WISHBONE ASH – ” The Albums ” The Vintage Years

Posted: November 30, 2017 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Wishbone Ash brought a compelling sound to rock ‘n’ roll in the early ’70s, boasting a pioneering the twin-lead guitar sound provided by the team of Andy Powell and Ted Turner, and an artful blend of blues-based rock that gradually shifted into even artier terrain. Wishbone Ash were leaders of the ’70s British heavy/progressive scene. Their pioneering use of harmony twin lead guitars influenced everyone from Thin Lizzy to Iron Maiden. But who’s still heard of them today?

While they had their brief moment in the sun on their home turf circa 1972-’74, the band never actually scored a hit on either side of the Atlantic. Though they can still fill theaters today, their legacy is largely obscure . Authorised by all of the original band members, this beautifully packaged tribute to one of Britain’s finest Rock bands is loaded with rarities and memorabilia, and includes a lavish 156-page hardback book written by Classic Rock’s Dave Ling.

A third of the collection features previously unheard and unreleased material. It’s Strictly limited to 2500 copies, all discs have been remastered. Along with copious extras – posters, poster book, 7″ single and more –  the set includes individually signed photos of each band member.

Released on Madfish, the label behind the award-winning Family, Steve Hillage and Small Faces box sets.

Founding member Martin Turner says, “We decided to give it all to the wonderful Pete Reynolds whom I believe has done a brilliant job of mixing and remastering a massive collection of work. It’s almost like having one’s whole musical life in one box.  It certainly represents the most comprehensive Wishbone Ash collection that I know of and I hope you enjoy it.”
Andy Powell adds, “It’s truly amazing to look back at the musically fertile 1970s and 1980s and wonder at the sheer amount of incredible creative output from our band. We had great roots and a really strong blueprint for success. I feel blessed to have played my part in it all and I’m truly thankful that it’s set the course for my entire life and all the music that’s followed, as the band continues to live on into the 21st century.”

The contents of The Vintage Years box set include , Brand new cover artwork designed by Colin Elgie, the designer of the award-winning Live Dates sleeve artwork.

* All 16 studio albums, featuring bonus material including rare album outtakes, B-sides and 12 previously unreleased studio tracks, presented in mini-gatefold sleeves (three of the albums are currently out of print, (Nouveau Calls, Here to Hear and Strange Affair). includes 8 previously unreleased live albums from 1973-1980 on 11 discs: 8 previously unreleased live albums from 1973-1980 on 11 discs:

1.        Portsmouth Guildhall 1973 (2CD) from the Wishbone Four / Live Dates tour
2.        Southampton University 1973 from the Wishbone Four / Live Dates tour
3.        Edinburgh Usher Hall 1976 from the New England tour
4.        Marquee Club 1977 from the Front Page News tour
5.        Newcastle City Hall 1977 from the Front Page News tour
6.        Bournemouth Winter Gardens 1978 (2CD) from the No Smoke Without Fire tour
7.        Guildford Civic Hall 1980 (2CD) from the Just Testing tour
8.        Chelmsford Odeon 1980 from the Blowin’ Free tour

* 3 original live albums: Live Dates, Live Dates Volume Two and Live in Tokyo.

the set includes 4 reproductions of original posters:

Christmas at the Palace Dec 1973
Live Dates European tour – Hamburg Musikhalle 1974
Europe 1975 tour
The Front Page News tour – Empire Pool Wembley 1977.

The band first got together in Devon in 1969, when psychedelia was gradually giving way to prog and hard rock. It was the era when the likes of Led Zeppelin were getting off the ground and Deep Purple were getting set to switch from Vanilla Fudge-style psych sounds to a stacked-heel stomp that would help pave the way for heavy metal. The British bands that grew up on the blues from across the pond went from doing their best to emulate a vintage Chicago shuffle to kicking up some major amplified blues rock, where copious guitar solos and extended jams were the coin of the realm.

Into this scene strolled bassist/singer Martin Turner and drummer Steve Upton, who had played together in psych-pop outfit The Empty Vessels. The Vessels had released a single on Metronome earlier that year, but had since dissolved. Fortunately for them, they were early clients of future manager Miles Copeland, who would help The Police dominate the world a decade later. He helped them find guitarists Andy Powell and Ted Turner. By 1970, Wishbone Ash had signed with Decca and released their first, self-titled The record was occupied largely by undistinguished, workmanlike heavy blues-rock. Their nadir is a cut called “Queen Of Torture”  that’s exactly as awful as you’d rightly assume any tune by that title would have to be. But amid these unremarkable efforts were some strong hints that the quartet was capable of more.  Errors Of My Way was decidedly on the art-rock side of the spectrum, and showcased Wishbone Ash’s signature dual-guitar attack in its earliest formation.

The Fairport Convention-esque vocal harmonies foreshadowed the band’s forthcoming folk-rock endeavors. The 12-minute Handy split the difference between folk-rock and jazz-inflected jam mania, featuring not one but two bass solos and a drum workout to boot.

While Wishbone Ash weren’t doing anything blisteringly original at this point, they were already connecting with British audiences in a major way. They quickly became a “people’s band.” Even early on, they were beginning to achieve the kind of reputation and grassroots fan base an act like Status Quo would achieve in the mid ’70s—though The Ash’s approach wound up being considerably artier than the Quo’s overtly proletarian boogie-rock.

In a concert review for the June issue of Sounds that year, underlined Wishbone Ash’s every band appeal, saying, “they built up the kind of atmosphere and rapport with the audience that you only feel on very rare occasions, although it is a phenomena I am beginning to suspect occurs increasingly often at their concerts.”

For a band that seemingly based its existence on appealing to the common man, Wishbone Ash began upping the artistic ante to an impressive degree with 1971’s Pilgrimage . They embraced their artier side more fully, coming off like a three-car pileup between Fairport, Jethro Tull, and Yes. There’s still the occasional, unfortunate blues-rock moment, like “Jail Bait,” but nothing dominant enough to truly mar the proceedings.

Powell and Turner were emerging as axe-benders on a par with Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, or even the psychedelic axemeisters who were busy setting California afire. Especially on all-instrumental tracks like “Lullaby” .

The Pilgrim in particular is a downright visionary track; not only is it on par with the progressive moves being made by contemporaries like Yes, there are intense polyrhythmic moments that presage everything from early-’80s King Crimson to ’90s math-rock and post-rock.

Everything really came together for the Ash on 1972’s Argus , though. Still regarded as their pinnacle today, the album showed each side of the band in its best light. On cuts like “Time Was”  and “Sometime World” , they mix prog, hard rock, and folk rock in equal amounts, creating a fluid feel that’s alternately reflective and majestic. The album cover’s image of a helmeted, spear-wielding warrior is just right for the kind of medieval fantasies this kind of thing can kick up in your mind when it’s done right. No matter how cool you might imagine yourself to be, it’s hard to hear tunes like “The King Will Come”  or “Throw Down The Sword”  without wanting to don some chain mail, unsheathe a sword, and rush out onto a battlement, with those dual guitar lines egging you on all the while.

Nevertheless, around this time it started becoming clear that this was not a critics’ band. Even when praising the progress Wishbone Ash had made, an overwhelming majority of reviews took Martin Turner to task for what they deemed to be a worrying lack of vocal charisma. Even in the U.S., rock writers couldn’t keep from qualifying their enthusiasm.

In the August 1972 issue of Rolling Stone, In ‘Argus,’ they’ve tightened up considerably, established a direction, and, with debts to the Who, Traffic and the Beatles as well as to Yes, recorded a collection of songs that, while not without their weak points, are loaded with energy and overall good feelings.” Left-handed compliments notwithstanding, ‘Argus’ earned Wishbone Ash their highest chart position ever, making it all the way to No. 3, though even at this commercial peak, they still couldn’t snag themselves the hit single that would continue to elude them throughout their career. ‘Argus’ also earned the top spot in the NME and Melody Maker readers’ polls as best album of ‘1972.

The band followed an understandably ‘Argus’-like template for 1973’s Wishbone Four,  albeit without quite as much epic sweep. Poor old Martin Turner’s larynx took another round of drubbing, with Melody Maker observing, “Twin guitars still zing and ripple off their fine duet passages and while the singing and lyrical qualities of the band leave something to be desired, there’s an undeniable wholesomeness and deep attraction in their music.” NME got their licks in too, noting, “Vocally, the band have never been strong, so it’s a pity to see the vocals given so much prominence—in favour, it appears, of those two genuinely singing guitars.”

It ain’t easy being the singer in what was undeniably a guitar band twice over. But not only was ‘Wishbone Four’ the band’s second-best showing ever on the U.K. album charts, it marked the band’s biggest breakthrough in the U.S., which has always been slow to pick up on the sounds of its former colonizing cousins.

On 1974’s “There’s the Rub” the band went through two major changes. Ted Turner exited the fold, putting Wishbone Ash’s signature twin-guitar magic in jeopardy. Fortunately, new guitar slinger Laurie Wisefield—who happened to be a man despite the first name; this was ’70s rock, after all—rose to the challenge of keeping that fretboard frenzy happening. This was also the band’s first time recording in America, a move that would soon become much more significant for them. Perhaps consequently, the sound is considerably more polished, while playing up the prog and hard rock aspects of the Ash and eschewing the folkie flavoring.
Crossing the pond to record ‘There’s the Rub’ at Miami’s famed Criteria Studios with American producer Bill Szymczyk (Eagles, James Gang, Joe Walsh) didn’t result in an immediate stylistic detour for Wishbone Ash, but it certainly laid the groundwork for both musical and geographical changes. And according to Powell, the Eagles began work on Hotel California with Szymczyk in the same studio literally the day ‘There’s the Rub’ was finished; he feels pretty certain the influence of the WA guitar sound found its way onto the Eagles album, and its title track in particular.

By 1975, the band had become big enough in their homeland to enter into a grievous tax bracket. Like The Rolling Stones and others, they opted to escape England’s 83 percent tax on their income by relocating to America. In an unusual move, they chose Westport, Connecticut as their new home. “California might have been a bit warmer, but I like the proximity to New York, and New England felt like home to me,” Powell confided . The place must have grown on him; while the band had initially planned to remain in America for only a year, Powell (who for the last 20 years has been Wishbone Ash’s only original member) lives there to this day.

Living in the U.S. and working with American producers in American studios inevitably affected the Wishbone Ash sound. Starting with ‘Locked In’, which was cut in New York by none other than the legendary Atlantic Records producer/engineer Tom Dowd, a Yankee-fication of the band began to occur. There was an undeniable funking-up of the grooves on the album’s rockers, There’s a lush sheen on the ballads, with mellow keyboard textures coloring the arrangements. Hell, Cissy Houston even shows up on backing vocals.

Recorded both at Criteria and in Connecticut, the tellingly titled ‘New England’ alternates between relatively concise, commercial hard rockers and laid-back tunes not too far removed from what Fleetwood Mac (them again!) did with their new L.A. frontman Bob Welch when they made their own American move. The softer side of the album’s sound ended up coming across classier than one might expect, and was exploited more fully on the follow-up, “Front Page News” cut with Miami production team Ron and Howard Albert.

The next period in the Wishbone Ash evolution played out surprisingly well at home. “New England” proved to be “the beginning of a new era for Wishbone Ash, an album possibly more important that their previous acclaimed work ‘Argus.'” And the NME’s wrote, “This is a changed and improved band.”None of these American efforts earned the Ash much traction on the U.S. album charts—but they did help secure the band enough of an American audience that even today they can still successfully tour the country, albeit in mid-size venues rather than anything on a ’70s rock-star scale. And that’s a lot more than the bulk of their British contemporaries can say.

Starting with 1978’s ‘No Smoke Without Fire’, the band said goodbye to American producers, but not without having picked up a few tricks from them. Wishbone Ash applied the lessons about accessibility they’d learned over the last couple of years to an approach that combined their trademark guitar sound with straight-up AOR.

Over the course of their next four albums, they would follow this path with increasing fervor. By the time they reached the nadir of this process, 1985’s ‘Raw to the Bone’ (featuring a hilariously literal album cover), they had disappeared—forever, as it turns out—from the British album charts. They had become indistinguishable from Def Leppard, UFO, et al, and lost Martin Turner along the way. In between disbanding U.K. and starting Asia, John Wetton took Turner’s place for one album, followed by former Spider From Mars bassist Trevor Bolder, then Mervyn Spence.

Wishbone Ash was in decline by the late ’80s, but their old manager, Miles Copeland, was on top of the world, having ushered The Police to superstardom and created an empire of his own with I.R.S. Records. Predicting (wrongly) that rock instrumentals were the wave of the future, Copeland established the all-instrumental I.R.S. subsidiary No Speak. Wanting a name band for the label’s inaugural release, he thought back to his old buddies and their knack for guitar-based instrumentals.

Stipulating that they must reform their classic Turner/Turner/Powell/Upton lineup, Copeland signed the band and released ‘Nouveau Calls’ (No vocals, get it?) in 1987. Personnel notwithstanding, it was far from a traditional-sounding Wishbone Ash album, incorporating electronics (the record was co-produced by U.K. electronica pioneer William Orbit), fusion, funk, and even reggae alongside the old art-rock tendencies. Whether one likes it or not, it was a pretty ballsy move for a bunch of middle-aged British rockers. In any case, a subsequent tour with the old lineup brought the old fans out in droves.

The original lineup only lasted for one more album (the vocal-based ‘Here to Hear’). By the mid ’90s, Powell was the last man standing from the original lineup. At this point, he steered Wishbone Ash in a direction that nobody (besides perhaps William Orbit) could have expected.

 With the aid of musical boffin Mike Bennett, the band went electronic, turning out two albums in a row , 1997’s “Trance Visionary ” and 1998’s “Psychic Terrorism” that blended their old-school guitar rock with straight-up techno, actually earning them some success in the burgeoning electronic dance music realm. Again, hardcore fans may have caviled, but it’s impossible to deny the cojones involved in a band like them making a move like this.Eventually they returned to a more conventional modus operandi, with Powell leading a constantly shifting lineup into the new millennium and beyond.
The Vintage Years 1970-1991

Wishbone Ash is still out there storming the boards today, with a lineup of Powell, guitarist Muddy Manninen, bassist Bob Skeat, and drummer Joe Crabtree, taking that heavy-cum-medieval double-axe attack to stages all over the globe. In 2004, Martin Turner began performing with a band billed as Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash, until a 2013 lawsuit by Powell put the kibosh on it, proving that the band’s name still means something. While the world outside their immediate fan base may have long since cast their attention elsewhere, the faithful still turn up to soak up those ‘Argus‘-era art-rock epics in person.

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