Saturday, 30 March 2013

Music Reviews- Ian Prowse- Thomas McConnell and Only Child (Alan O'Hare)

Ian Prowse- Does this train stop on Merseyside,  The Very  Best of Ian Prowse

Oh gawd, here I am faced with that eternal dilemma of reviewing an album by a person who I know and like enormously. I’ve been faced with this many times before..I’m full of dread…what if I hate it? What if I get accused of giving a great review based purely on my opinion of the man I have shared many a Jack Daniels with in The Casa. Its made worse this time as Ian, as most of you know, has been in the Liverpool music scene for 21 years as the integral singer songwriter with the iconic “Pele” and “Amsterdam” bands…he’s had No 1 hits in far off lands (South Africa) and is currently performing sell out crowds on a U.K tour.…but aside from seeing Pele a few times in the Picket, Liverpool Uni etc in the 90’s…I have never seen Amsterdam live….and have never properly listened to them.

Given that I am an avid music fan…and I’ve been to literally hundreds of gigs over the last 30 odd years, it appears puzzling. 
The truth is simpler..I am a stubborn prick at times. For example, I’ve never ever listened to a Pink Floyd album (and probably never will), same with Led Zepplin (until a friend recently got me to listen to some stuff and I loved it) and even (shock horror!) The Stone Roses. The Floyd allergy is due to a foolish punk virtue that has just never left me…lots of me mates swear I’d like them…but its just not going to happen. (yet I’ll happily listen to many other psychedelic bands or hippies such Zappa, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, The Flaming lips  etc)?

With Amsterdam it’s a little different…Put simply, I once worked with an ex Amsterdam band member…and lets just leave it as, we did not get on…but the upshot was that this stubborn knobhead just blanked Amsterdam from my musical horizons ever since.

Some years ago  I met Ian, we talked about my Amsterdam phobia and as much as  I liked him,  I still didn’t go out and buy or listen. ….I am a knob.

However with The End reaching its 30 year milestone last year and Prowse reaching his 21st year…I figured it is time to bite the bullet and see what the fucker has actually been doing for the last two decades.

I approached this with trepidation…in my head Amsterdam were a Merseyside version of Deacon Blue…and I fuckin hate Deacon blue! I’m also very aware of Ian’s love of Bruce Springsteen…and guess what….i’m just not a fan of the Boss ….(we lampooned him big time at the height of his success, in The End fanzine)…so I am quite certain that this ain’t gonna be my cup of tea.  However on the plus side I was actually looking forward to wiping the slate clean and just treating it as if listening to a new band rather than a retrospective of two bands (with a few new tracks thrown in).

The album is pretty much 50-50 a Pele and Amsterdam mix, and its interesting listening to this with little idea of which tracks belong to which band, and testament to Ian that the earlier stuff stands up alongside the more recent ones…..this is a man who has stayed close to his roots. Given this album spans 21 years, the songs feel comfortable sitting aside each other. This could pass for an album released this year, rather than a 21 year retrospective to this listener.

The album features 18 tracks  and opens with the renowned “Does this train Sop on Merseyside”, probably Ian’s best known track…Its been covered by the legendary Christy Moore and was documented by the Peel family to be the only song that could reduce John Peel to tears (though I do remember John crying like a baby when he played “You’ll never walk alone” at the end of his radio show after Liverpool won one of their 5 European cups one hazy night, think it was 77)…It’s a sprawling epic homage to our fair city…synth, strings, soulful backing vocals and features poignant lyrics that will resonate with most End readers … “Alan Williams in the Marlborough Arms giving stories out to everyone” (though my memories of Mr. Williams were of him selling those stories for a bevvie, rather than giving!) and poignant nods to the Jamie Bulger murder and the Hillsborough tragedy, “Can't conceive what those children done, guess there’s a meanness in the soul of man. Yorkshire policemen chat with folded arms, while people try and save their fellow fans” , Brilliant. I can see why ex-pat scouser's get so emotional about this song. It’s a massive opening track and a brave move to place it first in the running order. (I’d fuckin love to hear Tom Waits cover this!). However the album constantly surprises and each and every song is clever and uplifting, with nods to Ian’s heroes. …I can hear Springsteen/ e street band influence in tracks such as “Fair blows the wind for France” ("I’ve never been away from England, for this long before")  and the romping “Takin’ on the world” (“i've sussed you out and you’re not my kind”) which reminds me a little of Ash playing a Springsteen it! I’m hooked!

Then there’s little gems like the anti royalty song, “Raid the Palace” (proving that you don’t have to sound punk to be anti-establishment) and the excellent “Love Phenomenon”, which starts with a beautiful bass heavy intro, reminiscent to The Beatles “sun King” and mid way through morphs into a Paul McCartney / Wings (Band on The Run / Venus and Mars- era) love-song complete with synth and beautiful harmonies.

“Don’t throw your love away” is  a collaboration with another legend, scouse born Mr. Elvis Costello, in which Prowse and Costello duet. It's a sumptuous pop tune reminiscent of Elvis in his Oliver's army phase. Great stuff.

“Megalomania” is the one song that, to me, strays into Deacon Blue territory (this is the song that made no.1 in South Africa).  However, it’s still a great song and this hasn’t led to me skipping the track whilst playing this album over and over in my car driving to work and back. On the Pele track, “Don’t worship me”, we hear early signs of Prowse's ability to inject some celtism into a pop song… and then there’s “Joe's Kiss”…I fucking love this song! It’s about Ian’s first encounter with the great Joe Strummer, featuring an “and your bird can sing” style guitar riff and some great lines (“is it time to stumble off this mortal coil, and meet my mum?”). Great song, with a joyous chorus. I could recommend that you buy the album on the basis of that one song alone.…..what a great uplifting song! it’s got me through many a dour journey to or from my shitty job in recent times.

 "Arm in Arm", I am reliably informed was voted "14th best song ever out of Liverpool in 2008"....(but i don't know by whom?)  I hear it as Prowse's “most likley you go your way, I’ll go mine” moment….it’s a message to an old love, recognising his progression from trying to move on after a the heartbreak of breakdown in a relationship, to then seeing the “ex” move on to a new relationship…and eventually  to the point where he is celebrating his life now and his new-found family,  where he is experiencing things that may never have happened otherwise.  ( “I will take just half of the blame and I really don’t care if I never see you again……………..walking the Brooklyn bridge baby and I ain’t sad  this waiting’s’ so long….. and I see me coming up, I see me coming up”). 
My other favourite tracks  tend to be the Gaelic inspired songs such as “Home” (“even though you left me with my drinking, you know it’s of me you will be thinking”), “Fireworks” and the Thatcher inspired “Fat Black Heart” (“greed and jealousy apart, what beats in that fat black heart”) ..I don’t know what I was on back then, but I don’t remember Pele gigs having this Gaelic flavour?

However I think my absolute favourite track has to go to “Nothing’s Going Right” (close call between this, Does this Train, Arm in Arm, Oh Joe and Love phenomenon). Prowse captures the links between Liverpool and its strong Celtic  heritage beautifully…he comes into his own lyrically and vocally on this track and of course there is the spoken word contribution of the afore-mentioned Christy Moore, which just sends this song to another level. I used the word epic….and it s truly is. The song begins with Prowse at his best espousing about a life gone wrong and I get shivers down my spine as Moore intones about “the mouth of the mighty Mersey” over a wonderful, luscious celtic mix of instruments that I could never name. It’s just beautiful. My favourite of the Pele tracks on the album is Policeman… it reminds me massively of  Van the Mans “sweet thing”…….. someone more technical than me needs to do a mix of them both…It just goes to show what drugs I must have been on and how they fuck up your memory that I have seen Pele at least 4 times and never took this song to me heart back then……..i was probably listening to grunge or “me first and the gimmee gimmees” such was my state of mind! …’s just stunning. I feel this places Prowes on a playing level of The Waterboys main player, Mike Scott, or karl Wallenger from The World party.

With the 3 new songs we hear a new, settled man. Singing (like Dylan, Young and many others did) about the joys of fatherhood on “maybe there is a god after all" about his daughter, Rosalie (named after a Springsteen track). And there’s more lilting Celtic  loveliness,  on "Rise Like a Lion", telling the world how he has given up his old traits to concentrate on being a father and musician… It’s yet another uplifting song and the album finishes aptly with “Here I am”, an old style rock and roller, complete with E street sax style solo,  bringing us up right up to date with Prowse’s life and music.

I genuinely love this album, it’s become my go to album when I’m felling a bit crappy. I wholeheartedly recommend that you should buy this album, especially if you’re not aware of this very very talented man…..I just wish I’d figured  this out myself a lot sooner.

 The full track listing is:

1. Does This train Stop On Merseyside.

2. Fair Blows The Wind For France. (Biggest UK hit for Pele)

3. Home. (Played by Janice Long on Radio 20 twenty nights in a row)

4. Fireworks. (Classic title track to first Pele album)

5. Takin’ On The World.

6. Raid The Palace.

7. Love Phenomenon. (Much loved 1st Amsterdam single)

8. Fat Black Heart. (Lead single from ‘Sport Of Kings’ album)

9. Don’t Throw Your Love Away. (Duet with Elvis Costello on EMI Records)

10. Megalomania. (Number 1 hit in South Africa)

11. Nothing’s Goin’ Right. (Featuring a guest appearance by Christy Moore)

12. Don’t Worship Me. (Final classic Pele single)

13. Policeman.

14. Joe’s Kiss. (Stand out Amsterdam track recounting Ian’s meeting with Joe Strummer)

15. Arm In Arm. 

16. Maybe there is a God after all. (Brand new song)

17. Rise Like A Lion. (Brand new song)

18. Here I Am. (Brand new song)

Ian is currently out on his first solo tour: go and see him;-

Doncaster Leopard

Friday 3rd May

Liverpool Anglican Cathedral (Special guests of Dexy's)

Saturday 4th May

Stroud Prince Albert

Tuesday 14th May

London Half Moon

Thursday 16 May

Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms
Friday 17 May

Chester Commercial Inn (Outdoor stage)

Friday 24 May

Otley Korks, Yorkshire
Friday 31 May

Perth Tulloch Institute

Friday 21st June

Lake District Penrith, The Crown
Saturday 22 June (free show)

Liverpool Philharmonic, Rodewald Suite SOLD OUT
Friday 12th July

Liverpool Philharmonic, Rodewald Suite SOLD OUT
Saturday 13 July


Only Child are relatively new to the Liverpool music scene. The band have risen from the ashes of one of my favourite (now defunct) bands The Trestles.

You may remember I waxed lyrical about their debut album on these very pages some time back. If you missed them, they’re gone. (Alan described the split as “They wanted to rock…I wanted to Roll”). In their place, one part of the Trestles, Alan O’Hare, has teamed together for these songs with Laura McKinley, has formed a new band, Only Child.  From what I have gleamed Only Child will also consist of “a collective of Merseyside’s most intuitive musicians”.
The band released an EP and played a debut gig at Liverpool’s Leaf café last September and when speaking about the new band, and in particular the stringed arrangements that Laura brings to the sound, Alan said, “It's the most exciting thing I've ever been involved with," says O'Hare. "This is the music I've wanted to make my whole life. Laura and I have worked so hard to get these songs and this band to the point where we want everyone to hear them. That time has come."
I got me mitts on a copy of that Debut EP, featuring 4 songs to help me through some shitty weekends in canny farm.
The first thing to notice is that the spirit  of the trestles angst remains, but the emphasis has shifted to the more folksy/ Caledonian side that Alan brought to the band.
The second thing you notice is the strings / violin/ fiddle…the songs  reminded me instantly of that distinctive sound that Dylan brought to his Desire album…one of my favourite of dylans catalogue I might add… both mournful and uplifting in equal measures.
The E.P. consist of 5 tracks, 1. Only Child 2. Before & After 3. The Grave 4. Dirty Work 5. Second Chance.
The opining track “Only child” is a mournful tune recalling his upbringing  and a painful break up and sets the tone for the rest of the E.P….there’s no rockers or rollers here really..just beautifully written and performed songs
The second track, Before and after , is another song about lost love and moving on
And the intro makes me recall the haunting Oh sister from Dylans aforementioned Desire album….my favourite moment on the CD is track 5, Second Chance…another plaintive song of angst that contains the  line “walking through town tonight, my own people they’re in my sights, then as I look into their eyes ..I don’t see myself I don’t see me anymore… just Queens park rangers in writing on the wall..and I don’t know why,  it makes me cry” … fair tugs at the heart strings…though when the song continues into the next verse and O’hare sings “walking through Lime Street….I find myself wishing  he would have sang “swinging my chain! Haa haa. He doesn’t of course he heads into further emotional heartbreak.
If you are looking for an ablum to get you in the mood for a night out, this is not for you, but if you are feeling contemplative and wanting to reminisce, then this is a bunch of songs that will evoke long ago memories. Lovely.
It all fits in very nicely with the likes of Amsterdam’s Irish / folk leanings. Lets face it this city, more than most has an enormous heritage to be proud of. Lets hop that Only Child  stick around longer than the Trestles  and release more of these inspiring Liverpool laments.
The  EP is available now! Pay just £5 (plus £1.99 P&P) for a limited edition digipack CD. Buy securely via PayPal below.
Thomas McConnell; Stop in the shade.
Thomas McConnell was born in Liverpool in the early 90’s he went on to grow up in Newcastle However clearly those early years played a key role in Thomas life and his Liverpool roots shine through like a giant Beatle-y beacon. This feller is not ashamed to wear his love of the fab four firmly on his sleeve….and good on him for doing so. There’s a fair bit of snobbery that goes on here in regards to bands sounding too similar the Beatles. I don’t get it….i hate snobbery and stigma within the Liverpool scene…you like what you like and it will go on to influence you..why be ashamed of our city’s most celebrated musical heroes? Get over yerselves will yer.
 McConnell’s  musical abilities developed alongside his love of The Beatles and its  the defining influence on everything in his life. He’s been writing songs since he was 11 and recorded hundreds of little instrumental pieces on a home 8 track recording machine. By age 15 he was writing fully formed songs. He sent me a copy of this older song “Stop in the shade” featuring the title track and 5 others, lonely Mr. Big shot, Tom Cat, The worlds got nothing on me, All of my days and “(Its criminal really) you really know how to please.
The songs are firmly rooted in the 60’s ..sort of 66-67 era, just as psychedelia was eating into the mop tops brains. Funnily enough for all that the blurb on his own pages goes on about the Beatles, I’d compare the first track to Brendan Benson (anyone remember him) ….and when he does go all Beatle-y on track 2, I feel it owes as much to The Rutles as it does the real thing….and that’s not a criticism. “Tom cat” veers into dodgy white guy reggae territory…but ends up like a side 4 of the white album track….Then we go all “plastic ono band” era lennonesque (or Liam Gallaghers current stuff) . Its unashamedly got a feel of Lennons “isolation” and is my favourite pick of the bunch…if you love the sounds of the 60’s you ought to check this feller out. They’re all good songs and Thomas is a talented guy…..check his facebook page here for details of his new single.

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