Extended pieces and Live Reviews

Musings about musical interests, nuggets and live reviews.

Live Review: Wishbone Ash @ Stables Theatre, Milton Keynes 30 October 2019

It’s November 1972. The school rugby team are on tour, heading down the M4 in a coach from London to Bristol towards the setting sun. Throughout the whole journey, Wishbone Ash’s album “Argus” is playing on the loudspeaker. Nothing else was played that day. It had to be Argus and loud over and over again. The album, with its timeless tracks such as The King Will Come, Throw Down the Sword, Warrior and Blowing Free, was the third album from the four piece band from Torquay, the founding members being Ted Turner, Martin Turner, Steve Upton and Andy Powell. The twin lead guitars played by Ted Turner and Powell were (and still are) the band’s distinctive feature. Catch the original line up on OGWT from I guess 1972 on Youtube. 

Scroll the clock forward 47 years to 30 October 2019. The Stables Theatre, Milton Keynes. Tickets for this concert on Wishbone Ash’s 50th Anniversary Tour sold out months previously. The band has seen many changes in those 50 years, but there has been one constant, Andy Powell. Now unbelievably in his 70thyear, still doing two hour sets, maintaining the Wishbone Ash legacy and touring the world with the band, Powell remains one of the greatest lead guitarists of his era, though plaudits that routinely go to less talented individuals have criminally passed him by.

Wishbone Ash diehard fans {like me) are, by and large, of the same age as Powell or marginally younger. They remember Argus and the two preceding albums Wishbone Ash and The Pilgrimage. Classic tracks such as Phoenix and Jailbait are astonishingly 50 years old yet in a concert setting today (and in the supremely skilled hands of Powell and his band) those tracks remain as fresh as when they were recorded. 

And so to the Stables. There is a strong flavour of history in the air, with photos and facts about the band’s history shown on screen. On stage at 8pm, the band go straight into one of their best instrumentals (Real Guitars Have Wings) from an otherwise nondescript 1987 instrumental album. Then I am taken back in an instant onto that 1972 coach with The King Will Come, Throw Down the Sword and Sometime World in rapid succession. Are these songs better than they were back then? Debateable but there is no doubt that over the years Powell has found new ways to interpret and deliver old songs. Then to 2020 with a taster track (We Stand As One) from the upcoming 26th album and the first since 2014. Some of us old Ash fans don’t  get the new stuff, and even the next track (In Crisis) from a 2007 album doesn’t hit the high notes like….well any track from Argus. The extended Way Of The World from 1980 takes us to an interval on a high note.

Time to mention the band. Besides Powell who plays a succession of flying Vs on the night and who interacts superbly with the crowd, the band consists of long standing 5-string bassist Bob Skeat who one of my friends said looked like he’d just strolled in off the street for a jam but who has been with Wishbone Ash since 1997; Joe Crabtree, the excellent drummer since 2007; and the lead guitarist Mark Abrahams, who is now the 9th “other lead guitarist” alongside Powell and quite probably the best after Ted Turner. To describe them as “tight” is a colossal understatement. 

The second half starts with a real nod to history, Blind Eye, the first song ever written by Ted Turner and Powell, and this showcased everything that is great about this band. Five minutes of pure pleasure. Deep Blues, Enigma and The Tales of the Wise followed and the evening dragged a bit. Don’t get me wrong. These are not bad songs, the guitar playing of Powell and Abrahams remained at its usual exceptional standard, but somehow it felt flat and the audience went flat too. 

All turned round with the timeless Pilgrim and the 1980 classic Living Proof, coincidentally co-written by a friend of my brother’s. Then Jailbait….Jailbait. Oh my. Perhaps the best ever example of how twin guitars should be used and just five minutes of utter mindblowing gloriousness. Perfect duelling from Abrahams and Powell. With a barnstorming encore of Blowing Free, that got me four sevenths of Argus. 

The only major gap for me on the night was Phoenix, the 17 minute jam of all jams. But who cares? I’d got my annual Wishbone Ash fix, Andy Powell can definitely still cut it with the best of them and the crowd went home very very happy. Catch them while Andy Powell is still standing.

Set List

Real Guitars Have Wings

The King Will Come

Throw Down the Sword

Sometime World

We Stand As One

In Crisis

The Way of the World

Blind Eye

Deep Blues

Enigma

The Pilgrim

Tales of the Wise

Living Proof

Jail Bait

Blowing Free

By Richard Bowen

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