Ten years ago, it was in this very Football Club clubhouse in suburban South London that Wishbone Ash founder bassist and vocalist Martin Turner came in from the cold and launched a new line-up playing Wishbone’s catalogue. His return here a decade on came in the midst of a challenging year with a notorious court case and the departure of guitarist Ray Hatfield, his right hand man since the start, for pastures new.
On the bright side, the band have silenced the doubters by finally recording an album of new material and indeed they opened with the title track ‘Written In The Stars’, which was nothing less than classic Wishbone with melodic twin guitars and some great vocal harmonies – indeed the way Martin’s voice was reinforced by guitarist Danny Willson and excellent drummer Tim Brown was a feature all night long.
A pair of other new songs were played in each half of the set, ‘For My Lady’ and ‘Pretty Little Girls’, which bore Martin’s quirkier stamp and reminded me of the ‘Hear To Hear’ album the reformed line up made back in 1989, which to be honest is far from my favourite.
However the crowd were inevitably there to hear the Wishbone classics and Martin obliged with a double of Argus classics or as he drily called them ‘old hippie music’ in ‘Warrior’ and ‘Throw Down The Sword’, while ‘Lady Jay’ was a neglected gem with its very folky feel and great dynamics where the band slowed to a virtual standstill before a final crescendo. Lively versions of ‘Blind Eye’ and ‘Living Proof’ sent us off to a short break in good heart, even if Martin did not look in perfect health.
New guitarist Misha Nikolic, while smoothly playing the twin leads on the likes of ‘Pilgrim’ was playing himself into the band gradually. It cannot have been an easy transition for him since most of his previous experience has been in the studio.
This placed an added responsibility on Danny but he responded to the challenge magnificently, particularly on the second set opener ‘Sometime World’ where he pulled off the wonderful original Andy Powell solo with aplomb and ‘You See Red’ where he also handled most of the vocals. He also toned down his usual class clown act which for me was a welcome development.
After a relatively slow start, the gig spectacularly kicked into life with some jaw droppingly tight musicianship including those trademark twin leads on the lengthy instrumental ‘F.U.B.B.’ while on ‘Why Don’t We’ Misha really came into his own with a superbly fluent, melodic solo which led to spontaneous applause and by now the gently smiling Serb was visibly relaxing into the role.
Another rare treat for WIshbone-philes was to hear the rarely played ‘Doctor’ with Martin’s distinctive bass lines riding over clashing twin guitars before an inevitable trio of closers in ‘Blowin’ Free’ which was raucously received by a healthy Friday night crowd and encores of ‘The King Will Come’ which I must admit I had forgotten about, usually being placed near the front of the set, and another crowd pleaser in ‘Jailbait’.
Whatever the ins and outs of Wishbone related politics, I never fail to enjoy Martin and his band’s take on their classic catalogue which is always a fun night out. While his camp is in a transitional phase, on this evidence the future is still bright.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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