Out in the shed I have a box of cassette tapes. Remember them? And among them is a C60 of a BBC broadcast of Wishbone Ash playing at the Hammersmith Odeon sometime around 1980, I guess. That tape got played a lot, back in the day. Yet somehow – don’t ask me why - I’ve never got round to seeing Wishbone Ash live until now.
Which is a pity, because they’re a band with a classy repertoire built on a unique mix of ingredients, and they absolutely have the skill set to do it justice. They’ve been a revolving door over the decades of course, but led by Andy Powell on guitar and vocals the latest incarnation are still the real deal.
clean guitar harmonies are there from the opening
instrumental, along with some of the folky elements that contribute to their
distinctive sound. They can also power
out a good, gutsy riff though, getting the crowd going. It doesn’t take them long to turn to one of
their classics, ‘The King Will Come’, and when they do there’s immediate
lift-off, with new guitarist Mark Abrahams contributing a stirring wah-wah solo.
|Heads down, no nonsense, mindless Renaissance folky prog rock|
It’s evident on ‘Warrior’ Andy Powell is still in fine fettle vocally, which can’t be said for some of his contemporaries, and his harmonies with bassist Bob Skeat are spot on. Powell also manages to exude an affable elder statesman charm – without feeling the need to say very much he still makes an obvious connection with the audience.
They turn to acoustic guitars for ‘Throw Down The Sword’, and some more of those distinctive elements come to the fore in the almost courtly, Renaissance feel of some passages – yet they still swing. They’re proggy, to be sure, but after their own particular fashion. The following ‘Wings Of Desire’ is a bit more lightweight, but still features some tasteful interleaving of the two guitars.
‘F.U.B.B.’ is a whole other animal, built on a stonking bass groove, with passages of discordant guitar, precise guitar harmonies and a revved up, duelling ending – it’s an iconic instrumental.
They get down to some hard riffing with ‘Standing In The Rain’, with Powell and Skeat getting down in a neatly choreographed fashion. It’s a good warm-up for them showing their blues roots with ‘Jail Bait’, a second cousin to ‘Roadhouse Blues’ if ever there was one.
Which just leaves time – well, quite a lot of time really – for them to get the crowd into hands aloft mode with the trademark epic ‘Phoenix’, before encoring with a brisk read through of ‘Blowin’ Free’ to end a set that clearly went down a storm with the aficionados. Now, I wonder what state that C60 cassette is in?
|Steve Hill - trapped in the middle of a drum kit|
But first a word about support act Steve Hill, who has been doing the rounds with Wishbone Ash throughout this tour. The Canadian is singular for his efforts in delivering hard-hitting blues rock as a one-man band, managing to play kick drum, hi-hat, cymbal and god knows what else in addition to guitar and vocals. Now that runs the risk of being seen as a novelty act - except that he somehow packs enough punch to blow away a hell of a lot bands you’ll come across.
‘Damned’ is a Zeppelin-like stomp, and on the following ‘How Can I Go On?’ it’s clear that he relishes the rhythm he manages to build up. For some light and shade ‘Change Your Mind’ features a howling solo and a neo-classical outro – on album he also demonstrates that he’s a dab hand with intricate acoustic guitar.
‘Rhythm All Over’ absolutely lives up to its title, with a great, ringing, Bad Company style riff, and the following ‘Dangerous’ is yet more rollicking rock’n’roll, and by now a good old chunk of the audience are definitely paying attention.
Hill closes with ‘Something That You Said’, on which he doubles up the tempo and takes an excursion into ZZ Top territory. What he’s doing with the percussion must be a feat of concentration, unless it’s simply second nature to him after doing it for years, but he still manages to invest it with bags of energy. He overdoes the outro for me – he could have got another song out there in the time he goes round the block – but the punters lap it up. And shit, I think he deserves to do what he likes anyway with the effort he puts in.
Steve Hill may not sound anything like Motorhead, but I think Lemmy would applaud his rock’n’roll spirit.