Ian Prowse revisits a time when his band Pele were real thoroughbreds

When the 25th anniversary of cult indie band Pele's debut album Fireworks came around, the band's frontman and now solo act Ian Prowse admitted it caught him by surprise.

Saturday, 2nd June 2018, 2:29 pm
Updated Saturday, 2nd June 2018, 2:32 pm
Ian Prowse, formerly of Pele, for The Sport of Kings 2018 tour

There were no such excuses this time around for the same anniversary of the Liverpool band's second and final album, Sport Of Kings.

The band combined their celtic roots with indie rock to create a compelling sound that never quite clicked with the masses. They split in 1996 as shifting record company politics and financial troubles left them without a deal. But time has been kind to the songs and last year Ian and his band toured Fireworks, playing the full album, but he's adopting a slightly different approach this time around.

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'On any given night, we're going to play about eight or nine of the songs plus four or five songs off Fireworks, plus a few by [Ian's subsequent band] Amsterdam to cover that side of it.

'Something like [Sport album track] Name And Number, we're always going to play live because that's our barnstormer, but something like Understanding Sadness, I'm looking forward to playing that. Or Beside The Field was a song we never played in Pele because we were a bit too frenetic, now I'm more mature,' he laughs, 'I can do a proper version of that.

'I'm still known to go a bit crackers on stage, but I've learned a lot more and I'm more confident in my abilities to pull of a song like that.

'Now I feel completely comfortable playing songs like that '“ and the faster ones.'

'You've got all the Fireworks songs, so this is the strongest sets we ever played because we had such a palette to draw from. And then there's The Pain Of A Drinking Song, which was probably one of Pele's most famous live songs.'

Ian looks back fondly on the period as it found the band at their peak, hot off the back of a well-received debut, and raring for more.

'I remember when the label  told us "You're not going to get dropped, you're going to make a second album". I had spent so long trying to get a record deal, I always thought, my god, this might all be over in 12 months, and I'll go right back down the musical game of snakes and ladders.

'But the label, fair play, stood by us. I think it was because we'd had a lot of success abroad '“ we'd had a number one in South Africa, and we'd had a hit in Portugal, even though it had only been in the lower end of the charts in the UK.

'But we had built a brilliant fanbase, and people were loving the live shows, so they stuck by us. We were at the top of our game at that point, this was the high water mark of Pele. I was writing songs on the spot, and I had loads of songs stockpiled from the first album and songs from even before that, songs that we were doing on the road.

'The band were hot because we had done all of those shows. If I look back now, I think that's when we were really at our very best.

'We sent these 26 demos to the record company, and the guy who signed us said: "I love it, if double albums were in, we'd do a double album, but they're not so we'll just pick the best 13-odd songs"! It was a good time for us.'

And from a personal point of view, it saw Ian starting to mature as a songwriter.

'Some of the songs off Sport of Kings, like Fat Black Heart and Beside The Fields, and Understanding Sadness, they were kind of pointers to what I would go on to do later on '“ proper bits of songwriting, so to speak. They weren't so much songs by a young band, all up and at '˜em, they were more considered pieces, with better lyrics and stuff like that.

'It covered a lot more ground than Fireworks which was just 12 really fast, relentless singles!'

Ian's also been listening to bootlegs from the period, and while he totally stands by the music, he's not so pleased with his own between song chat.

'The things I used to say between songs, I find excrutiatingly embarrassing '“ like what were you talking about you idiot? But the actual music we made, I stand by that absolutely, and I'm very happy with the actual records, I'm just not pleased with who I was!

'Confronting yourself from the past - Jesus Christ! Looking at the past, the clothes and the haircuts, I can deal with that, but it was the rubbish I was talking. I still talk a lot between songs, but I like to think it's a bit more considered now!'

And of course, The Wedge occupies a special place in his affections.

'It was often the first place we would try out  a lot of these new songs. The good people of Portsmouth would always tell us which ones they liked most '“ they loved Pain Of A Drinking Song and Don't Worship Me, the Wedgewood Rooms were the first people to get on them. It's always been lovely for that.'

Aside from the Pele tour, Ian is continuing to work on his new solo album the follow-up to 2016's covers album, Companeros.

'We've got about half of it done. When we did the Fireworks tour last year, it was such a success, I thought next year is the 25th anniversary of Sport of Kings, so shall we tour that as well? And then we've done the Pele thing, and we can move on to a whole new thing.

'The next album will have an essence of some of that energy.

'And the reality of it is that this is my journey as songwriter '“ Pele is Amsterdam is solo, it's just different words for the same thing. I've always been writing songs, it's just sometimes the vehicle I'm riding in has had different names, sometimes it's been a bus, sometimes it's been a car, and sometimes it's been a jalopy! Rarely has it been a Lear jet,' he laughs only slightly ruefully.

'After this tour finishes, it's foot to the floor to get this record done.'

Whatever happens next, one thing is sure, there will always be music for Ian. 

'I'll do this until the day I die. I love it so much, It still means as much to me as it ever did. And I'll always find a way, by hook or crook, even when it meant going back to the bottom of the ladder.'


The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea

Saturday, May 5