2018 is seeing a concerted attempt to cement the Wishbone Ash legacy. A box set that sets a new benchmark of comprehensiveness and packaging, attracted renewed interest in the band’s underappreciated back catalogue.
Meantime, founder member Martin Turner, having milked the ‘Argus’ theme to exhaustion is now, with his band, revisiting classic albums in their entirety, one tour at a time, with the year’s second tour including one of their regular haunts, the Boom Boom Club in South-West London where fellow GRTR! writer Pete Feenstra has been flying the flag for quality music for over a decade and a half.
The aperitif was provided by the timeless ‘The King Will Come’, with some slight improvisation on the arrangement and Danny Willson excelling on that wah-wah solo, and the title track from the band’s recent-ish album ‘Written In The Stars’, which has the classic Wishbone sound, not only with its twin guitar passages but Martin’s voice being supported by harmonies from Danny and drummer Tim Brown.
The main course though was their 1970 debut in its entirety and in order, with Martin, sporting a very dandyish paisley coat, introducing with his usual twinkly wit the stories behind some of the characters who came into the youthful band’s life on their arrival in London. This segment opened with the jaunty twin guitars of ‘Blind Eye’ (with facial expressions from Martin to match) but the delight of such a format is hearing more rarely played songs.
This was also something of a coming of age for guitarist Misha Nikolic, who was gradually broken into the band initially a couple of years back, but who really blossomed: his lengthy solo on ‘Lady Whiskey’ was splendidly fiery and he also impressed on ‘Queen of Torture’.
That was perhaps the one song where Martin struggled to reach the original high notes, but consensus was that the 71 year old was singing stronger than he has for some while. In between perhaps my favourite song of the album ‘Errors Of My Ways’ beguiled with its vocal and guitar harmonies.
In those days bands were still pushing the boundaries of music unencumbered by commercial pressures and the rarest of the six tracks, ‘Handy’ epitomised this – it began with Martin alone on stage with an introduction that was a reminder that his distinctive bass playing was almost like a third instrument, before a gradually building guitar jam strikingly reminiscent of the Allman Brothers, further solos from Martin and Tim and a scat vocal cameo from Danny. The better known, but suitably epic, ‘Phoenix’ ended the first set in fine style.
However as an added treat, at the start of the second set they then reprised much of the ‘There’s The Rub’ album which had been featured in tis entirety on the Spring tour. On a personal level I loved this, as it is probably my second favourite Wishbone album after ‘Argus’ but also as when I saw them in Twickenham it was early in the tour and they were still somewhat bedding in the material.
There were no such worries this time as ‘Silver Shoes’ featured some great country rock inspired guitar from Danny while Martin scat sang over the twin guitar riff, before ‘Don’t Come Back’ with guitar riffs and twin solos bouncing at all angles off an almost Skynryd-like groove and Martin and Danny providing a strong dual vocal attack on the chorus.
Perhaps more familiar numbers were ‘Persephone’ with Martin pouring every emotion into his signing and fluent solos from both guitarists and the instrumental ‘FUBB’ confirming that this is probably the most professional and accomplished of the changing line ups since Martin first went back out on the road.
Indeed the ‘Mark 2’ mid-late seventies phase of the band was well represented with ‘Front Page News’ (preceded by a jokey snatch of ‘Barbie Girl’ which shares some melodic similarities) and an excellent ‘You See Red’ where Danny relieved Martin of the main vocal chores.
This was as Argus-light a set of Wishbone Ash music I have witnessed in a very long time, but could not be complete without an enjoyable ‘Blowin Free’ with some fine work on the slide from Danny in the closing solo, though even then that wasn’t the set closer, the honour falling to a rattling ‘Doctor’ which deserves the regular slot it has had in the set of the last two or three years.
With the 11 o’clock curfew looming things got a little hurried but there was just time for the usual encore in the bluesy shuffle of ‘Jailbait’, complete with audience participation, lengthy thanks to band and crew and Martin’s witticisms, albeit some of the jokes were familiar to us regular gig goers.
Not only was it a fine demonstration of the Wishbone legacy, but there was also a real feel good atmosphere to the evening, generated by Martin’s quirky humour and facial grimaces and the band’s sense of fun. Roll on 2019 when ‘New England’ is the next to get the in depth treatment.
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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