Martin Turner and Steve Upton were forming a band in 1970, so legend has it, and they couldn’t choose between Andy Powell and Ted Turner (no relation) on lead guitar. Thus were born the greatest exponents of the glorious and pretty much exclusively Prog Rock phenomenon, twin lead guitars.
If you’re not familiar with this sound you need to download "Blowin’ Free" and you’ll struggle to believe that what seems at first to sound like a clever echo is in fact the two guitars jousting. It’s a staggeringly accomplished track, whether or not in its original electric format, or more Folk-like acoustic, and demonstrates the assurance of a band into its third great album in as many years ("Argus" – 1972).
Perhaps understandably, given that it is the closest the band ever got to a concept album, Wishbone Ash are primarily remembered for "Argus". At the time Wishbone Ash seemed quite heavy, in the Deep Purple mode, whose stable they shared, and whose own guitarist, one Ritchie Blackmore, is reputed to have been godfather to the band persuading Deep Purple’s own label to take on Wishbone Ash – ironically Turner’s and Powell’s guitars seemed to have aged more gracefully than the iconic Blackmore’s. Listening to Wishbone Ash today, in our post-Prodigy world, the Folk Rock influences, like their contemporaries such as The Strawbs, shine through. Given that Wishbone Ash abounds with myths, it is fitting that "Argus" conjures medieval visions, and Arthurian allusions, a theme common enough in their other work, and through the great Prog Rock bands generally, but at its most complete in "Argus". "Argus" works very well, and the lead guitars take us on epic Tolkienian journeys ("Time Was", "The King Will Come", "Throw Down The Sword", "The Warrior"), and the understated vocals are unusual in that they are reduced to a support function.
While "Argus" and its standout track "Blowin’ Free" should be regarded as essential, their eponymous debut (1970) and 1971’s outing "Pilgrimage" are in many ways its equal, with some equally outstanding tracks, including the legendary "Phoenix". Wishbone IV (1973) and "There’s The Rub" (1974) refine the Wishbone Ash sound, but Punk Rock was knocking, and despite sterling work since, and excellent live gigs ("Live Dates" is an outstanding album) Wishbone Ash had had their spell on the top table.
The generally accepted wisdom is that Wishbone Ash needed a front man, and Wishbone Ash themselves are rumoured to have agreed, leading to the band's first change of personnel in the mid seventies. Competent vocals, and totally appropriate to their sound, but in a world that wanted more Bolan, Broughton, Bowie, Hammill, Gabriel, Daltry and Plant, and was as ready as it was going to be for the emerging Mercury, they weren’t quite Gillan.
While the band has had its share of Floydian internecine squabbles over the years, it’s still active, and has consistently featured Andy Powell on lead guitar. Wishbone Ash is a great personal favourite, and highly recommended. Everything that’s good about lead guitar – restrained and yet flamboyant – in the best possible taste. The most thoroughly British of bands.
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