Whatever did happen to Liverpool’s best live band, did the music business kill them, did they kill each other, will they ever play again? In 1999, Tony Russel went in search of singer/songwriter band leader Ian Prowse to tell him that we miss them and we want them back.
It’s been four years since the last record and two and a half since the last gig, where the hell have you been?
Ian: (prolonged groan) It began with M&G Records refusing to start the recording of the third LP. They stopped the band’s money and offered me a solo deal, but I don’t want to be George fuckin’ Michael. It’s really convoluted…and there are still legal situations to be resolved, but M&G closed down about six months ago so we’re free to do what we like.
So is there a missing album?
Yeah, sort of. It’s like an album of the songs in demo form. The really annoying thing is the A&R man at the record company started giving us a hard time just as the Britpop thing got going, he was telling us that rock’n’roll bands were yesterday’s thing! Live music became the thing and those wankers at M&G didn’t realise they had the best live band in the country, for two or three years no one could touch us when it came to playing live.
Agreed, so what is the state of play now?
Freedom I suppose…we can do what the hell we want now.
So you will be back soon?
Basically Robbo and I formed Pele and we’ve done a few gigs around in a separate guise, and we definitely want to carry on together. Over the last year we’ve recorded loads of new tracks with a great team out in West Wales. Also I hate it, well roundly dislike it, when bands won’t play old songs, so now we definitely will play songs from those two albums. It’s really exciting being able to record brand new music and have access to those great songs.
Rock and roll bands just aren’t being signed by major labels at the moment are they?
No it’s a real struggle, It’s never been this bad, several labels love these new tunes but they are honest enough to say we wouldn’t sign John fuckin’ Lennon if he came back from the grave tomorrow.
So what do you do when labels only want to sign kids bands?
Well I’m with Tony Benn on this one. Major industries of all type are shitting themselves, they can’t tell us what think anymore, they can’t control our thoughts, all because of cyberspace, the Internet. They put a church in every village hundreds of years ago and then they put a vicar or priest in that church to control the information and slowly feed to us what we should think.
The modern media is an extension of that control, but now ideas can be spread uncontaminated via the information superhighway and so bands like us who have had a big live following can use the technology to reach people.
For example, if your copy of Fireworks has worn out then soon you’ll be able to buy a new one via the website as well as our new stuff, it kinda bypasses the multinational record companies. There I’ve had a right fuckin’ rant, up with the barricades!
You’ve had plenty of band members what are they all doing?
Right let’s see, I’ve seen them all recently so I can tell you. Dally is acting, you might have seen him on Hollyoaks, Nico is writing her own songs and making demos, Wayne is studying to become a music teacher, Jim is, well Jim is just Jim, Robbo has just become a father and Tony is the busiest session drummer in the whole of London.
Tell us about the new songs.
OK, You’re A Phoney and We Don’t Sympathise have both been seen as anti-Blair rants…oh fuck it yes they are. I’m A Raver Now, that’s about a mate of mine who was really into Radiohead and Joy Division sort of depressive music, and he took his first E and it changed his life. O.K Computer went in the bin and he’s out every weekend ravin’ his nuts off; Ibiza the lot.
Well we’ve got thirty songs on the go at the moment so a lot of different areas are covered. There’s a song called Nostalgia and that’s probably the best song I’ve ever written. There’s a song called My Father Was a Mason about somebody who finds out his late dad was a Freemason and he emigrates out of embarrassment. And It Hurts is another of my angry love songs.
You’ve just been voted Best unsigned band in the country by the NME. How did that come about?
I just sent off a demo because I saw an advert saying the NME wanted to find the best unsigned band. The funny thing is they asked for a biography of the band and we sent them a note saying ‘we haven’t got a biography the only thing you need to know is that we wanna be just like The Clash’. What did they say?
They said ‘surely you can tell us who is in the band’. Turned out great in the end though.
Finally you’ve got a couple of gigs coming up, what can we expect?
Well we’re doing the Lomax in Liverpool on the 19th of February and The Camden Monarch on the 1st of April. We’ve got this keyboard wizkid called Mr. Hopkins playing with us now so the six of us make a hell of a racket. We will go out as Amsterdam but we will be playing some Pele songs. The new band is fantastic, Genevieve is a brilliant singer but an even better pop star. This is the first real band Johnny Barlow the bass player has been in but he has settled down very well. It’s all very exciting.
Is it any surprise to you that Fair Blows the Wind For France seems still to be most peoples favorite Pele song?
Not really. It’s sort of a classic pop song, we’ve played it recently and it still works. I wrote it while I was buskin’ in Chester, got bored with playin’ Simon and Garfunkel to the tourists and so I started makin’ my own songs up!
The Pain of a Drinking Song is the live Pele song some might say the definitive Pele song.
Yeah a little ball of anger, lyrically as good as anything I’ve done. Some people thought it was a fun song but it’s not.
For such a popular song you might be forgiven for thinking it was a mistake not to include it on The Sport of Kings album.
Absolutely, the record company thought it was a jokey song but to me it comes from the same place as Understanding Sadness. Pain was a decidedly unjokey song that should have had more of a platform.
Was it true?
Ha, every word!
Number three is a surprise; Longest Day/Indiana Wants Me.
Another one written buskin’, I’d totally forgotten this song even existed. Should have been a single…I think Dally wanted it to be the single instead of Don’t Worship Me.
The two albums are quite different aren’t they?
Very much so. The second album is caught between being a personal album and a maturing after Fireworks.
A Kings Ransom?
I wrote this for my previous band. This was the first song I wrote with a shuffle beat that sort of became the Pele ‘sound’. A total accident, it’s just an interesting way of playing the acoustic guitar when you’re busking. I thought it sounded like Desire by U2, I could not have been more wrong!
The next two songs Beside the Fields and Fat Black Heart are the central songs on the second album; big chourus’, big sound.
We’d been all over the radio with our first three singles so the record company suggested we do something a little more serious for the next record and as I was feeling serious at the time I agreed. We got Jon Kelly in to produce mainly because he’d worked on Kate Bush’ first album. I felt very sad around this time an I think Jon did a fine job capturing that on these songs. The outro to Fat Black Heart is really another song Natural Born Enemy the demo went into a ten minute rant; aristocracy, royalty been massacred on every street corner, bloody great.
Didn’t Jon Kelly do three or four Paul McCartney albums?
He did so I’d pester him deep into the night for stories. I must be the only person in the world who’ll admit to McCartney being his favorite Beatle, infact I actually prefer Wings to the Beatles!
You’ve said that you consider Understanding Sadness to be your best song, is that still true?
As a writer you try to sum up the way you feel on any given subject and that’s exactly how I felt. It pleases me more to see that song in the top ten than any other.
Megalomania sold more copies than all the other Pele singles didn’t it?
That’s the song that got us signed, another buskin’ song.
Oh Lord is many peoples favorite Pele song just because of the words alone.
It actually had Aslan in from the Lord of the Rings…
You mean The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
…that’s the fucker. Anyway, he was in the Firmaments as well but I didn’t give him a part. At the end of part two the devil takes over the world when he sneaks out of the pub when everyone is pissed, then in part three Diablo and the Dame, an Amsterdam song, he finds himself a wife, Margaret Thatcher. In part four we have the great conclusion.
One day you could do a gig that’s just Oh Lord!
No, four parts then that’s it I think.
Finally at no. ten Raid the Palace.
We’re gonna start doin’ this at gigs it’s such an excitin’ song, such juvenile lyrics. This was a real thrill to here this on the radio.
By the way what is the Firmaments End/Arms?
“and Christs blood streams in the firmament” Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. See that’s the sort of gobshite your dealin’ with!’