The rise of Lostprophets

Ian Watkins. Photo: James McLaren

Want to know how the 'Prophets became one of the UK's biggest bands back in the day? Louis Pattison investigates.

Last updated: 21 November 2008

2001 was a key year for Lostprophets. It saw them picked up by the biggest rock management company in the world, Q-Prime - a company that usually deals with artists of the magnitude of Madonna and Metallica.

It saw them ink a lucrative worldwide deal with Columbia Records - a label with the influence to break the band to a worldwide audience. And it saw them re-release their debut album The Fake Sound Of Progress, a stellar rock record that drew favourable comparisons to American nu-metal titans like Linkin Park.

Not bad for a band that began as a hobby for a bunch of punk kids from Pontypridd. "We played our first gig in Cardiff in late '97," remembers Ian Watkins, Lostprophets' frontman, and founding member of the group. "It was just us having a laugh, really - recording demos to give to our friends, and playing small gigs in Cardiff now and again. We never really thought anything would come of it."

Modest words. But Lostprophets' breakthrough represents a blossoming revolution in Welsh music as a whole. Where every other popular Welsh band of the last decade has had some sort of a grounding in traditional Welsh culture, Lostprophets are the exception to the rule.

Brought up on a diet of American hardcore, in the grand scheme of things their Welshness is purely coincidental: this band could have erupted from any small town, anywhere in the world. Perhaps that's why no-one in the business spotted their appeal. "In London, nobody would have us anywhere," explains Watkins. "Promoters were like, 'we dunno who you are, but you're not gonna draw a crowd, so we're not interested.'"

Instead, Lostprophets used their background on the underground punk scene to their advantage. Working below the media's radar, the band chose to take their message direct to the kids via the underground punk circuit. Rae Alexandra, a Cardiff-based freelance journalist from music magazine Kerrang!, was one of the band's earliest supporters.

"The Welsh music industry couldn't care less unless you're an indie band, because that's what's been successful in Wales before," she explains. "Everyone's still looking for the next Catatonia, which means heavier music is neglected. The punk kids growing up in Wales are having to set up their own labels to get the music they love out there, and many metal bands end up turning to England for help."

Where journalists were enthusiastic in their praise, however, readers were ecstatic: before long, the postbags were rammed with Lostprophets fanmail, much of it drawing attention to the band's chiselled good looks. As Rae Alexandra puts it, "They're a marketing man's wet dream: there not a face that ain't pretty in that band!" Naturally, such a claim is something of a poisoned chalice, especially in punk circles. The group's critics sniped that Lostprophets were arrogant boy band material, a N'Sync for the nu-metal generation.

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