Blog: Ian Prowse

The Amsterdam frontman's folk tendencies threaten to destroy his inner Joe Strummer, but don't

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Two opposing forces are represented by two guitars I bought on Denmark Street, London, with an advance from Polydor Records on the 6 April 1991.

The sunburst Fender Telecaster stands for the rock and roll me and the acoustic Takamine is (for want of a better word) the folk me. They fight, quite a lot, both vying for my attention, both with incredibly attractive manifestos, both with a legitimate claim to speak for the maelstrom of music that whirls around this musician’s soul. The war though can never be won by either side.

Too many incendiary, crashing chords from the Fender amp can leave your ears ringing and make you long for the sweet sound of the Tak, where a simple chord can fill the air with magic (especially if you have new strings).

Alternatively too much acoustic instrumentation makes me desperate to unleash the inner Joe Strummer, firing up the amp, flashing the blade. There’s nothing like it – it’s still the most seductive feeling in the world. And of course you still look in the mirror no matter how long you’ve been doing it – you gotta check your moves!

Neither ever gets the upper hand and destroys the other. An inbuilt musical spirit level drags me back in the opposite direction should one threaten to entirely eclipse the other. It’s very crude (and probably quite stupid) to say the electric represents rock and roll, youth and dreams whilst the acoustic has come to mean maturity, resilience and a kind of surrender to folk.

I never in all of these years saw myself as a folk singer. Mainly because when I come into contact with the folk world I realise how different it is from mine. These people are steeped in their tradition. I love a lot of it and I don’t like a lot of it but I’d feel like a proper fraud if I tried to pass myself off as part of it. I can tell you every Stranglers B side but I don’t know the first thing about Nick Drake, hence why we’ve done Glastonbury and Reading but not Cambridge.

I was in danger at one point during the mid-1980s of crossing the Rubicon to the other side. The brilliant English folk guitarist Phil Hare mesmerised me with his interpretation of song. I never went to a gig of his without becoming a puddle at some point. But just as I thought this entire genre would open up for me I found much of it grated. I foolishly expected it to be like punk/new wave where I would love everything I heard.

I later drew a distinction between the indigenous music of England and Ireland, being much more attracted by the latter, which to my ears seemed to be more joyous, more melancholic. Researching for my MA though I soon realised these crazy islands are pretty much a gumbo of all sorts of tunes, and that melody is a deceitful mistress who will skip borders without a second thought for fidelity to the originator. Dirty Old Town, for example, is a recent folk revival song, made famous by Irishmen, actually from Manchester, revived again by London-Irish to be sold in America. And of course there’s always someone somewhere with a big nose who knows that will point out it’s actually a Salford song.

Which really is the absurdity of this piece. Who cares what the guitar sounds like so long as the songs being sung are true and bold?

Ian Prowse plays the Liverpool Acoustic festival on 18 and 19 March. Buy tickets here.

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