You could argue that Wishbone Ash founder member Martin Turner has overstayed the classic album concept with regular live renditions of their 1972 classic ‘Argus’ over the past decade. Yet his band’s performance of the album at Ramblin Man Fair this summer was a festival highlight for many, and not just Wishbone diehards like me.
My own choice of a desert island disc is a gift that keeps on giving and the opportunity to hear it once more was what drew a healthy crowd to the 100 Club. The bizarre layout is not to everyone’s taste but it appears to be a favourite venue for Martin and his band, its thin wide stage making it easy to communicate with fans at the front, and they seem to raise their game here.
Now into his eighth decade Martin remains one of rock’s engaging characters, and cut a dash in his military jacket, although his patterned white T-shirt and trousers reminded me of the pyjamas we wore as kids in the seventies. He introduced the stories behind many of the songs in a way I had not heard before, and his raconteur’s wit makes it all the more puzzling in hindsight that back in the band’s heyday it was other Wishbone band members who did the between song links.
To the studio intro sound of crickets chirping in the New England summer, his band made a rocking start with ‘Runaway’ and it was pleasing that Misha Nikolic, who can sometimes play second fiddle to senior guitar partner Danny Willson, got to play the first solo of the night.
Last time they played here 18 months or so ago was to promote the new album ‘Written In The Stars’: on this occasion only the title track was played but its harmonies, both guitar and vocal between Martin and Danny (with help from drummer Tim Brown) were pure classic seventies Wishbone.
In fact it set us up nicely for a first half of the set which played on the mellower side of Wishbone’s melodic strengths in ‘Errors of My Way’ and ‘Front Page News’ and a real surprise in ‘Silver Shoes’, which I rarely can have heard live and was a typical Martin tale of a faded beauty.
It was sandwiched by two lengthy instrumentals in ‘The Pilgrim’ and a water-tight ‘FUBB’, yet it is testament to the quality of the musicians Martin has assembled, not to mention his own distinctively melodic lead bass lines, that they did not drag in the slightest.
At this stage I fully expected the trademark comfort break before they returned to play ‘Argus’, but instead they went straight into their magnum opus with the lengthy intro to ‘Time Was’ which broke out into some fast and furious soloing from Danny, who was outstanding on ‘Sometime World’, and created great sounds with his wah-wah pedal on the timeless ‘The King Will Come’.
After dipping his toe into the twin leads of that song, Misha came into his own on ‘Leaf and Stream’ and he and Danny impressively shared duties on ‘Warrior’, segueing (thankfully without their usual diversion into Monty Python) into ‘Throw Down The Sword’, with Martin explaining how he had written the two together as war-themed songs from different perspectives.
Eagle-eyed readers will spot that the original Argus running order was tweaked, so that ‘Blowing Free’ could sit in a more natural position for the pacing of a live set, as band and audience rocked out and with some tasty slide work from Danny.
Indeed it led seamlessly into a more generous than expected four songs encore which showcased the other, more straight ahead rocking side of Wishbone music, at least in a live environment.
‘Living Proof’ was followed by a trip to the very start in ‘Blind Eye’, Danny and Misha overcoming the limitations of the stage to cross to the middle to play those harmony solos that must have sounded so thrilling and avant garde back in 1970.
Another anecdote from Martin led into a storming ‘Doctor’ which surely should be a live staple with its clashing guitars, before a more traditional closer in the bluesy boogie of ‘Jailbait’ and the usual stage introductions, completing a value for money 2 ¼ hour set.
It’s onwards and upwards in the MT camp with renditions of two lesser heralded, yet also classic WA albums in the debut and ‘There’s The Rub’ promised during 2018. In the meantime, this was one more magical rendition of ‘Argus’ to savour, yet a night to remember for many more reasons than that classic album.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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