A R T I C L E S
a n d I N T E R V I E W S
Sounds, November 1973 by Jerry Gilbert
Denying Wishbone Ash their just desserts on the Wishbone Four album is, in a sense, denying the uniqueness of their twin spearhead and the harmonic power that Ted Turner and Andy Powell’s guitars have laid down over the past two years.
Wishbone Ash have been heavily criticised for failing to produce another milestone after Argus and lambasted further for the path they took in trying to win back favour with the critics on their recent British tour. And lest we be besieged further by irate Wishbone fans let me state that criticisms on both counts have been largely unfounded, and proffer a sound mitigating defence for the accused.
Last week the band fled back to the States in search of a little sanctuary, sanity and escape from a pathologically claustrophobic London. On the eve of their departure Martin Turner and Steve Upton attempted to cast a few perspectives on the band when they spoke frankly about their attitude towards the critics, the frame of mind they had been in whilst recording Wishbone Four and future plans, starting with the release of their live double album, Live Dates.
Wishbone’s recent British tour seemed over almost as soon as it had begun, and understandably they approached it with a certain trepidation since they had been afforded little opportunity of testing out their newer material in front of a British crowd.
“We had no idea whether the audience would freak out or just be very polite,” recalled Steve. “But the whole tour’s been really great and it’s been very warming to feel the presence of these people again because when we started out we felt like an unknown quantity; yet there was an incredible warmth.”
“We plan to do a big tour next year and it’s already been talked about,” cut in Martin. But what about the band’s original plans to take off to the States for a year?
“The initial feeling about America was because of the way things were going in England we should forget about it and go to the States. Then when we got to thinking about it more reasonably we realised that the culture of England is so ingrained in our music and our lives that it would never work, although we would like to make life easier for travelling over there.”
Whilst the band haven’t exactly been at loggerheads with the press there has been a polite aversion on the part of both parties of late that has been difficult to ignore.
Rather than reiterate their feelings Steve sought to find the root problem of the conflict. “In contrast with America, England is so small and one of the biggest problems is that there’s a natural state of competing – a natural conflict because everyone is on top of each other – and because of the closeness people do tend to get a bit bitchy.”
Martin: “There was a stage when we wondered about ignoring the press altogether but we realised that would have been negative. Instead we’ve attempted to meet and talk to the press.”
Steve: “We made an attempt to be polite but still the same old bullshit was written and middle of the road remarks made. We’ve tried to get a communication going but when inaccuracies are made it just shows that the band isn’t really respected.”
Clearly it will take Wishbone time to win their way back into everyone’s hearts in Britain – there are still people who feel that the rewards and accolades betowed on the band far exceed the effort expended - a fact that anyone who has followed the band from the word go will find ironic. The progress of the band is a model example for any band wondering whether it is possible in these confused days to start on the bottom rung and work systematically to the top.
Maybe if Argus, clearly the pinnacle of Wishbone’s achievements, had been their fifth album rather than their third, the subsequent road might have been less difficult; at the same time I doubt that Wishbone Four has the same highs as Argus– ‘Rock and Roll Widow’ has already peaked onstage, and in terms of their sheer composition the melodic strength of ‘Ballad Of The Beacon’ and ‘Everybody Needs a Friend’ are genuine heart stirrers.
But why have they decided to issue a live album at this stage? “I think America urged us to do a live album because they are generally well received over there. I think ours is a good live album, well recorded,” explained Steve.
“The real problems with Wishbone Four,” mused Martin. “was that it needed to be loud and ballsy but it’s everything but that. In terms of composition we’re happy but Decca distributed it whilst we were abroad and it was very badly manufactured.”
In a sense Wishbone’s plight is symptomatic of the Jethro Tull disaster, for their album was treated with rather more sympathy in the States. It has nevertheless earned them a silver disc to place alongside the gold they won for Argus.
“We knew everyone around us was waiting for ‘Son of Argus’ and wondering how we were going to top Argus and for a while we were really blinded by the view that we had to surpass all previous offerings. But finally we realised the point was just to leave it at that and move on to something completely new; in the end that’s precisely what we did,” remarked Martin.
“You see Argus was the first conscious attempt to make an album – the others were just recordings of songs that we just happened to be playing at the time. Sometimes one’s confidence isn’t quite what it should be, and had we been more confident about our fourth album it would have been out before – since we weren’t, we found it difficult to approach.”
It has been a difficult six months for now they have started headlining in the States they have to live up to people’s expectations. “We’re the band who has to make sure no-one leaves with a hard on,” as Steve puts it. “It’s a constant phase of readjusting but then you realise that’s what you’ve been working towards all the time anyway.”
Now they’re ready to play their next ace – an entirely new concept idea and a large British tour to help promote it. “We’ve enough new material to cover two albums but in what form it’ll be presented we’ve yet to decide. Ironically it’s an idea we’ve had for a long time and we’ve never been ambitious enough to present it in the past – now I think we’ve got to be courageous because there’s so many fields open to us,” Martin went on.
“It’ll be a musical rather than lyrical concept and we want it to me a milestone as far as people are concerned,” backed up Steve.
The band are sorry that their recent tour consisted of only six dates – wedged into their schedule between other commitments, and they plan to make it up to British fans next year. “Wherever we played new stuff I wasn’t conscious of it being new to people because every number was greeted with the same amount of enthusiasm as the standards. It’s been a great encouragement,” confessed Steve.