The Martin Turner Interview
As a founding member of Wishbone Ash, songwriter, vocalist and bassist Martin Turner is a man who has seen lots of the ups, downs and complete turnarounds in the crazy world of rock and roll. In 2014, he had to surrender the Wishbone Ash moniker to the band’s guitarist Andy Powell, but he’s carried on nonetheless.
Touring extensively in 2014 and into 2015, he released his second solo album Written In The Stars, an 11-song collection that soars with as much prog rock heights as it does with a radio-friendly sound. So, of course, he wanted to talk to VintageRock.com, where he proceeded to share his view of where things are presently in his life, the new record, music in general and the inspiration behind it all.
Watching interviews on your website, listening to Written In The Stars and reading the press on it, is it safe to say that what you have here is indeed a concept album?
I prefer the word “theme” over “concept.” I think what I am dealing with here is the cosmic level of the universe, how we are finding out massive amounts of stuff of how the planet began, how there is a seemingly blue print there and how that applies to us all on individual basis. We’re born, I believe with a blueprint and we make choices and go along and seek peace and love. It might be idealistic a bit, but there you have it.
When I was a young lad, living in the country, the idea of the big city was mind boggling. But in my teens, I saw a fortune teller lady who told me that things were fated to happen to me, that I would travel beyond where I lived, indeed see big cities, she said it was written in the stars, that I’d go out and see the world. And the various things she foretold came to pass — written in the stars, as indeed they were.
What I like most about the album is that you as much stay within the theme as much as let the songs stand alone. Then you have a more mainstream sound. The great strength of a concept piece is to marry these two elements. I’m thinking especially of a song like “Lovers.”
Well, that one particularly is about the fact that I fell in love with another woman while I was married, a long time ago. This woman has now been my wife for the past 20 years, so everything turned out OK. Back then we had a brief affair, but I was married with children at the time so I had to ask her to step out of my life, which she did. She actually went to live with another man, got on with her life as I did mine. We’d see one another from time to time before we actually ended up together in the end and the song is me talking about that. Maybe I am being a bit bitchy in places with the lyric, but as I say for quite a while now we have been where we are supposed to be.
And the players here?
The band consists of Danny Wilson, Tim Brown and Misha Nikolic. We actually began recording with Ray Hatfield, my longtime collaborator, but he wanted to go off and do other things. It was a minor inconvenience obviously but we took in our stride carrying on with the three of us, auditioning a few guitar players, but Tim knew Misha and when he came in it all became complete. Being as he’s from Sardinia he brings a whole Eastern European folk thing to the band and it works very well.
And you are touring presently, right?
Yes, we did a few shows for Christmas, will get back to it all in January, with February getting going full tilt.
Will you be coming to the States?
I’m hassling my management now — it’s really high time to get over. We really want to play the U.S., get things going, but there is nothing scheduled as of yet. Even though we’re a pretty small tight unit and operate on a budget with the travel and the visas and all of that, it’s hard to survive unless you come over to do a good amount of dates. The last time I came to the States, we were on a double bill with Nektar, traveling by a Mercedes bus, but there were only 10 dates, two weeks of shows, so we did lose some money there simply because we didn’t play enough shows and weren’t there long enough. I’d be very happy to do it if we can go out for more than three weeks in the U.S.
In lots of ways I feel you follow the Wishbone Ash sound on Written In The Stars. Is this a true assessment?
Yes it is prevalent here, as it is in everything I do, I feel. The Wishbone Ash sound really came from us from day one rebuilding a three-piece band when our guitar player left. Every bloody guitar player in London came in to audition in 1969, and we were not happy with any of them so we decided to go for two guitars players as long as they were prepared to pay lead together. Fleetwood Mac and other bands of the day had tried it to various degrees of success but we wanted to try a classical music approach with melodies transposed on guitar with a second guitar there to create an indefinable signature sound, not what a guitar player would normally play. Then you had bands like Lizzy, Iron Maiden managing it, and God bless them, they did so to fantastic commercial success.
Even southern rock bands in the States…
Right, one of the first bands to do double-track guitar solos was Lynyrd Skynyrd on “Freebird,” which is just fantastic really. You hear people trying that stuff now all the time, but when we did it was just doing something we hadn’t heard too much of really before and seeing if it would work.
And at the end of the day, you yourself have somehow survived this crazy business. What do you attribute your longevity to?
The music business is such a roller coaster, at one time you got checks falling through the mail slot faster than you can cash them, vultures circling, or you can be really down and out wondering where the next meal is coming from. You go from schleping around tired, trying the sex, drugs and rock and roll thing, or get all jaded over it all.
But then you get a letter through the post, like I did recently, of some girl at college, totally freaking out with her university exams, lots of pressure on her over a long three year period and she says she dug out Argus (Wishbone Ash’s third album, released in 1972) and she says the songs made her feel relaxed, at peace and her cares just evaporated. She just wrote to say thank you. That means so much to me, that I affected someone’s life like that. No matter what I achieve or do not achieve in this business, that simple thank you means the world to me.