Martin Turner, ex-Wishbone Ash?
“Oh right, yeah.”
That’s the power of an established band name, and one which led to a court case a couple of years back between founding members Martin Turner and Andy Powell, who both fronted bands using the name Wishbone Ash until the matter was settled in favour of guitarist Powell, who now has exclusive ownership of the name. However, the court threw a bone out to bassist/vocalist Turner, who up until then was touring under the name ‘Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash’ (believing that, as a founding member, he had equal rights to the name). Although the ruling meant he could no longer tour under that name, he could still advertise the fact he was in that band when promoting his gigs. Since then, he has gone out either as ‘Martin Turner Plays The Music of Wishbone Ash’, or simply ‘Martin Turner, ex-Wishbone Ash’ as he has done for this current run of dates. To the outsider the whole thing looked rather unseemly, especially since we’re talking about guys now well into their sixties, once part of a band whose heyday was the early 1970s, and whose original line-up didn’t last beyond that decade. But as stated at the top, a band name once established, becomes a valuable brand.
To Turner’s credit he has put the case behind him and has come back with a new album (Written In The Stars’) featuring his current band, and this show at the intimate Citadel in St. Helens was to be filmed for an upcoming DVD. There was no support, and the guys came on at 7:30 for the first part of the show, featuring the complete ‘Written In The Stars’ album played live. I’ll admit I’m completely unfamiliar with this album since I don’t have it, so sat in my seat high in the balcony at the Citadel to pay close attention. What I got from this run-through of the new material was that all the hallmarks were still there; twin lead guitars present and correct, plus some excellent close harmony vocals, both guitarist Danny Willson and drummer Tim Brown backed up Turner on many vocal parts. The last new track was album closer ‘Interstellar Rockstar’, a mellower track obviously influenced by the recently-passed David Bowie, but built up into another guitar workout between Willson and fellow axeman Misha Nikolic. This material was generously received by the crowd but it wasn’t what most were here for in truth; they were here for the classic Wishbone Ash material (jokingly referred to by Turner as ‘hippie music’!) They then segued into that part of the show before the end of the first set, launching into ‘The Pilgrim’ and closing part one with ‘Blind Eye’. Following that, with the crowd now cheering raucously, Turner and company took their leave for a short interval.
When they returned to the stage about 20 minutes later, Turner was now sporting what looked like pyjama bottoms along with a white jacket (!) No marks for sartorial elegance then, but that mattered little once they struck up and ran through a selection of Wishbone Ash’s classic tracks. The playing was absolutely top-drawer, with Danny Willson the more prominent of the two lead guitarists. He was even given the lead vocal on ‘You See Red’, a track originally written by former Wishbone Ash guitarist Laurie Wisefield. This part of the show was very much the crowd-pleaser, with many tracks from ‘Argus’ including ‘Warrior’ and ‘The King Will Come’ played. (‘So you like the tracks off Argos then’, joked Turner!)
Such was the standard of playing I found myself wondering ‘who needs Andy Powell anyway?’ as this band proved beyond doubt they had the chops to do justice to the classic material. It helped that the sound mix was one of the best I’d heard at a rock gig for some time; it may be Turner’s name on the ticket but his bass was not overpowering everything else and the balance was just right. It really makes a difference when the live mix is done properly, accounting for the venue size. (It was noticed that there was not a huge wall of amps on the backline, just enough for the surroundings.) Turner was in jovial mood throughout, even finding time in the encore to deliver a (corny) joke before delivering two more classic songs, ‘Doctor’ and ‘Jail Bait’.
Martin Turner is now eligible for his pension (‘my kids call me a rock fossil, not a rock legend’, he told us) but on the evidence of this performance he still has plenty to give. If you get the chance to see his band live in your area, go along.