Strange How Things Come Back Around: Wishbone Ash Remains Connected To Original Vision
Wishbone Ash has been an active band since 1969, which was a remarkable time for rock music. Not only was the sound of rock music becoming more adventurous but the industry itself was brimming with risk-takers and innovators. Wishbone Ash co-founder Andy Powell remembers that time well.
“Cream had come out with their incredible albums, things had started to get quite jazzy, quite progressive. So you had a slew of bands being formed in London, in particular, like Jethro Tull, like Deep Purple, like Wishbone Ash. And we started to play the college circuit in earnest,” Powell recalls. “The music business itself was changing hands. A lot of young entrepreneurs were coming in. People who were of the same generation of the musicians in many cases: young managers, young record labels. A lot of the old school records labels—a lot of the Tin Pan Alley guys were caught wrong-footed. They didn’t really know how to assess the music that was coming out.”
By the early 1970s, Wishbone Ash was touring the United States on a regular basis and became a favorite on the live circuit, performing at the most important halls of the day and sharing the stage with Mountain, Elton John and The Who. Despite almost constant live performances, Wishbone Ash managed to find time to write and record one of the quintessential albums of the era, 1972’s Argus.
“I think at the time when we were creating it we knew we were on to something special. We were almost creating a concept album without understanding that we were. Like a lot of bands at the time people would say, ‘You’ll hit your stride on your third album.’ And it was our third album,” he says. “We were being exposed to bigger venues—especially in the United States—so we realized that we needed to be making music that was not club music but music set for stadiums and large arenas. That’s why the Argus music has that kind of grandiose statements, both musically and lyrically.”
From the beginning, Wishbone Ash’s calling card has been its twin guitar sound and memorable guitar harmonies—a sound that Powell says came from having played in soul bands and having learned how to harmonize with horns. By the end of the 1970s this sound could be heard on countless records from bands emerging in a style known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal—bands that included Iron Maiden, Tygers of Pan Tang, and even Def Leppard.
Powell says he wasn’t surprised by the popularity of this sound. He and his bandmates had, after all, had their influences as well.
“They would have been—at least some of them would have been—the next generation down. Maybe five years, six years younger than myself. They would have been young guys in the audience at our gigs and maybe getting the idea that, ‘We’ll take that element, and we’ll move it up a notch. We’ll heavy it up. We’ll give it more power.’ I was influenced by the guys who were five years older than me, so why would I not be an influence on or why would my band not be an influence on that new wave of heavy metal?” he says.
Wishbone Ash continued to evolve through the 1970s and made it to the 1980s intact, which was no small feat for a band that had first emerged at the end of the ‘60s. Still, Powell says, figuring out where the band fit in this new decade was not always easy.
“In some ways we were behind the curve at this point. I think we were trapped into emulating bands [who had emulated us], and that’s always dangerous territory. We were at odds at that time although we did have a very successful album at that time with Twin Barrels Burning,” Powell notes, “which was in the charts and was a real rock ‘n’ roll, straight down the line, rough and ready guitar band album.”
Wishbone Ash experienced a commercial renaissance in the 1980s and is still a major concert draw today and in 2014 released its 25th studio album. Although Powell is the only original band member in the current lineup, the classic Wishbone Ash sound is very much intact.
“The last half a dozen albums could have almost been produced in the ‘70s. They are really back in line with the original brief for the band’s music. Maybe a little bit heavier,” Powell says. “We’ve modernized the music somewhat, that’s understandable, but we haven’t gone off on these wild tangents. The wheel’s come full circle. Let’s put it that way.”
Wishbone Ash performs at the Crown Uptown Saturday evening.
Wishful Listening: A Very Selected Wishbone Ash Discography
1972’s Argus is the undisputed king of Wishbone Ash albums but with 24 other studio releases, several compilations and live LPs, there’s a lot of ground to cover. So here’s a baker’s half dozen of other Ash albums you should own.
Wishbone Ash (1970)
There are hints of what the band would become on this outing but all the signs of how great WA would become are there. Features “Phoenix,” which would become a staple of live shows.
Loose, free and filled with the kind of eclectic spirit of the era, this is so great it’s hard to imagine that it’s often overlooked as one of the band’s best from the 1970s.
Live Dates (1973)
The Ash has always lived and died by the stage and this is a perfect example of why. Epic in all the right ways and one of the best live recordings of its era.
There’s The Rub (1974)
Although some fans say it’s 1976’s New England, this is the best of the band’s post-Argus output in the 1970s.
Nouveau Calls (1987)
Miles Copeland was launching his No Speak label, a subsidiary of his highly successful I.R.S. imprint and called up his old chums in Wishbone Ash to see if they’d help launch the label with an all-instrumental LP. They were and the result is one of the Ash’s greatest releases and arguably its best from the 1980s.
Clan Destiny (2006)
After some wandering in the wilderness—including some rather successful techno collaborations and the like—this is a return to real classic Wishbone Ash. It’s a lean and mean recording that, were the music industry in a different state, would have great much greater visibility for the band on the charts.
Blue Horizon (2014)
The group’s progressive and folk rock roots shine bright on this incredible collection of songs. It’s No. 25 in the studio category, but who’s counting?
Also: Andy Powell, author:
Eyes Wide Open: True Tales Of A Wishbone Ash Warrior
Out on October 20, this volume explores Powell’s life from the early days and beyond and promises to be a wild read. “Everyone kept telling me that they couldn’t believe all the stories I had,” he says. Promises to be an entertaining and insightful read.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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