D I S C O G R A P H Y
Just Testing (1980)
Released: January 1980
UK chart position: 41
Martin Turner's memories:
We began recording our tenth studio album Just Testing at Surrey Sound Studios, Leatherhead in March 1979. The recording process for Just Testing was fairly long, taking about six months – by far the longest amount of time we had ever spent on an album. I was very much in the producer’s seat and leading the way creatively. By this time, I had a studio at my home in East Sheen, where I would write and record music, and I was getting some pretty good results and had come in with quite a few really good tunes and so I was feeling very positive about the upcoming album.
Things were changing for us as a band and as people around this time. Back in the early days we had all lived very close together and could dedicate twenty four hours a day to the band, but by now things had become a little more fragmented and everyone was laying down roots and making babies. That’s all part of human progression and I’m in no way saying that was a bad thing, but it did certainly affect the group dynamic. It did seem at this time that there was a bit of weariness and lack of motivation in certain quarters, which bugged me a bit because we were being advanced a substantial sum of money to make this record and I felt that we should have been more aware of what a privileged position we were in. I did express this to my fellow band members at the time. Laurie was living in Essex at the time and would come to stay at my place in Sheen and so I would drive him down to the studio. Steve was living in Surrey and would make his own way there. For Andy, things were a bit more involved. He was living way north of London, near Hemel Hempstead, and it was a longer journey for him. In addition he and his wife Pauline had just had their first child – he was the first member of the band to have children – and there were a lot of times when he would find it quite difficult to get to the studio or get too involved, because his time and energy were needed elsewhere. Therefore quite a bit of time at Surrey Sound there would be just Steve, Laurie and myself in the studio.
I really enjoyed making Just Testing and I was really getting into a flow with song-writing. I have read Andy Powell claim that this flow was at the expense of the group spirit of old. Frankly that sounds a little sad to me. The fact is that I was writing songs, as I had done fairly consistently throughout the seventies, but I think there was a spirit in the camp where they would like me to have been writing something more along the lines of Argus, or something more commercial. The latter had, by that point in time, become a pressure from within the band, but the fact of the matter is that I don’t write songs from that standpoint, and I think that did frustrate the other guys somewhat. I write from my heart and soul and if it turns out to be commercially successful, then great. Some people are very good at writing commercial songs to order, but that is not what I do. With Just Testing I think we did something that was new, fresh and creative, yet still had a very distinctive Wishbone Ash sound. We started to take some chances, in the guitar sounds department especially, and I felt we should have continued down that road. It gave the band a sense of direction for the eighties, which were now approaching. Although some of the album could be seen as un-commercial, I think Just Testing contained a solid balance of material and set us off in a positive fresh direction as we prepared to enter a new decade. Unfortunately, my fellow band members did not share my viewpoint and felt the need to make changes."
adapted from the book "No Easy Road - My Life and Times With Wishbone Ash"
After the Wisefield-dominated No Smoke Without Fire, Martin bounces back with an impressive output on this one, which I rate just a shade behind New England. His spooky triad of "Haunting Me", "Insomnia", and "Lifeline" is outstanding, and the subject matter - haunting memory, sleeplessness, and the deathbed visitation are ironically fitting, knowing that he was soon to be nudged out of the group. Andy comes up with a latter-day gem in "Master of Disguise". "Living Proof" and "Helpless" (that rarest of things - a non-WA composition on a WA album) are solid pop songs that I enjoy in spite of their poppiness. "Pay the Price" and "New Rising Star" offer little to my ears, but the rest of the material is good enough to make up for them.
I love this album; to me it now has a bittersweet feel as the last of the classic series of albums from Martin, Andy, Steve and Laurie; plus it bookends - along with the debut album - the period of Wishbone Ash being a critically acclaimed and major English rock band. After this there would be good songs here and there from the assorted line-ups which followed but no really powerful or commercial albums would be forthcoming. The era of the band as a major draw on the UK concert hall circuit effectively ended after this - although the reunion line-up managed to salvage matters somewhat and pull in decent crowds. As a swansong to the classic Wishbone Ash period this album is important and immense. "Lifeline" is up with anything the band ever produced.
Now here's an album that has the MT influence stamped all over it, so much so that it could have been a solo album. "Living Proof" is a great opener. "Haunting Me" is another great track followed by "Insomnia" which I think is very different and outstanding. "Helpless" is another underated little rocker. I don't care much for "Pay The Price" or "New Rising Star" myself. "Master Of Disguise" is a lovely Andy Powell-penned track. "Lifeline" is simply stunning and played with aplomb by MTWA. Again this was yet another excellent album overall and it turned out to be the last WA tour for me for a very long time. I don't think WA were ever the same following MT's departure after this release. They just seemed to miss his song writing talents, melodic inspiring bass lines, his vocal work and harmonies.