UK 50th Anniversary Tour & AshCon Wrap-Up
I don’t get it. I survived an intensive five-week, 31-date, 50th anniversary commemorative tour of the UK, plus a busy and emotional AshCon, only to arrive home and promptly, the very next night, to hyper extend my shoulder (very painful) while trying to remove my coat. Yes, you heard right, remove my coat! At the time, I was in the audience at a theatre where John Cleese was holding forth, during his one-man performance tour.
Such is life and it’s a reminder that none of us, musicians and fans, are getting any younger, I suppose. Cleese was a hoot and the shoulder eventually repaired itself after 3 days or so. Since then, I’ve been doing interviews every day for Wishbone Ash at home in the safe confines of my home. Of course, most of these interviews are regarding our upcoming album release but also, curiously, a couple have been for Sony Records in conjunction with an upcoming Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac release. It appears that some live recordings from the late ’60’s, in remarkably good shape, came to light, and I was called upon to comment, having been the 17-year-old kid who pulled Peter back on for an encore at the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival in 1967, after the Mac’s debut performance.
Fans of Wishbone will know and understand the reverence that I have for early Fleetwood Mac and, in particular, Peter Green. They were the true pioneers of twin-lead bands in the UK and then there was their use of Orange Amplification and numerous other career parallels. Peter was THE guitar player that had the blues mojo in spades. We were that bit younger, of course, but indeed we ran afoul of the same group of druggies and hippies that the Mac encountered when they hit L. A. in the early ’70s. Indeed, things were never quite the same after that for Fleetwood Mac or for Wishbone Ash, if truth be known. Peter went off the rails shortly thereafter and Jeremy Spencer disappeared with the Children of God sect, while our own Ted Turner absconded 3 days prior to our performance at the Whiskey A Go Go on Sunset Strip, only to return in a mind-altered state, ready for our very important showcase for the MCA record label executives who had just inked a deal with us for a quarter of a mill!
That all seems so very, very long ago and we (and certainly Fleetwood Mac) regrouped, as they say, and reinvented ourselves several times in the ensuing decades, in our case weathering bankruptcy, court cases and much more, to become the solid, dependable touring and recording entity that you see today. Still, after all that, I challenge the musicians and fans of lesser or greater bands to work at the pace we do currently. It boggles my mind and I’ve been at this for 50 years! Did I say 50 years? I keep saying that phrase and it’s actually awesome. I can’t quite believe it, you see, because I’m always operating so much in the ‘now' and I don’t often take the time out to reflect. However, this year, alone, has been amazing, with 18 countries visited so far, plus a brand new studio album and video for the single in the can. And now … preparations underway for tours in the new year. What an incredible team: Bob, Joe, Mark, our road crew and agents - I salute you all.
Our audience numbers were solid all the way through the U. K. tour, and I’m pleased to say that we played some venues I’ve never been to before, notably the Sage in Gateshead and the Roses in Tewksbury (or Twerksbury as my visiting American friends inadvertently called it). We doubled our audience numbers at Edinburgh, for example, and all of our promoters reaffirmed their loyalty by already booking the band for a 2020 tour.
The shows, at 90% of the towns we visited, featured two one-hour sets with full video projection; and I must give a special shout-out to Joe Crabtree for compiling the video play-on sequence featuring a nifty overview of the band’s 50-year timeline that many of you enjoyed. We featured a live version of the new single, “We Stand As One,” as well as some deep tracks like “Enigma” and “Ancient Remedy” performed at AshCon - the band’s fan club convention that took place at the very end of the tour. Speaking of AshCon, it was a sold-out affair and an all-round weekend success. The Ben Granfelt band, Mike Day and Miss Claire Hamill entertained the troops on the Friday night at the Barley Mow pub in Leicester as did tribute guys, Wishclone Ish, after they finally resolved the missing drum set issue. Big shout out to Nick DeJong, Fred Renz, Jim Lochhead and George Douglas.
It was such a pleasure to have Claire join us onstage the next evening at the Y Theatre, bringing back fond memories of her involvement in the band during the 1980s. We rocked out to her tune “Living Proof,” as well as “Underground” and the unexpected version of that Tamla Motown staple, “Get Ready,” in tribute to our host, Guy Roberts and his birthday celebration that day. Last I heard, he and Sue, the very next day, absconded (well deservedly) to the beaches of Goa, India, where they are still sunning themselves and hopefully sharing a few cocktails, now that AshCon is over for another year. I’m sure you’ll all join me in thanking them for their hard work in putting things together for the convention.
Also joining us on stage that evening, my old buddy and tonemeister, Ben Granfelt rocked out with us on songs like “Faith, Hope and Love” and “Bonafide,” and it was a pleasure to catch some of his band’s set when we first arrived at the venue. Great to also meet up again with drummer Miri Miettinen. Back in the day, Miri was so instrumental in easing our own Joe Crabtree into his first recording session with Wishbone, during the recording of the album “The Power of Eternity.” This was when we worked at Miri’s studio in Finland. Indeed, I personally owe all the wonderful Finnish musicians that I’ve met, through my friendship with Ben, a sincere debt of gratitude; and, of course, I now see that Ben and Muddy are reunited and once again tearing it up on the road in Germany.
Talking of foreign bands and the cross-pollination effect of music, one of the most gratifying results of all these last 50 years of work is the incredible international community of fans and friends that we have all encountered. I count this as one of my best achievements - to participate in the bringing together, through music, people from all walks of life and from many different geographical locations, transcending boundaries and thereby creating a truly international Wishbone Ash community. This has enriched us all unbelievably. At this AshCon we had folks from the following countries, all mingling in the bar post-show, and it was beautiful: Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Finland, France, Brazil, South Africa, and it was as if borders simply didn’t exist. Ain’t music great?
Several individual and groups of fans came to multiple shows on this recent tour, which seems to be a serious pattern these days. Notably Ian and Doreen Barton, Michael and Sue Day, Keith Fox, Ben Reinhardt, Colin Hargrave, Chris Brennan, Derek Thompson, Dave and Carol Cruikshank, Chris and Carolyn Wright, Jim Lochhead all cheered us on at several venues. Forgive me if I’ve forgotten anyone.
In addition, one of the cool things about touring the U.K. is that Pauline and I get to catch up with our families since we’re often in their towns from London to Aberdeen and all points in between. Wishbone business also gives me the special opportunity to spend time with my dear mother, Ruby, who at 98 years of age is still totally clued into music and current affairs. I manage her care needs from the road, which in itself is no mean feat, joking with her that I can’t stop until she does .
So, as I sit here at home wondering where the next gig is, I’m thumbing through this incredible book … “Flashbacks” … that was presented to me at AshCon - a book of band and personal tributes along with fascinating memories from you, my extended family of friends, that I’m so humbled and honored to know. Nothing could have surprised me more, when it was presented to me before our show by Derek Lewis and Nick DeJong. They had undertaken this huge task to compile the book after the idea came to them a year ago. If you look at the video of the presentation, you can see how genuinely blown away I was (and still am) by it, and marvel that folks took the time to put down their thoughts. This is a gift that I shall always treasure. True success in life is earning the appreciation of your peers and having a great circle of friends and acquaintances … and I feel that I have them in abundance these days. That’s a great feeling. Thank you all!!
I must mention something about the new album, “Coat of Arms.” It was clearly apparent to me that if we were to release a new album, then the only real window of time to record was going to be the summer of 2019, since the date sheet was already filling up at an alarming rate for both 2020 and 2021. Also, it was vital and high time to be able to feature the guitar playing and compositional flair of Mark Abrahams, who really needed to have his debut on a new Wishbone Ash studio album. Mark’s already, and unbelievably, into his 3rd year of touring with the band, and so the time to record had come. I’d already started writing with my son Aynsley at home here in Connecticut over the previous couple of years, and so we thought that some of that material would be a good to start with. The band had inked a deal with SPV Records while on tour in Japan earlier this year. In May, Mark and I decided to book a demo studio in France, with help from Daniel Vetter. Then, in August we were ready to record the newly minted songs, this time in Lancashire UK. I worked all through September on vocals and overdubs in Connecticut. That was the summer - done! Not much down time but, hey, we had an album in the can.
All during the intensive UK tour dates, I was receiving and reviewing mixes over the internet, from New York, of the tunes that I’d literally just completed, the night before jumping on a plane to England. As you can imagine, the other aspects of coming up with a single release, an album design plus a live promo video - all requirements of our deal with SPV Records - took a lot of late nights and early mornings before and after our actual touring work day began and finished. This stuff can be pretty stimulating but also taxing, since there are only so many hours in a day.
For the CD design, we wanted to produce an actual coat of arms, since I figured that we are at a point in our career where have totally earned the right to have one, and … we’ve actually accumulated enough history to really warrant one. It seemed fitting on this album which could (I say could) be the last, in what has been an amazing run of studio albums. We already had Aynsley’s amazing song, the epic guitar work-out, which I titled “Coat of Arms.” Once I’d finished the lyric, it seemed like an appropriate title track. Decision made. Mark and I contacted various heraldic artists, experts and guilds before settling on an artist who is actually, currently in the final stages of completing the definitive version. Meanwhile, back at home, in between writing this blog, I’m battling with completion of the album’s liner notes and credits.
The final extra-curricular job was to produce a video for the song “We Stand As One,” which we did during our actual show at London’s O2 Academy in Islington. Joe Crabtree was instrumental in planning this all out with director Dan Coffey and the editing of it all, again, took place whilst we were on tour. So, all in all, a VERY productive month. The album is set for release by the end of February but the single will be out before that. I’ll be doing promotion, interviews and PR all through our January German tour, and I have a feeling that this record will get some good coverage in the press for a change.
So, all that remains is to wish you all a great time during the upcoming holiday season. Pauline and I will be heading south for US Thanksgiving to visit various factions of our extended American family, but Christmas will be spent back in the frozen Northeast before preparing for the famed “Music and Stories” joint German tour with Nazareth and Uriah Heep in January 2020. Thereafter, we’ll play some extra German dates in our own right, before heading straight Stateside for our USA tour of the South and West. I’ll be celebrating my birthday during this tour. It’s a very special one for me and will coincide with a visit to the all-time party town, New Orleans, where we’ll be performing at the famed House of Blues.
Come On Down!!!
Then, finally at the end of this whole two-month slew of road dates, we all fly back to Florida, where we’ll join the On The Blue Cruise featuring a ton of classic rock artists like ourselves. A Caribbean cruise will be mighty welcome at that point, I’m thinking.
Best wishes to one and all ~ A.P.