The Class of 1970: The Debut of Wishbone Ash
In terms of longevity, there are few bands who have been out there rockin’ it as long as Wishbone Ash. This band formed in in 1969, and they are still playing today, albeit with numerous personnel changes. Since 1970, the band has released 25 studio albums and at least 18 live recordings. They were never a top-selling band but were always regarded for their outstanding musicianship.
The band’s eponymous debut, issued September 1, 1970, was the first of four excellent albums by the original lineup of: Andy Powell, lead guitar, vocals; Ted Turner, lead guitar, vocals; Martin Turner, bass, vocals; and Steve Upton, drums. Turner and Upton founded the band. Initially, they were searching for a guitarist and a keyboard player. When they hit upon Powell and Ted Turner (no relation to Martin), they decided to try it with two. To say the experiment was a success would be a gross understatement; their twin lead guitar work is pure magic.
The album was issued on the Decca/MCA label, with Derek Lawrence producing. It was recorded at De Lane Lea Studios in London. All tracks are credited to the band.
Our introduction to Wishbone Ash was “Blind Eye” (3:40), a short but powerful rocker. Instantly, the twin guitars are in evidence, and it is clear the group made a great decision. The high-register vocals are smooth but strong. The piano on this track is courtesy of Matthew Fisher, a nice addition for an old-school song. The “solo” section — well, they’re both wailing away — is great. And the theme is, “You turned a blind eye to everything I ever did.”
“Lady Whiskey” (6:13) continues the power trio plus one approach. Upton sets a deliberate pace with Martin Turner. The guitars are blazing again.
They slow the tempo for “Errors of My Ways” (6:56), which features beautiful harmony vocals in addition to the superb twin guitar leads. The sound is so remarkably sweet. There was little like this on the landscape at the time.
Back to prog rock with “Queen of Torture” (3:23). These are metal guitar leads, vocals again with a smooth edge to them, perfect for the overall sound of the band.
Side one of the album had four tracks, two under four minutes, the others under seven. Contrast that with the two long tracks on side two. “Handy” 11:37) is a five-part track, at once distinct and yet cohesive. Everything centers around Martin Turner on bass, who is showcased magnificently. Part one begins with just bass and guitar swirling around each other. Upton enters on drums at 1:40 as a slow blues emerges. Both guitars are present, and they do their twin thing at 3:30, Martin prominent.
At the 5-minute mark, the track shifts to a very uptempo rocker, Upton in charge. He gets a fine feature at 8:15 before they shift into old-school swing blues with vocals; there is a great guitar solo and then great vocalese. What a ride!
Finally, there is “Phoenix” (10:26) with an anthemic opening. One of the guitars is working out on the wah-wah pedal as the other solos, a slow, bluesy ballad with lovely vocals. They kick the tempo double-time five minutes in, and that shifts to an even more powerful rave-up before they return to the head with a minute remaining.
This outstanding band produced three more great albums before the first of numerous personnel changes, but they have always retained their identity as prog rockers.
Here is the full album on YouTube: