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Boom Boom Club, Sutton, Surrey 25 February 2010

For the past four years, us fans of enduring British institution Wishbone Ash are either being spoiled or forced to take sides, depending on your point of view.

Two acts are now bearing the band's name, just to confuse promoters and more casual fans who may have lost track since their heyday.

It is ironic that Wishbone always had a rather safe and bland public image compared to their hell-raising peers, and yet there is now a raging bitterness between the two camps.

I have great respect for Andy Powell's dedication in keeping the official Wishbone flag flying through thick and thin by virtue of years of constant touring, not to mention a mixed bag of new product from time to time.

Yet I have to say that - musically - Martin Turner's outfit feels closer in spirit to the classic line-up of the band, and not only through Martin's distinctive singing and bass lines.

Guitarists Ray Hatfield and Danny Willson have grown in confidence over the years and are more content to improvise rather than replicate the songs as originally recorded - check out their interplay on the closing guitar solo to Throw Down the Sword as proof. Dave Wagstaff's drumming, best seen on Vas Dis and Phoenix, was subtle and minimalist as required.

After extensively touring with an Argus set, this two part set before a packed house in Sutton United FC's clubhouse, was more broadly based. Rest assured though that classic was still well represented with The King Will Come getting the night off to a great start and a trilogy of Warrior, Throw Down the Sword and Blowin' Free closing the main part of the set.

However the high point of the first set was a quartet of numbers from Argus' follow-up Wishbone Four: a stirring Ballad of the Beacon, with Ray sharing vocals with Martin; Rock n Roll Widow, with Danny doing a fine job singing and some exhilarating slide guitar from Ray; Sorrel with plenty of twin lead guitar passages, and a dreamy Everybody Needs a Friend with another great solo from Ray. It did make me and fellow Wishbone fans present reflect what an underappreciated album it is and probably overdue a remastered reissue.

Highlights of the second set included a great version of Errors of My Ways, and a rocking You See Red with Danny again helping out on the vocals. Time and Space (recorded around the time of 1978's No Smoke Without Fire, but somehow left off the record) was a pleasant surprise for the first encore before the more usual rocking out finale of Living Proof and Jailbait.

Martin was in good voice and experimented during the gig with a Rickenbacker bass instead of his trademark Gibson Firebird. His dry wit was also in evidence (referring to the rarely played Ships in the Sky as 'chips and a pie') though I couldn't help noticing similarities with the delivery (if not the hairstyle) of comedian Andy 'Mock the Week' Parsons!

My biggest gripe about this gig, which performance-wise outdid the band's 100 Club show a fortnight earlier, was the cabaret style seats at the front, or more specifically those occupying them who seemed to have long since forgotten how to rock'n'roll. It made it harder for the band to feed off the positive vibe of a crowd and Martin was only half joking when he referred to them as ‘zimmer rockers', just before finally getting them to clap along to Blowin Free.

Nevertheless this was another exhilarating evening reliving the sounds of one of Britain's classic bands, just as they were intended to be.

Review  by Andy Nathan

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