Wishbone Ash - Coat Of Arms,
I was born and raised in the small town of Brixham in Devon, and we all knew who “our” band was, Wishbone Ash. At the other end of the bay is Torquay, and it is here that Tanglewood were formed. While searching for fame in London guitarist Glenn Turner left the group, and his brother bass guitarist Martin Turner along with drummer Steve Upton looked for a replacement. Unable to choose between Andy Powell and Ted Turner they instead chose them both and a new form of music was born. Over the years there have bee many rock and metal twin guitar duos, and many of them owe something to Wishbone Ash, either with the classic pairing or later when Laurie Wisefield was with the band. I have been fortunate enough to see the classic line-up, as well as later versions of the band, and even interviewed Andy at one point. By then it had started to feel like Andy plus others, but he said it still felt like Ash when they played together and hearing this album 50 years on from the debut, they still have a very recognisable sound indeed.
It is strange to think that bassist Bob Skeat has now been in Wishbone Ash longer than any other member of the band throughout its history, while drummer Bob Crabtree has been there since 2007 although this is the first album with guitarist Mark Abrahams who replaced long-time sideman Muddy Manninen in 2017. This is the first Wishbone Ash album I have heard in some time, possibly since 1996’s ‘Illuminations’, and of course only Andy is left from that version of the band, so I can’t compare it against other more recent albums, and there is no way I am going to compare it against anything from the Seventies – that was when I was cutting my teeth on rock, and with Wishbone Ash being the local supergroup we all had every release from the debut through to ‘Just Testing’. These days one expects Andy to undertake all the singing, but he was rarely the solo lead singer in the classic days of the band, deferring to Martin Turner, and when Martin left he was replaced with another bassist/singer in John Wetton (wish I’d seen that line-up in concert). His vocals are okay, but they always feel light and somewhat strained to me, and it must be said that on this album his age is showing (he is 70 after all). However, when it comes to the guitar interplay, there is no doubt who the band is, as Andy has been playing this style of music all his life and it comes second nature to him, no matter who he is with. Just a few bars of any song and fans will say “That’s Wishbone Ash” even if they don’t know the material, and that is something very rare indeed for any band.
Is it classic Ash? No, not really. So it will never compete with ‘Argus’ then? Don’t be daft – and if you have never heard that classic release you should be ashamed. No “Blowin’ Free” either? Refer to the earlier comments. But even some 50 years on from the debut there is no band quite like them, and I for one am glad they have never stopped playing gigs all over the world and releasing albums every few years. It may not be the best place to start, but fans of the band will be glad to hear them still rocking.