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Islington Academy, London 31 March 2011
years into their career, there cannot be a harder working band than
Wishbone Ash. They keep up a punishing schedule of touring all over the
world, including a regular as clockwork sequence of UK tours every
spring and autumn for the last 15 years or so. There can barely be a
small town in the country which has not had the privilege of seeing the
music of one of classic rock's great, yet underappreciated treasures at
close quarters, admittedly with only one member in Andy Powell from
respectably full Islington Academy was treated first to a very different
generation and style with nearly an hour's worth of support act Rude
Tiger. This young three piece have evolved from the Morris Brothers
band, who Wishbone took under their wing in the past, and the closest
comparison on a number of grounds - from the progressive arrangements
and the vocal style right down to the spiky haircuts - are with fellow
also the odd touch of U2 and some post-punk style choppy rhythms.
Guitarist (and lead singer) Jas Morris has impressive technique and
creates interesting sounds, and it is easy to see how he has won various
awards in the guitar press.
from my own musical tastes, these guys are seriously talented and a band
to watch provided you look beyond their rather bizarre name.
After all my
years at Wishbone Ash gigs they can still surprise and on this
occasion they did so by opening with 'Blowin' Free', their best known
and most commercial number. It invariably closes the main set or the
encores, but on this occasion got the crowd, who can be slow to rouse
sometimes, in the mood from the off, enlivened by a great closing solo
from Muddy Manninen on the lap steel he makes his speciality.
that up with the jaunty twin guitar instrumental 'Bona Fide' would have
shown anyone not familiar with their material exactly what Wishbone Ash
is very much the focal point of the band these days, his shaven,
bespectacled head crouched over his trademark Flying V. His guitar
playing remains as immaculate as ever, with lengthy, mellifluous solos
that ooze melody no matter how many notes he fits in and never outstay
He has also
long since taken over lead vocal duties, and in general the set list was
wisely chosen with the songs that most comfortably sat in his vocal
range. It felt as if he took the lion's share of the guitar solos, but
his 'harmony twin' Muddy complements him nicely, although the Finn
always appears in a world of his own, making little attempt to engage
with the crowd.
Their 1972 masterpiece 'Argus' - recently described in the Guardian as
the greatest million selling album no-one has ever heard - will
naturally feature heavily in any live show, although it is noticeable
that rather than replicate the original note for note, they will vary
the arrangements slightly.
salvo of 'Warrior' and 'Throw Down the Sword', complete with a great
closing solo from Andy, always epitomise the mystic imagery and quiet
and loud guitar passages that sum up that album's magic, while 'The King
Will Come', far later in the set than usual, featured a heavy solo from
Muddy that grew on me as it developed, and some virtuoso bass playing
from the ever smiling Bob Skeat (now in the band 13 years ago and a key
contributor notably with his harmony vocals).
News', one of the few nods to their more Americanised later seventies
work, was another where they substantially improvised around the
However two things stand out about this incarnation of the band: one is
that the constant roadwork has resulted in a watertight unit, which is
perhaps the most consistently rocky of their many line-ups over the
years. The way they carried off the lengthy, intricate instrumental
F.U.B.B. ('f---ed up beyond belief'!) was proof of this.
The other is that this is not purely a nostalgia show, however much that
may be what most of their audience want.
reckoning there were at least half a dozen songs from 2007's 'Power of
Eternity', or afterwards. To my ears, the likes of 'The Power', 'In
Crisis' and last year's single 'Reason to Believe' are relatively
average compared to past glories, but live take on a life of their own
as they develop into full on twin guitar jams with loads of interesting
'Can't Go it Alone' is even better, and the way the two guitars
alternately jousted and came together in a lengthy instrumental passage
reminded me of the Molly Hatchet epic 'Fall of the Peacemakers'.
'Engine Overheat' unexpectedly developed into a meandering jam with bass
and guitar solos, came 'Phoenix' which Andy dedicated to Japanese fans
affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami. Clocking in at 16 minutes
it was fittingly epic, with Muddy given the scope for some fiery solos.
The set was over 2 hours long and sadly there was time for just one
encore - rather surprisingly the classic ballad 'Persephone' from 1974's
'There's the Rub', in which Andy struggled manfully with a song not
designed for his vocal range and produced a breathtaking closing guitar
solo which was perhaps his best of the night.
some earlier sound problems but I wonder if they got carried away and
the jam during 'Overheat' was longer than intended, depriving us (I
suspect) of live favourite 'Jailbait'.
deserves huge credit for keeping the Wishbone show on the road through
thick and thin. As long ago as 1977 they were being dismissed as boring
old farts, so now that classic rock is more respected as a genre and
there is a greater appreciation of the great acts of its heyday, it is a
pleasure to report that the phoenix is still blowing free.
Setlist: Blowin' Free/ Bona Fide (instrumental)/ You See Red/ The Power/
Can't Go it Alone/ Warrior/ Throw Down the Sword/ F.U.B.B.
(instrumental)/ In Crisis/ Northern Lights (instrumental)/ Disappearing/
Front Page News/ The King Will Come/ Reason to Believe/ Engine Overheat/
Phoenix Encore: Persephone
Review by Andy Nathan
David Randall writes: GRTR! received some notoriety at the
Birkenhead gig (Pacific Road, 8 April) when Andy Powell - after 'Engine
Overheat' - asked the audience if they concurred with the view
that they'd just heard a meandering jam, referring to our London review.
My GRTR! colleague and gig companion Keith Thompson thought that it might
have meandered, "but in a nice way". Wishbone Ash are masters of
their trade whether they stretch out 'nicely' or play succinct and
accessible songs sparkling with distinctive harmony guitars.
'Heritage rock' is a frequently used and abused term these days, often
evoking an image of rock dinosaurs recycling old glories. But
Wishbone Ash are a band who have never sat on their 1970s royalty
cheques and have constantly reinvented themselves whilst adhering to the
spirit of what made them popular in the first place.
This gig confirmed the band's legacy is safe in Andy Powell's hands and an
excellent new track 'Can't Go It Alone' underlined that they are still
relevant after all these years.