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Friars Interviews

Martin Turner
Wishbone Ash

friars appearances 01/06/70`

photo copyright Martin Turner

 

Wishbone Ash is remembered as one of the finest exponents of twin guitar rock from the 1970s. Whilst they made many fine albums, they are readily identified with the classic 1972 Argus album. Sadly, Wishbone Ash made only one appearance at Friars, the first birthday party in 1970, but they were destined to go on to great things, which they certainly did. Original member Martin Turner, and still touring, talks us through the band’s heady days and what is happening now in Wishbone world. And there are some references here to Right Said Fred. Yes, you read right…….Mr Turner, the audience awaits you.

Hello Martin, thanks for talking to the Friars Aylesbury website. Sadly, Wishbone Ash only played Friars Aylesbury once, the first birthday party in 1970! That’s all a long time ago! Monday June 1st 1970 and incredibly you were one of the support acts!

That must have been really early. We only formed in 1969 and we didn’t do any gigs in the sixties. We’re a bit snobbish about it really, we’re a seventies band and not a sixties band. We couldn’t get any gigs in England in the early days. Our manager, Miles Copeland, was quite new to the business and was just blagging it! He did know this lady, an old friend of his from Beirut, who was now running a club in Paris. So we thought… wait a minute, why can’t you get us some gigs in Paris? He (Copeland) said, well, er….this girl’s a bit interested in me….. So we pointed out that we had a contract with him that said he would do everything he could to get work for us. Regardless of her, he had to get us gigs. So we played this club in Paris run by Arabs and full of red velvet and gold. When we played, they went mental….because they thought they were getting someone like Sade (!), but we got this gig at this other club in Paris who needed a rock band and that’s kind of how we started.

By June 1970 when we played Aylesbury, we would obviously have been gigging in England, we started somewhere around February 1970. We hadn’t been going very long by the time we played Friars…I was probably still playing my home made guitar that cost £5!!!

We were lucky really, as Aylesbury caught you very much on the up.

Yes, our first album was out by them.

I’m trying to remember the (Aylesbury) venue…I remember John Peel being there with his DJ set up. We got quite friendly with him, he was a lovely man.

Also on that bill was Roger Ruskin Spear……

I remember him….mad as a box of frogs!

Certainly that gig was an eclectic line up! After that though, Wishbone Ash went on to become one of the defining British twin guitar rock bands.

That’s right, that’s what we were all about. It wasn’t an entirely original idea though. Fleetwood Mac was big at the time with Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan on guitars had hinted at it (twin guitar harmonies) and had the big hit with Albatross. There were a couple of other bands who investigated the twin harmony thing. Blossom Toes, with Jim Cregan was one. Saw him recently, a lovely man. He pointed out we made a career nicking an idea off of him! But you are always influenced by the bands around you. We were very well suited to the harmony lead guitars. I used to sing the harmonies which we transposed onto the guitar. It was more melodic than if you say you composed it on the guitar…less angular if you like. It certainly gave us an identity and a sound. We were an odd band really, we were a bit of jazz, a bit of folk, but we were still a rock band.

In the early 70s, Wishbone Ash was starting to make a big name for itself. One question I ask of other artists, is that you make the best album you can make at that time and it’s only years later that a certain record gets acknowledged as a classic, in your case 1972’s Argus.

In the olden days we used to call them records not albums! This big lump of plastic!. It’s a good expression as it is an album of what is happening in your life at that time. Obviously with everyone’s life, you get it when it’s going great and then times when it’s all chaos and your world is falling apart so that is often reflected in the music we made. We were unusual in that we were (a British band) managed by an American (Miles Copeland) and signed to an American label. We did a gig at Dunstable Civic with Deep Purple. Ritchie Blackmore was at the side of the stage checking us out and he obviously thought we were good and he rang up Derek Lawrence who had produced Deep Purple’s Hush. Derek was looking for artists to produce and gave us a call saying Blackmore had recommended us to him and he wanted to check us out, so it was like “where are you gigging?” We said, ah, we haven’t any gigs lined up, but why not come to a rehearsal? So he did and said he had a friend who had just been made head of A&R at MCA in the States and we could probably get a deal if we paid for the airline ticket to LA. So we thought oh that’s going to cost £300, we can’t afford that. So we paid half each. He went out there and came back with the deal that was worth millions of dollars as quoted at the time, but this was over five or ten years. He was contracted to produce our first three albums which he did and did a great job. The engineer was Martin Birch who went onto shape Iron Maiden. We had a great team and Argus was the high point of us all working together.

 I know that people look back and cite Argus as the classic Wishbone Ash album. I know it was the record of that time….

Yes, I wrote most of the material on that album and they were themes, like Warrior for instance. I had been thinking about the fascination of young men who would like a fight…I had been like that on the street getting into fights as a teenager. Being in a band helped channel my testosterone! A lot of the themes had been in my head for a long time and I spent about nine months putting that together. Then we all got together and Ted Turner made a contribution with Time Was and Andy contributed with Throw Down The Sword. Steve (Upton) did the lyrics for Leaf and Stream. Blowin’ Free was an odd one really. I had put the lyric together before Wishbone Ash existed. It had a very different flavour, a jolly feel rather than a medieval feel. The feeling at the time was that it shouldn’t’ be on the album, but I wanted it on there to try to counter some of the heavier stuff. You make these decisions at the time that you don’t think mount to much but the album still sounds as fresh now as when it was released. I can’t believe how well it has worn.

Yes, that’s very true…from tha period in British rock, there are very few albums that would still be considered influential or classic today in 2010.

There was Ziggy Stardust of course, and we were big fans of Mott The Hoople Slade as well. Marc Bolan…we did a gig with him in Notting Hill, he looked like a pixie. He was a great bloke, but was never going anywhere and then he reinvented himself and became huge.

In the seventies, you were very productive in terms of the number of albums you made. When you consider how the business works today…a major rock band…..massive tours and a new album every two years if we are lucky.

It has it pluses and minuses. Because we were managed by an American and on an American label, we were always going to be promoted in the US as we were being promoted in the UK. After we did the initial groundwork, we were very soon off to America. Many people thought we were actually an American band.

Do you think that was because of the touring or because of the music?

I don’t think we were particularly American, but there we did some boogie which was quite American I suppose and we were quite bluesy, with Ted particularly influenced. The likes of The Yardbirds started off in America playing blues. We had a very hectic schedule with everything mapped out for the next 18 months at a time. So we went from unknowns at the end of 1970 and by 1973 we were playing really big venues and flying all over the world.

On that last point…..I think a lot of people reading this interview will have forgotten just how big Wishbone Ash became…..I mean…by the end of the 1970s we are talking venues like Wembley Arena.  

We did do Wembley as part of The Year of The Child concerts but we played Hammersmith Odeon a lot, a great gig.

But we never had a hit single in those early days. We did get a call from the BBC asking us to do Top of the Pops with Blowin’ Free and we said no (laughs!) We didn’t really want to be associated with pop music and also we had a gig on the day of the recording in Belgium. So we never really promoted the singles thing, we saw ourselves as an albums band. It’s crazy looking back at it now because you wouldn’t do that now.

Nowadays that’s certainly true but let’s put that in context though…..Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin didn’t do singles either.

That’s true and we felt more aligned to those kinds of bands rather than the ones on Top of the Pops. We would prefer to do Old Grey Whistle Test with Bob Harris! The net effect though of all this intense working though is that by 1973/1974, we were all bloody exhausted. The youngest guy in the band, Ted, had just had enough. What we all needed was a holiday, a month off, but we couldn’t because of all these commitments. Ted’s way of dealing of that was to leave the band. If he had been able to have a holiday, I am sure he would have been fine. But at that point, we asked Laurie Wisefield to join the band to replace him. We knew him and played together in the past. He was a good character and a great musician.

Singles could be a double edged sword though…..I did some work with Right Said Fred with various different line ups. Richard (Fairbrass) was always fairly intense as a singer and we used to try to get him to relax a bit. I got on with Fred very well. We tried different line ups and it didn’t work. They went back to running a gym in Putney and did some more recordings with a whizz kid, in the early days of computer recordings and this led to I’m Too Sexy (a monster hit single). I would drive past their gym at 2am and see the lights on and I would go in. People were having a little smoke of the cigarettes with no name and I’m Too Sexy was the kind of thing they would come out with. They got Richard to smoke a pack of Gitanes cigarettes to get his voice all gravelly and he was relaxed for once. It became a huge commercial hit record. The problem then was over exposure in the media and then you’re old news. I know that Fred and Richard are still working all over the world whereas they probably couldn’t get arrested in the UK! No-one wants to know.

Back to the current time, you are gigging at the moment as Wishbone Ash.

To be accurate, a Wishbone has got two legs and there are two Wishbone Ashes. There is wishboneash.com and wishboneash.co.uk, both are official. It is the same with the bands, Andy has one Wishbone Ash band, and I have another. There is a dispute over the name in that Andy registered the name a few years back and regards it as belonging to him. We (the remaining three originals) dispute that as you can’t register the name if it was owned by the original four, so there is a legal dispute running at the moment. Like all these things, it rambles on year after year and ends up costing a lot of money. I don’t know where that is going to end up, but basically Ted Turner, Steve Upton and myself are in dispute with Andy Powell over the name.

That will get resolved sometime in the future hopefully.

In about a year or two. It’s very messy and we have appealed to Andy to sit round a table and sort it out but we don’t think he is inclined to do that. He has lived in America a long time, a US citizen now as far as I am aware, and he is surrounded by Americans who are a bit gung ho about the whole thing. It’s messy and we have appealed to him to come clean about some of the stuff he’s got up to over the years and he is not inclined to.

It would save a lot of money if you all sat round a table wouldn’t it?

Yes. There were plans to have a 40th anniversary reunion in 2009. Myself and Ted Turner agreed to do it. Steve Upton was a little hard to get on board but he agreed and my manager spent nine months trying to talk to Andy but he insisted on confidentiality clauses. We had a great offer on the table for a string of UK dates ending up at Hammersmith Apollo. I know from the gigs I have been doing that there would have been the demand for it. There is a lot of people who would like to see the original four play again.

The last time the original four piece played together was about 20 years ago for Miles Copeland’s No Speak project, or around that time anyway?

We did three albums 1989-1991 The last album was called Strange Affair…which it was (laughs).

It would be brilliant to see the original band back together again.

Well…Andy’s a bit of a control freak and he did not want to do something he had no control over and he was resentful that the offer (of the 40th anniversary shows) had come through my management. He strung along for nine months until he could cobble something together himself and suddenly announced on his website that we were invited to join one of his gigs at Shepherds Bush Empire I think. He wanted the original band to join him on stage and do the whole of the Argus album which was something I had been doing for the year before that, it hadn’t been done before.  What we would have been reduced to though was the original band playing Argus and then his version coming on after. In effect the original Wishbone Ash supporting Andy Powell’s version. It was a case of “no mate that won’t be happening!” I was furious he pulled that stunt and I made some unpleasant comments to a journalist who phoned me up the next morning after I found out (the plans). I wasn’t furious for me (that the 40th anniversary reunion didn’t happen), but for the passionate fans who would have liked to have seen it. Andy couldn’t see the big picture. It was his self interest, especially with the money thing where (in terms of the proposed reunion) it had to be equal.

(Fact fans…the last night (at least) of Mott The Hoople’s Hammersmith residency had originally been earmarked for Wishbone Ash and Martin was there….as a member of the audience and part of the conversation we had, not produced here, was a chat on our mutual regard for Mott and Overend loaning him a Thunderbird bass many years ago which had been glued back together after a stage incident!)

It’s been great talking to you about Wishbone Ash’s rise through the 1970s.

It’s a shame I can’t remember anything more specific about Friars, but then there were six week American tours I can remember nothing about because they were so frantic!! It was like being strapped to the front of Concorde, we didn’t know what city we were in!

I’ve spoken to a number of artists in a similar position and they have all said, if only we could have taken a little break……it could have made a huge difference.

Yes…it’s the reason people go horizontal at night. You need to sleep to rest and to dream and to be refreshed physically and mentally. On those American tours, at every gig, there would always be a bunch of nutters who would meet you and want to party all night and then you fly to the next city and stay up to 4 in the morning and then someone’s banging on your door at 8.30 because you have to get up to go to the airport for the next gig. It was barmy. We would try to get our heads down for 45 minutes when we checked in at the hotels in the afternoon before the gigs. You ended up like a walking zombie. It’s hard work and I can see why some musicians end up taking drugs…to stay awake!

Thanks Martin for talking to the Friars Website, it’s a shame there isn’t likely to be a reunion any time soon.

It’s been a pleasure. Can’t see it happening myself, the moment has been missed. And not only that you don’t often get the situation when all of the band is still alive! (laughs)

With grateful thanks to Maria at QEDG Management for her help with this interview.

This interview and its content are © 2010 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not be used in whole or in part without permission.

 

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