing. Your latest album One Hand on the Starry Plough has really energised you (and your fans) – do you think it's your best record so far?
It's impossible to choose until some years have passed. Arm in Arm was always my fav piece of art so far because it’s a coherent reaction to debilitating heartbreak which I can easily locate on the rare occasions I listen to it.
Liverpool is etched thru your songs like Blackpool thru a stick of rock (Holy, Holy River/Does This Train Stop on Merseyside to name but two). And I think think you're right – there is a ley line that runs down Matthew Street. Are you consciously writing about your city/your backdrop/your roots or does it just spill out of you?
Yes it’s an important muse, almost like a person but it’s not conscious, ever. Liverpool isn’t better or more special than other places, it’s just different. It’s a place of lost displaced tribes from across the sea so it’s sentimental, edgy & keen to talk about itself. It’s never ever boring though, which after all is the greatest sin.
Ian Prowse - Hoy, Holy River (2022)
I hear a lot of Irish/Celtic/soul connections in your songs, but who are your musical heroes/influences and which songwriters turn you on?
My furnace was lit by The Jam, taken to another level by Springsteen, brought into focus by The Waterboys & kept keen by The Clash, Damien Dempsey, REM, Christy Moore & 100 others.
Are Pele (Ian's previous band) and Amsterdam brothers from another mother? (Great band names btw.) What memories do Pele bring back – did you ever feel part of Britpop or were you spinning round in your own orbit at that time?
It’s exactly the same thing just at different points in my songwriting. Music business politics dictated a name change not me.
We were pre-Britpop, we had a fiddle, there was anti-Gael sentiment under the surface of the music press so no we had nothing to do with all of that. I burnt a Union Jack on stage once so we would hardly be welcome!
Christy Moore famously covered Does This Train Stop on Merseyside; when you write songs do you only envisage yourself singing them or can you hear other artists giving them a different treatment?
Nah just me. I’m only expressing myself.
Christy Moore - Does This Train Stop on Merseyside
You're obviously passionate about new talent – your Open Mic nights at the Cavern pub are legendary (11 years and counting). The music business is a different animal these days – what advice would you give to musicians starting out now?
Don’t try and get a record deal. It’s meaningless. Write songs that are undeniable to rise you above the morass.
This of course is almost impossible to do.
What are your plans for this year? More touring, more recording?
There’s only two things you can do in this job. Play live and record. Fortunately for me I love them both profoundly.
Beatles or Stones?
Beatles. Though I saw the Stones last year. Unbefuckinglievable!
33s or 45s?
Top deck of the bus or bottom?
Beer or wine?
First record you bought with your own money?
This is the Modern World - The Jam.
What are you listening to right now?
Nuh Blame Rasta - Ministry of Love.
Who should people vote for at the next GE?
The Independent Socialist candidate.
A huge thank you to Ian for taking the time. Go and see him if you can. He's celebrating the 30th anniversary of Pele's Fireworks album.
Here's a stripped down version of the title track...