D I S C O G R A P H Y
Wishbone Four (1973)
Released: May 11 1973
UK chart position: 10
Martin Turner's memories:
"1973 began with us retreating to a cottage on the island of Anglesey, North Wales, to put together music for our fourth album. Writing in the countryside was pretty much the done thing at the time – bands such as Traffic, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple had prepared for albums in similar settings. We rented a holiday cottage and because we went there out of season we got it fairly cheap. The weather was brutal, but getting away from our normal everyday routines allowed us to devote twenty four hours a day to our music without any distractions. As usual I came to the project with various ideas for melodies and lyrics. I was the one guy in the band who was fascinated by the process of recording and all the paraphernalia involved and by this time I was beginning to amass my own recording equipment so that I could record sketches of songs at home. Typically these would contain just acoustic guitar, vocals, and bass. Sometimes I would have a few guitar licks already mapped out. This was great for presenting my songs to the band and giving them a snapshot of what I was aiming for. Of course, once we got into rehearsals and worked on the songs as a full band, then everyone would contribute to the arrangements and it would become a group effort.
We decided to produce the album ourselves, with Keith Harwood engineering. We spent the months of February/March 1973 recording the album at Olympic, with some additional work at Apple Studios. I think we felt we’d learned enough to be able to produce ourselves. In retrospect that was maybe a bit naive and I was really disappointed at how the album eventually turned out, mainly because something went seriously wrong at the mastering stage. When we were recording it in the studio it sounded really good, but all the balls and hi-fidelity got lost during the mastering, making it sound very mid-rangey.
Upon its release, Wishbone Four was well and truly slated by the music press, and to a certain degree, an element of our fanbase. I think that was mainly for two reasons. Firstly, it was not what people were expecting to hear after Argus. They wanted more of the same and we were quite stubborn in not wanting to do that. We wanted to move in another direction – a more straight forward, mainstream rock approach. Secondly, for the album to have had any chance of acceptance, it needed to have sounded better. I would like to think that the fact that the material went off on a tangent would have been more accepted had the album sounded right. However, I will stand by the quality of the songs, many of which have, with the passing of time, become fan favourites and have found their way back into live shows in recent times."
adapted from the book "No Easy Road - My Life and Times With Wishbone Ash"
Read review from Melody Maker, April 1973
Read review from Melody Maker, May 1973
Read review from NME, May 1973
I discovered Argus in late 1972, then grabbed Pilgrimage and the 1st album.Wishbone Four was the first record of theirs that I was waiting to buy upon release. Like most fans, I felt a little let down that I didn't have another Argus in my hands, but the album is still near and dear to me and I have a lot of thoughts on it.
1) "So Many Things To Say" - It’s been said elsewhere: this seems like a quintessential set-opener. Ballsy rock & roll, with all-out efforts on vocals and drums. Sounds very much like a live-in-studio recording. I didn’t realise till years later that WA were big Who fans, but in hindsight – sure, this definitely sounds like it could have come straight off Who’s Next. Should have been a live staple for years. (Though, how long could anyone’s throat surivive singing it?)
2) "Ballad of the Beacon" – another of Andy’s great folk-y compositions. Middle instrumental lifted almost verbatim from the “lost” track, "LA Blues". Andy takes the lead vocal convincingly, with a splendid contrasting refrain sung by Martin. Anyone who doubts MT’s genius bass-wise needs to listen to this. Mixed very high, it’s like another human voice singing countermelody all the way through. Beautiful guitar soloing into fadeout. A minor masterpiece.
3) "No Easy Road" - pretty straightforward R & R, but perhaps their best in this vein. Mart rips it up with the lead vocal. A full minute of repeat-repeat-repeat at the end, but it doesn’t get boring, because you’ve got three voices and a horn ensemble all wailing up a storm at once. The song gets stuck in my head every time I hear it. For me, hard to think of a better evocation of “life on the road.” Could MTWA revive this one?
4) "Everybody Needs A Friend" – Initially (in 1973, that is), I was taken aback by this one. A piano-accompanied love ballad on a WA record? With one chord progression over & over for 8 minutes? No harmony guitar parts? But I grew to love it over the years. The lyrics, the melody and the solos carry it. I do think it still sounds a little thin production-wise - wish they had given it the kind of lush apparel that clothes Persephone on There's The Rub. Sounds to me like Andy on the first solo, then Ted on the long 2nd one that goes to fade out, but Mart said somewhere he recalled Andy playing both. Can anyone confirm?
5) "Doctor" – A little on the ordinary side, so not high on my list of Mk 1 songs, but it’s sounding better with age. The middle part, with the guitars trading licks, is a highlight.
6) "Sorrel" - Underrated gem. More of that English folk feel. Inventive bass counterpoint to the two guitars in the intro. Sounds like Ted playing the first half of the guitar solo. According to Mart, the excellent wah-wah part was played by Andy.
7) "Sing Out The Song" – Well, if I was a little surprised by "Everybody Needs a Friend", I was really bewildered by this one. Way too mellow, I thought. I mean, it’s practically a country-western song! But it is well-crafted and tasteful for what it is, and the nostalgia hits home now. Still probably my least favorite of all Mk 1 songs.
8) "Rock 'n' Roll Widow" – Ted finally gets to sing one. Steve gets to write one. Ted’s lap steel work really makes this song.
The consensus is that this album would benefit by a remastering. Certainly the vocals in many places sound distant and a little naked. To me, "Ballad of the Beacon", "No Easy Road" (recorded prior to album sessions?), and "Rock 'n' R Widow" sound fine as they are. The others could stand a facelift. Despite all that, this album is still one I want to hear often, and it narrowly edges out "There’s the Rub" for 4th place on my WA fave album list.
The album marked a move away from the more traditional English influences - though some are present. Whilst this in retrospect marked a simple widening of the musical palette, I do regret a little that he band didn't develop further the old "Albion" sound and imagery which was more dominant in the first few years.
I've always really enjoyed listening to this album over 30+ years, it never grows old. At the time it showed yet another diverse side of Wishbone's talents. Not every song is a classic but three of my favourite Ash songs are on this album, "Ballad of the Beacon", "Everybody Needs a Friend" & "Sorrel". I'd love to hear Mart sing "Sing Out The Song" solo in a packed pub with all the locals joining in. I'd buy his beer for that one!!
I love Wishbone Four. I'd realyl like to hear a polished and cleaned up version as the songs don't have as much impact as I feel they could have had the production been better. "Doctor" is great, probably my favourite track off this album. In fact I like all of the songs on this album quite a bit and this album lives up to Argus in pretty much every way except the production.
I remember the first time I met Steve Moore. Steve ran the fan club for a while and was/is a friend of Ted. It was the night before the first Ashcon. Gary Carter, Steve and his wife and I had dinner together at the hotel that was the venue for the convention. One thing that Steve said has always stayed with me since then. He said he could hear a LOT of country music in Wishbone Ash. I didn't quite get that but made a mental note to listen for the "country" in Wishbone after that.
I have found that Wishbone Four is probably the nearest to "country" music that Wishbone ever came. Ted's lap steel is obviously a "country" feel instrument. I've also listened to a lot of country rock type stuff and a lot of the feel in the guitar is very reminicent of the feel that Andy has. I have to agree with Steve that there is a strange sort of country feel to a lot of Wishbone Ash material. It's certainly not pure country but there seems to be a cross over from the folk infusion. It's one of my favourite WA albums. I've always loved it despite it's poor production. There is a very emotional, heartfelt angst running through it. I'm listening to it now. "Everybody Needs A Friend" is playing now and it still gives me a lump in my throat.
A good point Billy. It is evident here and there - but is perhaps symptomatic of a leaning towards folky melodies, minor chords and a melancholy flavour that links Wishbone with 'country' - rather than any overt country music roots or influences. You're probably thinking of "Sing Out The Song" as the most obvious example of this - but perhaps the mood somehow just fitted the song and its lyrics? However, I don't find it in evidence on any other albums to any great degree. I think that early 70's Brit Rock of the Wishbone Ash and Jethro Tull approach borrowed more from folk - probably via the likes of Fairport. When they did touch upon a 'country' sound it may well have been by accident or because the song suggested it.