By MIKE CHAIKEN
British band Wishbone Ash is one of those bands that helped pioneer a twin lead guitar sound that made it possible for dozens of other bands that made noise on FM radio in the 1970s.
Their album “Argus” proved to be a nexus point between rock, progressive rock, blues, and folk that bands like Led Zeppelin were able to propel into millions of records sold.
Many of Wishbone Ash’s peers from the 1970s have broken up. But original member Andy Powell and the boys (Joe Crabtree, Mark Abrahams, and Bob Skeat) still hit the road across the globe and America, giving fans a dose of that familiar twin lead sound. They come to Infinity Hall in Norfolk, Conn. on Thursday, Sept. 28 and Daryl’s House in Pawling, N.Y. on Sunday Oct. 1.
We caught up with Andy Powell via email to talk about the present, past, and future of Wishbone Ash.
Observer: I saw Wishbone Ash has a new guitarist on board, Mark Abrahams. How did you connect with him and what do you like about what he brings to the table in terms of the Wishbone Ash sound?
Andy: It’s fascinating, since Mark has been playing our songs since the age of 9. His father is a massive fan and I first watched him play as a young lad, at a fan convention of ours. He’s now a 38-year-old owner of a music store in Yorkshire, England and also he’s a music school graduate, but still has the passion for our music. He’s played in local bands for many years too – one a very well known local outfit up there which plays in excess of 100 dates a year.
We’ve only played two festivals together with Mark this summer, but one of them was a very large one called Sweden Rock with bands like Aerosmith and the Scorpions. Mark not only has the nuances of our music down but the music is almost ingrained in him. I’m also talking about the musical approach or attitude that is required for our brand of twin lead guitar driven rock. That’s a rare thing to find.
O: Guitars are so integral to the band’s sound, what are the challenges of bringing a new guitarist into the fold and integrating their style into the Wishbone Ash style?
A: Firstly, tone is very important. Working with someone who has a really good ear for tonal range and subtlety is crucial because we cover such a broad swath of music styles. Luckily, Mark is comfortable on both a Fender Strat and a Les Paul guitar, which are key components of our sound, but require a very different playing approach. Because he is so conversant with our compositional and musical approach, the challenges are far less than have been the case with previous guitar players I’ve worked with. I’m thinking also about technical things like the ability to finger pick while using an actual pick at the same time; that’s one small detail or technical ability that has inspired whole songs of ours for example. Ya gotta be a “picker” as well as a “blues wailer” in this band.
O: Wishbone Ash arrived at a time in music where the band as a unit was key rather than any individual member becoming the focus point of fans. How do you think that helped with the band’s longevity and fans’ continuing love for your music?
A: Such an important point; I think that this ethos absolutely has helped with our longevity. We’ve had former members who have touted themselves, for example, as “the key creative force” or “major songwriter” or as “frontman” and then once they leave, nothing is ever heard of them again, in many cases. No, the key strength of this band and indeed many bands, true bands, is that the sum of the whole is usually greater than the constituent parts. I’m thinking of bands like The Allman Brothers, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who – the list is endless. I love being in bands for that reason – they are like endless test beds for musical experimentation and creativity and those really talented individuals within a band feed off that in my experience. Talent is just part of the equation. I have really talented people living on my street for example, but they’ll never be featured in a great rock band.
O: For many fans, the album “Argus” stands out as a Wishbone Ash favorite. Now, this is like choosing which child is your favorite, but what album of yours—other than “Argus”—was your favorite, and why?
A: Well, “Argus” was an example of a time when the band was pulling in a way that exceeded the sum of its parts as I just mentioned. A kind of synergy takes place so any album or period of time where you get into a collective songwriting, directional groove like that, is memorable. It’s a kind of warm fuzzy togetherness. Therefore, one album that I have a fond memory of, for those reasons would be “New England,” which itself was a reaction to a poorly made preceding record, called “Locked In.” Another good time that produced dynamic results was “There’s The Rub” and most recently, an album called “The Power of Eternity” and to be fair our last album “Blue Horizon.”
O: You guys also are all musicians rather than computer programmers. If you were all 20-somethings today in 2017, do you think a band like Wishbone Ash would have or could have happened?
A: Good question. Everything has moved into a kind of individual, rather than collective, creative mode, which computers have initiated in a way. It’s now possible to make entire albums at home on your own with no interaction with another person, like playing a computer game. But the social and musical interaction is eliminated. Maybe this is okay for people like Kendrick Lamar but… Computers are big fun of course, so if I were of this generation I’d probably have too many computer-type distractions to ever make the sacrifices that I and my partners made back in the day to make our music together. I’m talking about literally starving for your art. Back in those days, I’d barely be able to afford a meal let alone an IPhone.
O: Your last album was 2014’s “Blue Horizon.” With Mark’s arrival, will you guys be thinking of doing some new recordings?
A: We will be thinking about new recordings for sure but first we need to get road-tested. In the meantime, there will be an exciting early career retrospective deluxe box set release called “Wishbone Ash – The Vintage Years.” That should be out by the end of the year.
O: You’ll be playing in two small intimate clubs in my coverage area, Daryl’s House in Pawling, N.Y. and the Infinity Hall in Norfolk, Conn. What do you like, as musicians, about those smaller spaces where you can actually see the audience?
A: They are both excellent venues with great sound systems and are up close and personal for the audience and band. If there are any weaknesses, these venues will show them. I’m not expecting any of those at all, but it’s kind of like flying by the seat of your pants in a small venue and a real test for a band like us – kind of like showcase events for the musical subtleties I mentioned earlier. We’re really looking forward to playing those places.
Wishbone Ash plays the Infinity Hall, Route 44, Norfolk on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. They then play Daryl’s House, 130 Route 22, Pawling, N.Y. on Sunday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m.
For more information, go to www.WishboneAsh.com