Wishbone Ash Guitarist Andy Powell Talks About A New Box Set, CD Re-Releases, and His Band’s Legacy.

LONDON, ENGLAND – Wishbone Ash is one of those bands, especially in America, that seemingly never got the respect or accolades they deserve in the pantheon of rock music. However, it is now an exciting time for Wishbone Ash and their fans, as the band readies to unleash a slew of remastered, live, and unreleased material with The Vintage Years (Madfish Records) box set and two remastered titles, 1982’s Twin Barrels Burning and 1985’s Raw To The Bone (Cherry Red Records). The box set includes 16 studio releases, three official live releases and eight other previously unreleased concert recordings.

Article by Joe Milliken

“I'd thought for a long time that the concept of a box set release of these albums was way overdue, as well as our back-catalog was, in general, poorly served in terms of re-releases by Universal,” founding member and guitarist, Andy Powell, said in an exclusive Standing Room Only interview. “Fortunately, Cherry Red came to the same conclusion and unlike others who had tried licensing these releases in the past, they were successful. I think their proven track record in these kinds of packages was what worked the magic on Universal.”

Formed in the seaside town of Torquay in Devon, England in 1969, Wishbone Ash featured Martin Turner (bass and vocals), as well as Steve Upton (drums and percussion), and Andy Powell and Ted Turner on guitar. The band created a unique blend of classic and progressive rock, combined with elements of folk and classical. Featuring the guitar prowess of Powell and Turner, the band was noted for their emphasis on the harmony twin-lead guitar format made famous in the mid-60s by the electric blues combination of Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page in the Yardbirds.

In 1970, Wishbone Ash scored a gig opening shows for the legendary Deep Purple and subsequently landed a record deal with MCA through the recommendation of Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. Over the next six years, Wishbone Ash would release five critically acclaimed albums, with 1972’s Argus reaching #3 on the UK album chart. Argus would be voted by readers as “Top British Album” by Melody Maker Magazine, and “Best Rock Album” by Sounds Magazine, as the band gained worldwide notoriety for their unique approach and energetic live performances.

Turner would leave the band after the release of their popular double-live Live Dates in 1973, replaced by Laurie Wisefield. After a couple years of incorporating a softer vibe featuring a keyboard player, Wishbone Ash returned to its roots in the late 70s and into the 80s, when the band was briefly fronted by legendary King Crimson/Asia vocalist/bassist John Wetton for 1982’s Number the Brave album, before bassist Trevor Bolder (David Bowie/Uriah Heep) entered the fold.

The mid-80s saw Wishbone Ash develop a style leaning more towards heavy metal with vocalist Mervyn Spence, and the results – 1982’s Twin Barrels Burning and 1985’s Raw To The Bone - saw the band return to the UK charts as the former reached #22. “Context is everything of course, and it must be born in mind that the climate in the UK at the time was firmly rooted in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (N.W.O.B.H.M.),” Powell added. “So, in many ways, we were responding to that and following that trend rather than leading with our own totally unique style such as on the Argus album.”
Subsequently, after a couple more changes, the original Wishbone Ash line up (Powell, Upton, both Turners) reunited for the first time in 15 years to record 1988’s Nouveau Calls and 1989’s Here to Hear. Successful tours followed, but the lineup didn’t stick into the new decade, and there were several more personnel changes throughout the 1990s and 2000s. The current Wishbone Ash band still features original guitarist Powell, as well as Mark Abrahams on guitar, Joe Crabtree on drums, and Bob Skeat on bass.

The impressive box set is limited to 2,500 copies and includes all 16 Wishbone Ash releases from 1970-1991, all of which feature bonus material such as B-sides, outtakes, and previously unreleased studio tracks. Three of the 16 releases are currently out-of-print. Also included are eight previously unreleased live albums (on 11 discs) recorded between 1973 and 1980. This pristine package includes such cool rarities as a 36-page poster book, four reproductions of 70s concert posters, a replica debut album promo pack, a 7-inch flexi-disc and individually signed photos from each band member.

Going through all the old material must have been quite a trip down memory lane for Powell. “The song ‘Streets of Shame’ on Twin Barrels Burning immediately took me right back to our tours of India around that time, and our first visit to Bombay was what inspired that particular song,” Powell offered. “I still can't believe that we were one of only a handful of western rock bands to have actually toured there - ever.” 

In addition to the box set, Cherry Red Records is releasing Wishbone Ash’s classic, 80s-era titles Twin Barrels Burning and Raw To The Bone. “Twin Barrels and Raw to the Bone represent two albums recorded after the initial line-up dissolved, so they are a little bit of an anomaly in our catalog, in some ways,” Powell said. “A sort of collective energy with all the former band members, management, lawyers and record company people, for once, getting together in a spirit of 'all for the greater good' and making this release happen. 

“First, I still find it hard to come to terms with the fact that Trevor Bolder is not with us anymore. His input on Twin Barrels Burning was great and he always seemed such a steady guy in our time together. There's some great playing by him on that album and indeed by all of us. In many respects Laurie Wisefield's rhythm guitar work (as well as his lead work) is the driving force compositionally here, but everyone is stepping up to the plate. There's a lot of energy in the recording which was done at Jimmy Page's studio, The Sol, in Cookham, England.

“I think that the same goes for Raw To The Bone. It's rock - plain and simple - with heavy production from Nigel Gray (The Police) and serious vocals from Mervyn Spence - unlike anything we'd done before. Some folks would say that these albums are unrepresentative of the classic Wishbone sound but on the other hand, two of the original senior members were there and the DNA can be felt, even though both albums represent radical shifts in direction, before we once again returned to the core sound on later albums.”

Whether considered “classic Wishbone” or not, they are surely an important part of the band’s legacy none-the-less. “Well, if it's guitar… rock guitar and how to record it well, in all its aspects, then these albums are for you because there’s some blistering work in the groove here,” Powell concluded. “This band, aside from its compositional abilities has always been able to come up with the goods and blaze a trail in the guitar department, that's for sure. These albums display those goods in bucket loads.”

Along with the aforementioned box set and re-releases, the band will be touring through Poland, Germany and France in March, before returning to America in April for shows throughout Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Arizona and California. To learn more about Wishbone Ash, their upcoming CD releases and for tour information, visit their website at www.wishboneash.com, as well as www.madfishmusic.com and www.cherryred.co.uk.