After 37 years in the music business Wishbone Ash are still one of the hottest live acts to grace any stage. Blistering live performances, packed venues and guitar harmonies, to die for are just some of the attributes awarded to one of the most influential bands of our time. A new album, a new tour on the horizon and another chapter from the immense talent to emerge from Torquay. From supporting The Who in their hay day to Bruce Springsteen opening shows for them in the USA, I had the honour of catching up with Andy Powell to find out what makes this musical atom bomb tick.
I know you have a close association with Torquay and the Southwest – could you give me some thoughts on the music scene when it was at its most vibrant – like when Wishbone Ash supported The Who at Torquay’s Town Hall?
We do indeed have a close association with Torquay and the Southwest since the founding members, Martin Turner and Steve Upton were from the Shiphay area in Torquay. Myself and my co guitarist Ted Turner joined these two after they moved to London. Back in the period of supporting The Who, they were known as The Empty Vessels. Strangely enough, I had also supported The Who at Watford Trade Hall so we had that experience in common once Wishbone Ash was formed in London and I believe it gave us a common inspiration.
My inspiration was a lot of the London bands at the time like The Creation, The Who, The Action and The (British) Birds. My new Devonshire friends were raving about The Devarks and Johnny Kid and the Pirates but we quickly all developed a liking for bands we were all being exposed to on the road like Mott the Hoople and Coliseum. Later in the States The Steve Miller Band and The Allman Brothers impacted us. In Devon, they introduced me to Lionel Digby who was a promoter back in the day, a real character with flair who was very much responsible for championing the new music scene in Devon.
In those days, we’d laugh about the scene, calling it the ‘Wild West’ on account of all the fights that would break out at gigs!
Who were your main influences and what presence do they have in your music today?
My personal influences at that time were mostly guitarists. We formed the band in the late 60’s so this was on the tail end of the British Blues Room and Psychedelia. I grew up on the music of The Shadows and through my Dad’s influence, Django Rheinhart but later I discovered Blues players like Albert Kin and in Britain I loved Peter Green’s playing (Fleetwood Mac). Later on Fairport Convention became a big influence and it’s strange because we recently played at their 40th Anniversary show at The Cropredy Festival in Oxfordshire.
Over the years you have been a major festival act – what kind of bands do you remember the most when playing on the big stages in Europe & America?
Well, we played many festivals and headlined our own big European Festival Tour in the 70’s over acts like Ike and Tina Turner, Soft Machine and Mahavishnu Orchestra. In addition we’ve played festivals with everyone from Bob Marley to ELP to ZZ Top and in the States with bands like The Who as you mentioned, Alice Cooper, Steppenwolf, Chuck Berry. We had Springsteen open for us as well as Bob Seger, Kiss and many others. It’s incredible really. I think it was the British Bands like The Who that really showed The Americans how to do Stadium Rock though. They really helped develop the PA Systems and production elements that we take for granted today. In those days we would ship all our custom British ‘Orange’ equipment over there, at great cost. It was important to keep our sound intact for the Big American shows. As a result, we made a big impact with our sound and musical style. The Americans really could not believe the big sound we made since most bands would use little Fender amps and Combos and the PA Systems were like little tannoy systems. The Brits made ‘em sit up and take notice, I believe. They even called it the British Invasion with bands like us, Humble Pie, Free, The Who, Bowie, Sabbath, Ten Years After, Cream, Zeppelin. Great Days!!
It has been documented that Wishbone Ash were the true originators that gave birth to the guitar harmony style of music – Did you intend to pursue that accolade or was it something that naturally developed when you were recording and playing live together?
Well we had a plan! We knew we needed our own sound to set us apart from other bands. It’s true that like a lot of bands, we developed ideas through jamming together on stage and in rehearsals but the Twin Lead Guitar thing was something that we discovered we could do, since myself and Martin Turner, out bass player definitely had a great sense of melody and harmony through our formative experiences. He had been in a church choir and I had worked on Brass arrangements with my soul band as a teenager. That band was called The Sugar Band. The sound of the guitar section in Wishbone Ash was almost like a Brass or Horn section and gave us a much wider scope to our sound than just rhythm and lead players. Also, Martin Turner was more of a guitarist himself than a bass player, in some ways, so he would tend to bring in the bass as a third part with Ted and my parts. This really defined our sound and was considered quite brave at the time. Early song examples would be Lady Whiskey and Blind Eye. In addition, we had a very distinct vocal harmony sound which we tended to reject in later years to the detriment of the band’s impact. I believe. Check out The Argus Album – A song like The Warrior
A few years ago we lost a true genius within the music industry and dear friend Kim Turner. Could you share a memory or time that you shared with Kim?
Well, Kim was Martin Turner’s youngest brother. The Middle Turner’s name was Glen and he originally came to London with Martin and Steve Upton but found the ‘Big Smoke’ too much. It’s a pity, since he himself is still a very fine player. I often wonder what it would have been like if myself or Ted had teamed up with him. Kim actually was very young when I first met him but he became an excellent drummer and eventually followed Martin and our band to London and got involved in the music business through our Manager, at the time, Miles Copeland. Despite playing with some great people and being a very good musician, he realised that there were opportunities developing with Miles’ new discovery, The Police. Kim ended up becoming their Tour Manager and later he co-managed Sting for many years. There are lots of great stories about Kim. He was a bon vivant and hell raiser and together with Miles’ brother Ian (our booking agent for a time), loved rock and roll until his untimely death from cancer. Strangely enough, his good buddy, Ian was to pass from the same disease. Kim helped Wishbone in many ways and also managed other musicians like Andy Fraser from the band Free. He was a good guy!
Being a band with such a heavyweight reputation – How do you feel about Wishbone’s presence still regarded today as one of the hottest acts?
I feel great about it. We have respect and you can not buy that. Others bestow that on you. Part of the reason is that to a large extent, we have kept our integrity and not sold out. We perhaps never reached the heights, career wise, of some other bands due to a lack of singles success. We have always been considered a great live act and an albums band. The guitar section and our sound has been key.
There have been a lot of excellent players through the band’s ranks in recent years and this has kept things evolving. Our fans realise that we are always a work in progress and are always developing and changing and they stick with with us. We do not rest on our laurels. Our fans are incredibly loyal. We have a great website www.wishboneash.com and this helps, big time.
Finally what do you think the next ten years will hold for Wishbone Ash?
Well, we’ve just produced an excellent live DVD and a CD of new songs has just been completed which we’ll begin promoting around the world on our shows. It’s called The Power of Eternity.
That takes care of at least the next two years! In the meantime, we’ll be writing more new music and watching out for the next technological development. The record industry is a free fall at the moment so I’m interested to see how our fortunes will fare but I believe if we keep on adhering to our beliefs and keep our integrity intact, we’ll weather the changes. It’s worked for us in the past.
The most important thing is to enjoy what we are doing with passion and hard work. It really seems to do the trick. By the way, in just the next six months alone, we have 110 tour dates scheduled around the world!
Well, there you have it a world tour of 110 dates beckon – but let’s never forget where the journey started, so many moons ago Patrick Moore would struggle in counting them, A closing word for all of our readers?
I have very good memories of travelling to small gigs in the South West back in the 70’s and rehearsing in Exeter, putting our music together and hopefully we’ll be able to keep popping up in the region for many years to come!