The former Pele singer and Amsterdam frontman opens up about the emotion behind his latest and perhaps greatest, album – Here I Lie. He talks about his favourite places to play in the world and explains why Bruce Springsteen remains the greatest influence on his incredible music.
The love story between Ian Prowse and the city of Liverpool has always been mutual. He is often recognised by passers-by as he walks along Dale Street towards Rigby’s for a pint. But his latest album ‘Here I Lie’ once again demonstrates why his reputation stretches far beyond the city he calls home.
In a world with more than its fair share of troubles, Prowse continues to be a voice of truth and sincerity, a man unchanged, a songwriter with the ability to spot and then deliver, sometimes painfully brilliant and brutally honest observations. He remains unapologetically political and a man who fights for the many and not the few, a man who would throw The Royal Family out tomorrow, a man who fights for those who can’t fight for themselves.
Prowse’s lyrics have always carried that message. He has always been a musician who wants to provoke real change in the world with his music. So what inspired his latest acclaimed album? “Same as most of the other work I’ve done,” he says. “A tiny attempt to inspire change in the world we live in, my personal identity, love, life and heartache.” He adds: “I just hope I accurately write about where I am in the world. Which at this particular point means still being in awe of the city I live in, my own past and present, the history of these islands and the unfairness of the world we live in.”
We have come to expect nothing short of unassuming brilliance from the 55-year-old. He has, after all, been producing original and thoughtful music for almost three decades and shows no signs of slowing down. Born in Chester and having grown up in Ellesmere Port, Prowse founded the band Pele in Liverpool in 1989 – recording two studio albums, Fireworks and the Sports of Kings – before going on to more success by forming Amsterdam in 1999. But how has he managed to sustain that kind of longevity? “You have to be demented with it,” he says. “Nothing will come to you, you have to do it all yourself, believe utterly in yourself whilst simultaneously being open to the idea you might actually be a load of rubbish that needs to improve dramatically.
“You have to juggle those two ideas until you get there. It can be done.”
Creating a ‘masterpiece’
Each of the tracks on this album are laced with deep, visceral emotion. The title track – Here I Lie – is dedicated to Prowse’s daughter. It is a brave message to her about what to do on the day he dies. It is poetic, hopeful and wonderfully emotional and it moves you as music should. “The album begins with something that could have been on Fireworks,” Prowse says. “Then it’s there, a big romantic Liverpool song, it swings through an early Amsterdam guitar pop song to a sound you’ve never heard us do before. We explore wide open country music before we do our best real Celtic soul music yet.”
He continues: “The title track is a spirit song for my daughter written to actually be used when the time comes. It’s pretty much our masterpiece.”
Springsteen reigns supreme
While we are on the subject of Prowse’s daughter, her name is Rosalita – after the Bruce Springsteen song – which is no coincidence. When he reflects on his favourite memory in music, he says: “It has to Bruce Springsteen launching into ‘Rosalita’ during the encore at the San Siro stadium in 2003. It was the first time he had played it in Europe for 25 years. I had to be picked up off the floor.”
When discussing his own influences, Springsteen comes up again and again. “My influences? The songs of John Martyn, The Pretenders, Microdisney, Stevie Wonder, Pauline Scanlon, Ewan McColl, Bruce Springsteen, REM, Damien Dempsey, Paul Simon, Shane McGowan, Mike Scott, John & Paul, Elvis Costello and 101 one-off classics endlessly inspire me,” he says. “There are so many musicians I admire and take inspiration from, but ultimately it’s Bruce Springsteen.”
Nerves still play a part
Prowse is a man in demand. When the conversation turns to his favourite places in the world to perform, he opens up: “New York City, Liverpool or Glastonbury. But last year alone we had a wonderful time in the divided city of Belfast, sang in awe in the shadow of the French Alps, strummed late into the night in a village on the German/Czech border, played through a hurricane in beautiful Sweden, partied in Soho, Dublin and Glasgow.
“I’m constantly enthralled by where that left handed Takamine guitar takes me.”
Even after all these years and his many successes, he admits that nerves still play a part before he performs. “I get really nervous before every single gig,” Prowse says. “It’s like constantly taking your driving test. One pint helps. Only a fool breaks the 2 pint rule.”
What does the future hold?
If that is the case he will need to be sinking more than a few pints in the years ahead. Here I Lie is a really tremendous piece of work. That surpressed feeling of injustice that has been at the heart of much of Prowse’s best work over the years is still there, but on this album, it is drowned out by the optimism and hope that shines through. It is an overwhelmingly positive album – the songs are varied and infectious, the lyrics are thoughtful and intelligent. It is fantastically emotional. The wonderful ’10 second journey’ is another excellent track but there is not a bad one on this record. And that may be the biggest compliment you can pay any album. This is, without question, his finest work. And that is saying something.
So, what does the future hold for Prowse? “More songwriting, more searching for the best gig ever played. More hanging out with my 7-year-old. More trying to end the British monarchy,” he says.
And he isn’t joking, he is just speaking from the heart, saying it as he sees it and speaking as a man in love with his city and at peace with his life.