Martin Turner’s latest tour revisiting his Wishbone Ash catalogue one step at a time, took him to Under the Bridge, home of his beloved Chelsea FC, with their 1971 sophomore album ‘Pilgrimage’ following in the footsteps of ‘There’s The Rub’, the self-titled debut and ‘New England’ in being played in full.
Just to list those albums tells you there was more to his days in Wishbone than ‘Argus’, but there was a still familiar opening song in ‘The King Will Come’. However it was something of a false start – despite the excellence of Danny Willson, sharing his band leader’s natty paisley jacket, as guitarist and harmony vocalist and a neat mid-song bass solo from Martin, the latter’s microphone suffered from sound problems which it took a couple of songs to rectify.
So it was onto ‘Pilgrimage’ which is an eccentric album – largely instrumental with few signs of the layered songwriting that marked Argus less than a year later, yet still fondly remembered by many of the seasoned fans in attendance. After the jazzy ‘Vas Dis’ with its scat singing came ‘The Pilgrim’, the slow intro reminding me a little of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac before Danny began soloing away.
The boogie of ‘Jailbait’ is the album’s best known number and, whereas it usually forms an encore set piece, this time it was delivered a more concise fashion, thankfully still with Danny and guitar twin Misha Nikolic delivering those trademark dual lead solos together.
However ‘Pilgrimage’ was also an album where Wishbone showcased their gentler tendencies and ‘Alone’, with those twin guitars singing in more subtle manner, and ‘Lullaby’ were instrumentals in much more mellow territory. My only complaint was that it would have been nice to hear Martin recount some tales of how these songs were born, rather than stick to jokey puns on their titles.
The highlight without doubt was a neglected classic from the WA canon in ‘Valediction’, not only showing what a great voice drummer Tim Brown has as he and Danny shared almost angelic harmony vocals, but a solo of stunning tone and taste form Misha that garnered a fully deserved spontaneous burst of applause. After all that the 12 bar blues of ‘Where Were You Tomorrow’ seemed relatively humdrum, but it ended the first set on a rocking note.
There had been much confusion or speculation whether the gig would also feature a complete performance of 1976’s ‘New England’ and indeed the second set began with ‘Outward Bound’, another instrumental albeit one where the jaunty twin guitars started to show signs of a greater American influence after the band had relocated there.
That was slightly misleading as in contrast to ‘Pilgrimage’, by that stage they were more song-orientated and Martin established as the undisputed lead singer after vocal duties had been shared around more in earlier days.
It was also a very diverse album and he sounded in great form on two of Wishbone’s heaviest rockers- ‘Mother Of Pearl’, spitting out the words with a fire that belied his near 72 years and ‘Runaway’ with a fine solo from Misha. Yet they sandwiched the extremely mellow ‘In All Of My Dreams (You Rescue Me’) – taking a while to come to the boil but featuring more great twin guitars albeit with a languid feel to them.
Sadly just as I geared up for the next end best song on the album in ‘Lorelei’ that was the end of the mini New England sequence. Instead Martin’s bass solo led into the long near instrumental ‘Handy’, with its Allman Brothers theme, a drum solo from Tim and another applause–inducing solo from Misha.
It was then back into familiar ‘Argus’ territory (and a dedication to the watching David Jensen who in his ‘Kid’ days had championed the early band) with the pairing of ‘Warrior’ – does any song better capture the light and shade that make that album so special? – and ‘Throw Down the Sword’, with a quite brilliant outro in which Danny and Misha each played a few bars of the closing solo before combining in harmony.
They finished with ‘Doctor’, preceded by Martin’s tale of the faded society girl that the young band met in their native Torquay, a suitably rocking climax with his bass lines laid over slashing twin guitars that that has belatedly become a mainstay of the set.
Mentally ticking off possible encores I was surprised to hear the title track of his recent album ‘Written In The Stars’, but its mystic lyrics, vocal harmonies with Danny, and twin leads recreated a classic Wishbone sound.
Seemingly spontaneously, he replied to the constant shouting from a friend of mine at the side of the stage for a quick rattle through ‘Blind Eye’, before the inevitable ‘Blowin Free ‘ with those who didn’t have to leave early and catch trains rocking out. It was broken up by band introductions and thanks, before Danny gave a final flourish on slide guitar. Regular watchers of the band like me were however wishing Martin would find a new quip to replace his overused ‘Essex girl ‘ joke.
That was just a small blemish on a quite superb gig which proves that Martin’s current line up which has now been stable for some 4 years is doing proud the legacy of Wishbone Ash’s classic years. Playing albums in their entirety has been shining a welcome light into the darker corners of that back catalogue and I hope there is scope to do the same to at least a couple more.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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