Blowin' Free - Thirty Years of Wishbone Ash
Fan and press reviews
I've just spent the day reading "Blowin' Free" and I wanted to congratulate you and Mark on an outstanding piece of work. A book on the band has been long overdue and I can't imagine any fan would have any complaints about "Blowin' Free". When I spotted it in Waterstones I leapt on it immediately, it was supposed to be a Christmas present for myself, but that plan has failed! The best compliment I am able to pay you is that once I began reading there was no way I could put it down until I had completed it. It is simply superb and both Mark and yourself deserve all the praise that will be heading in your direction.
Formed in 1969, discovered by Miles Copeland (who built and lost his first empire around them), peaking in 1972 with their third album "Argus", surviving fashions through endless touring, seeing members come and go in the 80s, and currently working as hard as ever, embracing the CD reissue age and feted by fans old and new as 'classic rock' survivors supreme, that, in a nutshell, is the Wishbone Ash story.
Fan club stalwarts Carter and Chatterton tell the story succinctly, though it's not a book that delves much into off stage lives. But the straight-faced tone does allow some wonderful Spinal Tapisms: John Wetton and Andy Powell exchanging thinly disguised 'musical differences' bile in a series of quote by quote volleys; Ted Turner dropping out to search Peru for some lost city with an ass called Wishbone (think about it); and erstwhile member Claire Hamill's manager advising her to aim for a bigger profile - which, as Powell deftly puts it, "didn't gel with what we were doing at that time". In short, an affectionate and worthwhile salute to an under-appreciated British rock institution.
Colin Harper, 'Mojo' magazine
Gary & Mark - well done with the book. It's good to get some background on the Band, that helps us to understand the various changes in memberships and musical styles that have occurred along the way.
I can add little else, other than to highly recommend the book to "Ash" enthusiasts everywhere, and say that I have found the book to be "un-put-downable" since it has arrived. Only work, and assisting my beloved with emergency household chores, have got in the way of a cracking good read!
Dear Gary and Mark, I read the book over the weekend and I just want to say how good I thought it was. To be able to read so much in depth about Wishbone Ash was great for me - their highs and lows, details about the albums, the disagreements and the partings,etc. They deserve more credit than they get but the music will always live on !
Dear Gary I just wanted to thank you very much for the copy of the 30 Years of Wishbone Ash book. Thank you so much, I have just started to read it properly and am enjoying it very much. I keep saying to myself 'Oh I remember that, and I went to that gig'. It's brought back a lot of good memories and I think you and Mark have done a great job. I hope everyone feels the same and the book is a great success.
Hallo Gary & Mark, First of all thanks for sending the book and for the most THANX FOR MAKING THE BOOK! I’ve had an very pleasant read of this book. My god it was awesome to read all the ins and outs of the history of the world greatest twin guitar band. I think there were no parts which I favour. I think all parts were interesting to read, even the times when the band wasn’t at their best (85-87). I will not go into details, my meaning is that every ash fan should buy the book and enjoy it, greetings and thanks again for this document in music history.
HARRY VAN DER POUW
Yes, nice one - I had a minor op and so this book was just right to read through. It helped to fill in the 'missing years' when I lost contact, and gives an insight into the personality clashes in particular that must have taken it's toll through the years. Well done! Regards
Gary, first impressions are very favourable - it's obviously been a labour of love for you and Mark. I'm friends with Ken Stephen who I know supplied his scrapbooks to help you, and Ken said that I wouldn't be disappointed. For me the only sad thing is the way that Steve Upton has cut himself off from everyone and wouldn't be interviewed. As someone who put in more years than everyone apart from Andy his views would have been invaluable but I guess he enjoys the splendid isolation too much these days. Anyway, thanks for keeping the band in the spotlight and I look forward to a good read over the next couple of weeks!
Mark Chatterton & Gary Carter have done a wonderful job of laying it all out in a "no holds barred" fashion of triumphs, failures and re-birth. What I found to be of most interest was the retrospect of the situations as commented on by the members themselves. I consider myself to be very educated on the history of the band, but this book has given me insight into another side of Wishbone Ash that is not generally known. I highly recommend this book to every fan with more than just a causal interest.
Mark & Gary, well done! Thank you for a very enjoyable read!
If this band had followed its initial instinct we'd have a band called Ash twenty-five years before we actually did. Which inspires some questions. Will Ash still be going in 25 years time? Will they still be able (like Wishbone Ash) to draw a crowd? Will someone write a book about them? And will anyone want to buy it? The answer is probably yes, which means that this book, too, has a bright chance of selling well.
It reminds us that Wishbone's lightness of touch allowed them to pull massive audiences all over the world, right through the eras of heavy metal, prog-rock, punk and even the unlamented NWOBHM, none of which they fitted into at all. As with most Firefly publications, "Blowin Free" is a solid, studious work based on exhaustive research. It's entirely free of any humour, insight into the members' personalities or any good tales of debauchery (boo), although they are hinted at. It's very strong on the traditional rock biog's track-by-track reviews of the band's many albums, plus the kind of riveting equipment breakdowns which, to be fair, readers will indeed want to know about.
And that is the explanation of the book's raison d'etre: This is a band with many fans, and those fans will find it extremely interesting. As only a mildly-interested reader, I nonetheless found out a number of things I didn't know: that the Scott Gorham/Brian Robertson was indeed modelled on Wishbone's twin-guitar innovations: that Joey Molland not only toured the States with a counterfeit Badfinger but also with a counterfeit Wishbone Ash; and that Ted Turner played on John Lennon's "Imagine" album.
The most telling passage in Blowin' Free (a title, incidentally, inspired by a Swedish girlfriend of Martin Turner's, the mind boggles) is when the authors haplessly attempt to explain the departure of Martin Turner. Neither John Wetton nor Trevor Bolder worked out as a replacement and the band's career as a major attraction was over. Still, "Blind Eye" was great, wasn't it?
Oliver Gray, Record Buyer, April 2002
Some 220-odd pages cover the 30-plus year history of one of the UK's greatest rock bands, with plenty of B&W photos and memorabilia images to bolster the tale. It's one of numerous ups and downs, from the early days when some of the main protagonists such as Martin and Ted Turner got together with Steve Upton, to Andy Powell's more recent immersement in trance. Along the way there were the usual Melody Maker ads and personnel changes, stories of London bedsits - Powell's mother bursting into tears on seeing their pad! - and gigs at venues like Dunstable Civic Hall.
The book details the touring and recording of the 70s onwards, down to contractual clauses, sessioners involved and media coverage. Other tales include guitar spending sprees in the US, the making of albums such as the classic "Argus" and "Live Dates", Ted Turner's departure and the band's move across the pond - and this is only 1975! The Ash rode the crest of a wave at this juncture and fans will share the nostalgia, with first hand reminiscences from players such as Laurie Wisefield, who talks of alien abductions - as a song inspiration, rather than a first hand account...
By the 80's, despite classy works such as "Number the Brave", things were looking less rosy, and the authors chart the commercial decline of the band before the defections and near-dissolution. However, the phoenix-like qualities of the outfit ensured that they went, before emerging as the trancey unit of today. I'll leave the many twists and turns of the story for yourself - it's intriguing stuff. In addition there are full gig and discography listings, making this an essential purchase for all fans.
Tim Jones,Record Collector
First thing to note about this excellent new book is that the front cover shows four single photos; one of Andy Powell, one of Martin Turner; one of Steve Upton and the other, surprisingly to some, of Laurie Wisefield and not Ted Turner. The authors will have their own reasons for that, maybe because Wisefield was with the band for a solid ten-year period whereas Ted Turner has been in and out of the band since being a founder member back in 1969.
However the book is certainly detailed and well researched by two men who have Wishbone Ash in their blood. Maybe for that reason parts of the book can become a little over detailed for the casual fan, such as myself. Personally I have followed the band since the early 70s and now know a lot more about them than I knew before I read the book. However, the book does take in every track the band have ever released or even demoed and has an explanation for each one of them. That is great for the dedicated Ash fan but I did find myself scanning over these section! That is not to knock both author's efforts as writing books such as this are mammoth tasks and I am sure they achieved what they set out to achieve.
There are some extremely interesting anecdotes and I cannot remember who said it but somewhere in the book one person says that the band were boring old farts....in 1977! If that was the case what does he make of Andy Powell now? Well I certainly don't consider him anything less than one of the UK's finest ever rock guitarists and a great bloke to boot! It is Andy himself who uses the words "Great for dyed in the wool addicts" when describing one of the band's releases and that is the way I would describe this book.
Aside of actually going through the "Wishbone Ash - This Is Your Life" story, Mark and Gary have actually highlighted the life so typical of so many bands who started out thirty or so years ago and who remain around today. Indeed it would do many up and coming bands good to give this a read and also for today's egotistic band members to have a look to show that they are nothing original. The highs and lows, agreements and squabbles, important and petty, are all spotlighted with band members past and present being given the chance to have their say. It is good to see and hear all talking honestly and seemingly, at the end of the day, coming out realising that it is all part of life, really. The story has more significance for the Classic Rock Society as the band have now played for us on five occasions (something I had forgot until I checked out the extensive Ash gig list compiled at the rear of the book) and will return to continue Mark and Gary's story later this year! An essential for the anorak but interesting too for the casual fan! I hope both Mark and Gary have plenty of ink left in their pens because I feel there is a lot more to be written about Wishbone Ash yet as we sail into the 21st century.
Martin Hudson, Wondrous Stories, Classic Rock Society magazine, March 2001
(...and at the bottom of the pile - where it rightly belongs!....)
Think of the face of Zeppelin, Free or Black Sabbath. It may be symptomatic of their relative commercial success, but the face of Wishbone Ash is, was and forever will be a Flying V guitar. That doesn't make the task of Chatterton and Carter, both first-time authors any easier. And the fact that they are long time fans of (and pals with) the band gives them even less chance of fanning the glowing embers into a roaring flame.
What we want to read in a rock biography is the arguments, the sex, drugs, fucking and fatalities. Fair enough, you get more of those with a Zep, Free or Sabbath - but in terms of comings and goings Ash reign supreme. Nothing here, however, suggests a hair was even turned as the revolving door spun yet again. Andy Powell, the sole survivor and Flying V wielder, can be a forceful personality (as I well know having once panned an Ash album), yet each departure appears to be greeted with a shrug.
I understood Ted Turner - who, with the unrelated Martin, spent multiple spells in the ranks - got religion when he departed the original line-up, but the effects of this are glossed over as we head for the next track-by-track album dissection. The song "Rock n Roll Widow" was inspired by a hot-dog salesman being shot dead during one of the band's live shows, yet the event itself receives barely more than a mention.
Other mysteries: the ins and outs of folk-singer Claire Hamill, which surely has more to it than is divulged (a coy hint that she and guitarist Laurie Wisefield were friends "in more way than one" whets the appetite). And the tour when Powell employed two bassist in turn, both whom thought they were band members. You get the information, but there's no dynamic, no compulsion to turn the page.
It's a shame, because the duo had access to all the major players with the exception of one: Steve Upton, the drummer and sometime lyricist whose departure from the band was regretted by all. He quit the music business and looks after long-time manager Miles Copeland's chateau in France. Maybe he holds the key?
Talking of Copeland, the demise of his business empire, left Ash high and dry, but they shrugged their shoulders and carried on. His brother Stewart, who used to sit in on Ash rehearsals went on to megastardom with the Police, but were the guys jealous. Nope! To be fair to the authors, they can't manufacture controversy, but only when they point out that John Wetton offered Wishbone Ash songs that would turn up on the mega selling "Asia" album only to be turned down does the temperature rise.
Either Andy Powell's blue pencil has excised the guts out of this biog, or they were never there to start with. Stick with the extensive and comprehensive "Distillation" box set; it may be more expensive but, when the music speaks, it's more enlightening.
Michael Heatley, Classic Rock, April 2001