Wishbone Ash. Cologne. 23.1.2014

The theme of Wishbone Ash’s 2014 is the 4oth anniversary of ‘Live Dates’, so how would the current line-up tackle it?  They start out with ‘Blind Eye’ (which wasn’t on ‘Live Dates’), with a surprisingly-animated lead vocal from Andy Powell. A ‘safe’ start, which blends into the title track from the new record ‘Blue Horizon’.  Vocals right down at the bottom of AP’s range, there is some trademark twin guitar stuff, but it it plods along like a brewery dray horse on the way to its final drop before retirement. (Sorry Andy, but only my opinion).

‘Big Issues’ from the last studio lp follows and then it is the ‘Live Dates’ section, featuring the classic intro to ‘The King Will Come’. It’s always been a great song, and tonight’s version is decent enough , as is the following ‘Warrior’.  No rest, straight into ‘Throw down the Sword’, also from ‘Argus’.  The solo at the end of it on ‘Live Dates’ is totally definitive and I’ve heard many a version in the years since. Sadly, AP has never matched it since (and at times it has been bloody awful!).

The lead vocals on ‘Rock and Roll Widow’ don’t particularly improve on the original but there is some good slide guitar on it.  Following the original order, ‘Ballad of the Beacon’ is next. It was never one of my favourites and tonight’s version has a similar affect on me. The Jimmy Reed blues standard ‘Baby what you want me to do’ follows, and Wishbone Ash (unlike some others at the time) didn’t try to forget who the composer was! Some more slide in evidence, and a pretty good rendition.

Next is ‘The Pilgrim’. Wishbone Ash line-ups various have usually done a good version of it, and tonight is no exception. I’ve always found those ‘Cleo Laine’ vocal bits annoying, which is why ‘Sometime World’ and ‘Vas Dis’ are sure fire signs of a toilet break for yours truly. ‘Blowing Free’ is regulation length and absolutely fine. ‘Jailbait’ didn’t lose anything (for me) when Ted Turner left and Martin Turner took over lead vocals (as on the live lp from Japan). Still a good singaclapalong song for those who want to participate.   ‘Lady Whiskey’ is ok instrumentally, but AP’s vocals don’t really bear up.

‘Phoenix’ brings the ‘Live Dates’ section to a close. The song was mothballed for a while when the original line-up reformed but was resurrected. Somewhat modified, AP does his best with a challenging vocal task, but the crowd are all behind it. The encore is another one from ‘Blue Horizon’ and the excellent song ‘Living Proof’ ends proceedings.

So how did they fare? On the whole, it was a success I feel. Andy Powell takes all the lead vocals, but then again he is head honcho in every department of the company. It seems ironic that one of the (alleged) reasons why Martin Turner ‘left’ in 1980 was the desire from the management for a straight-up lead vocalist. (I really don’t think Mr P would have been on the shortlist). Since then , there has been AP (with Claire Hammill), (they subsequently declined the opportunity to use John Wetton), Spam Spence, MT/TT/AP, Tony Kishman and Mark Birch, and eventually AP again. But how do you politely suggest to the ‘boss’ that maybe a change is in order? A few people tried it with Idi Amin and they were never seen again.

Value for money? Definitely, just short of 2 hours, it will be interesting how they approach their slot at Cambridge Rock Festival.   Given the tit-for-tat shenanigans that came with the ‘Argus’ reworking, I was imagining how Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash would sound doing ‘Live Dates’?! I don’t think Martin T is that petty to consider it.

Other dates in Germany have seen slight changes to the opening and closing songs, and I would recommend checking them out on the tour. The new numbers? I admire AP for trying to make new records but  would they be playing them in 40 years time…with a new line-up!?  I don’t think so, but I won’t be around to review it either. Also, how do those Wishbone Ash diehards who accuse Martin Turner of merely trading on past glories view the performance here of a DOUBLE past glory? A portion of ‘umble pie perchance?

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