An uncompromisingly bleak take on today’s world but not without hope.
In an interview with AUK last November, the ‘Scouse Springsteen/Strummer’ Ian Prowse revealed how lockdown had re-energised his musical career. The evidence is there for all to hear on his fourth album ‘One Hand On The Starry Plough’. Every one of the ten tracks lands a mighty thump of the conviction that has been Prowse’s hallmark throughout his thirty year career. Should anyone need reminding that the world is not going to return to ‘normal’ Prowse sets out in blistering detail how he sees the ‘new normal’. Whether through the big sounds, mega tempo and anthemic choruses or a reflective acoustic muse Prowse spits his anger at the post-pandemic world. But he does not allow his rage to dominate. Instead, from the Mersey to the stars out in space Prowse offers a message of hope, a refusal to give up and a belief that things can get better.
As befits a musician of such strongly held views Prowse doesn’t mess about but gets stuck in with the aptly-titled opener ‘Battle’. “Justice ain’t a virtue/ Justice ain’t a headline/ The kind of justice you want?” he rasps before a swaggering indie crash of “a different battle every day”. The Sense of Sound Singers add a choral war cry. ‘No Trial’ shows an uncompromising side to Prowse’s conviction. A fusillade of electric guitars and keys around a relentless rhythm makes very clear that there will be “No messing around.” As if the temperature could not rise, ‘Swine’ gives a musical kick where it hurts to “the sort of fool who hates the people of Liverpool.”
Prowse adds greater dimension when he enlists what he describes as the invisible member of his band, his Liverpool home. So no prizes for guessing the identity of ‘Holy, Holy River.’ However, how often have you heard it called ‘the Ganges of the west’? There is a local tradition of scattering the ashes of the recently deceased from the Mersey Ferry that stops mid journey to permit a brief service. A lonely gentle whistle cuts out as Prowse softly sings, “The tide will take him, all over the world.” Then with a crash begins a remarkable voyage, “And in a couple days/ You’ll be on your way to Sausalito/ Then down to Rio” and all the way round the world until the ascension “I got one Hand on the Starry Plough/ There ain’t nothing gonna stop me now”. Throughout the horns and the Singers is Prowse’s unwavering theme of never giving up.
Above all, there are the people. Though inextricably wrapped up in his beliefs and home town it is through his depiction of individuals that Prowse leaves his deepest impression. To a Celtic punk beat ‘Dan’ tells of his chaotically unforgettable travels in Ireland. Redolent of Flogging Molly, “In Cork City, Dan dissed them with Michael Collins/ We got run outta town”. But it is not all political strife. ‘Go Livio’ is a tender juxtaposition of the innocence of a small boy and the unpleasant realities of the world around him. Prowse layers sensitivity with a gentle side to his vocal range.
Prowse wears his heart on his sleeve. He knows what he stands for. His lyrics are, to say the very least, vivid. Much of what he writes about is bleak but to his great credit, he is never without hope. ‘One Hand On The Starry Plough’ will beam brightly for many in and far beyond, the great city of Liverpool.