They say such things only happen once in a blue moon...
Well, Friday 31 August 2012 was indeed a blue moon – the last until July 2015, in fact – and Wishbone Ash history was certainly made with the onstage reunion of the Classic 1970s Wishbone Ash personnel of Martin Turner, Steve Upton, Ted Turner and Laurie Wisefield rounding off a fantastic MTWA performance before a select gathering of loyal supporters at the MTWA Garden Party in the grounds of the Liscombe Park studio complex in Buckinghamshire.
For the event, MTWA compiled a specially constructed set list, intentionally including mainly songs that have not featured on the New Live Dates and Life Begins CD releases, to allow for a fresh album of lesser heard live “rarities” to be compiled. So, for one night only, many of the standards such as most of the Argustracks, were rested to allow for the performance of some deeper cuts from the extensive Wishbone Ash repertoire. The entire band worked extremely hard in rehearsals to make this a truly different experience for the MTWA supporter, with a playlist quite different from that played at other shows this year.
MTWA also took the opportunity to premiere one brand new track, as promised, in the form of “Mystify Me”, and so the event marked the pivotal point at which MTWA enters its next stage of development with the creation of fresh music to add to the existing catalogue. Many have already expressed that the new song aired carries forward the key qualities of Wishbone Ash, yet at the same time has a fresh identity that MTWA can truly call its “own”. With the creative process for a new studio album ongoing, this is a truly exciting time for MTWA supporters.
While the set was already full of surprises, no one could possibly have predicted the on stage reunion of four core members of the classic 1970s line-ups. Ted, Steve and Laurie, together with key behind the scenes personnel from the classic era of the band, had received an invite to the event on a social basis, with no obligation to perform, and aside from Ted’s appearance, which had been rehearsed the day before the event, what happened on the night evolved quite naturally and spontaneously.
The reunion of the classic quartet began unfolding just after the gates to the event had opened. Ted had already been spotted checking out his gear on the stage, and so his presence was already known, but Laurie and Steve were escorted into the grounds secretly through a back gate and so few of the gathered audience were aware they were in attendance until much later.
In the backstage enclosure it was a joy to behold as the band members were reacquainted. There were firm handshakes and embraces aplenty as first Laurie and then Steve arrived, and it was blatantly obvious to the small gathering of close friends and associates backstage that this core of the classic Wishbone Ash membership still have an enormous amount of love and respect for one another, both as musicians and as human beings. The journey of life may have placed a distance between them geographically, but it was clear to see that these four musicians still hold a big place in their hearts for each other and have nothing but fond memories of their shared experiences of years gone by.
Please note there are no pictures or other documentation of the actual moment the four met up in the same place for the first time in well over two decades due to the fact that those with cameras in the near vicinity showed the necessary respect to allow the four men the chance to enjoy this special moment in relative privacy. As the day went on there would be plenty of photo opportunities and all four of the classic members were all more than happy to make themselves available for meet and greets, photo calls and “on the record” press interviews.
Back to the music....
Ted has, of course, performed with MTWA on several occasions already, and for this event everyone involved thought it would be an excellent idea to showcase Ted’s talents on some different songs. It's unlikely that anyone in the audience expected him to appear midway through the rarely performed “Valediction” and take the guitar solo for the closing section – a masterstroke that was entirely Ted’s suggestion. Given that no one has recollections of this song being performed live in the early days, it could be that this was the first time Ted had ever performed this tune on stage. Ted remained on stage for “In The Skin” and “The King Will Come”, performing his trademark solo work on these tracks for the first time in many years, with the distinct tones of Ted’s lap steel echoing around the Buckinghamshire countryside. “Why Don’t We” topped off Ted’s mini-set.
While Ted’s appearance was not a total surprise, given his previous involvement with MTWA, the moment where Laurie Wisefield emerged to play “Living Proof” came totally unexpected and was, in fact, only decided on at the very last minute. Laurie played the iconic guitar solo to this stage favourite flawlessly, reminding us of why he is considered one of the finest guitarists in the business.
Laurie gave a touching speech, thanking the fans for their support as well as paying tribute to both WA history and the current MTWA members, before announcing that Steve Upton was in attendance and that, although Steve would not be performing, the crowd should call him to the stage to take a bow. Chants of “Stevie, Stevie...” followed and Steve graciously took his place alongside the other core members - Martin, Ted and Laurie – to rightfully bask in the applause from the gathered faithful. A defining point in Wishbone Ash history, it was a truly moving moment to see this legendary line-up of classic Wishbone Ash personnel together on stage to celebrate their shared history as co-creators of some of the finest rock music ever created. The atmosphere was charged with emotion and grown men in the audience were seen weeping tears of delight as they witnessed what many had previously thought unachievable – in particular the first public appearance of Steve Upton at a Wishbone related event in 22 years. Steve was afforded an overwhelming reception fitting for someone who is generally regarded as "Wishbone Royalty" by longtime supporters. The smiles on the faces of the audience were matched only by those of all the WA and MTWA musicians gathered on stage, who displayed grins from ear to ear (no pun intended!).
The performance ended with Martin, Ray, Danny, Dave, Ted and Laurie all onstage together for “Jailbait”. Many were surprised how well Ted and Laurie worked together, given the obvious lack of times they’ve played together – Walthamstow in May 1991 being the only other occasion. Four lead guitarists on stage together could have been a recipe for disaster, but these four players knew exactly when to step to the fore and when to back off and allow another to take the lead – no egos on display, just total respect for each other as players and a touch of humour here and there as well. A perfect end to a fantastic performance.
A meet and greet session followed, with all the gathered musicians happily mingling with the crowd to sign autographs, answer questions, chat and pose for photographs, etc. The chance to obtain treasured signatures of Martin, Ted, Steve and Laurie alongside the MTWA members was certainly an autograph collectors dream come true! People were even buying additional copies of Martin's autobiogarphy, knowing this may be their only opportunity to get the core members signatures on the title page.
A special mention should also go to the various behind the scenes personnel from the very early days of Wishbone Ash who attended the event – many of whom will be familiar names to fans from the No Easy Road book. These included Chris Runciman (early sound/tour manager), Rod Lynton (publicist and the man who introduced Martin Turner and Steve Upton to Miles Copeland, resulting in the formation of Wishbone Ash), Mark “Hobbit” Emery (Wishbone Ash soundman who relocated with the band to America in 1975) and audio supplier Terry Finn. There were various wives, partners and offspring of the original members as well as MTWA as well as many musician friends including Debbie Bonham, John Young and original MTWA guitarist Keith Buck. This resulted in some emotional reminiscences of times gone by. Overall there was a fantastic warm feeling and a family-like atmosphere, reminding everyone of the positive vibe that existed with the classic line-ups of Wishbone Ash.
The event was also attended by journalists such as Dave Ling, Mark Taylor and Chris Welch, and professional photographers Mike Inns, John Price and Noel Buckley. There were also personal messages sent from those unable to attend such as John Wetton, Trevor Bolder, Mervyn Spence and Andy Pyle as well as a message of congratulation from Aubrey “Po” Powell (of classic Wishbone Ash sleeve designers Hipgnosis)
This day will surely be talked about by both musicians and supporters for many years to come. We encourage you to send us your photos of the event and share your memories on our forum and Facebook pages. Further material will be added over the coming days, as we await professional photography and video footage. In the meantime please enjoy the fan photos here - there are also a selection of galleries covering rehearsals, soundcheck, performance and backstage shots at our Facebook page (click link).
Gary Carter, 1 September 2012
Standing In The Rain; Rest In Peace; Haunting Me; Fire Sign; Mystify Me; The Pilgrim; Broken Down House; No Easy Road; Doctor; Lady Jay; Valediction (with Ted); The King Will Come (with Ted); Prelude; In The Skin (with Ted); Why Don’t We (with Ted); Way Of The World; Living Proof (with Laurie); Jailbait (with Ted/Laurie)