The American Bar, Belfast
9th November 2018

This is Ian Prowse’s first headline gig in Belfast, and judging by the huge reaction, it certainly won’t be his last. For one night only, The American Bar in Sailortown, became The Liverpool Bar, Liverpudlian accents abounding. It seems the only Belfast voices audible were from the bar staff.

Sharing the stage is fellow Scouser and former guitarist and writer with Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Brian ‘Nasher’ Nash. And, what support he supplies. His material is unapologetically political. It’s clear that Liverpool and its people mean everything to Nasher… with the possible exception of some Everton fans at the bar!. He wears that pride in his heart and in his voice. Imagine Billy Bragg with no filter.

For his set, the bar turns into ‘Nash-ville’. Some of the targets of his caustic wit being racists, The Daily Mail, and The Sun. But, he reserves special bile for the current Tory government. Brian sings that the Tories are making “humanity yesterday’s news”. Singled out is George Osborne, ex-chancellor, who gets his own savage critique in ‘Prostitutes and Cocaine’.

Don’t know how you can look so smug with your best friend Dave, while a generation’s doomed to be modern day slaves.

This is very mild, to what follows. Not for Tories or maiden aunts, it should say on the tin. The vitriol is delivered with a degree of wit and goes down a treat with the audience. Nasher creates energy and a passion in the room that is maintained and heightened by the main act.

Ian Prowse hits the stage to catcalls and whistles. He acknowledges the traveling support, suggesting that he seemed to know everyone in the room personally and that he might as well have stayed in The Cavern Club. One guy in the front row, we are told didn’t know Prowsey, and is immediately introduced to him with a handshake, by a wit beside him.

This may be his first headline gig in Belfast, but he is no stranger to Ireland. He has sung and recorded with some of our finest, including Christy Moore, Damien Dempsey, and Pauline Scanlon. Just for the craic, he completed an honours degree in Irish History. A frequent visitor to Ireland, he seems determined to leave a marker with this show. He does with aplomb.

Starting off with ‘Derry Gaol’, and continuing with ‘Fireworks’, the crowd reaction is amazing. I don’t remember being at an acoustic gig that has been this loud in its audience response. The songs are harvested from a 25-year career and a mixture of as Ian puts it, “wanting to make the world a better place, or his bad luck in love”. Included is a searing tale of infidelity inflicted on a young man, who extracts a drunken revenge on the automobile of his Chelsea supporting upper-class twit usurper. A true story apparently.

To those who say politics and music don’t mix, they obviously have never been to an Ian Prowse gig.

Fabulous songs and stirring messages abound in the set. ‘My Name Is Dessie Warren’, written by Alun Parry, tells the story of a Union leader, wrongly imprisoned, who refused to be treated as just another figure and railed against the system to demand he be treated as a person.

‘Fat Black Heart’ is Prowse at his best. A scorching version is sarcastically dedicated to Tory Secretary of Work and Pensions, Ester McVey, who has become synonymous with the uncaring attitude of this current government to those most in need. The fact that she is originally from the Wirral, makes matters worse.

How can you close your eyes to the pain of someone’s loss helping your gain? Greed and jealousy apart, what lies in your fat black heart?

‘Raid The Palace’ is fairly self-explanatory. There is a real craft to the songwriting that draws the listener in, with hooks and clever lyrics.

Changing the atmosphere completely and gaining total silence is an acapella version of ‘Lest We Forget’. An all too poignant and timely account of the young men sent to the front during the First World War, not knowing what for, never to return 100 years ago in “the war to end all wars”.

Prowse is a proud Liverpudlian and the Mersey runs in his veins. His most famous song, ‘Does This Train Stop On Merseyside’ is a starling condensed history of the city, from its shame at its involvement in the slave trade to the horrors and police cover-ups at the Hillsborough disaster. Even to those not from the city, it is hard not to be affected by lyrics like:

Famine boats are anchored in the bay, bringing in the poor and desperate. Hey, does this train stop, does this train stop on Merseyside? Boston babies bouncing on the ground. The riggers beamin’ out to every town. Can’t conceive what those children done. Guess there’s meanness in the soul of man. Yorkshire policemen chat with folded arms while people try and save their fellow fans. Why don’t you remember?

Brain Nash joins Ian back on stage and the two acoustics guitars and two voices blend for a glorious version of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood classic ‘Power of Love’, a Nash co-write. Ending an encore with two wondrous covers; a perennial local favourite from the Undertones ‘Get Over You’ is only just surpassed by a dazzling turn from Mr. Prowse on The Jam’s ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’.

A review of this gig can only skim on the surface of a night of revelry and reverence, of dance and debate, of politics and poise. A special shout out must go to promoter Nigel Martyn and The American Bar for bringing such sublime talent to this city.