Wishbone Ash Review

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Shepherds Bush Theatre on 15 May 2010 was the venue for this great gig reveals Douglas Shanks.

I wonder how many other hacks have settled down to write their Wishbone Ash gig review and named it 'Live Date'? Anyone likely to read this article will be well aware that Wishbone Ash 'Live Dates' (1973) is an excellent live album ' a genuine 5 star cut, essential in any good collection. As Rokpool's appointed scribe I duly turned up at Shepherds Bush and was given my press pass and asked about the 'Plus One'. I thought, oh hell, some Masonic ritual, so I did what I do best and blustered. I then had it explained to me that that the 'plus one' was a friend to join me, and I had to admit I didn't have one. Even my mate, school-chum, and rock-photographer Thoby Kennet is away, and no one else was available even with the bait of a free Wishbone Ash ticket. It's a shame because they spoiled me with a great place to park myself, in one of those little half-boxed rows down the side, with a cushioned balustrade on which to rest my pad. My seat was the one nearest the stage. I felt like the Queen.

In the modern way Wishbone Ash arrived bang on time, 'The Pilgrim''s (I think ' something gorgeous from that under-rated gem 'Pilgrimage' anyway), opening power chords thundering away auspiciously in the wings. Then we were away, and the years rolled back, and we, the chosen, experienced all the great Wishbone Ash virtues, even if Andy Powell is the only original member of the current line-up. Andy Powell's voice seems to have got stronger with the passing of the years, and I suspect I think he's a far better vocalist than he does. Wishbone's music doesn't want a belter like Gillan, and without being too arch, doesn't need it either. It helps that the back catalogue really is that strong and it's the mark of a great evening that no one left disappointed that we weren't treated to the Ash's signature tune 'Warrior'. You couldn't complain that it was overlooked as an encore, t! he band preferring a valedictory sublime stripped-down and rocking 'Blowin' Free', surely the greatest example of twin lead-guitars from this or any other band. Typically understated, we knew we weren't going to get a second encore. While Wishbone Ash faded from the front line of rock in the mid-seventies this seems oddly enough to have served them well. The songs have a classical structure that defied fashion then as it does now, being neither three-chord Glam wonder-pumps, nor the ambitious Ambient Krautrock or Jazz-Opera of some of the other great members of that loose federation that gets lumped together as Prog Rock. The result of this determination to do their own thing, coupled with good old-fashioned instrumental virtuosity, means that even a much changed line up can deliver faithful, perhaps even enhanced, versions of the originals. And like those other highly-respected mid-seventies returning heroes, Van Der Graaf Generator, the newer stuff really is very good ' and because it's so beautifully played, and is really quite conventional structurally, it is very appealing even on first listening. Andy Powell is naturally enough the front-man, and his polite very British diffidence sets the tone perfectly. The music is surprisingly fresh and true, and I'm left wondering if 'Argus' could do with digital re-mastering ' 'Sometime World' in particular sounded stunning, much crisper than on the album ' indeed the whole set was beautifully mixed, something that didn't occur to me at the time, which, of course, it shouldn't have. During the truly iconic 'The King Will Come' I heard Joe Crabtree indulging in a spot of lead drumming, with playful ironic military flourishes. I thought for a moment Guy Evans himself had slipped in wearing a wig. 'Persephone' brought the gig to new heights, and during one fabulous display of team virtuosity Joe Crabtree joined bassist Bob Skeat (also doubling as an excellent backing vocalist) leading the melody in tandem with Powell's and Muddy Maninnen's le! ad guitars. Who needs a rhythm section anyway? Powell's vocals defied the fact that he didn't sing on the original. It was always a function of the Ash's unique sound that the vocals were treated as an interlude (albeit a perfectly competent one) between the more important instrumental sections. The set rolled on, each version of an old classic providing entertainment and enlightenment in equal measure, with 'Life In Crisis' the pick of the newer stuff ' typically understated musical themes, played impeccably, typically ' an echo of Dire Straits, giving rise to that peculiarly Bowie phenomenon, the original referencing the imitator, post-modernism alive and kicking in rock'n'roll. The set concluded in the face of screams for the 'Warrior' with 'The Phoenix'. Nothing I can say can tell you how stunning this version of the venerable classic was. Andy Powell's voice came forward in the mix to great effect, and lent the lie to that old clich' that the Ash needed a Broughton or Daltry. (After all Pink Floyd did alright without one). Playing as if it was their last chance of salvation, and not towards the end of a gruelling ash-disrupted (and there were one or two puns along the same lines during the! gig) three month tour. Brought back memories of 'Live Dates'. 'The King Will Come' indeed, and would seem to have returned.


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