Sunday, April 23, 2006

Still Blowin' Free : An Exclusive Interview With Guitarist Andy Powell Of Wishbone Ash

During the early to mid-1970's, Wishbone Ash was one of England's most successful and influential hard rock bands. One of the originators of the twin lead guitar style, which was a direct influence on later British bands such as Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, UFO and Judas Priest, as well as Southern rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Discovered by manager Miles Copeland (who would later use his experience gleaned from Wishbone Ash when launching the career of The Police), the band (originally consisting of guitarists Ted Turner and Andy Powell, bassist/vocalist Martin Turner and drummer Steve Upton), while subsequently undergoing numerous personnel changes throughout the years, have persevered, enjoying an amazing, prolific career. A long, storied, illustrious career which has produced several classic albums along the way, beginning with their self-titled debut in 1970, continuing with '71's impressive 'Pilgrimage,' and culminating most notably with 1972's 'Argus' -- which, besides being voted by readers of Sounds magazine 'Best Rock Album Of The Year' in '72, remains a classic slice of early 70's classic hard rock. An incredibly potent blend of folk, progressive, heavy rock and classical music, combined with inventive harmony vocals, precise instrumentation, and fantastic songwriting, this is essential listening for any credible rock fan.

Incredible as it may seem, the band last year celebrated their 35th anniversary (releasing over 30 albums along the way ) and show no signs of slowing down in the immediate future. Now with sole remaining original member guitarist Andy Powell at the helm, going as strong as ever, said future still looks bright for these legendary rockers.

Recently I had the opportunity to catch up with the guitarist as the band was headed from Baltimore to Cleveland, near the start of the current U.S. tour, in support of their great new release, 'Clan Destiny,' the long anticipated follow up to 2002's 'Bona Fide,' out in the U.S. via Eagle Rock Records on May 16th -- one which is sure to join the ranks of true Ash classics. Read on as we talk to one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time, Mr. Andy Powell...

A BIG thanks to Andy for doing this interview!

Interview and text by Nightwatcher

April 23, 2006

Nightwatcher's House Of Rock: Wishbone Ash has a new album out, 'Clan Destiny'. What can you tell us about that, and is there any stylistic difference between this album and 'Bona Fide'?

Andy Powell : Well, if you're familiar with 'Bona Fide,' it's a fairly upbeat... there's a lot of energy on that record. This record is definitely a follow up from it. However, the songs are probably a bit more song based, perhaps a bit more focused on the songwriting. The reviews, and the reaction from the people who've been buying it, seem very, very positive. I'm very pleased with the final result, no question about it. It really showcases the plan of this band. In particular, we've got a different guitar player since 'Bona Fide.' In fact, it's a gentleman by the name of Muddy Manninen, who's also Finnish, as was his predecessor Ben Granfelt. The interesting thing about it was that, the two of those guys played in a twin lead guitar band (Gringos Locos) in Finland. So, it's almost like keeping it in the family. Because Muddy almost acted as a mentor for Ben Granfelt. He got a lot of his technique from Muddy. In addition to that, Muddy is a great slide guitar player. It's been fun for me to find another songwriting partner. We've really just scratched the surface on this new one, in terms of what I think our potential is. But, it's been a very rewarding experience doing the album.

NHOR : Will there be any long, extended pieces on the album in the classic Wishbone Ash tradition?

AP : Well, there are a couple of things on there that have got an almost progressive rock feel about them. There's one song called "The Raven," and there's another piece called "Capture That Moment," which are definitely throwbacks to an earlier Wishbone Ash style. We've tended to not get too indulgent about the guitar solos. We leave that for the stage performance, really, where we're much freer to extend those songs. We've tried to keep the album fairly concise.They've definitely got a type of journey type feel to them, those particular songs. They take you on a musical journey somewhat. Which I know that's what the band is known for.

NHOR : You just mentioned that you do have a new guitarist, Muddy Manninen, and Ben Granfelt has left. What happened with Ben, and how did you get Muddy into the band?

AP : We're a band that works a lot. We're at the point where we do have the time to get out on the road. We do enjoy playing, and we do enjoy travelling, more importantly almost. I think for Ben, the four years in the band, the intense schedule of 175 dates in a year... I think in his personal life, he had remarried, wanted a family, and it was just a little too much time away from home. That was one thing. Another thing is, before he joined the band, he was a bandleader in his own right, with The Ben Granfelt Band. They have their own recording deals, and that's very much a part of his life that he put on hold for Wishbone Ash. He came to me at the end, and said, "Look, I really feel that I just need time for ME now." That was completely understandable. We had a great run, did a fantastic album, a couple of really good videos, DVD's. He's a helluva nice guy. The fact that he needed that space... it wasn't easy, it's never easy when someone leaves, but he said to me, "Look, if you need a replacement, I can really thoroughly recommend this guy." I was a bit reticent at first, because I thought, "Well, let's cast the net wider, perhaps we'll get back and find another British guitarist."

We went and had an audition process. We didn't cold audition, we worked with people we knew by word of mouth, or we already knew. We don't actually go down that road anymore. So, he came up to London, and went through that process. We had to all admit, "This guy's a really rootsy player, and he's also got the same musical heritage that we've all got." When we played together, it was instant. He said afterwards, "It's like I've just come home." So, it was obvious, really. That was it. I'll be eternally grateful to Ben for recommending Muddy. It's been a very nice transition, to be honest with you.

NHOR : It sounds like there was great chemistry between you right away...

AP : It is a chemistry, you're absolutely right.

NHOR : You're undertaking a U.S. tour as we speak, to support the album. That started yesterday?

AP : Actually, a couple of days ago. We started in Connecticut, did Long Island, the iMac Center there, then to Baltimore, a really nice theater there. It's an American Tour, but it's not the whole country. We'll do the balance of the country, then places we didn't get to on this tour, we'll get to in September probably. For the most part, this tour is heading across the Northern route really. We'll be doing a second leg of the tour. It's impossible to cover this country in its entirety in a month. (Laughs) It's not gonna work. We're here for the duration, as far as touring America. We're back on the circuit again, which we weren't on for many years. We realize we've got some dues to pay again, and we're doing it. It seems to be working.

RNRU : What are your expectations, sales-wise, for this album? What would make you happy this time around?

NHOR : Worldwide? I don't think you're talking... CD sales now have really plummeted for all bands really. What was seen to be a Gold record, a big selling CD or album is quite different. We really probably sell the bulk of our product on the road when we're touring. They fly off the shelves, or the merchandise stand. You're probably looking at, total, maybe between 25, 30, maybe if we're lucky, 50,000. Worldwide. That's not huge numbers when you think about the world, but the way it works these days, the big chains, like Borders, will stock 1 or 2, right across the country, then those will go. With computerized ordering, these stores can literally just order 1 or 2 units of a CD. They carry a huge inventory. But, we will be covered. We're with a serious, independent label, Eagle Rock. So, unlike 'Bona Fide,' this will get access to all markets really.

NHOR : Critics throughout the years have described the band's sound as either progressive, some have said heavy rock, heavy folk rock, or even blues boogie. Would you agree with assessments of the band's sound? What would you say the band's sound is?

AP : It's tough to pigeonhole a band like Wishbone Ash. The key thing really, is we're a twin lead guitar band. If you want to talk about progressive, well, we came from the progressive era, when there were all these bands coming up in the U.K. and the U.S. Like Jethro Tull, Yes, Deep Purple... we were in that wave of bands that came up after the British blues boom of the late 60's, and early psychedelia. You had bands like Cream.

Really, Wishbone Ash is the bastard son of all those kinds of influences. You had a very eclectic, sort of flowering of music, eclectic music styles around that time. If you were a band around '69, '70, when we were formed, you had to have your own style, your own sound. All bands at that point were very conscious of having their own technique, their own style. Wishbone Ash was no different. We realized the extended blues guitar riffing had been done ad nauseum. We needed to take the guitar on to a different level. So, we conceived, along with a couple of other bands, of taking the guitars and using them rather like a horn section. I had been in r&b and soul bands in London prior to that, I was very used to working out horn parts as a rhythm guitar player at that time. So, I figured, well, how about just taking that idea and using the guitars improvisationally, as always, but make these little sounds, pieces and riffs, that were almost like horn parts, really. That was what gave the band its distinctive sound. Along with the harmonized vocals on a lot of the lead lines.

I think it all came together for us on the 'Argus' album, in terms of the band being defined. I think later on we somewhat lost the plot. But, if you look at the first 3 albums, you can see there was a gradual progression towards what culminated in the 'Argus' album, in 1972. The great thing about that period of time is it gave bands like us the freedom to not be pigeonholed. I feel sorry in a way for bands these days. You've got to be one genre or another. Well, we're almost like a jam band in a way, as much as we were able to dip into folk rock. Folk rock is a big part of our roots. But we were able to dip into jazz tinged things, blues tinged things, and down outright rock. If you think about all the things you can do on electric guitar, or acoustic guitar, it's right there within the music of Wishbone Ash.

NHOR : What inspired you and Ted Turner to come up with the dual lead guitar sound in the first place? How did that come about?

AP : It was really the original rhythm section of Martin Turner and Steve Upton. They were looking for one guitar player and a Hammond player. They had a guy who was about ready to join the band, but when it came to the process of auditioning guitar players, they couldn't decide between Ted Turner and myself. I was perhaps a more frenetic player, Ted was perhaps a more laid back, bluesy player. So what they decided was, "Let's throw these two guys in a room, and let them duke it out, and the best man will win." It was really, at that time, that they thought, why not, instead of going down the road of having a keyboard player, why don't we take the two of them. We can come up with something interesting here. So, that was what was decided. When the four of us got together and started playing, we realized the potential in that way. So, it was a collective decision really.

NHOR : The dual lead guitar sound definitely stood out and has influenced many bands, such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy. All have named Wishbone Ash as a huge influence on their style, and probably a lot of the subsequent bands that had that configuration owe a lot to the band as well. How does that make you feel?


AP
: A lot of the NWOBHM bands from the 80's would cite... those kids, or men that were in those bands now, were kids when they used to come to our concerts. For example, I met Scott Gorham from Thin Lizzy a couple of years ago, and he freely admitted to me that when he and Phil came over from Ireland, they came to London -- and Thin Lizzy's a great twin guitar band, perhaps a bit more commercial band than Wishbone Ash -- but the first concert they went to was Wishbone Ash at The Lyceum Ballroom in London. Phil said to Scott, "That is what we've got to be doing. That's a cool sound." So, Scott was very nice, he paid me that compliment. They took it on and did their music, which was based on that sound. We, in turn, were definitely influenced by very esoteric bands at the time. A band called Blossom Toes out of England, who were an early twin lead guitar band, we cast an ear to them. They were something that definitely inspired me.

Then it was actually much later that we came over and toured America on our first tour. We were put together with The Allman Brothers. I think they thought that was a good match. It was, but The Allman Brothers were obviously different in the fact that they were Southern rock. Skynyrd's another band that's definitely been influenced by Wishbone Ash. If you listen to the song "Freebird." which we all know was a huge, international hit, they would stand at the side of the stage and watch us playing "Phoenix," which is another song about a bird. Very, very long, extended song, with a lot of guitar dueling and riffing. So, I hear these little influences in different people's songs. Steely Dan's "Reelin' In The Years," the riff at the end of that, that's "Blowin' Free" at the end. You can hear these, and I think all bands used to do that, around that time, take little bits of each other. If you were on the road playing with bands, you'd listen and be influenced.

We got things from other bands, too, I remember playing with Steve Miller, some of his guitar sounds, and thinking, "I love that clean guitar sound, let's use that on a song here and there." So, that's a nice thing about it. Music's owned by everyone, really. It's how you choose to use it, and what components you put together. I'm very honored that some of these younger bands, like Iron Maiden, these bands have been influenced, and it's had a good impact. It's something that you just know, privately, and within musical circles people talk and acknowledge. That's a nice kudo. I don't always need the pat on the back from the press, or radio play. But to know that, that we did something in that way is good.

NHOR : You just mentioned being influenced by other bands, and were talking about "Phoenix." During the instrumental break, with the guitar work, you can hear that there are licks that sound similar to ones used also in Deep Purple's "Child In Time." Were you influenced by Purple's sound at all during the time of recording your first album?

AP : Actually, no, I can honestly say. Although, in a strange way, Deep Purple had a huge impact on our career, because it was Ritchie Blackmore who... we were opening for them on a show, and I ended up jamming with him at a sound check. Afterwards, he came to me and said, "Have you guys got a record deal?" I said no, he said, "Well, you need one." We said, "Yes, please!" He said, "Here's a phone number, call up this producer." I did, and one thing led to another, and we ended up, through Ritchie's influence, getting ourselves a nice recording contract with MCA/Universal. So, they had a huge impact on how we started off in the business, as it were. But, in terms of musical influence, I can't say we were hugely influenced by them. Although I respect those guys. Ritchie... Ian Paice's a great drummer. Impressed, but not influenced musically.

NHOR : Are there any bands or artists in the current music scene that you listen to, that you've been impressed by?

AP : I can't say there's a lot of bands that I listen to intently. I listen to singer/songwriters. There's a guy I was listening to today, Gabriel Gordon, he's an American, but he seems to work more in Europe at the moment. I listen to people working on song structures, that kind of thing a lot. Because I'm doing more singing these days, I'm listening to a lot of singers. For edification, if you like. As far as young bands, I'm checking out Franz Ferdinand, and any of the young bands that are quite popular at the moment, I check out their CD's. I might only play them once. I might buy the new Green Day, and say "Oh, there's probably a couple of really good songs in there." The rest of it I might not be too crazy on, or I like the production. I'm definitely listening, not intensely, but stuff goes past me, I'm checking it out. When I'm listening for relaxation, it tends to be a lot of classical music. It's very often not guitar music. (Laughs) Although, for example, yesterday we were all sitting around listening to Wes Montgomery. We were listening to everything, from jazz, classical, ethnic music, whatever.

NHOR : What about guitarists? In the current mainstream, the art of guitar playing has definitely taken a back seat...

AP : Well, Scott Henderson with Tribal Tech, that guy's a phenomenal player in the jazz/rock area. That's somebody I'll listen to, and I'll just go, "Whoa.". Wayne Kraentz, or somebody like that. There's some phenomenal players in that area that'll never sell more than 5,000 CD's, and be the darlings of the current "muso" set. These kind of players, there's some monsters out there. Most people tend to know about Steve Vai, that kind of thing, but there are some amazing players out there.

I was just in New York City at The Iridium Club, to see Les Paul play. That was a real treat. He was phenomenal, actually. Much better than I thought he'd be at 90-something, whatever he is. It was amazing, and the band was cool. A couple of guest singers got up. Then this kid got up, from Tokyo, Les introduced him, and he was playing a ukulele. I swear, this kid was a monster. He was doing stuff on the ukulele... he had it plugged in, was doing effects, he was playing this thing like a virtuoso guitar player. It was unreal. There are people out there that you just think, "Wow, these people should have huge success." So, there's always some great players around, but you don't always hear about them these days.


NHOR : One of the aspects of your playing that seems to be overlooked is your style of rhythm guitar. How important do you feel, as a guitarist, to be a great rhythm guitarist as well?


AP : Well, that's how I started off. I really like good rhythm playing. Sometimes the lead playing can be totally indulgent, but I really enjoy rhythm guitar. If you said to me, "I'm going to take away either your lead guitar playing or your rhythm guitar playing, what's it going to be?" Even though I'm noted as a lead guitar player, I'd probably say, "If you're going to take one or the other away, and I could never play lead, but I could play rhythm, I'd stick with that." I do enjoy playing lead, and I have a great tone, and it enables you to bear your soul. But the rhythm thing gets me.

NHOR : One of the identifiable aspects of your sound comes from the fact that throughout your career, you've played a '67 Gibson Flying V. What led you to making the V your guitar of choice over other models such as a Strat or Les Paul?


AP : Well, I didn't think too carefully about it at the time. The Flying V, around the late '60's, early 70's, was a guitar that no one really wanted. It was considered too whacky, too experimental. Everybody was familiar with the Fender Strat. That was almost like the industry standard. Gibson, the Les Paul, Eric Clapton was using the Les Paul, and that was considered the guitar for blues.

Then there was this Flying V thing, and really they weren't selling. But I had always remembered Albert King playing one, and getting a phenomenal tone. I just thought, "That's an interesting guitar," and I just happened to be down in London, in a music store down there. The guy had 2 from 1967, in the cardboard boxes, sitting there. They'd been in the store for 5 years. They were absolutely brand spanking new from the factory. So I tried one out, and I was immediately hooked. I thought, "This is it." I bought the guitar, took it home, and I started to use it. I just connected with the shape.

I was a little skinny kid at that time, and I could seem to be able to wrap myself around the guitar. With the fins on the thing, they have a very vibrant sound. Unlike a Les Paul, which has a thick, solid sound. These things really give a very vibrant sound, and I immediately noticed that it really sang out when I played lead. I made a couple of modifications over the years, put on some original PAF pickups from 1959 to fatten the sound up a little bit. But I've always stuck with the Flying V's. I even went back in time and bought a '58 and a '59, at a time when you could buy them and be affordable, because no one wanted them. (Laughs) That was a very different instrument though. Almost more akin to a Les Paul, with the neck and thicker body. The '67 V has been my mainstay, really, that style.

NHOR : You just mentioned Albert King, and the blues is still an integral part of the Wishbone Ash sound, even to this day. Who were, or are, your blues influences?

AP : Albert King, and all the Kings. Blues, I love some of the more recent blues guys. I mean Keb' Mo', that kind of stuff. That kind of easy, bluesy style. Bonnie Raitt is a killer slide guitar player and singer. There's so many of them. Hubert Sumlin, the guy Clapton got all his licks from, was phenomenal way back in the day. People like Blind Blake, and of course Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf. I still get shivers up my spine when I hear Howlin' Wolf. T Bone Walker, I played with him. I met Muddy Waters once, although I never played with him. There are so many of them, it's amazing. I really do respect that lineage, that thing that they've done. It's amazing, actually.

NHOR : Have you ever considered doing a full fledged blues album?

AP : Yeah, well, I did have a blues band in New York during the '90's called Blue Law. That was a band with horns. It wasn't my band, I was the guitar player in that band, which was a fun thing to do. But I wouldn't mind doing a really nice, tight, 3 or 4 piece blues album at some point. It is a genre that I'm very familiar with, and I have that blues in my veins. It's one of the roots of the sound of Wishbone Ash, the emotion. In fact, on the most recent album, we've done an old blues standard, "Motherless Child." You can hear a little nod to the blues on that song.

NHOR : You mentioned 'Argus' before, which was released in '72. Many regard that record as the band's finest hour. What do you recall about making that album? When you were making the album did you have a sense at the time that what you were laying down in the studio was classic?

AP : That's a good question. I remember we wrote a lot of it on acoustic guitars. We all had flats, which we called "Bed Fits" in the London area, on the same streets. We were easily able to pop in and out of each others apartments and write. Most of it was actually put down on acoustic guitar. So it enabled us to concentrate on the songwriting, work out the guitar parts, and keep it fairly simple. It came together very, very quickly. We were inspired, I mean, not every album is inspired.

We had times in the 70's when we were almost forced to go in the studio, because we had to produce product for the record label. But 'Argus' was a very happy album to make. I remember rehearsing, and the first time we took the songs and actually played them on electric instruments was very exciting. The recording went very, very smoothly. We had a great recording team, Martin Birch was the engineer, with Derek Lawrence producing. We had a great studio. It was recorded virtually quickly, probably 2 or 3 weeks maximum. It was just a very well organized, well put together album, and a joy to make. I think as the songs were coming together, yeah, we did get a really good feeling of excitement. We'd felt that we created some deeper music than perhaps what we'd done up to that point. It almost coalesced into a concept album, although we didn't set out to do that. These themes, mystical themes running through the songs, the lyric writing gave a cohesiveness to the material. The songs seemed to flow very nicely from one to the other.

NHOR : Did you ever think that perhaps 30, 40 years later, people would still be listening to, and loving, the music?

AP : No, I mean we played a gig last night, and I swear, the first 5 rows were all young kids. Not even college age, 16-20 years old. It amazes me every night. They'll be singing along to a song like "Throw Down The Sword" like they know it. How do they know it? Maybe their parents turned them on, or in some cases they've got access to it through listening to other bands, or searching around on the Internet, or these stores where they buy the old vinyl. It amazes me actually.

NHOR : There was an article in Rolling Stone recently where it was reported that teens and young adults are increasingly being the ones who are getting into, and actually purchasing and supporting, most of the albums by classic rock bands. Do you see evidence of that at your live performances?

AP : I do. This year, more than any other year, we've noticed it in the U.K., Germany and now the States. Last night was quite shocking, how many young people that were there. We do get a broad range of people, for the last few years it's been definitely the 35-55 age bracket. But now we're seeing a lot of younger people at the concerts. It's interesting, I'm loving it. It's great, there's no sense of embarrassment about playing our music, because you feel accepted.

It's a feeling, and you mentioned the blues, those old blues guitar players, everyone thought they were at the peak of their career in the '70's. People like Buddy Guy. Well, Buddy Guy's more popular now than he ever was in the 70's or '80's. Because a lot of those young audiences continually rediscovered him. He's gone out there and met the challenge. I'd love to be in the position of some of thee blues players right now. I don't feel any embarrassment, or a need to stop playing. I love playing. In my 50's, I still love it. It's a joy to be up there playing. I actually think I'm a better player, and I'm definitely a better singer, and getting better. If that ceases to be, then I should stop. While it's a work in progress, and I'm learning and enjoying writing, singing and playing, touring, that's what I'm going to do.

NHOR : How long do you feel that the band can go on?

AP : I always think, and work, in 5 year plans, generally. Around the year 2000, I envisioned the next 5 years. Well, we've done that now, and we're into the sixth year. We celebrated our 35th year anniversary last year. So those 5 year periods are going quicker than ever, I've almost thrown it all out the window now. When I first joined the band, I only ever imagined us being a band for 5 years. It's been 36 now. So, after all these 5 year plans, I've almost thrown them out the window and said, "It is what it is, it just goes on." We are our own biggest influence. It's great when you have a big body of work, you can fall back on it and say, "Let's write a song in that vein," or, "Let's go down that avenue that we didn't explore fully." We've created our own style. It's great. I would love to be playing like the blues players. The idea of retirement, or anything like that, is a joke. I just want to be playing. That's what I like doing. I'd like to be playing right to the end.

NHOR : During the early 70's the band did some sessions for the BBC, which have been put out on record, and there are video clips of these on the recent 'Phoenix Rising' DVD from a couple of years ago. As the band was known for extended jamming, and at that time, the BBC would have bands come in and play nearly letter perfect renditions of their songs so they wouldn't have to pay royalties for using the original recordings -- how difficult was that for you to stay true to the album's arrangements? Did you feel restricted at all?

AP : No, we didn't really. We felt that the engineers that worked for the BBC, they really just gave us a free reign. It's funny that you mention that, I'd kind of forgotten, but you're absolutely right, I'd forgotten that was the reason. Because, in many regards, we were free to do what we wanted really. There was no mandate on us, "Hey, you've got to stay true to the arrangements". Although, we probably were somewhat intimidated, and probably did tend to keep it fairly similar to the album arrangement. Because you thought that was what was required. In reality, they were fairly open minded, fairly free to be honest with you. Some of those recordings are really great. Those guys were formally trained engineers. They did it by the book, the bands went in and respected the situation. It was an old school type of mentality that still stands up today. There was a wonderful synergy between the recording studio, and the musicians. There was mutual respect, I'd say.

NHOR : Also during the early 70's, you played on some sessions for George Harrison and Ringo Starr at the Apple studios, and at the time you declined working on John Lennon's 'Imagine' recording sessions. How did those sessions come about, and what do you recall about them?


AP : Well, we were sharing the same road manager at the time, living in London, as were The Beatles. Of course, The Beatles weren't touring at the time, they were doing a lot of recording at Apple. They were signing up artists like James Taylor. It was interesting because we were poor, starving musicians with no money. Our road managers would show up in John Lennon's white Rolls Royce or something. (Laughs) Or George's Pullman Mercedes, and we'd end up going out for a beer.

He just happened to mention to us, and we always were dying to hear any news of The Beatles, "George is in the studio at the moment, he's laying down tracks, he's looking for a bunch of acoustic guitar players, do you want to come down?" It was literally like that. You'd go down to Apple, and there was George. He was very low key, very humble. We were the new wave of bands. They had ceased to be, but everybody... The Beatles are rock royalty. They were in those days. It was a great honor to play. The things I worked on, I don't think particularly saw the light of day. They're all sessions that are in the vaults somewhere. There was an Australian artist that they signed up, Ringo was the producer and drummer on that session. With Klaus Voorman, and a couple of other noted players. I did a session with George, and I think Ringo was on that one too, actually. There was a John Lennon session that came up, that Ted Turner took. I, naively, had been rehearsing all day, and I said I was too tired. Which, I regret eternally. That was for the 'Imagine' album. It was recorded in London. Actually, it was down at his house in Surrey. Ted went along and played on that, and he's actually on that album, on the song "Crippled Inside." There's a little bit of Wishbone Ash in there somewhere.

NHOR : Were The Beatles aware of you as a band at that time?

AP : Oh, I'm sure they were. When we went in, speaking to George and Ringo, they were very deferential. I couldn't believe it. It was very nice to be acknowledged, for sure.

NHOR : In 1975, you undertook a co-headlining tour of the U.S. with Aerosmith, during their 'Toys In The Attic' tour, and that was during that band's heavy drug days. What was it like touring with them, and what was your impression of them at the time?

AP : We were fairly new to the United States, we had gone through our own drug period, if you like. (Laughs) We were really coming out of the other side of that at the time. We were getting into family life. We were somewhat cast adrift, because we decided to move to America. We lost our management at that time, we were having a hard time. Aerosmith were the new kids on the block. Yeah, I remember I particularly struck up a friendship with Brad Whitford. Steven, I talked to minimally, he always seemed kind of out of it. In hindsight, that probably was why. They were very much into their own little world, but it was very pleasant touring with them. Both bands had mutual respect. But they were very much into their own world, which probably was drug induced, you could say. (Laughs) So we were on two different pages, in terms of the way we developed. We were a little bit older band, had been around since the late '60's, which I don't think Aerosmith had, I'm not sure. They were very much a neighborhood band, they were four guys from Boston. We were a different kind of outfit really. So, they were a bit more insular. Certainly they were great shows.

NHOR : Bassist John Wetton joined the band for the 'Number The Brave' album, which was released in '81, do you have any regrets on turning down the songs John brought to the band, which he shortly used to huge commercial success in the band Asia?


AP : Turning them down? It wasn't quite like that. The way it worked was, we had lost Martin Turner at that time. Laurie Wisefield, myself and Steve Upton were already working on songs for the new album. We were rehearsing, and we were already putting a lot of this material together. By the time Martin left, we were already long along the road to recording and writing. So John was brought in, an amazing bass player. I didn't know John as a singer at all at that point, our manager knew John, because they both came from the same town on the south coast of England. He said, "Well, I can hook you up with John Wetton." And we said, "Fantastic!" He said, "If there's going to be a replacement for Martin Turner, he's the man." But we had pretty much written everything at that point.

He came along, and I think he was sold a bill of goods by our ex manager. I think he was told that he was coming into the band as the singer/bass player. Well, the way we saw it, was that he was coming in as just the bass player. During rehearsals and recording, he'd be playing these songs on the piano, and trying to get them across. I was like, "What are these ballads on a piano?" We've got the songs, we're all ready to go, we've worked out the vocals. To be honest, in hindsight, it was a complete misunderstanding. I think he probably has some bitterness and some regrets... well, he doesn't have regrets, because he went on to form Asia, and it gave him a huge impetus to do that. I really honestly think it was sort of a strange situation.

We had this manager in the middle of it, who was telling us one thing, and telling him the other. I think if we had been able to give the relationship a bit more time to develop, we probably would've used John's songs, and would've gotten to know him as a singer. But we didn't have the time to develop those things. John certainly wanted to get his music out, and the rest is history, with him forming Asia. In retrospect, I don't regret not doing that, because it got me singing, and got my songs going out. Listening to the band Asia, I respect them, but it's not our genre of music. There's nothing that's guitar based about Asia. "Heat Of The Moment" is not something... that's not the kind of song that I could particularly get behind. Great for them, great song. It was the right order of things. I think John is a more AOR type singer. The songwriting and singing was a different genre really, so in a way it was meant to be. But I do regret the misunderstanding that I think he's labored under for all these years. So, I do have huge respect for John Wetton.

NHOR : So, it was a case of good songs, but not good songs for Wishbone Ash?

AP : The case really was, that he was sold a bill of goods that he was joining the band as the singer, and we already had songs worked out that we were singing. Laurie Wisefield sang, and I sang. We were singing those songs, and they were already pre-written, the album's material was already written. We thought that John was just coming in to play bass on that album, then it would've developed from the bass to singing. Within perhaps the next album, or on the road. Don't forget that we had never played together on the road. The concept was that he would come on the road and tour with us. Well, that wasn't to be. He was very disgruntled, and in fact wrote a song that appeared on the album, "That's that". Which says it all lyrically, "That's that then." (Laughs) But he played some killer bass on it, and sang it. It wasn't a particularly happy song. I think in a way he probably blames me, but I had nothing to do with it. My brief was that he was coming in as a bass player. He's probably labored for years under that misconception.

NHOR : You've gone through a lot of members in the band throughout the years, but you've still managed to retain a consistent quality, pretty much throughout all the changes. What do you attribute that to?

AP : Well, it gets back to what I was talking to you about earlier, we have such a body of music that we're our own best influence. I don't find it that difficult to write in the style of Wishbone Ash now. It's what I do, it's who I am, it's my life. When I start playing guitar, working out guitar parts, I work them out according to the way I've always done it. I don't have to contrive it, that's who I am. So that's how it happens. But it's also my duty to keep the integrity of the music together. It's difficult with a band like us, because we do veer off down different tributaries, musically. It's something that's my duty to sort of be mindful of. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don't. Also, don't forget, we've always had a very open door policy with any new players. There's a lot of freedom in this band.

Contrary to what I was just talking about with John Wetton, which was really a question of lack of time and misrepresentation, the reality is that most musicians we've had, have had very free reign to be who they want to be within the band. It's a musos band. Sometimes those people take that freedom and liberty, and they do great things. Sometimes they run with the ball and drop it. They shoot themselves in the foot. Sometimes when you're given that amount of freedom, it's yours to do with as you wish, within certain parameters. So it's an interesting band, in that regard. I'm the leader, if you like, but I do allow a lot of musical freedom, and you'll hear that on the new album.

NHOR : What are the chances, if any, of the original band reuniting again? Is that something that you would ever like to happen?

AP : Well, we did it in the late '80's, and we stuck together for three years. It was good. We realized after the three years were up, why we'd broken up in the first place. (Laughs) That's more to do with a clash of personalities. But musically, Ted Turner's sat in a couple of times. Having not seen Ted for maybe ten years, that was interesting. He's sort of getting the hankering for playing again, I'm sure. Although, when you don't do it for a number of years, it's tough to kind of get back into it again. It's not something that you can just suddenly pick up on a whim. You've got to be, work and live the life of a musician. But I wish him luck if he decides to do that.

In addition to that, Martin Turner, as a result of the work that he's seen us doing, is doing Martin Turner's Wishbone now. I think it's been inspirational to him, to get him back on the boards. He and I had conversations about how he was going to pitch it, market it. He wanted to call it Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash, we had a little wrangle on that one, and we worked it out where he came up with a slightly different name, which was to the mutual satisfaction of both parties. He's now out there playing his version of Wishbone Ash music, which tends to be more that latter period of music, after 'Argus,' where he came to the fore more as a songwriter. He's performing and presenting that era of music. That's HIS view of Wishbone Ash, and he's doing some shows around the U.K. They're low key shows, but nonetheless people are very excited to see him play, and I welcome it, and I wish him all the best. Again, he's been out of the playing situation for many, many years, so he's got some woodshedding to do.

NHOR : Along those same lines, seeing as you're the only original member left in Wishbone Ash, you're certainly uniquely qualified to answer this. Have you heard any criticism yourself, and what is your take concerning bands touring under the original band name, with only one or two members left from the original lineup?

AP : Well, it depends on what kind of an input they had. I had a huge input on the music of the band in the early days. I was very definitely more than just a fourth member of a democratic band. My input was huge. Particularly on the 'Argus' album. I always felt that my contribution was very valued by the fans, and by the rest of the band members. So I have no problem in just continuing, and being who I am. When people left over the years, one by one, piecemeal, I saw no reason to roll over, play dead or die. (Laughs) Or give up my life because they decided that they're finished with it. In every instance, it was a huge shock, and in the early days it was very difficult when those key founding members left, like Steve Upton and Martin Turner. So it's been a long struggle, and a long haul, and I am uniquely qualified to comment on it. But at no point have I felt anything untrue to the fans. Because it wasn't a sudden situation where I was suddenly left holding the baby, and left being the only member. For many years we continued on.

When Ted Turner left, it was the three members, myself, Steve Upton and Martin Turner. We took Laurie Wisefeld on board, then he was with the band for ten, twelve years. Then he left, and we got another replacement for him. Then it went many years, in the 1980's, where it was just Steve Upton and myself. We did many tours in that format, with two different players. People like Andy Pyle or Trevor Bolder. So this was a gradual process. When Steve finally left, around 1990, I saw no reason in changing my life again. I just got replacements in, one by one. It was just business as usual for me. I know it's been the same thing for people like Ian Anderson, founding member of Jethro Tull. I think he might be the sole original member of that band. But he's kept the integrity of the music intact. He's a strong character, I'm a strong character. I've become, by default, a very good bandleader. I'm very good at organizing the logistics, the mechanics, the music, production. I've learned many, many skills as a virtue of being a long time member of the band. I make no excuses. It's still Wishbone Ash. I always use the old anomaly, that of being like a sports team, a soccer or football team. If you take a soccer team like Manchester United, there's still a fantastic playing side, but none of the original team members are on that team anymore. It's the same with groups. So there's no smoke or mirrors about that, it's a very natural process. There's nothing forced, nothing contrived about it, it's been a natural evolution.

NHOR : I suppose it would be also on how they present it as well...

AP : Well, that's down to promoters. That's where you can get into sticky territory. Some people try to get something for nothing, and they try to hype things up, to make something appear something it's not. This is very much Wishbone Ash, it's always been Wishbone Ash, and it's always been a work in progress, an evolving entity. It's had some amazing players through its ranks, that's what gives it its integrity and substance, to be honest with you.
NHOR : What album or albums would you say are the most definitive of Wishbone Ash?

AP : 'Argus' for sure, because it was a culmination, and the third album from the original band. It was when we pulled it all together. It was a huge album, it outsold every other album by a factor of millions. 'New England' was a great album, because it came on the back of a miserable album, which was 'Locked In.' We recorded 'Locked In' in New York, and that was not a happy experience, although there's some good material on the album. It was not a happy production experience. 'New England' was where I really said, "Look guys, we've got to get back to basics. Let's get rid of the producer and make our own studio." We built a studio in the basement of our house in Connecticut. We made a home spun album. It felt very natural, and 'New England' is a very nice, true-to-ourselves album. That's a standout. 'There's The Rub' was a standout. That was the first album when Laurie Wisefeld joined the band. A very different kind of guitar player than the original, Ted Turner. A very exciting album, and a great record producer, Bill Szymczyk, who we really gelled with. Those would be standouts. And I think 'Bona Fide' actually is a standout, and I hope the new one will be.


NHOR : What's next for you after this album and tour? Will there be any more archival releases from the band?

AP : We have a very nice DVD recorded in the vaults that we're looking to mix in the summer. I'm looking to do some more songwriting in the summer, and I'd like to get a new album out in a little shorter time than the last one. It's been three years in between, I'm ready to put another one out probably in a year, or eighteen months. Then more and more touring, that's about it. We've got a lot of big summer festivals coming up in Europe. That's one exciting thing.


NHOR : Is there anything else that you'd like to say to all the fans out there?


AP : I have a huge debt of gratitude to the fans that stick with us. We were only talking last night how it's an amazing community that we've created. Thank you for all of the support that we get in every town and city that we play in. We have this little grass roots support group that bring us everything from, if we need spectacles fixed, or our favorite chocolates, guitar strings, or things deliverd and picked up, whatever. We have this amazing network all over the world. There's not a city we can go to, all over the world, that we don't have friends. I have a huge debt of gratitude to all of those people. They're along for the ride, just like we are. They're riding the wave. We have a song on the album called "Surfing The Slow Wave," and these people are surfing that wave with us. They're there, and they're following our travels on the Internet. They're backing us up, they're giving us the support and the encouragement. They are just true gems, and that's where it's at for us. Without them there would be no Wishbone Ash. So, thank you, thank you, thank you.


For more information on Wishbone Ash go to www.wishboneash.com

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Jeremy Spencer 2014 US Tour