Record Of The Week # 17

May 10, 2017

Wishbone Ash – Argus

On December 15th 1972, for a cost of 60 pence, I was sat on an elevated platform (where the Orchestra usually sat) , next to the stage, at Leeds Town Hall where after an opening set by The Average White Band on strolled the band of the moment, Wishbone Ash, debuting their earlier April release – Argus. This record not only became an album of the year but also became one of the seminal rock guitar albums for anyone born in the 50’s. 

As they reached their third album then the ‘sound’ had been honed and the twin guitar passages and harmony vocals became their signature. It helped to have the Production and Engineering skills of the team behind the then stellar Deep Purple at the helm. Add lyrics about medieval warriors complemented by fluid and intoxicating guitar solos then you have the ingredients for bliss. Rock can often rely on the shock and awe of electric guitar and a driving beat to become memorable but this album’s longevity also leans heavily on melody and some exquisite musicianship best illustrated by “Leaf And Stream”.

It wasn’t an era when ‘progressive’ rock bands sought singles but “Blowin’ Free” would maybe their ‘greatest hit’ and the delicious chorus is pure summer apparently written about a Swedish girlfriend of band member Martin Turner. If there was ever a BBC Radio 2 record that you could imagine a few million blokes of a certain vintage telling the wife to shut up as he cranked up the radio on the weekly car trip to Tesco then this is the one.

Today the band still tours in two guises – one is led by lead guitarist Andy Powell, who flourished – every 17 year old’s air guitar fantasy – a Flying V back in the day and the other incarnation is led by original bassist, Martin Turner. I’ve seen both and if you have the chance to see either then you will be rewarded. The band has had many line ups over their career but only these two members tour playing the catalogue. However, whilst that may in theory damage the authenticity then I believe that the enthusiasm, energy and slavish note perfect adherence to the original wonderful records of new members can make the experience better.

In fact I can well recollect, sometime in the early Noughties, spilling my pint at Fibbers in York as I punched the air when the chorus came back in on “The King Will Come”, a slow burning anthem with some intricate guitar passages.

If the combined talents as musicians and songwriters elevated this album to iconic status then the twin leads of Any Powell and Ted Turner set the pace but the insistent and complimentary bass of the other Turner is not to be under estimated – listen to how it drives and solos on “Sometime World” and then note its rough and attractive tones on “Blowin’ Free”. Sticks man, sorry I’ve slipped into Sounds 1974 mode err… I mean, drummer, Steve Upton has his subtleties as well as brawn as witnessed on standout “Warrior”.

As another rock band of the era opined then be good to yourselves, put this album on NOW!

– For the former Member of Parliament for Thurrock (1987 – 1992)

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