Guitar legend Andy Powell defends legacy of Wishbone Ash, says Trump might actually be good for America
Donald Trump becoming president is so ridiculous that it's actually good in a way because it made everyone aware of just what we stand to lose, Andy says
Wishbone Ash is without a doubt one of the most enduring acts in the world of rock. Formed in 1969, the band's legacy sprawls almost half a century, inspiring the likes of Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden and other giants in the world of rock and metal with their pioneered twin-guitar style. Wishbone Ash's legacy, like most enduring acts around the world, is one that is not foreign to controversy and clashes.
The band recently put all of that behind them to epitomize their legacy in the form of 'The Vintage Years', a very exclusive 30 CD box-set of which only 2,500 copies were made and which contains all 16 studio albums between 1970 and 1991, three original live albums, eight previously unreleased live albums, exclusive merchandise including a lavish 156-page hardback book and other goodies.
I earlier had the chance to speak with the founding member, bassist and vocalist of the band Martin Turner. You can read the full interview here. Martin and I discussed a lot of interesting things. We spoke about Martin's current musical tastes, his bout with tinnitus, the Vintage Years box-set, his love for Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, the whole 'rock is dead' claim and many other things.
But when we discussed the legacy of Wishbone Ash, his leaving the band (first in 1980, then in 1991 for good) and the more recent lawsuit with Andy Powell, the current frontman and longest standing member of Wishbone Ash, things turned slightly sour.
Martin had gone on to claim that Andy Powell tried to put him out of business when he started touring again in about 2005 under the name 'Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash'. Powell wanted Martin to drop the band's name from the act and the issue was finally settled in court where the judge ruled in Powell's favor. Martin went on the record to state that "I want nothing to do with Andy Powell," also adding that Andy Powell is a "charlatan" and a "money grabber" who wants it all to himself.
I had to get the other side of the story and thankfully, I had the opportunity to speak with Andy Powell to clear things up. I called Andy on a Thursday morning, and he took the call at his UK residence. Andy was all set to head over to Germany over the weekend, as the band was slotted to hit the main stage at the Black Sheep Festival in Bad Rappenau.
Before discussing the whole affair with Martin Turner, I spoke to Andy about the Vintage Years box-set, which Andy revealed took a full three years to work on, with coordination and approval from all the original members of the band, including Martin Turner.
I asked Andy if a lot of the material came from his own personal collection of tapes and other material from the old days. "Yeah, I had material stored in England as well as America. I'd stored it for many, many years and was really glad to put it all out and to actually utilize it," Andy said to me.
"Were you involved with the mixing, mastering and production of the box set?" I asked.
"I was involved with the mastering, but there was no re-mixing, as far as I know," Andy said. "I certainly produced most of the visual contents of the box set which includes a 150-page coffee table book. Also, I was instrumental in obtaining the very first demo recording of the first Wishbone Ash album, which went on for sale at Christie's in London," Andy revealed.
"A gentlemen in Boise, Idaho by the name of Dr John Brady used to run our US fan club. He located the demo that had been missing for thirty to forty years and put in a bid and obtained it, which is also a part of the box set."
When I asked him how it felt to get his hands on something that was lost for so long, Andy revealed a hilarious anecdote about the recording process of the debut album, which saw the band cross paths with the legendary British prog rock band Yes. "It's incredible! Because that was our first album and we presented it to Decca/Universal and they thought that we could re-record it. And, in doing so, we changed some songs," Andy revealed.
"But we had recorded it in London at a place called Advision Studios, and we'd recorded it at night during the Yes album sessions. They hired the studio for the daytime and we would creep in at night! The engineer, Phil Dunne, was a friend of ours and he allowed us to record through the night and into the early hours of the morning for free and that's how we managed to record our first album. And it was lost for many decades. So it was very exciting to have it back. It had different versions of the songs from the first album plus some outtakes. There was a song of mine called 'Roses, Day to Day' that never actually made it to the first album. So it had some really interesting surprises in it."
I pointed out to Andy that all this creative energy and effort to obtain lost material ultimately culminated to just 2,500 very exclusive copies of the box-set. "Yeah, it's very exclusive, very limited. Once it's gone, it's gone!" Andy said. "It's a wonderful feeling to have the first 20 years of the band encapsulated in this package. I'm really grateful to Snapper Music. They were able to cut through the legal aspects of it. They were actually the first label that actually managed to convince MCA/Universal to like this material."
"Then there were the interpersonal relationships between former members and Snapper Music was able to cut through all of that as well and make it possible for us to produce the box set. That was a really big feat right there," Andy added.
In this case, one particular "interpersonal relationship" that I was interested in was that between Andy and Martin Turner. When I asked him if he worked with Martin on the Vintage Years box-set, he confirmed that all the decisions and collaboration happened without ever actually meeting him face to face. Snapper Music mediated between all the members, as mentioned above, and thanks to the convenience of the 21st century, the entire affair was stitched together without the original members actually meeting in person.
Andy seemed much cooler and collected about the whole debacle as compared to the very animated Martin Turner. "Over the years, we tried to break the ice... see each other occasionally," Andy said of Martin Turner. "We've had reunions, commemorations and so on... but ultimately it's like a marriage that's finished. It's designed to lead separate lives."
I asked Andy for a comment on some of the things that Martin had said. Speaking about his exit from the band, Martin had said that it wasn't as much as him leaving the band as the band abandoning him. When I asked Andy what he thought of this, he chuckled.
"Well, Martin is a contrarian of sorts. He has a very high opinion of his abilities. It became almost an impossibility to make decisions collectively. Wishbone Ash was always a band. It wasn't a solo act with a backing band. I think he believed that's the case. And it's actually loomed larger now as time has moved forward. I think he believes that more now. Which is very strange because he has produced very little material in the last 25 years himself. He has a distorted view of the reality that was at the time."
Andy went on to present his side of the story, talking about the dual roles a band has to play in terms of creative output and business decisions, and how Martin would always play a “contrarian” during the process.
"If you think about it, we were four creative people (including original drummer Steve Upton and guitarist Ted Turner). But we were also a business. We had limited companies and partnerships and we had to make certain business moves and decisions. And it became a complete impossibility since Martin would always play the contrarian while making any business decision or even creative decisions. When you're in a workplace like that, you try to be a pragmatist and you work around things ultimately in order to move forward, you have to change the situation. And I think that's normal at any workplace and that's kind of what happened."
Andy recounted an incident from the time of the rift to make a point. "We had a group meeting at his house at the time. After we couldn't come to an agreement, he asked us all to leave. So we left. And I think he assumed that we'd call him up and beg for another meeting but we didn't! We went on to invite John Wetton (of King Crimson fame) into the band. I think he was quite surprised by that."
The guitar legend, who boasts a spot in Rolling Stone's List of Top 20 Guitarists of All Time, wasn't done. He was going to get the last word on this. "It's one of the failings of someone with an oversized ego or an oversized idea of what their actual worth is. Obviously, I've been through many, many incarnations of the band. And I've met many interesting characters. Some of them a little bit like Martin," he said.
He also clarified: "Now you do need a little bit of an ego in a band to produce music but you also need to have a collective energy and a collective mentality and you need to know what's right for the band whether it be musically, technically, business wise... There are several factors to it. As you can see, I've been fairly successful at that. The band is approaching 50 years as a recording entity and a live entity and I think Martin would be very hard pressed to come even close to that."
That being said, Andy admits on the record that he doesn't hold a grudge against Martin. "It's only recently that he's realized that he's gonna eat a little bit of the humble pie, get out there, hit the road and do what most sensible musicians do," he said followed by another quick chuckle. "He'll have to be a little bit more pragmatic and humble and I think that's what he's done and all power to him! I hope he's learned some good lessons there."
There was an awkward pause that quickly disappeared with one of Andy's many cheerful laughs. I was quite surprised as to how calmly Andy handled it all. At 68 years of age, I guess Andy has seen it all! I told him that Martin, on the other hand, was very animated while discussing the band's legacy and told Andy that he called him a "charlatan" and a "money grabber".
"He's deluded," Andy re-confirmed. "He only has a small grasp on the reality of business, money and all the rest of it. I think he's fabricated an entire persona for me. I mean, my credentials are sterling with the many, many people I've worked with. I've worked with a lot of people other than Martin Turner. It doesn't worry me. But he's very bitter because he has a delusional image of his role in the band and the band itself. And when you're deluded, you come up with this nonsense. That's my impression of it all," Andy concluded.
"So for the record, you call a truce and wish Martin all the best?" I asked.
Andy didn't say yes immediately, but he did very much confirm that he wishes Martin the best. "I think he's realized that he has to be a bit humble. I think it's been a struggle for him. It's never been a struggle for me because I never stopped doing it. But I think he's had to cut his ego down a few pegs and get out there. I mean he's playing some pretty small shows, but, at the end of the day, you have to stop whining. Stop having such a romanticized image of who you are. I wish him well. I really do." So there you have it!
I told Andy how Martin intended to hopefully head back into the studio soon and focus on his music. I hoped for the sake of Wishbone Fans across the world that he does just that. Andy shared the sentiment and reminisced about the band’s old days at this point, a time when they were at the peak of their creative output.
"He has a lot of fans and a lot of people love what he does. I loved what he DID, back in the day. We were in a really productive, creative relationship. I think that's what he needs to do, but he makes a big deal out of it. I myself have stayed very productive. I mean you talk about the first 20 years but after that, in the last 30 years or so the productive output is huge.
"Many different band members, many countries toured, new territories conquered, many DVDs produced, books... All kinds of media. You need to get on with it. But Martin tends to be a bit precious about his so-called art and his muse and his, what does he call it, the 'key creative force' that he has. I think it's very precious to him and it takes him a long time to get around to do things. He's actually admitted that himself, but I just haven't got time for it. Life's too short! I get on with it."
So now that the elephant in the room was out of the way, I loosened up and discussed a whole lot of other things with Andy. I even got some exclusive insider info about Wishbone Ash's yet to be announced tour dates, so, fans, listen up!
The band will be headed to Canada in September, after which they return to the UK for gigs through October and November. But Andy also confirmed that there are more dates added. They'll be touring Germany in January 2019, through February. They'll also be hitting Poland, France, Spain and finally the United States in April. I was wondering why the band would make it all the way to Canada this year without performing in the States. I pointed that out and told Andy that I thought it was a conscious choice to boycott America!
Andy rolled out another one of his hearty laughs. "Well, I do feel like it sometimes. I'm not a big fan of the government, let's put it that way. But we decided to move all US tour dates to spring of 2019. We just wrapped a tour of the southern states — Texas, Lousiana, California and so on. We'd just been there so, no, there's no boycott!"
Andy also told me that he holds dual citizenship and is also a citizen of the USA and that he enjoyed his recent trek of the States very much, which criss-crossed through an impressive 10,000 miles, something that Andy still enjoys at his age, which I told him was almost illegal in the world of rock and roll.
Talking about plans of heading back to the studio for another album, Andy said that it might be on the cards but not in the near future. He also told me that he's been contemplating a solo album in the near future so keep your eyes and ears peeled for that.
Wondering if the new material could showcase any elements of electronic music as is the norm today in most modern rock acts, I asked Andy about two Wishbone Ash albums that have displayed a sudden left-turn from their traditional sound — 1997's electronic re-recording 'Trance Visionary' and 1998's 'Psychic Terrorism'.
"We produced a fabulous classic rock album just before that called 'Illuminations' and it was a very good production," Andy said.
"We had John Edgell who had engineered for the likes of Queen, David Bowie and George Harrison. We had a great line-up, a great vocalist but it did very little. It got some good reviews and the fans quite liked it but that's about it. As far as 'Trance Visionary' and 'Psychic terrorism' are concerned, it was a complete left-field attempt. That was me, in a way, throwing the baby out of the pram!"
"Techno and dance music was in at the time. My kids were playing it around the house. They didn't want to listen to the guitar solos. The audiences out there were listening to The Chemical Brothers or whatever. Even Clapton and Jeff Beck had experimented with their sound. So the only thing that worked at the time were those kinds of albums. So I thought f*ck it, let's do an album like that. And, as you said, it stuck out like a sore thumb, but in that genre, credible nonetheless.
"Of course, our die-hard classic fans hated it, and that's nothing new to me. I'm a guitar player and a singer/songwriter and I play in a classic, heritage rock band, but my musical tastes personally... I can get into country, blues, folk-rock, techno, dance, classical music. I think in a way it was a cathartic experience to make those albums. Certainly not the greatest decision career-wise. I remember Martin saying, "It's a very posh album, Andy!" but it didn't do much. Everyone had started making albums in their bedrooms and the times were changing."
"Donald Trump becoming the president of the United States is so ridiculous that it's actually good in some way because it reset and re-calibrated everything. It made everyone aware of just what we're losing. In a way, those two albums were a little bit like that," Andy added, using one of the strangest analogies I've encountered.
I also spoke to Andy about the music that he's been listening to off late. He told me that he does still actively seek out new music. He spoke about Bowie's final album 'Blackstar' and admitted that he's quite a fan of Canadian folk project Bahamas. He's also a fan of Brooklyn-based indie rockers Lucius. "I go to gigs a lot. I mostly go to check out what the newer rock bands are doing and also some of the classics. Rammstein, Iron Maiden... I recently saw Paul McCartney."
I reminded Andy that Iron Maiden's founder and bassist Steve Harris had admitted that Wishbone Ash was a big influence on his music. "Apparently, yeah. There are a few bands inspired by us. Some of my guitar licks have found their way on to Steely Dan records, Thin Lizzy records, Iron Maiden records and even Metallica. We are kind of like the roots of rock in that way. And we, in turn, have been inspired by other bands as well. One of my all-time favorite bands was The Who," Andy admitted.
To my great joy and surprise, I also found out that Andy Powell is a huge fan of Arcade Fire and, being a huge fan myself, we took a moment to bond over the fact. I asked him if he listened to their latest album 'Everything Now' and he admitted that he was a little wary after the reviews and was scared to check it out since he loved them so much and didn't want to be disappointed! So I told him that the album was their 'Trance Visions/Psychic Terrorism' moment, which he found amusing and he told me that he'll be sure to check them out.
At the end of it all, I had both sides of the story of Wishbone Ash's legacy and couldn't help but wonder what it takes to build a legacy that lasts almost half a century. Some bands like The Rolling Stones and Jethro Tull might make it look easy, but the time, effort, money, compromises and creative vision required to endure the ever-shifting landscape of the music industry is very demanding indeed - something that Andy taught me over one phone call. It was a larger-than-life experience to hear about it from someone who is a legend in his own right in the field and one that left me pondering for a great deal of time about what we see of a band and what really goes down behind the curtains.