Live Review: Ian Prowse, West Hampstead Arts and Social Club, 5th November 2021

Having kicked off the AUK columns for November with a 4000+ word interview, it’s fair to say that this website clearly has plenty of time for Ian Prowse, and indeed vice versa. Pitching up in North London on this autumnal tour, and doing so just as the dates for his spring 2022 outings are also confirmed, Prowse is extending his longevity on the circuit, now 30 years and counting. Tonight he is at the West Hampstead Arts Club, not renowned for rock’n’roll, a venue that is tucked away in a largely residential enclave of West Hampstead and which has been very slickly spruced up post covid for its gigging purposes.

In a set which draws from all stages of his lengthy career, Prowse opened with a song from back in his days with Pele, ‘Fireworks’, an apt choice for bonfire night. He then trailed the new single ‘Battle’, a post covid reflection on how several of life’s injustices have become magnified in the last 20 months – “a different battle every day” – in which the tone is defiant more than morose. Prowse has an impassioned, declamatory style of delivery and has hints of another Liverpudlian Ian who wears his heart on his sleeve, Mr McNabb of that parish.

The sell-out crowd, mostly age peers of the performer, almost to a person know the full lyric detail across the set. The songs are mainly straightforward punchy numbers, with simple anthemic choruses. Standouts include ‘Here I Lie’, introduced as ‘”a functional folk song” with the narrator singing from the afterlife to his love left behind while he is “on the Mersey wind.” On violin and backing vocals, Laura McKinlay adds hugely to the sound and features as the musical holy grail in a tongue in cheek Prowse narrative wherein she appears one stormy windswept Halloween night as a fiddling vision at the summit of Stirling castle. Her inspiration, says Prowse, kept him “from going back to Elsmere Port and getting a job at Vauxhall.” ‘Name and Number’, with its lilting melody and Mackinlay working overtime at various tempos had tinges of late 1980s Waterboys. Diversity of style came via the acapella ‘Lest We Forget’, told by a newly enlisted 17-year-old soldier, referring to the “war to end wars” and the final bitter payoff,” It surely won’t happen again.”

Ever on the lookout for sleaze in high places, Prowse dedicated a song to Conservative (now former) MP Owen Patterson, with a chorus of “What beats in your fat black heart?” In a similar political vein, ‘Dessie Warren’ paid tribute to the trade union activist of the 1970s, imprisoned for what was seen as intimidatory picketing to try to improve the poor working conditions of the construction industry. The first encore of ‘Born to Run’ was one of the most violin-led versions of the Springsteen classic we had heard and all the more listenable for it. Prowse wrapped up the generously long set with his own classic, a paean to his home city ‘Does This Train Stop On Merseyside’ which drew in a full audience participation once more.

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