By Keith Sharp
Wishbone Ash vocalist/guitarist Andy Powell finds himself biting his lip every time someone cracks a remark about his blues boogie band making a comeback.
True the English band has just released an ambitious boxed set collection, (Vintage Years) replete with coffee table book chronicling the band’s storied past going back to 1970 which has earned them major press coverage in all the top European classic rock magazines. But as Powell states defiantly, it’s hard to make a comeback when you’ve never actually been away!
Calling in from Sidney Vancouver Island where the band is in the midst of a brief tour of British Columbia and Alberta, Powell acknowledges that 2018 has been the year of the British 80’s rock revival with the likes of Simple Minds, A Flock Of Seagulls, Savoy Brown, Foghat, Culture Club and Howard Jones all reacquainting themselves with their North American fans. But as is the case with many of these bands, they’ve all maintained a presence in one form or another over the years and have now found a positive environment to get back out In front of their fan base.
“We’ve been playing theatres and clubs in Europe, some festivals and we’ve dabbled in North America but we’ve never stopped doing it,” explained Powell. “Three of our four members have been together as the core of the band since 2007. The stability has been pretty solid, there’s an intense work of passion and commitment that goes into this band and it’s great that we can still record new music (`Blue Horizons’ was released in 2014’) and we plan on recording a new album early next year.”
Recognized as one of British rock’s first premiere double lead guitar bands when they launched in 1970 with Powell doubling up with Ted Turner and original bassist Martin Turner (no relation), Wishbone Ash was one of the first bands managed by Miles Copeland who later moved on to manage The Police. They made their mark with a series of successful albums in the early Seventies with their self-titled debut in 1970, `Pilgrimage’ in 1971, `Argus’ in 1972 `Wishbone Ash Four’ in 1973 and `There’s The Rub’ in 1974 propelling them into the global spotlight alongside the likes of Climax Blues Band, Savoy Brown and Foghat.
Naturally, any band that has survived for almost 50 years will go through a series of lineup changes, and the likes of King Crimson’s John Wetton and Uriah Heep’s Trevor Boulder have both been part of the Wishbone Ash makeup at various stages. Yet Powell, bassist Bob Skeat, and drummer Joe Crabtree have provided the band with a solid base since 2007 with only new guitarist Mark Abrahams being added recently to freshen up the band’s lineup.
Powell would be amiss if he claimed that it’s all been smooth sailing yet as the band’s sole surviving original member, he has felt an obligation and desire to maintain the band’s status quo, catering to hard core original fans while reaching new fans, unaware of the band’s initial success.
“This band has so much history, it’s up to me to focus on keeping the ethos of the band, the original blueprint,” Powell explained. “And that’s my job because I never left the band. Being in this band is what I live for, I know the sound of this band, it’s in my DNA.”
One challenge Powell had to overcome was the re-emergence of original member, Martin Turner who returned after a 20-year absence and decided to form his own Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash, a move that Powell took legal action against and successfully blocked. “If you leave the company and leave the band, you can’t just come back and purloin the name! That’s just not on,” Powell noted.
He also points out that Wishbone Ash was one of the first bands to envision the demise of the current record industry and the advent of social media and is one of the first bands to establish their own website and use their fan base to fund new releases independent of any record company.
“Let’s face it, there is no record industry as we once knew it, “deciphered Powell. “In 1994 when the internet got going and the record industry was trying to figure our Napster, we were one of the first bands to jump on the social media bandwagon. We established our own website and in the early 90’s we got the idea about how current trends were going to go. We connected with our fan base around the world and that put us in a great position to leap forward 25 years and now we are our own masters.”
“We fund our own albums through our own fans, we self manage, self promote, it’s one helluva lot more rewarding to do it ourselves,” Powell continued. “And it’s not just financial but it’s also very spiritual too. Wishbone Ash is a cottage industry but it’s also a thriving one.”
CANADIAN TOUR DATES
Wednesday, September 19 @ Blue Frog Studios, White Rock BC
Friday, September 21 @ Sid Williams Theatre, Courtenay BC
Saturday, September 22 @ Charlie White Theatre at the Mary Winspear Centre, Sidney BC
Sunday, September 23 @ Tidemark Theatre, Campbell River BC
Monday, September 24 @ Port Theatre, Nanaimo BC
Thursday, September 27 @ Charles Bailey Theatre, Trail BC
Sunday, September 30 @ Festival Place, Sherwood Park AB