The story of Wishbone Ash began in July of 1966, when Martin and Glen Turner met Steve Upton in a cafe in Exeter, England. The Turner brothers had a band in which they played guitar and bass, but their drummer had just quit and they were looking for another. They learned that Upton had played drums professionally in England and Germany, although he began playing as the result of a joke. When two guitarist friends were looking for a drummer, Steve facetiously offered himself. They took him up on it, and he began frantically practicing on tin cans until he could progress to a set of mail-order drums!
In November of 1969 the band played its first gig, as the opening act for Aynsley Dunbar's Retaliation at Dunstable Civic Hall. Since they were getting little interest at home, the increasingly inventive Copeland used his contacts to land the group work in Europe. Paris became the kind of developing ground for them that Hamburg had been for the Beatles.
Wishbone's first big break resulted from a gig they did with Deep Purple. Ritchie Blackmore jammed with Powell during a sound check, and was impressed enough to mention the group to Purple's producer, Derek Lawrence. Lawrence, in turn, was impressed enough to convince the "powers that be" at Decca Records(US) to sign the band. As a result, the Ash had a record deal in the United States before they had one in England.
"Blind Eye" was the band's first single. Andy described it as "a jazz, blues, riffing kind of thing written by Ted and myself. The riff for the twin lead guitar parts was a very specific continuation of some horn parts I'd been writing in soul bands." When Ted Turner heard it on the radio for the first time, he said,"It was very exciting. It was also the first time I heard myself sing after that I always tried to get the others to sing!"
The band's following multiplied, and they released their first album, Wishbone Ash, in 1970. It contained the song "Phoenix", arguably Wishbone's masterpiece. Ted described it as "just an elongated, structured, jam", but it was a perfect showcase for their dual lead guitar work. The only other British band using twin lead guitars at the time was the obscure Blossom Toes (now memorable mainly as the breeding ground for longtime Rod Stewart guitarist Jim Cregan). Wishbone didn't learn of any others for some time. "We didn't become aware of the Allman Brothers until we came to the States. Then, years later, we were very surprised to hear Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird". It struck us as very much the same sort of thing as "Phoenix"."
That first album was followed by Pilgrimage (1971), and Argus (1972). Melody Maker awarded Argus the accolade of "The Best British Album Of The Year", and Andy appeared in the guitar poll of many British music papers in the 1970's. In fact, both he and Ted were voted among the top 20 guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. "Blowin' Free", the Argus signature tune, was described by Ted as "a rip-off of a bit in "Tommy" that I put in a different time. We toured with the Who on their "Won't Get Fooled Again" tour, and you can imagine how inspiring that was." Andy said that "Time Was", from the same album, was another Who-inspired song; "there was a lot of Keith Moon in Steve's drumming."
In 1973 the band produced Wishbone Four and their first concert album, Live Dates. The Wishbone Four album sounded very different from its predecessors. A lot of bands were going into the country to write Traffic did it, Led Zeppelin did it. Wishbone put everything into the back of a truck and moved to a cottage on the island of Anglesey off the Welsh coast. All four of them and two others were crammed into a six-room cottage miles from anywhere, with no phone, TV, or radio. There was a sign on the gate that said "Pen Y Bonc", which they took to be the name of the cottage. Years later they found out that it was the Welsh for "Close the gate"! Ted recalled, "We all brought air pistols and tried to shoot rabbits and birds and things. We wound up spending more time on that than on putting the album together. I hit a robin, and haven't fired a shot since."
In 1973, Andy and Ted were invited to record with John Lennon on his song "Imagine". Andy declined, but Ted accepted the offer. In June of 1974 he left Wishbone. "I was going through different phases musically", he explained, "and wasn't satisfied with what I was doing with Wishbone Ash. We had done very well but I was only 24." He wandered from Spain to Peru to California over the next few years in search of personal fulfillment.
Ted was replaced by Laurie Wisefield. Laurie was a founding member of the band Home, which played with Al Stuart. Andy saw them in New York and was impressed by Laurie's guitar work. The two played together, and developed a rapport. When Andy returned to England and got the news that Ted was leaving the band, he immediately thought of Laurie. He invited Wisefield to come to London for rehearsals, and everyone decided that the arrangement would work. It worked so well, in fact, that Laurie stayed with the band for 12 years.
Of the change in guitarists, Andy said, "The contrast was quite marked. I was always the more frenetic player, and Ted was bluesier and more laid-back. Laurie didn't really come from a blues background so much as a country-rock background. He was into finger-picking, a very rhythmic player." Indeed, when Wisefield left Wishbone, he went on to play first with Tina Turner and then with Joe Cocker.
Ash's next album, 1974's There's The Rub, was recorded in the United States, under the supervision of Eagles and Joe Walsh producer Bill Szymczyk. Between this studio work and their increasing American tours, not to mention the UK tax laws, the band decided to settle in the US at least part-time. They found places in Connecticut Martin's had a studio and went to work on their next project.
In 1975 the band toured Japan for the first time. To say they were a success would be a wild understatement, as the following excerpt from a contemporary letter shows:
"All the dates were sold out, and the fans were marvelous. Martin made a mistake in Osaka, where he kissed one of the many girls crowding around him for autographs. When the others saw the kiss, they all pushed forward, screaming, and almost pushed Mart through a plate glass window! It took four of us to fight them off and get him into the hotel. We're still reeling under the impact."
Still signed to MCA in England, Wishbone moved to the Atlantic label in the United States for their next two albums. Locked In (1976) contained several new departures for the band. It featured keyboards, female backup singers on some of the tracks, and Laurie's first vocals on vinyl. It was followed by New England late in the year, which some critics hailed as "a return to Argus". The tours in support of these albums generally went very well (they continued to be mobbed in Japan), although there were some incidents. In Germany in the fall of 1976, the boys were only halfway through their set when the promoter informed the crew that he wanted the show finished by 10:30 and proceeded to turn off the house lights! He insisted that if the band didn't come offstage, he would turn out every light in the house leaving an already excited young audience in darkness and chaos, with the danger of injury or worse. It was a time for quick action, and the tour manager found the power supply and adjusted the lights himself so that the show could go on. That caused the promoter to blow an internal fuse, and he set about the crew with a broomstick, screaming madly. There was nothing to do but grab a roll of gaffer tape and bind the promoter's hands and mouth with kindly firmess. Meanwhile, the band had resumed playing, sublimely unaware of the drama taking place backstage and a thousand or so kids had their money's worth and went home happy and in one piece.
By the early spring of 1977, the band was back in Connecticut, writing and rehearsing for their next album. For this one, Front Page News, the band returned to the MCA label, where they remained for their next two albums, No Smoke Without Fire (1978) and Just Testing (1979). 1980 saw the release of the very successful live album Live Dates II, but was memorable chiefly for a major change in the Wishbone line-up. After ten years with the band, founding member Martin Turner decided to leave. He had been interested in production for some time, and wanted to devote himself to that craft. He was replaced by the respected British bassist John Wetton, whose background included membership in King Crimson, Roxy Music, Uriah Heep, and his own band, UK.
Wetton worked with the Ash on Number the Brave, recorded at Miami's Criteria Studios in the winter of 1980-81. (As an aside, the song "Number the Brave" was inspired by the Stephen King novel, "The Stand". These boys were nothing if not eclectic!) He didn't tour with them, however. After the recording was completed John went on to found the band Asia. His successor was Trevor Bolder, who had worked with Uriah Heep and David Bowie.
1981 also saw the release of Wishbone's last MCA album, Hot Ash. This was a collection of live tracks that had appeared on various albums, with the addition of the very poplular "Bad Weather Blues", which had never before been released on an album.
In September of 1981 Wishbone headlined on the Rock stage of Chicagofest, a huge music festival run by that city.
The stage was actually a huge barge floating in Lake Michigan, and the audience sat on the pier. It was a beautiful evening, and Wishbone took the stage just as night was falling. We saw the illuminated Chicago skyline to one side and the lake to the other. While they were onstage, there was a fabulous laser show, topped off by a fireworks display. The band looked incredible with all that behind them the only trouble was that they kept turning round to see what was happening!
The Ash broke the attendance record for the Rock stage, cramming more than ten thousand fans into the area.
By the end of 1982, Wishbone had three British tours, a European tour, and an album to their credit. One of the British tours covered 2,292 miles in 21 days, enough to disorient anybody without further provocation. However, at the last stop "one of the audience was observed to be waving a dead goose above his head as a sign of appreciation"! The European tour also produced a memorable experience; at a gig in Yugoslavia:
In 1983 Trevor left the band to return to Uriah Heep. His decision came right on top of a scheduled US tour, so finding a replacement was a crash priority. In the event, the bass/vocalist spot was taken by Mervyn "Spam" Spence, an Irish musician who had played with the English band Trapeze, and done some writing and recording on his own. Three days after joining the band, Spence was jetting over the Atlantic, but it was a near thing. He did not have a work permit for the States, and had to wait at the airport hoping that someone from the Embassy would turn up with the proper documents. As it turned out, the papers did come so close to flight time that he had been booking a later ticket!
It was on that tour that Andy threw his back out and needed the services of a chiropracter. The tour bus driver was late, and in his haste to make up time turned right into a "No right turn" lane (Americans drive on the wrong side of the road anyway). They were spotted by a policewoman, who was so charmed by the band's combined eloquence that she ended up phoning the chiropracter to say they'd be late and giving them an escort across town!
In 1986 Andy and Ted Turner were contacted by Miles Copeland, who had become a major success in the industry by that time. Miles was managing The Police and running his own record label, I.R.S. Records. He was about to launch a series of all-instrumental albums, and wanted Wishbone to participate in the project. The result was the re-formation of the original Ash line-up for the recording of 1987's Nouveau Calls & 1988's Here To Hear. Martin Turner said of the reunion, "When we got together, it was obvious that the rapport, the magic, was still there. The magic was there, but it wasn't complete. Ted was living in the States, and he had immigration problems. He arrived very late in the game, and we didn't get enough time to work together. It didn't feel like a band, it felt like the three of us with Ted playing on top. So we decided to do another album, including vocals - that became Here to Hear."
The reunion line-up lasted three years, but during the work on 1991's Strange Affair problems surfaced. Steve was having marital diffculties, and his playing suffered. Finally he left the band after more than twenty years, and left the music industry as well. He took on the management of a chateau in southern France; there are rumors that he sometimes sits in at the local cafe.
Steve's departure created problems for the band. Martin Turner recalled: "We ended up recording most of Strange Affair with a drum machine. Eventually we got Robbie France and then Ray Weston into the studio, but by then the tracks had been laid down. When you super-impose a drummer over a pre-existing track, you don't get the interaction between musicians that is so important to the energy of a piece. Andy and Ted were living in the United States, and things went on for so long that they ended up having to pop back and forth. Things got very messy indeed, and it was definately a 'Strange Affair'."
It was also the band's last recording for the I.R.S. label. Martin left the band in 1991, to pursue a solo career in writing, recording and producing. The new line-up consisted of Andy and Ted on guitars, Ray Weston on drums, and Andy Pyle on bass. This group recorded Live in Chicago for the Griffen label.
In 1994 Ted Turner decided that he too had other interests to pursue. As the only remaining member of the original band, Andy decided to put together a completely new line-up. It consisted of Roger Filgate, Tony Kishman, and Mike Sturgis, a well-respected drummer who came to Wishbone from Asia. This group debuted with a European tour that culminated in the recording of the album Live in Geneva. On their return to the States Roger and Andy began work on the material that would become Illuminations, the first Wishbone Ash studio album since Strange Affair.
Illuminations was released in late 1996, and the accompanying tour took the band through England and Scotland. Andy said of the album, "We took a lot of time to look back and examine Wishbone's early influences. There was a lot of loving care involved. The album has power and melody, everything that people know and love about the band." He's right, Ash's trademark harmony guitar work is in beautiful evidence, and it's a great return for "the best-known unknown band in the world."
1997 saw the release of a four-CD box set, "Distillation", that showcases Wishbone's work over the years from 1970 to 1995. 1998 saw the release of Wishbone's first venture into the dance market with "Trance Visionary" & "Psychic Terrorism". Both albums were a bold experiment that most stodgy classic rock band would never attempt. Amazingly, both "Trance" & "PT" were warmly received by this new audience of listeners who had never heard of the band before.
In 1999, the line-up of Andy Powell, Bob Skeat, Mark Birch and Ray Weston released it's first "Unplugged" album, "Bare Bones". Taking familiar songs by the band and stripping them down to their acoustic roots. In doing so "Bare Bones" has turned out to be the surprise Wishbone Ash album that has their fans raving for more.
In 2000 the band embark on their 30th anniversary tour and historic celebration concert at the Shepards Bush Empire in London England. This event was captured on video and has since been released on DVD & VHS. 2000 also saw the much anticipated release of the third "Live Dates" album featuring the "Powell, Birch, Skeat & Weston" line-up.
2001 saw the departure of Mark Birch who decided to hang-up his guitar to pursue a career in computer programming. This came at a very bad time for the band as they were getting ready to embark on a huge european tour. Andy called on his old friend, Finnish guitarist, Ben Granfelt to fill the void. Ben's band had previously tour with and opened for Wishbone Ash on many European and American dates. After much consideration Ben agreed to give it a go and as they say, "The Rest Is History."
The addition of Ben Granfelt has breathed new life, energy and creativity into this legendary band. Andy and Ben have restored the famous "Dueling Guitars" that had been missed since the departure of Ted Turner while at the same time turning up the focus on the "Harmony" parts that made the band famous.
In 2002 Wishbone Ash is on the road and doing what they do best, entertaining their huge legion of fans all around the world. This year also marks the 30th Anniversary of the release of their classic ARGUS album. To help celebrate this landmark event, MCA has reissued ARGUS in a special Re-mixed & Re-mastered format that also contains the complete "Live From Memphis" promo album as a bonus.
In May of 2002 the band released their latest studio album, "Bona Fide", to glowing reviews from fans and critics alike. If you enjoy great songs, dueling guitars, harmony guitars, and songs with a purpose, then his album is one for your collection.
This new combination of Powell, Granfelt, Skeat and Weston is now considered as one of the finest line-ups ever to carny the moniker of Wishbone Ash. (To be continued..... )