A R T I C L E S
a n d I N T E R V I E W S
Music Scene, December 1973
Band Of The Month: Wishbone Ash
The very fact that a four-piece group has two lead guitarists could easily be construed as cheap gimmick to get the quartet a bit of attention. In the case of Wishbone Ash, however, it would seem a musically valid position and certainly one which has paid handsome dividends.
Sharing the lead honours are Andy Powell and Ted Turner who were recruited to the line-up by founders Martin Turner and Steve Upton in 1970. Strangely enough drummer Steve was the only member to play professionally prior to the formation of Wishbone.
After nine months together the band cut its first album which served to introduce them to the public at large and, perhaps, more importantly, led to a major British tour in June 1971. Voted best new band by two pop papers readers Wishbone issued the Pilgrimage album which entered the charts here and in the States.
With two promotional American tours behind them, the lads returned to the new world in early 1972 at the time that Argus was released, having done their best to attract advance orders on a series of British concert dates.
Since that time, two more albums have been released and the group has recently returned from yet another U.S. visit. Argus went gold here and the latest albumLive Dates is being hailed by Wishbone fans and new converts as something special.
Singles have been released without any real success. Steve explaining it thus: “We don’t play tennybopper music and we’ve made no real effort to crack the singles market. We’ve concentrated on albums.”
All the singles have in fact been taken from albums. The albums consist of original compositions with everybody chipping in.
“Someone plays a tune, usually on the guitar, everybody else listens, then plays it and improvises,” Martin explains. “If we all agree that we like it, we’ll run through it again, come up with a final version and then I usually add the words.”
On the very important matter of equipment, Wishbone Ash are known to be highly particular. An American tour during the summer of 1972 was cancelled with three weeks still to run when their gear was stolen. Replacements were offered, but the band preferred to come home and get its own rather than make do with what it obviously considered to be second best.
Bass guitarist Martin plays a Gibson Thunderbird. Steve, Ludwig equipment, Andy a Gibson Flying V and Ted a Fender Stratocaster and a Gibson Les Paul. Most of the band’s other equipment is custom built for them by Orange.
The band isn’t that pleased about the overall suitability of venues in this country and even went as far as considering settling in America.
“You get to a certain stage in your career when you become very conscious of where you want to go and if you want to extend your horizons you have to go to different places,” says Martin. “The regular venues here are okay I suppose but if you’re always willing to accept things as they’ve always been, you get stuck in a rut and creativity gets lower.”
“There are too many venues that just don’t provide the right facilities,” Steve complained. “We don’t want to have to play anywhere where the conditions aren’t right so that we can’t give a good show.”
The drastic uprooting didn’t come to pass, which is a relief for it would have been a pity to lose one of our better bands to the Yanks. And we didn’t want to be left a lot of rock and roll widows now did we?
“The initial feeling about America was that the way things were going in England we should forget it and go to the States,” said Martin later. “Then when we started thinking about it more reasonably we realised the culture of England is so ingrained in our music and our lives that it would never work.”
Wishbone aficionados have noticed more than a slight change in the band’s music over the years. It’s generally agreed that the sound has got rougher – which is not to say rougher in a derogatory sense, but rougher in a more biting manner. The band emerged as a serious contender in the British rock stakes when they realised that vocals would enhance the numbers a lot.
“We were all too afraid to sing for the first few years,” Martin admitted. “I suppose really it was just a matter of confidence.”
Wishbone are in the fortunate position of having brought a lot of fans with them down the years and despite the changes their followers have remained faithful. Not so certain sections of the press who on more than one occasion have alienated the quartet with their disparaging remarks.
“Really it was the press that gave us our image, saying we were stylish and controlled, never slagging us properly but being kind of guarded,” said Steve. “Then the kids started writing in disagreeing with the reviews.”
“There’s a natural state of competition in England with it being so small and everyone being on top of each other, and because of the closeness people tend to get bitchy about things,” he added.
On the same subject Martin went on: “There was a stage when we thought about ignoring the press altogether but we soon realised that would have been negative and though we’ve made an effort to be communicative, inaccuracies are still made.”
I’ll avoid making any special comments about Wishbone Ash lest I incur their wrath, except to end where I started, on the subject of two lead guitarists. I’ve listened to the Live Dates album three times in the past two days and it’s on again as I write this, and the system works well to my ears. At least it’s original and if something original also happens to be successful, there’s nothing really worth complaining about is there?