Prog-Rock Legends Wishbone Ash: Nostalgia "Not the Whole Story"
One of the greatest prog-rock albums ever, Wishbone Ash's 1972 epic Argus also remains the English band's best-known and definitive sonic statement.
Photos courtesy of Wishbone Ash Wishbone Ash today: Joe Crabtree (drums), Andy Powell (lead vocals/guitar), Bob Skeat (bass), and Muddy Manninen (guitar).
And while other acts in the genre like Yes, Jethro Tull, ELP and Genesis have wider name recognition, Wishbone Ash has cultivated a cult following by consistently touring and recording in some formation since its founding in 1969.
The current lineup, which features original co-vocalist/guitarist Andy Powell, along with Muddy Manninen (guitar), Bob Skeat (bass) and Joe Crabtree (drums), is performing Argus in its entirety on its current tour. However, there's still plenty of stage time to explore both the band's rich history and its brand-new record, Blue Horizon (Solid Rockhouse).
"It completely works, because when we put these albums together in the '70s, we structured it so that you could listen to them in their entirety," Powell says today. "But at 45 minutes or so, Argus only takes up a portion of our set. We're about nostalgia, but it's not the whole story. Wishbone Ash is still a work in progress, and I couldn't be in a band that wasn't still being creative."
Indeed, while fans will undoubtedly cheer at the first notes of Argus tracks like "Sometime World," "Blowin' Free," "The King Will Come," and "Warrior," Blue Horizon shows a classic rock band not treading water.
"We had some people outside the band contribute music and lyrics. And it's an eclectic group of songs," he offers. "It's got some prog, some Celtic, and even a bit of California rock. It gave us musicians a chance to spread out."
Lyrically, some songs address more mature topics. In "Take It Back," Powell's son Aynsley pens a tale of a man who had a lot of dreams and plans in his youth, only to find them curtailed by decisions of more staid career and family options. He finds himself reassessing everything once the kids are out of the house and the wife has left him, and to "take back" his life and potential.
Wishbone Ash's 1972 masterpiece, Argus.
"It's that mid-life thing!" Powell laughs. "You get out there and sow your wild oats and then you settle down. But life is a circle. My son is only 31, but he's seen my trials and tribulations. And I think that inspired him!"
The record also features Wishbone Ash's signature twin-guitar harmony. And while Thin Lizzy and later Iron Maiden would be most identified with the sound, Wishbone Ash was there first. Powell says that he and Manninen still have to practice, though, to get their highly synchronized style down just right.
"One of us will start a line, and the other will join in," he says. "At this point, it's almost inherent, and we try to make a clean sound. It gives the music a richness, and the bass moves against it."
Ah, the bass. For the first decade-plus of the band's heyday, Powell was used to seeing his co-vocalist, Martin Turner, in the spot, along with Steve Upton on drums and Ted Turner on guitar. No relation to Martin, Ted Turner was replaced in 1974 by Laurie Wisefield. And while Powell would be the only constant in a revolving-door lineup that saw members come, go, and sometimes return, a conflict arose when Martin Turner began performing with a group as "Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash," causing some confusion among fans and promoters.