A R T I C L E S
a n d I N T E R V I E W S
"Ask Martin" Q&As - www.wishboneash.co.uk
Long time fan, first time caller! Just wondered whether you'd ever thought of doing a gig with a similar format to the Storytellers programme that VH1 does? Don't know if you've seen it, but it basically consists of playing songs with very long introductions! The artists basically explain the meaning behind the lyrics, what inspired them, anecdotes from around the time of the recording, etc, and having read your sleevenotes on the reissues of No Smoke.. and Just Testing, I thought I'd mention it! Sometimes the featured artist / band will play more stripped down acoustic versions of the songs - again, maybe that's another possibility?
All the best,
Hi Rich, I haven’t seen the VH1 programme you mention but yeah, it sounds like a very sweet idea. It is however much more suited to a TV slot than on stage methinks. I do try to tell a few bits and pieces in between tunes but I suspect that folks are at the gig to hear as many songs as possible, and the more we can play, the more likely someone’s particular fave is to get an airing. Only the other day at a gig, a chap came up as we were leaving the stage and requested “Persephone”. We did come back for an encore slot and would not normally have performed this tune, but I checked that everyone in the band was up for it and we did play it for the gentleman, who told me later that the song was played at his Father’s funeral and various family members were in tears, so clearly it was important to him and his brother to hear that song. We all love having a little chat up there on stage but a balance needs to be struck and it is after all the music which people love. People also often read into lyrics things relevant to their own experiences. I would say another good place to explore whats behind the lyrics is in the written word, so watch out for book releases in the future.
Martin (8 June 2010)
You provided a very enlightning insight into the recording of Wishbone Four for me. Can you now provide more of the same for There's The Rub- only 6 songs this time. Were any of the songs written before Laurie joined? What contributions did he and the others make towards the song writing this time? You seemed to have had the major input into the previous two albums, was this one the same? Could you also tell me who played lead on Don't Come Back and Silver Shoes?
There's The Rub album was a bit of a leap in the dark. First studio album in the USA with Bill Szymczyk, who wanted to record with a Brit band to learn how we got our guitar sounds. Simple really – a lot of time and hard work plus creativity of course. Bill was a great guy and the experience was very positive.
I personally learned a lot about production from Bill and clearly he learned a lot from us about recording guitars which is evident on the Eagles “Hotel California”. The creative input on this album was interesting in that Laurie was the new guy in the band and eager to impress, which he did, albeit intimidating Andy somewhat in the process, although to give Andy his due, after he had gotten over the shock of just how good the new little fella was technically, he did put in some time on brushing up his own licks and technique and the process was quite renewing in a strange way. I don’t have time to do a detailed breakdown of each song here, suffice to say Laurie was ready and itching to contribute as did we all. There are guitar riffs and solos galore from the new twins, all the songs feature whacky bass and lyrics/melodies from yours truly, although having said that, I think Steve and Lol did the lyric for "Silver Shoes". Laurie, I think, found it weird having a mere bass player tell him what to play in the guitar harmony department, so there is a new and interesting whizz kid slick guitar lick element making an appearance here. "FUBB" was an interesting one in that I could not get into the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” lyric that Steve had put together for it – I just could not feel any empathy with the emotional content (the end of the world is nigh!) and therefore could not sing the vocal section with any feeling. Bill got us stoned one day on a very punchy magic ciggie and took a razor to the multi-track tape to remove the vocal section and save the tune – it became a very moody instrumental and the first time we heard it that way it sounded wonderful (the title reflects the state we were in that memorable day – yes I do still have a memory – I was never big on Dope). All in all very dynamic, one new guitar player making for a slightly different band, first album at Criteria in Miami, and first with a US producer whom I have always credited as inspiring me to produce - I had only dabbled previously. Probably the only fly in the ointment was the Hipgnosis cover, which lovely as it is, was completely beyond our American friends who just couldn’t really get what this guy was doing rubbing a ripe apple into his groin area. ntatives recently.
All the best to you and Mrs Argus,
Martin (8 June 2010)
As you all sing any of you can probably help me here. My question is: I am relativley new to this singing lark. I tend to suffer (always have done) from sore throats, colds, flu, etc. When I play in my band I can't seem to get through a whole set without the old throat going hoarse and croaky. What would you recommend I do to help solve this problem, short of removing my voicebox! Thanks in advance for you words of wisdom.
You’re not a smoker are you? Smoking a pack of strong ciggies will usually roughen the voice. If you are prone to snivles and sore throats, it sounds as if your immune system is not very sturdy, so get yourself to Neal’s Yard Remedies and purchase some Echinacea tincture – great for naturally boosting your immune system, as is raw garlic (I sometimes smash it up with a mortar and pestle adding flakes of sea salt and olive oil, then bung it in a dish and pour warmed up tomato soup on top – kills viruses), Vitamin C is helpful but the best thing for repairing sore throats caused by singing hard is pressed pineapple juice – very healing. Sore throat singers would be Rod Stewart, Sting, Joe Cocker, etc all fairly well known for needing days off on tour to recover their voices and quite often needing to cancel shows for same reason. Meself, it usually takes a good few gigs for mine to get ragged and then it’s a balancing act. You should be able to recover by the time the next evening’s gig arrives. Singing/warm up exercises can also be helpful mate – failing all this best to stick to bass or daytime job, but I always say that when your born you can’t even talk, so if you can learn to do that, you can also learn to sing, it involves the same bodily apparatus.
Good luck and love to you and Tina,
Martin (29 July 2010)
New England/Front Page News are both extremely good but also quite contrasting - between one being largely live and the other quite structured sounding; one being very in your face with the other a little more mellow; etc, etc. They were both done with the same production team though, which certainly throws out any stereotype about producers and/or bands having a pre-determined sound. What was it made the two albums work so well, but have such different qualities?
From whence did thine production info cometh? Very different production as I remember. To explain: New England was recorded in the basement of my house in Connecticut – a more funky little hovel than it was would be hard to imagine. Raw concrete bunker dulled down by the complete wall and floor covering of highly technical sound proofing – carpet underlay! Wallace and Grommit land would be luxury in comparison. You can almost hear the bounce off the rubber, but I tell you what, we used to make some good sounds in that space which is why we brought a mobile up there to record. The vocals and mixing were done at Criteria Studios in Miami under the guidance of Ron and Howie Albert. The experience was refreshingly different, whacky and somewhat homemade, done in the USA, in hot and sweaty conditions.
Ah yes, I now see the link - Albert Brothers and Criteria. Thing was, Front Page News was actually recorded in the studio – a very dead environment (shag pile carpet covering walls and floor this time). Its easy if you don’t grab the studio by the scruff of the neck to end up drifting away from a live feel into endless overdubs and bits and pieces city, if you follow me.
So I guess the difference is that the latter was a standard, big posh, somewhat sterile air conditioned studio atmosphere whilst the former was done in a grimey little shithole. Both sessions were lubricated with the usual drink and drugs (though not to excess). New England was perhaps accompanied by a feeling of anger at how Locked In had turned out whereas Front Page News was accompanied by the somewhat sad backdrop of leaving the US to move back to the UK, but you know I think it mainly boils down to: first one “underlay”, second one “shag pile carpet”, related but very different. Hmmmm, what a very interesting question you asked, and even I am somewhat amazed at the reply. Rock 'n' roll music is fascinating isn’t it! I do hope this throws some light, it did for me,
Martin. (29 July 2010)
You have been my hero for a long time. Please dont stop making music. Cars have always been a part of rock 'n' roll. What car do you drive? Do you collect any vintage or rare cars? Or are you more of a family car kinda guy? One of the reasons I ask is that im pretty sure I saw YOU driving through my village in a red car? I was walking with my bass and 'you' turned to look. Maybe not but I couldnt not ask just in case!
Take care. Keep up the fantastic work
Wishben Ash (Ben Barker)
Lets get one thing straight - I would never drive a red car. My Dad crashed in a red car and never regained conciousness, so bad associations for me – red = blood. I drive a wonderful white Mercedes Sprinter 313 with seats for everyone and air con and am amazed at how they manage to engineer such power from a 2.2 ltre diesel engine – this is when gigging of course. When I was a handsome young buck like yourself I had a succession of cars, Lancia Fulvia was not bad, Merecedes 230 Saloon and earlier an SL model (dish roof). Then I discovered the joy of Jags – I had a couple of V12 XJS jobbies, (one after the other), very powerful 300bhp if I remember right, but liked 'em so much I bought a Daimler Double Six Coupe, (more like a standard Jag saloon but with only two doors and pillarless windows). It had the same V12 engine though and would do 0 – 60mph in about 6.7 secs, very fond of it I was too. It’s a bloody wonder I didn’t splatter – I was a mad little sod in those days. Marc Bolan and Keith Harwood (engineer onW4) had both gone to the big gig in the sky as a result of car accidents, and they both lived just around the corner from me in SW14. I did start to slow down a little, but only a little (I’m told I have always been accompanied by guardian angels). Eventually as a chappie grows up you discover that all cars are just tin boxes that get you from A to B and they all go rusty and die after about ten years max. I share an Audi A4 Sportline with multi-tronic box (fab little paddles on steering) with my good lady nowadays and occasionally requisition my daughters Ford Ka, which is also a blast - bit like driving a bed with a tin cover on, but good fun. Oh, drove a Ford Focus 1800 Zetec for a few years, great little car. Anyway enough of this waffle, I’m sure you will make a wise and considered choice yourself and in that respect I wish you bon voyage dear Ben. Lots of love to you and Lauren, I hope you got into Ted's tent gig at High Voltage the other day. I’m sorry I could not hang around and help - had to go do interviews. When I got there he was drenched in sweat - don’t think he has spanked the plank so hard in years, poor luvvie. It was basically a jam session with some drummers.
See you soon hopefully,
Martin (29 July 2010)
Apart from jumping forward to see next weeks lotto numbers, would you go back to 1969 and warn your younger self of things to come and advise youthful MT on a plan of action?
Ah, the sweet innocence of youth, Hmmmm.
Actually Terry I do get forewarned about things on occasion. I also tend to have pretty good instincts with regard to where I am heading in life nowadays. There are things in the bands history which would have been of benefit if they had been done differently. I should have had my authorship of the bands name legally recorded at the time to prove that it was my “Intellectual Copyright”, although having said that, there were witnesses to the fact. Miles Copeland set up an unfair publishing deal for us in the early 70's which resulted in him receiving twice what any of us received individually for song writing. This was well hidden and something that I still wish to challenge legally if possible. He also went bust owing us £50k after the Startruckin' tour, which should also have been pursued in retrospect. I should have insisted that I was given the song writing credit that I deserved on the Argus album, although clearly that would have caused problems, albeit problems that could have been resolved. Ted’s leaving the band was also a shame that could arguably have been avoided if we had all been able to take a months holiday. Having said that, there is no doubt that Laurie's entry into the band did act as a dynamic renewal process. Likewise my being forced from the band in 1980 was very unjust and in retrospect I should have had the band’s bank account frozen until the promised quarter share of the six figure sum it contained was forthcoming. As it was I received not a penny because the band’s affairs lapsed into financial difficulty. It is in the nature of creative people such as myself that one tends not to be focused on the business aspects but on music, and moving forwards rather than back over things past As we grow older, we become wiser and in retrospect it is easy to see how things should have been handled, but it is impossible to rewrite history, although I would have to say that in relation to Wishbone Ash, Mr Powell has had a skillful go at it over recent years. Having said all this I do not subscribe to regrets and bitterness, what happened was, I guess, always on the cards, but things have an uncanny way of resolving. Call it Karma, or "the truth will out", but in the fullness of time the laws of nature always prevail, I believe. The water flows and is unstoppable.
My word, your question did cause me to get philosophical,
Martin (2 August 2010)
I'm curious to know you're rating of the Wishbone drummers that have come and gone, obviously starting with Steve. Thanks
Curious too that you should enquire about Steve, Captain, because his nickname was Colonel, so presumably you would have had to salute him, as did we all of course. Steve and I had an exceptional rapport as people, which obviously manifested in our playing together, that on occasion displayed an almost telepathic understanding. I was the creative leader, he was the functional leader in terms of the bands every day business. As a drummer, he paid great attention to detail and was very hard working, although I would feed him suggestions constantly about what beats and breaks would work best. Rather than take my utterances as criticism, he would use my suggestions and however long it took, he would find the way to play what was required, and once he got there you could consider it “nailed”. On stage he displayed immense stamina and at best would be an absolute power house. Of all the drummers I have ever performed with he would have to take number one slot.
Robbie France was almost unbelievable in what he could do, but after a short time he defaulted to type which was very jazzy and, good as he was, I had a hard time playing with him. Tempos had a tendency to be a little hasty also.
Ray Weston had played drums with me in the early 80's, mainly in the recording studio and I was, and still am, immensely fond of him. So, when Steve left I was eager to get him involved. Good solid drummer and plenty of power to go with it, although maybe not as flamboyant as Steve, arguably more modern though.
Mike Sturgis – probably not that different to Ray except more technical. Again a really very sweet and charming guy who does great work with the bright young things down at ACM here in Guildford.
MTWA's first drummer Rob Hewins was an immensely talented guy. Played guitar, keyboards, was great at recording and could stay with my whacky style of singing with harmonies that matched beautifully. On drums he seemed able to reproduce Steve’s style with uncanny accuracy at times.
My current drummer Dave Wagstaffe reminds me a lot of Steve also, but I think it is still early days for us as yet. I think that the process of recording together would benefit us both and really help us to forge a bond together.
I have always told musicians I work with that technical flare is all well and good, but given a reasonable level of talent, I can invariably knock a band into shape. Dope smokers I am not fond of because the music we perform always requires a decent functioning memory, but the most important thing of all is one’s attitude. It takes a special set of mental abilities to survive the rigours of the road, the physical and psychological strains and stresses are clearly not for everyone, and I am very happy and impressed with Ray, Dave, Danny (and Mick) in this regard. Its like a Band of Brothers, it can be a depressing grind, if you let your guard down, or it can be a great adventure and fantastic fun, which is, I can assure you the way it is for this band.
Martin (2 August 2010)