The Andy Powell Interview

Since 1969, Wishbone Ash has recorded 24 studio albums and 10 live albums. As the one constant in the band’s 45-year odyssey, founding guitarist Andy Powell is more excited than ever about the present lineup and 2014’s sensational album, Blue Horizon. The band completed a Spring tour of the U.S. in April and May, are on the bill of a couple summer European festivals, and will finish out 2014 with shows all over the UK.

Just before catching Wishbone Ash’s May show at the Coach House here in California, I spoke with Powell about Blue Horizon and the current state of Wishbone Ash. Despite some bitter legal battles with former original members, the guitarist is optimistic about Wishbone Ash’s place in the 21st century. The reception that Blue Horizon and its 2011 predecessor Elegant Stealth have received has emboldened Powell to carry on, reaffirming Wishbone Ash as one of Britain’s greatest hard rock progressive groups of the Vintage Rock era.


You’ve been running the band for a few years now. I’m just wondering — how does Blue Horizon stack up with what you’ve been doing in recent years?

Well, we started a trend, you know, in the new millennium really. This lineup of Wishbone Ash has been really stable for a number of years. We’ve been producing some good work. The last album, Elegant Stealth, was very well received. And then, the selection of albums before that — The Power of Eternity and some of the albums that have been done in the last 10 years — have almost got their audience in a way, which is somewhat different from the people that go way, way back to the early ’70s. You’ve got audiences on different tiers now. You’ve got families bringing their kids along; you’ve got the real vintage rockers that remember the classic dates we did back in the ’70s and they’ll come and they’ll recount their stories. And then you’ve got a newer bunch of people that might be in their 30s or 40s, still not real young, but still not real old either. But they’re probably more in tune with the last 15 years of work history. A band like this that’s been around that long, it’s huge. It’s a lot of history to pull along with you, you know?

Blue Horizon’s opening song, “Take it Back,” was written by your son. How did that happen?

No rampant nepotism there. But you know, the thing is, he presented … he grew up with the band. He’s actually been out the road with me as well, so he’s no stranger to the band’s musical style and approach. It’s in his DNA really; I mean, he grew up with it. He’s got his own musical career that’s all sorts of varying things. He’s currently playing in a Brazilian world music type band in Brooklyn. But he came up with this song … he came up with a few songs, but this one really caught my ear because it was almost like a kind of a journeyman’s song. And it really did accent very the Celtic side, the folk side, and also I really loved the lyrical idea. I brought it to the band on his behalf and they jumped on it and that was enough for me. You know, let’s do it. It became a very much-liked song on the album. He pretty much made a demo of song and it is on the record. We had to do very little in terms of arrangement to make it stick to the wall. That was quite nice. This album was quite different from any regard to the last album. The last album, we got together, just the four of us, in an old house, an ancient house, in Normandy, France, and we wrote right there. But this album, we cast our net a little bit wider to the sort of greater fraternity of Wishbone. I actually feel like there’s a group of people and writers — like there’s a former member of the band, Roger Filgate — he put forward a song. I asked him if he had any songs to write and he said, “Yeah.” Also, a guy called Pat McManus, who co-wrote a song with me. So, you know, we cast our net a little wider this time around.

I was going to bring up the fact that “Strange How Things Come Around,” which was written by Roger Filgate, is one of my favorite tracks. So you just kind of contacted him and asked him what he had? Or you’re still in touch with him?

It’s never like that. It’s never quite like that. I mean, I had actually been playing with him in my downtime; we’d been doing some projects together. We were recording a session for a French singer and some other things like that. And we were also putting together some acoustic music, just a side project. So we were seeing each other on a daily basis, every other day kind of basis, and that was a new experience because we’d really been out of touch for some time. That was a natural thing to be talking about the album I was working on with the band. I said, “Hey, you know, if you have any ideas. …” There was nothing forced about it. It was very natural. We’ve really done so much in our career, or I have with my participation in the band. I feel just very wide open now. It’s great. There’s always going to be the inherent sound of the band attached to everything you do, you know, the [7:18] thing, and the style of music, you know, the old English style. So, you know, I just feel it’s just a good time. It’s kind of a golden era for the band, really.

“Tally Ho!” is another one of my favorites and it’s one of five — including the title track — that Muddy Mannimen had a hand in writing. You talked about casting your net a little wider, but here’s somebody in the band who’s actually doing a little more writing than he has in the past.

That’s right, yeah. Well, he’s been in the band 10 years. We both have very similar inputs, and I think that song’s got a little bit of an early Peter Green feel about it. It’s a little bit of a reference to that. When we write now, we don’t do too much analysis of what we do. We both get it. You don’t explain things to each other. So I was really happy that he came forward with more material on this album, because that makes for a better band experience when people are really invested, as he is on this album. That song’s one of my favorites. I love it. Good song.

A song like “American Century” sort of captures everything that’s great about Wishbone Ash. You’ve got the dual guitars, kind of the progressive rock feel, and you and your son, along with Joe Crabtree, wrote that one.

The guitar parts, again, were experimental, and my son Aynsley came up with quite a lot of those and I refined them a little. And Joe put his input in on the lyric. The lyrical idea I came up with. I live in New England so I was very much thinking about the revolution, the American Revolution. I just felt that, you know, when you get into more progressive rock territory, you seem to write about subjects like that that are a little more grandiose. So they started the music the way that you kind of almost need to work in different types of elements together in a song. It works better. We’ve done that time to time throughout our career. And that style of playing, that kind of music, didn’t lend itself well to a lyrical subject like that. Yeah, that was … all of the songs on the album, especially that one, once we got the ideas together individually, wherever we were, we all had a lot of input on the arrangement side of things. That’s when the rhythm section really comes into its own because it’s their job really to make this material stick to the wall. On everything, but in particular kind of a progressive song like that, you’ve got a lot of input from the rhythm section, Bob Skeat and Joe Crabtree.

Tell me about “All There Is To Say.”

Last year (2013), for all members of the band, was a very tough year. We had some tragic personal things that went on with some people. Some shocking elements themselves would almost make an entire book. I went through, personally, I went through a court case with a former member, my dear ex-partner, Martin Turner. That was an attempt to kind of sum up that experience. I won that court case, actually. First time I’ve ever been in court over anything that has to do with the music business in my life. So it touches on elements of that and how people can easily be swayed by parties and elements that, shall we say, a really kind of negative course of action, which the endgame is really all about money. And yeah, it touches on that kind of conflict that we had going there. It talks about the darker side of people, and you can either surround yourself with, as we do, trying to keep a very positive set of people and an outlook. We don’t get too involved anymore in the old style of music business management that used to go on in the 70s. But it kind of hints about that, it talks about that, obviously in roundabout terms. So you know, it’s still open … it’s my kind of closet philosophizing, if you will. I do a lot of that when I’m writing. I’m always traveling and thinking and pondering, and those kind of thoughts, they do come out in my lyrics. That’s about the best explanation I can give to you, you know. I could get into the lyrics deeper with you and talk about it, but it’s just really a comment on that event that happened to me personally, anyway.

I know that that song was sort of about you taking ownership of the name and everything, I’m just kind of wondering, is everything amicable between you and the former members, or are things still kind of weird?

Well I’ve just got to explain something quickly to you. I didn’t take ownership of the band. That wasn’t the situation. The situation as it was cataloged in the court case was the original members, all of them, left one by one, piecemeal, over a long number of years actually between the years of 1980 and 1994. So basically, I gave it eight years when I was out on the road working consistently. Some people are categorizing it as me taking ownership. I always owned it. No one was interested. I mean, people just walked away from this band. But then, of course, under the advice of certain people who saw that there was a potential to make money, and that’s the only reason that they are in the business, Martin (Turner), in particular, took advice to try and stage a coup as a name grab. It’s unfortunate that, you know, that’s what the song “All There Is To Say” kind of deals with. When you quit a band, you quit. You’ve got to understand that life goes on. It’s much like a sports team. I’m very gratified that the situation is clear. So that’s all done now. It should have never gone to court in the first place. It was an absolute farce, to be honest with you. But we had to deal with it; we had to confront it. I was threatened. I was threatened in financial terms, legally, and I had to stand up and protect myself and protect the incomes. So I can’t tell you that things are now hunky dory between myself and those original members. I hadn’t had contact with some people, like Martin Turner, for say 15, 18 years. So, it took me like a second divorce, you know what I mean. You leave your ex-wife, you don’t hang out around each other’s houses after you divorce, you know. You don’t. You get on. You get on with life. And that’s how it was, until this unfortunate episode. I just want people to know that.

So that being said, I guess the possibility of the four original members, even for like a one-off, is pretty much off the table.

That’s something different. If people do things for the right reasons, it’s always on the table. But unfortunately it wasn’t done that way. So that’s all I have to say about that. Stranger things happen, you know what I mean. You never know. You never know in this life. You never know. You just have to go ahead and try to do the right thing. That’s all you have to do.

Wishbone Ash has such a rich history. Miles Copeland was your manager, Ritchie Blackmore loved you, and then you made albums like Argus and Pilgrimage, two that standout in my mind as milestones.

Thank you. We do have a lot of history and, you know, some kind of rock history because of the people we’ve been involved with. You’re absolutely right.

I picked up Argus recently and I absolutely love that record. Have you been performing that live recently?

We have. Yeah, we’ve done two albums live in concert. We perform that one sometimes as part of our set, and then we sometimes do the entire album. People like that, when we play an entire album.

The present lineup has been fairly stable. Muddy’s been with you for 10 years; Bob has been with you for 17; and Joe Crabtree’s been with you for seven. Are you guys continually writing and working towards another record?

Yes, we’re always collecting ideas as we travel. We’re always collecting crazy ideas, and eventually it all comes out in whatever we do. But we are not planning another album immediately. We’ve only just finished this one. That takes a huge explosion of creative and financial effort to make a record. We never stop thinking creatively. It’s not like … you’re always collecting ideas. I know I say for myself and the guys — we’re always working on the craft, you know.

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