In the early ’70s, U.K.-born hard rock act, Wishbone Ash, set the standard for the oft-copied twin attack.
While outfits such as Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, Steely Dan, and numerous others in the modern age are often credited with perpetuating the approach, perhaps no band popularized the multi-guitar onslaught better than Wishbone Ash. Bulldozing across the scene with pulverizing records such as Wishbone Ash (1970), Pilgrimage (1971), and Argus (1972), Wishbone ash set the standard for fusion-inspired progressive yet hard rock.
But at the heart of it all was Andy Powell, the sizzling axe-slinger who had been with Wishbone Ash from day one, ably guiding the band’s melodic interludes to dizzying success. Retrospectively, it’s hard to deny Powell’s indelible influence. Moreover, Powell continues to carry Wishbone Ash into the modern age, serving as the band’s longest and only continuous member since its inception.
Preparing for a heavy workload in 2023, Andy Powell relented for a moment, logging on with ClassicRockHistory.com to run through his early musing with the guitar, the formation of Wishbone Ash, his memories of the band’s early recordings, and what’s next as he moves ahead.
What was the moment that first sparked your interest in music, and who were your early influences?
Probably listening to Hank B. Marvin’s guitar work with the British instrumental band The Shadows. I was 10 or 11. Chuck Berry also, no question. And then you had George Harrison, Steve Cropper, Albert King, and all the mid-60s players like Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and most especially, Peter Green. And then, the English folk players like Bert Jansch, John Renbourne, and Richard Thompson. Basically, I needed all of these influences into my own definitive style, which I recognize but leave for others to define. Let’s just say that it’s fluid and melodic.
What were some of your earliest gigs where you first cut your teeth?
At age 12 or so, I’d play Saturday Morning Pictures, which was the intermission show at the local cinema. Then there were works’ social clubs, youth clubs, and those kinds of things. I quickly got the idea of playing and making a living at it, even at that tender age.
Take me through the initial formation of Wishbone Ash.
Initially, the rhythm section had a three-piece outfit called the Empty Vessels in the West of England. By that time, I’d been, at that time, in several soul bands with horns, notably the Sugar Band, and also, importantly, in a fledgling twin-lead band. After the guitar player in the Empty Vessels, now renamed Tanglewood, left, upon their move to London.
It was then that Ted Turner and myself joined Martin Turner and Steve Upton under the aegis of manager Mikes Copeland. We called our new band Wishbone Ash. I wanted to explore how two guitarists could further work together. I was a fan, as was Ted, of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, and there was also a band called Blossom Toes that were weaving two guitars together. I liked what they were doing but felt that we could go way further.
It’s been said that Wishbone Ash’s twin guitar attack was highly influential, especially for the era. What can you tell me with regard to its development?
It was. We were far more adventurous than others in pushing the envelope of what was achievable, sometimes harmonizing in 3rds, 4ths, and 5ths and even bringing in the bass, here and there, for 3-part harmonies. Bands like Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, Opeth, and even Steeley Dan copped influences from us.
What can you recollect from the sessions of Wishbone Ash’s self-titled debut?
Frenetic hard work, hours and hours of rehearsals, and actually starving. We had no food but had dreams of this album possibly becoming something. We were living in virtual squats in London. It was tough. We spent our time trying to come up with an individualistic band sound, uniquely ours. But it was important because we developed our sound: twin lead guitar-driven songs featuring dual and three-part vocal harmonies, a dynamic and very melodic approach using simply two lead guitars, bass, and drums.
Pilgrimage and Argus were stout follow-up albums and are retrospectively revered. Clue us in on the secret sauce when it came to recording those albums.
The first two were 8-track recordings and pretty much honest replications of our stage set and live sound. Honest and forthright, forged in the clubs. We had a great producer and engineer team on all three records in Derek Lawrence and Martin Birch. But Argus, the third album, was different and employed a different approach. Firstly technology was now allowing for the recording of 16 tracks, and we’d double-track the guitars and vocals at my suggestion in the manner of the Beatles.
The music was carefully composed, firstly just using acoustics guitars, then transferring over to electric instruments, and importantly, we’d already started visiting America. This made us quickly understand that we needed larger, more grandiose themes and music that could be enjoyed at bigger venues like stadiums and festivals. In short, we were thinking like a stadium band.
Coat of Arms stands as Wishbone Ash’s most recent release. From a songwriting and recording perspective, what sort of challenges did the band face recording during COVID?
We finished the album before COVID, so that we couldn’t promote it fully. The writing, however, took place pre-COVID, as did the recording, so those things weren’t impacted. The approach was for Mark Abrahams and me to get together in France with my son, Aynsley, and our sound man Daniel Vetter for the demo/writing process. Then we presented the songs to our rhythm section in Lancashire in our studio and brought in our engineers and our producer. Later, some overdubs were done at my place in Connecticut, and the album was mixed in New York by Tom Greenwood.
What keeps Wishbone Ash such a compelling live act in the modern age? What’s next?
We have always had an intense self-belief and confidence in our playing and our own definitive sound. With that in mind, we plan to keep touring, touring, and yet more touring! We recorded a live album in New York during the month of June, and that was truly a lot of fun. We recorded it at Darryl’s House Club in Pawling. Beyond that, there will also inevitably be another studio album, I think.
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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