A R T I C L E S
a n d I N T E R V I E W S
Sounds, 8 September 1973 by Ray Telford
Success and Honesty: Wishbone's Dilemma
“If you have the opportunity to make a lot of money, which is a rare thing in this country, you should go right ahead and do it without feeling guilty.”
Steve Upton was sounding off about the injustices of the British tax system where the fortunes of rock and roll bands are concerned and in full agreement was Martin Turner. Earlier both Martin and Steve had been outlining their main reasons why Wishbone Ash might very well vacate England soon to take up residence in America, an idea which was first made public only a couple of weeks ago, but which had been at the back of the band’s mind for about the past six months.
True, Wishbone have spent a good deal of this past year in the States and theyhave toured there consistently ever since their first visit three years ago. In this country the band reached probably the peak of popularity with the release ofArgus , their third album and the buzz has been sustained even though their British gigs have been kept minimal apart from a short round of the concert halls little more than a month ago and one warmly received concert for the London Music Festival at Alexandra Palace.
Presently the band are hanging on for the release of their long awaited live album which awaits a final mix shortly. The material was taken, Martin explains, from gigs at Reading, Southampton, Portsmouth, Croydon and Newcastle, during Wishbone’s last mini UK tour.
“I suppose we could’ve made it into a double,” said Martin, “because we have enough good material but all that’s been done before. I think people would much rather have a good single album because I think they’re a bit suspicious about live doubles somehow. Everything on the album has been out before on the previous albums but the live versions we feel are just as valid as the originals. ‘ Phoenix’, for instance, is much longer now than it used to be, but it’s a true indication of what we’re doing now. The same goes for all the other songs we’ve included.”
One of the more puzzling aspects of Wishbone Ash’s immense popularity stems from the fact in neither country have they had any great success on the singles market. Their singles to date have been given practically no air play from the BBC. Neither have they been heavily promoted, though when it comes to a new Wishbone Ash album, the interest shown from all quarters is still immense.
But having no hit singles means little to the band: “If a song is good enough to record in the first place,” counters Martin, “then it doesn’t matter what size of record it appears on, that’s why we’ve never really gone out of our way to put out a single as a commercial proposition.”
At the time Wishbone released Argus Martin says the band underwent a change of approach as far as their music was concerned. Their sound gradually became less velvety and acquired a rawness which, though by no means dramatic, was noticeable enough for fans and reviewers alike to start asking questions why.
A single appeared at this time in the form of ‘No Easy Road’ complete with brass section which was a whole lot dirtier than anything they’d recorded before, but true to form the single nosedived: “That sort of settled it for us,” said Steve. “I don’t think Wishbone Ash songs are suitable for singles anyway. For a start they always have to be very short and very singalongish, and the group just don’t write songs like that. It’s the media that dictates the mood of singles market and when it comes to that we’re non-starters.”
But it’s been Wishbone’s hinting that they might reside and work in America for a year that has been the big talking point of late: “It’s very hard to be precise about all this,” said Martin, looking just a little pained as he launched into his explanation. “Really it’s not decided for sure whether we’ll go or not. The problem is that you get to a certain stage in your career where you become very conscious of where you want to go and if you want to extend your horizons you have to go to different places.”
Steve agrees but adds that Britain is also too restrictive for the band to operate at their best: “An example of that was at a gig we were supposed to have played at Birmingham University on the last tour. The facilities just weren’t good enough and that meant we wouldn’t have been able to put on a good show. There are too many venues which just aren’t up to providing the proper facilities.”
Martin: “That’s true. The regular venues that exist are OK I suppose but if you’re always willing to accept things as they’ve always been you get stuck in a rut and creativity gets lower. David Bowie on his last tour here did a good thing because he went out to all parts of the country and actually found new places to play. Places that people never had thought of but he found them and it’s up to people to really get themselves together and start using these places. But another reason we’re not happy here is the pure economics of it all. We have been advised by people who know the ins and outs of the financial side of things that we’d be better off in the States. They also point out how expensive it is just to keep the band alive in England.”
As far as the question of Wishbone neglecting their British fans is concerned, both Steve and Martin agree that it would make little or no difference in terms of the number of UK gigs: “As it is,” said Steve, “we average about two tours in this country per year, which isn’t a lot. If we went to America, we’d still do the same amount of work here, maybe even more. But the fact still remains that there’s no way we can operate in Britain to our satisfaction.”
“It probably wouldn’t be so bad,” broke in Martin, “if it wasn’t for the incredible amount bands have to pay in taxes. As soon as you set foot in this country you get jumped on from every angle by suits after your money. A career in rock music lasts maybe 10 years, I mean it’s no way a lifetime business and the tax system in this country isn’t geared for people who make a lot of money in a comparatively short space of time and those who do get conned out of a lot of money. As soon as a band makes money the taxman is round you like a fly round a lump of shit. It’s disgusting. Another thing is that it’s the guys in the bowler hats getting on their trains every morning who are the real crooks. They’re the ones I read about inPrivate Eye wheeling and dealing with thousands of pounds. We’re the honest ones, but we’re learning how to cope. It’s nice to know you can still be successful through being honest.”