Pele were formed on Merseyside in 1990 by guitarist and frontman Ian Prowse and keyboard player Andrew Roberts. They were joined by Dally on drums, James McCallister on bass guitar and finally Nico on violin.
By the time they split in 1996, the full list of band members past and present was:
- Ian Prowse – guitar and gob
- Andrew Roberts (Robbo) – hammond and piano
- Andrea Nicholson (Nico) – violin
- P Dallison (Dally) – drums
- James McAllister – bass
- Wayne Morgan – bass
- Tony Kiley – drums
After gigging around Liverpool and Chester the band were signed to brand new label M&G Records after the head of A&R (and old admirer of Ian’s previous bands) heard a rough demo of Megalomania. Within weeks the band set about recording their debut LP, Fireworks, at Metropolis studios in London with producer Gary Langan.
As the album took shape the record company decided to rush out the first fruits of the sessions by releasing Raid The Palace as the first single. Everybody was stunned as BBC Radio 1 put the single on it’s playlist for six weeks, especially as the songs lyrics suggested people should scratch the cars of the rich and then shoot them!
A hit single?
Musically Pele had set out their stall: unbelievably melodic pop music led by a fiddle or piano riff, married to a set of words that were never throwaway. While everybody warmed to this brand new band the record company were taken by surprise and their were no records in the shops resulting in no hit single and the first suspicions in the Pele camp that this new record company might not be up to the task.
In the week after release Pele hit the road with a gig at Kingston University, they basically didn’t stop until 1995 with a gig at Treforrest (University of Wales). In between, the band played hundreds of gigs all over Europe and any Pele fan will tell you that it was on the stage that the band truly shone.
In February 1992 second single Megalomania was released. Again BBC Radio 1 playlisted the single and the band nearly died of surprise when the song went to number one in South Africa.
The following month Fireworks the album was released to excellent local and national reviews. The album was a riot of infectious Celtic tinged, extremely lively pop. Dexy’s were mentioned, the Waterboys were mentioned but most of all the live shows were not just being mentioned but raved about.
The summer saw the release of Fair Blows the Wind for France as the third single – although in truth the album was made up of twelve potential singles – and it was the bands biggest hit yet.
Huge tours with Del Amitri and The Pogues followed and the year was rounded off with Fireworks Celtic Rumour EP, including live favourite Moondance, and their biggest headline tour yet.
The band then went straight into Rockfield studios in Wales to record the follow up album with producer Jon Kelly, picked because he had worked on Kate Bush’s first album. Fat Black Heart was the band’s first single off the new album and was also the bands first ballad.
After the album was finished Jim mysteriously disappeared and only surfaced in June of 1998 year in exactly the same clothes! He was replaced on the bass guitar by the gorgeous Wayne Morgan.
The day after Wayne joined the band Pele did a festival in Estonia shouting out the chords as they went along, then returned for their best-ever show at The Phoenix Festival in England sending 4,000 Pele fans mad.
Don’t Worship Me was Pele’s sixth single – (a hit in Holland and Germany) and was followed in early December by The Sport Of Kings album. This second album was a reaction to criticism that the first album was relentless in it’s upbeat vibe. It included a few more ballads used huge string riffs and was better produced than the first LP.
Despite many great songs, the album didn’t capture the essence of the band the way Fireworks did. The band themselves felt some of the songs were easily the best work they had done yet, but the so-far excellent relationship between the label and the band was about to take a massive downturn.
“Guitar music is dead”
In spite of the fact that the band had not had a major hit M&G decided to ‘pick up the option’ and make a third Pele album. At this very time Steve Kutner – the A&R man who had signed and championed the band – decided to leave the company, his replacement Jack Stevens came from a dance music background and on the very dawn of Britpop told the band that reckin’ live guitar bands were over and done with.
A cumbersome attempt to split the band and sign Ian as a solo star was comprehensively rejected. Legally the record company had to make an album the new A&R man didn’t want to make, a stand off ensued that rapidly diminished into a fierce and futile legal battle.
Against their own legal advice the band agreed to let the label release a live mini-album, A-Live A-Live-O in the hope the company might see things from the band’s perspective. With nil promotion and selling to mailing list fans only, the live album was perceived as a stop-gap to the already written and demoed third LP.
But alas M&G Records redoubled their legal efforts and managed to drop the band on a technicality, and after a truly bitter fight, M&G were free of their financial obligations, leaving the band deep in debt.
Injunctions meant the band didn’t own anything not the songs or the name, so a period of depression ensued, only lifted with the news that M&G Records had closed down and the band could do what they liked with the name and the songs.
All of a sudden (arguably) Britain’s most exciting live band were free to record and play live again.
December 2001 saw the release of the third Pele album This Time Next Year, a collection of recorded songs and demos from 1994-5 that gives an indication of the direction Pele were going in.
Lead singer/songwriter Ian has now formed his new band Amsterdam, who released their official debut album in 2005. You can still hear Pele songs at Amsterdam gigs.
Reissues of classic Pele albums – order now
The 25th anniversary of Pele’s debut album Fireworks is being celebrated with a limited edition reissue, – and now the band’s second album is getting the same treatment!
Pre-order your copy of The Sport of Kings reissue
Order your copy of the Fireworks reissue