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Wishbone Ash. Courtesy photo.




Wishbone Ash

When: Friday, Sept. 29, 8 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A Road, Derry
Tickets: $30 & $35 at tupelohall.com




American English
Wishbone Ash plays Tupelo

09/28/17
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com



 A second British Invasion hit America’s shores in the early 1970s, as prog rock came full flower. Bands like Genesis, Yes and Jethro Tull forged a new path, marrying psychedelia, blues-rock and jazz to loftier themes, featuring complex time signatures and album-length songs. 

Wishbone Ash was one of the  groups riding this wave. Formed via the machinations of uber manager Miles Copeland, it featured the twin guitar playing of Ted Turner and Andy Powell, a unique sound that arguably informed some of the decade’s most memorable songs. Thin Lizzy’s “Boys Are Back in Town” and “Reelin’ In the Years” by Steely Dan are two examples; The Eagles’ “Hotel California” is another. 
“Those bands definitely copped a little bit from Wishbone Ash,” Powell said in a recent phone interview, though he allowed that his group didn’t invent the approach. “The Allmans [were] the pre-eminent ones ... but their harmony structure is, dare I say, simplistic. They mostly stick to thirds and fifths, where we made the bass work against the guitars in a contrapuntal way.”
The four-piece group broke through in the States with their third album, 1972’s Argus. Steeped in medieval mythology and religious themes, it came at just the right time. 
“After playing theaters and clubs in Britain, we started to expand,” Powell said. “We came over to this country and were playing big venues. We realized we needed to simplify the music to get it across ... but we also needed these grandiose-type themes. Those venues demanded the music change.”
At that point, Powell said, “it all came together.” Around the same time, Wishbone Ash decided to move stateside and capitalize on their success; they chose Connecticut as a home base. Though many English ex-pats went to California, the Eastern locale made sense. 
“It’s  close to New York and you can flit back to Europe quite easily,” Powell said.
He said that, along with quick access to New York City and Miami studios, the vibe better suited them. 
“It was cooler to be in a place that wasn’t so radically different,” he said. “L.A. could have spun out of control. ... That was the crazier side of rock ’n’ roll; I thought we were a bit more rootsier.”
Forty-plus years later, Powell is still in New England, pressing on as the last original member of Wishbone Ash. He leads a youngish quartet that includes bassist Bob Skeat, drummer Joe Crabtree and Mark Abrahams on guitar. Abrahams only recently joined,  the latest in a long line of second guitarists — a circumstance that Powell celebrates. 
“It’s like having a guitar lesson every night, because they all bring something to the table — some are more melodic, some more muscular players, some are more rhythmic, some more bluesy,” he said of the many accompanists he’s worked with. “In Mark’s case, he’s going to be very intriguing. He’s actually grown up with the music of the band; his father is a huge fan, and Mark heard his first Wishbone Ash song when he was 9.” 
They band tours relentlessly, logging hundreds of shows a year; a deep catalog keeps each night fresh. 
“Half the set can vary,” Powell said. “Sometimes we’ll have a guest performer. ... in Germany next year we’re going to have a couple of backup singers, and we’ve had percussionists with us. Those kind of things keep it fresh, but you’ve always got to play songs that people are familiar with it, and I’m grateful for it. I don’t fight that, to be honest.”
The current tour includes an unplugged set. Stripping down a familiar song often reveals something new, Powell said. 
“We wrote the Argus album on acoustic guitars ...  in my little apartment in London,” he said. 
After weeks of working like this, they moved to a proper studio and electrified their creation. 
“Now, it’s actually the other way around; then, we took it from acoustic to electric, but now we’ll be stripping them back down again.”
A late September stop at Tupelo Music Hall is an always enjoyed annual trip for Powell. 
“As I go north to Vermont or New Hampshire, I always get more of a feeling of English-ness in America, if that makes sense. There’s something about the audiences up there that reminds me a lot of  the U.K.,” he said. “They are clued in ... very warm and accepting. They understand what we are trying to put over, so it’s very comfortable. I’m not patronizing when I say that; it’s just how I feel.” 





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