The first major break for the newly rechristened Wishbone Act came quickly when they scored some opening slots for Deep Purple early in 1970. Suitably impressed with the new band, Purple’s guitarist Richie Blackmore recommended Wishbone Ash to their initial producer, Derek Lawrence (whose credits also included Joe Meek’s Outlaws), and helped them secure a recording contract with Decca/MCA Records.
Released late in 1970, the band’s eponymous debut was a solid, boogie and blues-based affair which showcased Powell and Turner’s fretboard capabilities. It lacked both the flash and diversity of the Devon quartet’s finest records, but it was a commendable start that peaked at a highly respectable No.29 on the UK charts.
Wishbone Ash’s sophomore release, Pilgrimage (December 1971), easily bettered its performance, climbing to No.14 in the UK. Eschewing the muscular blues of its predecessor, it largely homed in on acoustic, folk-flavoured fare in the vein of Led Zeppelin III, but also included intricate, jazzy instrumental ‘Vas Dis’ and ‘Valediction’, which featured four-way harmonies akin to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Neither record, however, really prepared the band’s burgeoning fanbase for their third album, April 1972’s Argus. Still widely recognised as Wishbone Ash’s finest hour, it was a masterful blend of folk, prog and hard rock, with Powell and Ted Turner’s intuitive and highly expressive lead guitar duels coming into their own on majestic extended cuts such as ‘Time Was’ and ‘Sometime World’, and the band touching on memorable, mediaeval themes on ‘The King Will Come’ and ‘Warrior’. Exemplary from stem to stern, it was immediately hailed as a classic rock record by the UK rock weeklies (Sounds’ readers voted it Best Rock Album Of The Year), and it has since been widely accepted as an important influence on the next generation of hard rock/metal bands, such as Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden, who also employed twin lead guitarists.
Post-Argus, Wishbone Ash suddenly had the world at their feet. The album shot to No.3 on the UK Top 40 (yielding a gold disc in the process) and the band seized the opportunity to play larger arenas in the UK and Europe. Curiously, however, they immediately changed tack in the studio, dispensing with Derek Lawrence’s services and self-producing May 1973’s Wishbone Four. An eclectic follow-up, it included several aggressive, lapel-grabbing rockers (‘So Many Things To Say’; ‘Doctor’) but mostly fell back on fragile, folk-flecked workouts such as ‘Ballad Of The Beacon’ and ‘Sorrel’. Commercially, though, the band’s formula-eschewing gamble paid off: Wishbone Four charted at No.12 in the UK and also raced up to a career-best No.44 on the US Billboard 200.
The group enjoyed a lap of honour with the self-explanatory Live Dates double-LP, which quickly went silver in the UK on release in December ’73. But this release proved to be the swansong for the band’s “classic” line-up, as new guitarist, East London-born Laurie Wisefield, was drafted in for the departing Ted Turner early in 1974.
The new-look Wishbone Ash relocated to the US to make 1974’s There’s The Rub: a more streamlined, radio-friendly rock record which also included the haunting ballad ‘Persephone’ and the folk-flavoured ‘Lady Jay’. Cracking the UK Top 20, the album again earned a silver certification for the band, though after bringing Wisefield on board, they drifted towards a softer MOR sound on both the Tom Dowd-produced Locked In and its swift 1976 follow-up, New England.
Released while punk was grabbing all the headlines, 1977’s lush, harmony-laden Front Page News continued down the MOR route, though Wishbone Ash regained some of their original spirit and heart on the following year’s No Smoke Without Fire. The band reunited with their long-time producer Derek Lawrence for the sessions and recorded arguably their edgiest collection since Argus, which included hard rockers such as ‘You See Red’ and the complex two-part prog-rock epic ‘The Way Of The World’. An extensive, well-received tour (resulting in the souvenir album Live In Tokyo) accompanied the LP’s release, though despite this promotional activity, No Smoke Without Fire still stalled at No.43 on the UK charts.
Founding member Martin Turner handed in his notice after 1980’s Just Testing: a solid set also featuring vocal contributions from King Crimson/Jethro Tull collaborator Claire Hamill, but which again ran out of steam just outside the UK Top 40. Hamill stuck around long enough to guest on the band’s final MCA-sponsored LP, 1981’s Number The Brave, which also featured ex-Family/King Crimson bassist John Wetton, though he was rapidly replaced by ex-David Bowie/Uriah Heep bassist Trevor Bolder before the subsequent promotional tour wound down.
With Bolder on board, Wishbone Ash recorded their heaviest album to date, 1982’s Twin Barrels Burning: a loud, brash album that tapped into the aggressive, but commercially successful, New Wave Of British Heavy Metal sound popularised by band such as Iron Maiden and Def Leppard: groups whom, it could be argued, Wishbone Ash had themselves influenced with their classic LP, Argus.
Younger metal fans took Twin Barrels Burning to their hearts and the album climbed to No.22 in the UK Top 40, granting Wishbone Ash their highest chart placing since 1976’s New England. Despite this triumph, the next few years proved turbulent for the band. Trevor Bolder rejoined Uriah Heep (and was replaced by ex-Trapeze bassist/vocalist Mervyn Spence) before Wishbone Ash recorded 1985’s spirited but overlooked Raw To The Bone. Further personnel reshuffles then blighted the band’s progress, with long-standing guitarist Laurie Wisefield departing and ex-Kinks bassist Andy Pyle replacing the departing Mervyn Spence.
With the band in disarray, their former manager Miles Copeland stepped in, offering the group a deal with his IRS label. Thanks to Copeland’s negotiating skills, the original Wishbone Ash (Upton, Powell, Martin and Ted Turner) reunited to record the band’s next album: the dextrous Nouveau Calls, which – intriguingly – was overseen by future Blur/Madonna producer William Orbit.
The album’s all-instrumental content split the critics, but the subsequent 1988 world tour was an unqualified success, with the revitalised band playing arena-sized venues for the first time in years. Encouraged by the response, Wishbone Ash recorded a more traditional, song-based reunion album in 1989, Here To Hear, but were again thrown into turmoil when drummer and founding member Steve Upton announced his retirement from the music industry during 1990.
Another fresh line-up (featuring drummer Ray Weston) cobbled together 1991’s Strange Affair, but by the time ’94’s self-explanatory The Ash Live In Chicago made it into the racks, both Ted and Martin Turner had thrown in the towel – and were quickly followed through the door by Ray Weston.
Lone original member Andy Powell soldiered on, again piecing together a new line-up featuring three American musicians: guitarist/songwriter Roger Filgate, bassist Tony Kishman and drummer Mike Sturgis. Though once again short-lived, this version of the group stayed together long enough to record 1996’s well-crafted Illuminations, which was self-released and funded (in proto-PledgeMusic style) through fan donations.
By ’97, Powell was again back to square one, rebuilding Wishbone Ash from the ground up, welcoming drummer Ray Birch back into the fold and recruiting guitarist Mark Birch and bassist Bob Skeat. His new line-up’s next move flummoxed the group’s die-hard fans, as Powell and co chose to work with UK-based electronica guru/The Fall collaborator Mike Bennett on two LPs (1997’s Trance Visionary and the following year’s Psychic Terrorism), which skilfully blended beats and bleeps with Wishbone Ash’s trademark prog guitars. More open-minded fans, however, enjoyed the recordings on their own merits, while a 12” of four remixes from Trance Visionary became a clubland sensation, rising to No.38 on the UK Dance chart.
Adroitly changing direction, the band’s next release was an MTV Unplugged-style acoustic album including new songs and re-arranged takes of older tunes such as ‘Strange Affair’ and ‘Errors Of My Ways’, released to coincide with the dates scheduled to celebrate Wishbone Ash’s 30th anniversary. This landmark tour resulted in the release of Live Dates 3 and a live DVD filmed at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire, where the band were joined by several of their former compadres, including Laurie Wisefield and Claire Hamill.
Post-Y2K, guitarist Mark Birch was replaced by Ben Granfelt, and Wishbone Ash toured extensively, recording a new studio LP in 2002 (Bona Fide) and supporting Savoy Brown on their most concentrated string of US dates since the 80s. Further upheaval dogged the band, though. Granfelt bowed out in 2004 and was replaced by his guitar tutor Muddy Manninen, before drummer Ray Weston quit – for a second time – after 2006’s Clan Destiny.
By 2007, Wishbone Ash’s current (and longest-serving) line-up fell into place when ex-Pendragon drummer Joe Crabtree joined Powell, Skeat and Manninen for the same year’s Power Of Eternity. This new quartet have rarely have barely looked back since. They’ve wooed a whole new generation of fans through regular touring and releasing a pair of highly credible new LPs, 2011’s Elegant Stealth and 2014’s dynamic, critically acclaimed Blue Horizon, which included superb tracks such as the spatial, jazz-inflected ‘Strange How Things Come Around Again’ and the thrillingly bombastic ‘All There Is To Say’.
Facing into 2016, meanwhile, Andy Powell embarked on a whopping 37-date European tour – a feat that would faze most men half their age – and new material is again reputed to be on the cards. Back to their fighting weight, enjoying an ongoing critical renaissance and gleefully defying the ravages of time, it seems Wishbone Ash won’t be hanging up their guitar straps anytime soon.
Words: Tim Peacock
If Wishbone Ash can be considered a group who dabbled in the main strains of early-'70s British rock without ever settling on one (were they a prog rock outfit like Yes, a space rock unit like Pink Floyd, a heavy metal ensemble like Led Zeppelin, or just a boogie band like Ten Years After?), the confusion compounded by their relative facelessness and the generic nature of their compositions, Argus, their third album, was the one on which they looked like they finally were going to forge their own unique amalgamation of all those styles into a sound of their own. The album boasted extended compositions, some of them ("Time Was," "Sometime World") actually medleys of different tunes, played with assurance and developing into imaginative explorations of new musical territory and group interaction. The lyrics touched on medieval themes ("The King Will Come," "Warrior") always popular with British rock bands, adding a majestic tone to the music, but it was the arrangements, with their twin lead guitar parts and open spaces for jamming, that made the songs work so well. Argus was a bigger hit in the U.K., where it reached the Top Five, than in the U.S., where it set up the commercial breakthrough enjoyed by the band's next album, Wishbone Four, but over the years it came to be seen as the quintessential Wishbone Ash recording, the one that best realized the group's complex vision.
Words: William Ruhlmann
Wishbone Ash's sophomore release, Pilgrimage, unveiled their creative genius after a debut that merely presented them as a boogie- and blues-based rock outfit. The opening track, "Vas Dis," with its jazz bassline, slicing rhythm guitar, and gibberish vocals was their answer to "Hocus Pocus" by Focus (or vice versa as both were released in 1971). "Jail Bait" has gone on to become a Wishbone Ash staple as well as possessing one of the more memorable guitar riffs of '70s rock & roll. A conscientious effort seemed to be in place for this band to write and perform material better suited to their gentler vocal tendencies. Where Wishbone Ash essentially went full tilt throughout, Pilgrimage is a moodier affair that includes beautiful, slower melodies like the brief instrumentals "Alone" and "Lullaby" along with the chilling "Valediction," which should have been an Ash classic but is rarely featured on live and hits collections. Even though this band toned it down a bit for this album, their impressive guitar playing was heightened due to the variance in their songwriting. Next to Argus this is the Wishbone Ash album to judge all other Ash albums by.
Words: Dave Sleger
The progressive aspirations were put aside for Wishbone Four, the group's most solid-rocking album, though the folk-based element is still there, more solid than ever. "Ballad of the Beacon" is a genuinely beautiful song, and might have come from any number of electric folk-rock bands -- the fact that it came from Wishbone Ash indicates just how serious they were in wanting to explore some of these sounds. Their most mature and successful album.
Words: Bruce Eder
With producer Bill Szymczyk running the sessions, the group finally gets a studio sound as solid as their concert sound. Most impressive all the way through.
Words: Bruce Eder
Another very enjoyable recording, with their folk inclinations rising to the fore again on several tracks.
Words: Bruce Eder
Wishbone Ash's seventh studio album was first released in 1976 and included the songs 'Mother of Pearl', 'Runaway', 'Lonely Island'.
'No Smoke Without Fire' was Wishbone Ash's ninth studio album and first released in 1978. It includes the tracks 'You See Red', 'Anger In Harmony' and 'Like A Child'.
'Locked In', released in 1976, was Wishbone Ash's sixth studio album and included the tracks 'Rest In Peace', 'Moonshine', 'Half Past Lovin'' and 'Trust In You'.
For a band that quickly evolved into a radio-friendly prog-leaning outfit, it's a wonder that Wishbone Ash started out as the boogie and blues-based group that this debut reveals. If the term "jam band" existed in 1970, Wishbone Ash surely would have been a major player in that genre. As it was, this album stacked up nicely when compared with other British hard rock releases that year. Not as complex or calculated as Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin III but definitely more focused than Mott the Hoople's Mad Shadows, Wishbone Ash more closely resembled Benefit by Jethro Tull, a group that hadn't yet adopted its own progressive elements. The dual lead guitar attack of Andy Powell and Ted Turner was a component that none of the above bands possessed, but unfortunately their (shared) lead vocals lacked the punch and authority necessary for hard rock bands to be taken seriously. So while they could rock as loudly and convincingly as virtually anyone, their lead singers, perhaps, held them back from being the force they should have been. The follow-up, Pilgrimage, took steps to rectify Wishbone Ash's odd position, but this album nevertheless opened eyes and ears and revealed to the rock & roll community a band with incredible potential and talent.
Words: Dave Sleger