Wishbone Ash – Live Shepherd’s Bush – May 15th

One year after their successful yet controversial 40th anniversary tour, Andy Powell’s  Wishbone Ash is back at The O2 Shepherd’s Bush to round off another UK tour. When I saw Wishbone Ash back in the day (1977) they were playing venues like Wembley (Front Page News).  These days they play the likes of The Brindley Arts Centre, Runcorn or the Farnham Maltings – worthy venues I grant you – but not quite the stadiums of yore – and their fan base is withering on the vine too – maybe the music seems somehow stuck-up and arty-farty to the new generation of gig goers. And, although there is no doubt that their work in the 1970’s was important and enjoyable, the truth is, let us not forget, that the band was never was quite everyone’s cup of tea.  Even back then in the Seventies, when I was asked for a list of my favourite bands I would always include Wishbone Ash, but often with the extra qualifier ‘And do you know …’. Rarely was the answer,  ‘Yes’.

Well I don’t know about ‘Blowin Free’ but there were more bald pates on offer at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire than at a Telly Savalas memorial convention – even flying-V man Andy Powell ( a man as bald as a B-cup man-boob) had to make mention of the apparent ‘certain age’ of the group of geriatric slap-heads surrounding the stage. He also noted that, incredibly, there was really a ‘girl’ in this sweaty, beer soaked crowd. Yes, the name ‘Wishbone Ash’ persuades those fifty-something old guys out from their doubled-glazed cozy homes faster than a DFS sale.  Away from their M&S TV dinners and their sensible slippers ….  and free at last, to singalong with their fellow “Warriors”.  And it is always a bit of puzzle to me that the ladies don’t ‘get’ Wishbone Ash.  Don’t they like soft and symphonic? The Wishbone melodies are lovely… why don’t they like them? And don’t they like lush vocals?  It is not as if the band is Slipknot you know. One woman at Shepherd’s Bush explained the problem to me,  “ Their stuff is quite complicated – you see. It is not easy to take”.   Maybe that’s it then  …. maybe Wishbone Ash is the musical equivalent of the Wisden’s Cricketers Almanack – they fulfil a man’s need for complicated structures and memory games.

Back in the day, the twin-lead symphonies were a close coupled affair evoked by Ted Turner and Andy Powell. Now It is Andy and Muddy. Muddy Manninen looks like a wigged-out blonde version of Professor Severus Snape after he has just been shocked and  jolted by one Harry’s abracadabra bolts.  He constantly looks like he is sucking a lemon whilst simultaneously being rogered by a rhinoceros-  a look also accomplished by his predecessor Ben Granfelt. [Muddy replaced Ben in 2004.] And, frankly, I know he is a good guitarist and all that, but he mucked up the solo lead break in ‘The King Will Come,’ so badly that, as far as I’m concerned, he ruined the song. Now please believe me, I am not suggesting that the piece has to be played note-perfect  at a live date. I am not asking that it comes across as a perfect studio copy – it’s just that I want the soloist to at least pay respect to the original patterns and swirls. And miserable looking Prof Snape failed to do this.

But the all round hero of the night and top guy (in my book) was bass -player quite extraordinary – Bob Skeat – who managed perfect renditions of the buoyant and brilliant bass sounds from those early masterpieces. Bob replaced founding father and superb lead vocalist/bassist Martin Turner (who now runs his own ‘Wishbone’ act and is worth catching.)  Martin Turner is credited as the man who gave ‘Argus’ both voice and spirit. He was the key songwriter for this immense album and he wrote those memorable lyrics. His bass play was astounding- and it is to Bob Skeat’s enduring credit that he pulls off those amazing twists and turns with the same dexterity and speed.

And now we have Pendragon’s drummer Joseph Crabtree on percussion- but none will ever replace Steve Upton whose legendary rolls and flares lifted the Wishbone sound from the ashes and made them soar like a Phoenix. (Just listen to the fireworks on ‘Vas Dis’ –  ‘Pilgrimage’.)

The gig started off with the formidably jazz orientated ‘Pilgim’ (Pilgrimage) the band then wandered off, without too much verve, into more jazz odyssey territory… yawn.  ‘Jail Bait’ or even better ‘Blind Eye’ would have been far more energetic and arresting curtain raisers… and the crowd would have been at one from the outset.  We didn’t really ‘get going’ as a crowd until the sublime ‘Persephone’ from ‘There’s the Rub’ – an album that sparked the remarkable talent of Laurie Wisefield.  Then we went from a perfectly acceptable ‘Sometime World’ to a disappointing version of ‘The King Will Come’.

The band didn’t go nearly far enough in capturing that unique soft and gentle country air, emotional journeys like Pilgrimage’s ‘Valediction’ or the Wishbone Four haunting songs ‘Everybody Needs a Friend’  or  ‘Sorrel’.  It’s that softness from Wishbone Ash that I really love – that remarkable luminescent quality – but the band never really created the ethereal dimension.  They just jammed and coasted along. A bit of a conceit and a bit of a session.

You really need to have to know their work before you go to see a group like this, so that you can admire the ability to ‘conjure up’ the music before your very eyes – you don’t really have the capacity to ‘learn’ a new song – so it is strictly an aficianado affair.  This is a shame, because there was a considerable group of potential new customers for the band (who had actually come up to London to see the two important and delicious-sounding support acts  – Panic Room and Mostly Autumn) and these Generation Y rockers were eager for more. And I regret to say, Wishbone Ash did not really offer up the goods.

But, as they say in rock n roll , “It’s No Easy Road.”

© Neil_Mach
May 2010

Wishbone Ash http://wishboneash.com/

‘Martin Turners’  Wishbone Ash:  http://www.wishboneash.co.uk/

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11 thoughts on “Wishbone Ash – Live Shepherd’s Bush – May 15th”

  1. I was one of those who came to see Mostly Autumn and Panic Room, and your review seems a pretty accurate summary of why I felt Wishbone Ash were a little bit underwhelming. Consensus from a lot of my friends who were at the gig was the WA were not the best band on the bill. I think it was probably Mostly Autumn who went away with a lot of new fans.

    Couple of weeks ago I went to see Hawkwind just because Panic Room were supporting; and Hawkwind were absolutely stunning. Can’t quite say the same about Wishbone Ash.

  2. man, who in the heck in the Martin Turner camp paid you to write this slander ?? TONS of fans last night said the show was fantastic, as were the support bands…..get you head out of your arse and the 70s and appreciate a legendary rock band still going strong for 40 years, not the Martin Turner ripoff carnival show….stayed tuned for a worldwide release of the new single and CD soon…..where is Turner-trodding the tiles trying to hold a steady vocal note….

  3. The order of the links and using the name “Andy Powell’s Wishbone Ash” says it all: Far from an objective review.

  4. Neil, you appear to be a Martin Turner fan who has used an opprtunity to exploit personal bias. Your review includes significantly more content on demographics than it does musical content. You also know the band is WISHBONE ASH and so your repeated reference to Andy Powells Wishbone Ash is insulting not only to the band but genuine fans. I saw some of Mostly Autumn’s fans in the crowd who had a great time listening to Wishbone Ash as did Mostly Autumn, I was in a group who were chatting to them in the bar after the show. You should also know the two bands share mutual fans.

    Conclusion – your review and Tim Hall’s comments smack of sour grapes.

  5. You should stick to watching your “Harry Potter” collection.!lol cos you dont have a clue how to do a Concert Review.cheers.dave.c.P.S.The only thing controversial about the 40th Anniversary tour ,is that a “Bit Part Mart” is trying to have one as well.The funny thing is he,s a mere 26 years short of the mark.!

  6. I thought that Wishbone Ash were stonking but then again i am one of the bald pates! There were plenty of youngster at the gig and I would say from where I stood they seemed to be enjoying what Wishbone Ash had to offer!!! I can and will say thay Wishbone Ash were absolutely stunning.

  7. PS – why does Martin Turners Wishbone Ash feature above the official Wishbone Ash site (and not as you incorrectly describe it “Andy Turners Wishbone Ash”) – i believe that this explains the tone of your piece as do references to Joe versus Steve Upton etc. It would have been far better if you had produced an objective review instead of flying your MT camp colours!

  8. Dear God!….this is no more than a Martin Turner press release. It’s not even well hidden. You, my friend, could stoop so low that you get under a snake’s belly wearing a top hat.

  9. Sir,
    Please note that the band that Andy Powell is a member of, is called Wishbone Ash, not Andy Powell’s Wishbone Ash.

  10. The above blog is UNBELIEVABLY rude, arrogant, badly written and WRONG (apart from complimenting Bob!) and I feel I can say that with confidence, even though I wasn’t at Shepherd’s Bush (unfortunately) and I’m under 50, not in the habit of eating TV dinners and a female who totally does “get” Wishbone Ash music, especially from the current line up.
    PS. I was at their superb gig on the following evening.

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