Andy Powell Interview in Beatleg Magazine, Tokyo, Japan
The interview below took place in October of 2009 and was published in the January 2010 issue of Beatleg Magazine.
You are celebrating 40th anniversary of the band this year. How has it been going? Do you have any special event(s) planned for this occasion?
It’s been going very well so far. We started by recording our concert in London at the Shepherds Bush Theatre in front of a 1,000 people, with It Bites supporting. We’d done a 51 minute road movie the week leading up to the show and this is also featured as a bonus with the DVD which comes out this week in the U.K. to coincide with this current tour. Basically, we’ll be celebrating all year with different things happening, like our AshFest fan convention in Florida next June, together with the release of a new CD of studio material which we are currently working on. Our website has undergone a complete makeover and that goes live this week. We tour mainland Europe next, with our full production including projection screens and so on. In short; we are busy!
Please tell us about AshFest which is slated to take place in Florida next year.
It takes place at Club Med in Port St. Lucie which is on the East Coast about 2 hours drive from Orlando. We’ve held these events on cruise ships and at other venues, but this will be the second time using Club Med. The fans like it because they can structure a whole Florida vacation around it if they wish and once they are there, everything is inclusive, the entertainment, food, wine, golf, tennis, sailing, waterskiing. Club Med even has a complete, professionally run circus school. So if trapeze work is your thing you can brush up on your skills! We play an open air acoustic set on one night and the next night a full electric set. There is a memorabilia auction, a cocktail / meet the band party. There will be guest artists and also the opportunity for fans to sit in with the band, ‘Rock Camp’ style. It’s a lot of fun.
I understand you are releasing a new DVD of the 40th anniversary tour. Please tell us about the release.
Well, we used the same German company that produced our Live in Hamburg DVD and they now use Hi Def exclusively. Plus it will be available in 5.1 Surround Sound. There will be an audio CD plus vinyl discs available. As mentioned the package includes a road movie - a kind of ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse of us travelling England. I’m very proud of the end result. The team that worked on this, is the best!
Please tell us about the current line up of the band.
Bob Skeat, a 12 year Wishbone Ash veteran, holds down the rhythm section with relative newbie, Joe Crabtree on drums. This has to be one of the best rhythm sections in the business today. Bob is well known in London having worked on Brian May’s We Will Rock You show and also with people like Gilbert O’ Sullivan, Toyah, and so on in his spare time. Joe is a powerhouse drummer and has been in the band for 3 years now. He's played in Japan with Pendragon and also worked with David Cross from King Crimson. Our fans just love him (especially if he treats them to a drum solo here and there).
My co-guitarist Muddy Manninen - the Iceman - hails from Finland. He’s been with the band for 5 years. He’s a very emotional player with deep roots, perfectly suited to this band. Back in the day, he was with Gringos Locos. His songwriting skills are amazing, as can be heard on our recent Power of Eternity CD for example. We work really well together, he and I.
Can we expect to hear some songs which weren’t sung by you originally at your shows? If so, how do you handle them?
Yes, indeed. Of course I sang in the original band and this was when we had our trademark harmony vocal sound, as well as the twin guitar sound we are most known for. We later abandoned this commercial vocal style and I never really knew why. I’m thinking of songs like Blowin’ Free and The King Will Come. But over the last 25 years I’ve grown into the role of a confident lead vocalist which means I sing lead on more recent recordings as well as now delivering late 70‘s songs like Persephone, as well as 80's songs like Engine Overheat and others. We are always delving into our back catalogue and have bought to the fore, long forgotten pieces like Leaf & Stream, Valediction and Master of Disguise (the latter, both my vocals originally). I sing these, accompanied by Bob and Muddy. Recently, there are others too, like Front Page News and Lady Jay.
Any plans for a new studio album with the current band members?
Yes, indeed; we are working on one right now. We have a recording studio at our disposal and did preliminary writing sessions in Normandy, France, in a beautiful old manoir situated in the countryside. We used a private cinema on the property owned by a friend (Michel) of a friend of of ours, documentary maker, Christian Guyonnet. He also videoed these sessions and it’s hoped that these will accompany the new CD release in the form of a kind of documentary. You’ll see us hard at work in the French countryside, as well as relaxing at Deauville and go karting and so on. We are all car freaks so there’s also some fun footage of us racing around the countryside in sports cars, for example.
You have been the sole remaining member of the original Ash for over 15 years now, and obviously the Ash sound has gone through some significant changes over the years. Do you find it difficult to keep the musical integrity of Wishbone Ash intact while playing with so many different musicians with a variety of musical backgrounds?
I don’t really find it difficult. It’s like breathing for me. I always was the style arbiter, even in the old days, the one who would fight for the folk rock element and have a big say in what was produced and not produced. In fact I was a producer from the very beginning. I just didn’t realize it at the time. I was more concerned with the overall feeling of being a real band. It’s the same now. The band comes first and we treat our music with the utmost care and respect and are always having conversations about direction and ‘would the fans like this or that?’ The band members have a deep knowledge of our musical history and of rock history in general.
Way back then, what made you choose Flying V as your guitar of choice?
Well, of course, I’d been listening to Albert King and I’d seen Dave Davis sport one on the British TV show, Top of the Pops but no one else seemed to be really using the guitar in the new world of rock at that time. The minute I learned of two becoming available at the Orange shop in London’s Denmark Street, I headed down there. They had two 1967 models still in the original packing cases (this was 1971 now). So, this shows you how disinterested people were in these guitars.
As soon as I played the one which was to be mine, I knew it was a great guitar and the one for me. I took it home to my little bedsit in West Hampstead, leant it against a chair and wondered gazing on it, how I’d managed to get my hands on such an incredible instrument. It’s been part of my ‘mojo’ ever since and a bonafide symbol, or talisman of the band. Wishbone Ash. I’ve had many since this original one, but it’s still the best and it has all the history and tours impregnated into it’s DNA - it’s an awesome guitar. I've had a love affair with this thing, this particular musical instrument for all these years. That's very strange.
I am especially curious about First Flight, which is your very first recording from 1969. How did this get to be released recently?
It’s actually called First Light..ha..ha.. but First Flight would also have been a cool title. What actually happened was that I received a call from our own Dr. John (USA fan club secretary and number one archivist supremo). He had acquired the master acetate by bidding in an auction held at Christies Auction House. I don’t where they had received it from but at any rate he kindly offered it to me and in turn to the band itself and we released it to the fans after some final, mastering work.
I’d almost forgotten about this recording but what it represents is our own clandestinely recorded first album or should I say, a first pass at it. We worked on the songs at Advision Studios, at night, during down time, when Yes were recording the Yes album there. We presented it to Decca in the States who had signed us but they wanted to fund their own recording with Derek Lawrence producing, which was fair enough. Our own recording had facilitated the deal and, the labels were calling the shots in those days, so we acquiesced and then promptly forgot about this original recording.
It made me very emotional when Dr. John played me the recording at a show of ours he came to in Portland, Oregon. We sat outside the theatre in his car and blasted it out to the sidewalk for the fans.
When you answered the ad by Steve and Martin, did they already have Ted Turner in the fold?
They had auditioned him first and rejected him, I believe. The story is that it was at the insistence of his mother that they finally gave him a second shot when I arrived. He was 18 at the time and I was 19.
Ash was the first band to feature twin lead guitar harmony as band’s signature sound. How did you “find” that sound? Did you have any influences in constructing the style?
Yes, I did have an influence in finding this sound - very much so. I’d been the only Wishbone Ash member who’d actually been in a twin lead guitar band prior to Ash. That was with a guy called Eamnon Percival. We were called the Dekois. In addition, I’d worked through most of my teens in soul bands. I’d become quite adept at helping the horn sections work out brass lines and you can hear this to great effect on one of our early songs, Blind Eye, wherein the featured twin guitar riff is more like a horn riff in construction. There was one band I'd seen playing at an early music festival in 1967. They were called Blossom Toes and they'd featured the twin guitar approach. Jim Cregan, later of Cockney Rebel and Rod Stewart was in this band. Martin Turner also bought his knowledge of harmony to the table when we worked together on these harmony lines as a band. This ability came from his days as a church choirboy.
Original Ash line up had two vocalists as well as two lead guitarists. How did you decide who’d be singing certain vocal parts, and which one of you’d be taking a lead solo? Has there ever been any rivalry among you?
Well, there was a kind of healthy rivalry but there was also a gentlemanly approach inasmuch as we all knew if someone’s guitar style or vocal approach was more suited at a particular moment, then that person should be featured. The key thing was that we were acting ‘all for one and one for all’. We had a plan, a band sound and a great new manager and were focused on the big picture. The minute we abandoned that approach, later in the 70’s, that’s when we lost our mojo. I really believe the twin, harmonized vocals played a much bigger role in our sound and therefore in our success as a band, (in addition to the well - recognized twin guitar sound), than people realize, including us at the time. There was a kind of ‘ear candy ‘ to the sound and it was an instant signature on songs like Blowin‘ Free or The King Will Come or even Valediction.
Please elaborate the story about Ash getting the first record deal through Ritchie Blackmore. How did you know Ritchie?
I did not know Ritchie per se, but we had an opportunity to open for Deep Purple on a show of theirs in Dunstable, England. What happened was that after the band had finished its soundcheck, Ritchie was trying out his equipment, firing off some riffs. I was at the back of him on stage, plugged into my gear, eagerly awaiting a chance to play. Each time he played a lick, I would rather cheekily, mimic it. Pretty soon we had a guitar duel going - kind of like dueling banjos!
Now by this time in his career, Ritchie was a respected guitarist and after our jam session, he came over to me and complimented me on my playing and later he asked if our band had a recording contract. I said ‘no we don’t’ and he promptly recommended that our manager, Miles Copeland, call Purple's producer Derek Lawrence. He in turn spoke to Decca’s CEO Don Shane on our behalf. I owe Ritchie a huge debt of gratitude. Derek too. He was a great producer for the band along with his engineer at the time, Martin Birch.
The irony was that years later, I moved to the small Connecticut, USA town of Redding and who should be my neighbor but Ritchie Blackmore. He had a football (soccer) team in town made up of British ex pats and some of Purple's road crew and so on. My son and I joined them for a game one weekend. I can’t claim to know the man very well. In fact I don’t believe many folks know Ritchie that well!
You have had a numerous “guitar partners” over the years, including Ted Turner and Laurie Wisefield. This may not be a fair question, but with whom did you feel most comfortable playing together? Also, whose style was the hardest to “get along” with? And finally, whose style was the best fit for your idea of what the Ash sound should be?
I tend not to be the kind of person who compares, (on a creative level at least) when I’m working with people. You are looking for the musical personality rather than the technique. It’s true, Laurie was a much more technically accomplished player and more businesslike, than Ted but Ted bought a lot of heart and soul to the proceedings and co-wrote some of our most popular songs like Blind Eye and Jailbait. Remember, Ted and I were very young when we first started working together - 18 and 19. You tend to look up to older people for direction and so on at that age. Steve and Martin were some 3 and 4 years older. That’s a big difference when you are that age. When Laurie joined in 1974 we were both more mature players. There was big learning curve for both he and I in terms of compatibility. I had to learn his picking style and he had to learn my single string, bluesier style. We were both from different camps you see - he country and me blues. Laurie definitely gave us a big impetus to develop. He was and still is, one of Britain's best and most versatile rock players, as his career has shown.
The first four Ash albums had a very distinct (and unique) British feel to them. While not completely being blues rock, hard rock, progressive rock, nor jazz rock, the early Ash sound was a sensitive and delicate blend of all such elements. How did you achieve that?
Sensitive and delicate, it certainly was. I guess you are thinking of pieces like Leaf and Stream or Lullaby for example? We were young and attuned to such things. Both Ted and I were certainly bluesy players and hugely impacted by the sensitivity of players like Peter Green. The early material had a kind of yearning quality to it - an innocence.
Once again, a silly question – which Ted Turner era album is you favorite? Also, can you recommend your favorites from the Laurie Wisefield era, and from the post 1994 albums?
I guess since Ted was only in the band between 1969 and 1974 at this point, there’s not too much to choose from. Argus would be the obvious choice. That’s when it all came together as a band and our sound was, we thought, set in stone, or should I say vinyl! However, Pilgrimage was a very good album which showcased the band, almost in a live way, since it was pretty much a reproduction of our live set at the time as was our debut album Wishbone Ash.
During Laurie’s time with the band, I would have to say that the album on which he first played, There’s the Rub, lays down a new exciting direction with the twin lead style being ramped up quite a bit on pieces like F.U.B.B. and so on. I also really like New England which creates a nice mood and was a healthy reaction to the failed Locked In album. Did you know that There's the Rub was the album produced by Bill Szymczyk just prior to his recording of the Eagles' Hotel California? Our album was finished and the very next day he started with the Eagles. I like to think that a little of our twin lead work rubbed off on Bill and the guys, since there are twin leads all over that wonderful record, as you know.
In the 70’s, the albums such as New England had more American sounding tone to them. How did this change take place? Was it because of Laurie’s style, or the result of a natural musical progression?
I think many factors influenced this transition. We were living there, soaking up the musical influences and production techniques. A lot of other U.K. bands were doing this also; Supertramp, Rod Stewart and so on. Laurie was definitely impacted by America in his style and by guitarists like Rick Derringer, for example. I absolutely loved Little Feat and Neil Young. We were soaking it all up. That’s for sure.
You have also played a very famous solo on Renaissance’s Ashes Are Burning. I understand Miles Copeland was somewhat responsible for that, but can you also tell us about this session?
Well, after Miles Copeland had had his initial success with us, he started to build a roster of acts for his management company and new booking agency. Renaissance were a natural fit because we knew John Tout, the organist who had played with us on the Argus song, Throw Down the Sword. But more specifically, John had been with the pop group Ruperts People who actually were Miles’ first signing and the act which gave him his first foray into management. Ruperts People met Miles when they visited Beirut, where he lived with his parents. Miles’ father had helped form the CIA and his mother was a well known archaeologist, working in the Middle East, actually.
The happy coincidence that Renaissance had this song, Ashes are Burning was also a natural fit for me. The two bands, had become friendly on dates we played together and they invited me to play on this epic song, not having a guitarist. Later on, I joined them on stage at the Academy of Music in New York where we performed this piece. The studio used was CTS in Wembley, I believe.
You have recorded Locked In in Miami with the late Tom Dowd. How was the experience?
Actually this particular record was made with Tom in New York. It was not a happy experience. Tom was in the middle of a divorce and a bereavement. His good pal, Al Jackson, the drummer he'd worked with on so many classic recordings, had just passed away. We had just fired Miles Copeland after a very successful festival ground breaking tour of Europe for which we unfortunately, did not get paid. This was just after he’d cleverly enabled us to be signed to Atlantic Records with the late Ahmet Ertegun, personally inking the deal. We had just moved to the USA partly for tax reasons and as a result, were left rudderless, to make an album under these terrible conditions. In hindsight, we should have taken a deep breath and regrouped and re energized. We also, a little later, under the leadership of Steve Upton, turned down a real world offer of management under Lieber and Krebs. They were Aerosmith’s very successful managers. That's another story but it was a bad time all round to expect to be creative and the album Locked In, shows that. Even the title hints at the trapped feeling while aspiring to show that we were 'groovy'. We were not, in this instance.
Tom was a great record producer, as history shows, and I learned a lot from him. We all did. He actually sent us all to a voice coach. He thought our vocals were lame and off key. He was right. He'd worked with the best in the game; Aretha, Jack Bruce - you name it. At the end of the day though, I just don’t think he was the right guy for us. We lost all our rock & roll swagger. The guitars were mixed dry and sounded wimpy, and we dabbled in pseudo American funk concepts which others frankly did way better. Lynyrd Skynyrd had a similar experience under Tom’s production and actually redid their album. We weren’t so savvy (until recording the follow up). At my direction, we later used our own home studio and a mobile for the New England album. I wasn’t about to go down that road again. None of us were. New England turned out a much better album.
One of more interesting twists in Ash history was incorporating a female voice of Claire Hamill -Living Proof was a fantastic song! How did that come about?
Fleetwood Mac, a band we’d always admired, were having great success with the addition of Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie. John Sherry, our new manager, introduced us to Claire. She was a great songwriter and singer and it didn’t hurt that she was good looking and sassy too. This was kick to all of us and one night she and Laurie got together and produced that song. She was a dream to work with in the studio but when we went on the road, things started to go wrong. Martin had quit the band by then and Trevor Bolder from Bowie's Spider's From Mars and Uriah Heep was now on bass. It just wasn’t meant to be with Claire. We are still great friends though and I would work with Claire at the drop of a hat again. She’s natural and a great person.
Looking back, what do you think of the reunion in 1987?
It was a great idea that I believe we squandered to some degree. At first there was real momentum and it was largely, initially, the old team of M. Turner and A. Powell primarily working and fleshing out all sorts of ideas, producing the best in each other. Ted didn’t come into the mix until much later, right at the end of recording in fact on the first CD Nouveau Calls. Steve was really just doing his job as required, mostly taking direction on this occasion and putting the drum parts down. I was full of admiration for what Martin was capable of doing, particularly on keyboards and so on but the guitar sounds ended up being a bit buried and thin. It was a happy album to make, for the most part, but there was conflict as always, whenever a producer was bought in, which was the case when Miles felt we needed one and bought forward the talented, William Orbit (as can be heard with his later work with Madonna). He created some very hip rhythmic dimensions to bolster what was lacking on the CD in that area, but Mart thought he knew better, as always. But to be fair, he had already done a lot of the grunt work on the CD, productionwise.
Later on, Martin and I got back into all the usual mind games and it became pretty obvious that things were getting turgid again and we were back to that slow ‘now you see me now you don’t’ trip so typical of the 70’s bands and us in particular, you know, waiting for the vibe to be just right, the coyness, the foxiness and so on. Mart’s wife Suzy saw it and to her credit, talked to me about this issue a couple of times. Martin never would, of course. In the years we’d spent apart, I’d become more American, blunt and direct in approach and he’d become more British, if that makes sense. It was weird and that was a shame, since Martin and I formed a tentative partnership in a recording studio project.
I thought Strange Affair (the CD) had some great moments as did, Here to Hear but things were becoming difficult again. We were not those bright eyed 20 year olds from the early days any more. We were single minded ‘adult’ individuals with all the hang - ups and neuroses that go with it. Steve Upton for example, virtually imploded at the end of our time together, going through a tragic divorce. We took over my place, Ivy Lane Farm in Buckinghamshire and Martin installed his recording gear there. It was a great opportunity and location but ultimately, the chemistry just wasn’t there. I was very impatient, having worked my butt off to get to this point financially, businesswise and was personally on a better artistic level, but the chtuzpah for us to rise again, just wasn’t there.
Why did you choose to make your reunion album all instrumental?
I know what you are thinking; it’s a strange way to relaunch a very successful iconic 1970's band and a little bit of a statement regarding the music and vocals in some way - somewhat tentative. It did put the focus more on to the guitars. Looking back now, with my manager’s hat on, I would agree that it was a strange move for us but NOT for our former manager, Miles Copeland. Let me explain. Miles Copeland and IRS Records had formed this label for instrumental music called No Speak Records. The idea was to get all we artists, guitar players, from the 70’s and let them show some muscle. He recruited Leslie West, Alvin Lee, Peter Haycock, Randy California, Robbie Krieger, Jan Akkerman, Steve Howe and others. Miles would provide the platform to let us show the new generation of guitar players and audiences just how good we all were, and still could be. This was Miles’ concept. After all, Wishbone Ash was Britain’s premier twin lead guitar band so why not showcase them doing that? It was a savvy business idea and instead of Miles betting all his money on one act, he could bet it on several, getting back to his old empire building tactics. We were bought as part of that and to be honest, the reunion played second fiddle to that concept; hence the instrumental album being the first release. It wasn’t really all about just a Wishbone Ash reunion to be frank and Steve Upton and I saw it as such, since we’d been working as a partnership all through the 80’s with other players like Phil Palmer, Trevor Bolder, John Wetton, Mervyn Spence and Laurie of course. We knew how to make rock albums quickly and efficiently, mirroring the new ethos in the music industry. Don’t forget we’d had Punk and New Wave and Heavy Metal all since we’d been a band early on, and WA had been out there on festivals with a lot of these acts. Now, New Age music was hip. The irony was that I did 95% of the guitar on the CD so it ended up not even really being this twin lead approach at all. In fact there were an awful lot of keyboards on the disc as well as some great guitar parts, riffs and melodies. But some really good musical themes were explored, that’s for sure. Martin and I worked well together and I was impressed with how he’d developed, and Ted too.
Do you keep contact with the past band members, especially with the guys from the 70s line up?
I keep in touch with Laurie once in a while. We send each other silly e mail jokes and such and Bob Skeat knows Laurie through the We Will Rock You show etc. I recently visited him on the Tina Turner tour in the States.
The others? Frankly no, not now, although I’ve made many overtures through the years, flying here and there to organize reunions as well as aborted album attempts. Ted guested with us on a Wishbone Ash date in Worcester, a couple of years ago. I can’t say we are real friends per se these days and this distancing by them employing a manager / spokesperson as a mouthpiece between myself and them, has really ended that. It’s a lame idea and I’ve told this person face to face that he has handled things appallingly. He's nothing to do with anything pertaining to the four of us. I will from now, definitely not be working with any of the three originals. I always used to say “never say never” but that’s effectively been ended by them. I’ve been THE most open as regards reunions and so on. I've been told by Martin, who has engineered this fissure, that they don’t trust me ('cause I keep busy?) and I also believe they are intimidated while they have been asleep, musically speaking, all these years. They are out of the loop and trying to compensate for all the hard work I've done, (13 albums, sometimes over 150 tour dates in numerous countries a year for the last 20 years). They've hired this manager and tried to effect a coercive, co optive overthrowing of reality, when all that's required is to sit round a table in a pub and flesh out any grievances particularly in light of any potential reunion show or tour. MT was even prompted by the manager, to say this himself in an interview with Classic Rock Magazine recently, but in point of fact the actions and phone calls have not been forthcoming from their camp, only threats and quite atrocious verbal abuse against me in the media from Martin. In fact, I finally initiated a recent meeting with Martin and the manager in an attempt to confront the reality of the situation. It was 3 hours of prevarication and denial of a twenty year reality, plus most specifically, a total lack of acknowledgement of my ownership of the 12 year trademarked name, Wishbone Ash. With Martin, it’s now a no go.
Steve Upton has not played professionally in over 20 years. I’ve made attempts to contact him in the past which he has not reciprocated, and I've tried also to convene with him personally. I was once 10 kilometres from Steve's home in France and called him to chat and was told he had an 'appointment'. On one occasion my comments, during a recent phone conversation with Martin for example, were deemed as ‘intrusive.’ So, as I said; it's a no go. Most recently the ex members banded together under their new manager, and tried to co-opt me into a reunion idea based on money, which was frankly a mickey mouse sum in the first place, and in any case I believe the fans are owed more than that (money) as a reason for reuniting. The communications were not friendly. I felt threatened actually. I was not allowed by the manager to talk to them directly, so as a result I made a counter offer to them, to join Wishbone Ash as a ‘special guests‘ on our 40th Anniversary show and DVD recording at London‘s Shepherds Bush Empire. It could have been a fantastic springboard event, as the recent Zombies reunion showed. They had used this format and my thinking was, 'why not Wishbone Ash?'. The guys turned down the offer, with Martin Turner saying “ We wouldn’t want to be Andy Powell’s backing band" which just sounded like sour grapes, a denial of reality and a lack of balls. Nothing could have been further from my intention. I was impressed with how magnanimous the current band members were being, in backing my offer, considering Bob Skeat, for example, has personally been in Wishbone Ash himself for 12 years and has the utmost respect for Martin, Steve and the music from the early days. I’m done with it now, and especially done dealing with their manager. The lawyers can deal with it all from now on.
Although Martin Turner has resigned from Ash at more than one occasion, he named his project Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash – how have you been dealing with this seemingly touchy situation? (You may not answer this question if it’s uncomfortable.)
Thank you. I’ve probably not been dealing with it very well emotionally speaking, but otherwise I'm on top of the situation. It’s been most upsetting to myself, the band members and insulting to the fans and to people who have been loyal to the band all these years, like bookers, venues, record labels and journalists. Firstly, Martin tentatively named his band Wishbone Featuring Martin Turner and then had his manager e mail me, asking permission for that. I said, 'fine', since I own the trademarked name Wishbone Ash and have done for over 12 years. I commended Martin for picking up his bass again. He then quickly changed the name to Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash. He'd already set up a confusing website, rerecording the Argus album in the studio, with some no name players. It didn’t sell. Can you imagine The Who, Tull or Floyd or some act like that redoing in the studio, their most iconic album - to try to better it or something, to cash in again? It's true, we, Wishbone Ash, were later prompted, at the invitation of XM Satellite Radio in the States, to record a one shot live performance of the album material, later released as a CD. The fans loved it.
Of course, the more amateur promoters out in the field loved this name game and some started to just advertise Martin's outfit as Wishbone Ash, of course, passing off and confusing the public and venues and promoters into the bargain. It's an interesting strategy on Martin's part since he and his manager have used the scenario with two sets of ex - members of Barclay James Harvest performing as two different bands bearing the same name, as a role model for this exercise. They've admitted that to me. Only this week we have been forced to take legal action in respect of the infringement of my trademark because of this ‘confusion’ and intentional misrepresentation. It’s a classic ‘raiding party’ by his management and booking agency. He’s done very little over the last 15 to twenty years to keep the Wishbone Ash name alive except to live off the royalties and to take pot shots at me in the press while accepting my offers here and there, to remix the odd album. His actions are coy and cynical.
You have been a U.S. resident for a long time now. What is your view of today’s music scene in America?
I’m amazed at the business of music in America. There are many excellent music colleges turning out extremely talented musicians each year. My son went to Berklee School of Music in Boston and each year there are 900 guitarists alone, signing up there for 4 year courses and so so on. The business of music is better than it ever was in America in some respects. But only a very few of these new fresh young talents strike gold. My son’s roommate, for example, scored the gig as Alicia Keys guitarist, straight out of college and went on to tour the world. My son is currently in Rio de Janeiro backing an artist called Zigmat, featured with her song in a Gisele Bündchen TV ad. These are the kind of breaks, musicians dream about. However, there have been no major rock movements of late. Everyone is running scared in my humble opinion. I liked Sufjan Stevens and currently The Dead Weather, Chicken Foot and so on. The Brits traditionally bring in new ideas and flare which kicks things in the rear end, as regards the rock thing. I’m thinking of the Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand. Fleet Foxes from America, promised some good things but there didn’t seem to be too much to it all at the end of the day.
In many respects the Pop Idol / Reality / You Tube thing has given everything a short shelf life and promoted short attention spans in audiences, so a lot of artists don’t have the opportunity to develop, as our generation of bands once did. We had labels and fans who stood by us and gave us longevity and allowed us that license to develop. Nowadays the young bands have to do the job of the labels, managing and promoting themselves and coming up with their own marketing strategies and so on. They are not the dilettantes that we once were. They really have to work at the business of music. It’s tough. 5 or 6 acts on a live bill, sleeping rough, traveling miles if you wish to be a touring act. Brutal in fact but stimulating I guess!
Any fond memories of Japan from your past tours/visits?
Yes, I was only today, comparing notes with our young drummer, Joe Crabtree. He’d been out there, not too long ago with Pendragon. Our visits were fantastic. In those days, it felt a little like the Beatles when we hit town, arriving at a train station or airport. Fans were super friendly and welcoming and there was a lot of rock & roll mayhem. I think we were promoted a little like pop stars in the very early days, which was something new to us - I remember a lot of young girls in the audiences! Ha..ha..
I loved the country and found it absolutely fascinating, the beauty, history, manners, organization, the food and the culture in general. I loved visiting Kyoto, Nagoya, Osaka and of course Tokyo. I would like to travel Japan a little more, going off the beaten track next time, as we do now in the U.K. France or Germany. I really like this aspect of taking the music to the people. We recently, as I said, did a road movie on our U.K. tour which shows this side of our band and so therefore, why not in Japan?
The final question – what do you think of today’s “downloading” and “sharing” music distributions, including iTunes and bit torrent? What is your take on countless unauthorized (unofficial) recordings circulating in cyberspace and fans readily sharing them at will?
Well, now the genie is out of the bottle and if we don’t agree with it then there’s not much can be done about it so I think it’s all about joining the party. I do like ITunes and Spotify as it happens. We are all like our own mini music businesses now - self promoters and cottage industries. It’s all about catching people’s interest. ITunes, the internet, You Tube and so on have all levelled the playing field for acts. That’s for sure. There’s good and bad to it. Personally, I don’t mind it. It's all given us new opportunities. The authorized releases are fine but the amount of unauthorized material out there of ours, is overwhelming. For example, we have a group of fans calling itself Living Proof (after the song you mentioned), and they share live concert recordings of ours with each other and they are very good recordings. Also, recently a half a dozen fans got together and pooled resources at one of our fan conventions, producing a very credible and professional DVD recording of our show. The technology is allowing them to do this.
It’s like ‘power to the people’. The internet is amazing. But in the meantime check out our newly revamped website www.wishboneash.com and also our new 40th anniversary DVD Wishbone Ash - Live in London.
Thank you very much for sharing your time with us. Please leave a brief message for your loyal Japanese fans.
Thank you so much. You have a lot of my words here and have inspired me to get on with writing my own book, which I actually started some months ago!
As far as what I would like to say to the Japanese fans of the band (in all it’s incarnations), I can’t wait to visit Japan again and to share some of our recent work with you all and to once again, experience the beauty and enjoyment of your country. I’m currently trying to get a tour together for June of 2010. We already have the possibility of some shows in Hawaii so it’s only a little further to get across to Japan, after all!