Interview | Andy Powell – Wishbone Ash
,,We Hustled Our Butts Off''
‘Live Dates’, the iconic double live album of Wishbone Ash is fifty years old. That is why the band is on tour celebrating this fantastic album and playing it in its entirety. Wishbone Ash achieved success in the seventies with their albums ‘Wishbone Ash’ (1970), ‘Pilgrimage’ (1971) and of course ‘Argus’ (1972), which is still probably their best album ever. Tonight, they will play in Maastricht and before the show HeadBangers LifeStyle’s Martien Koolen had the chance to talk to the only original member of Wishbone Ash Andy Powell. So, without further ado here we go…
Andy, ‘Live Dates’, the iconic live double album was recorded fifty years ago. What are your memories regarding the recording of that album?
,,Well to get a good live recording technique back then was very difficult, much more than it is these days. My memories are that we used the Rolling Stones mobile truck for it as there were only one or two mobiles, so it was pioneering stuff. There were not that many rock live albums. We recorded several shows and we just picked the best performances of a certain track from each show. It is a blend of different shows which sounds like one concert and I mean it was a very enjoying experience. The fact that it was a whole tour being recorded it meant we could relax as it was not just a one-shot deal. I have great memories about it.”
What was your favourite track back then?
,,Thrown Down The Sword’’ has been always a favourite of mine actually.”
Now, fifty years later, you just released ‘Live Dates Live’. What are the main musical differences, between ‘Live Dates’ and the new live album?
“We just did not overthink it. We did our interpretation of the album as this band is now, playing the songs like we play them now. Also we wanted to pay respect to the songs, so that is how we did it and then get the feel of a live show. It was a one shot deal this one, so there it is. We made many recordings of the shows but we decided that this one is going to be the one in the venue that we did and it worked out pretty good.”
So, you are quite satisfied with ‘Live Dates Live’ then?
“Well, it can always be better…..”
In what way?
,,Well, you know, there was no time to revamp, to rethink, to remix the recording and that is really the nature of art. If you find an artist who is ever satisfied with his work, I bet he probably is not an artist, you know.”
On the ‘Live Dates’ album, you were not the lead singer of the band, now you are, how is that?
“I kind of became singer by default and it has been a really fun thing to do. On the last say eight to nine albums it is all my vocals. Most guitar players start on vocals or the guitar and the vocals. Then you find that over time you have an ear for it, and you are singing melodies; you have a lot of experience in the studio, and you learn how to sing better. A very enjoyable thing to do really and I am glad that I did it.”
A TRUE ICONIC ALBUM
Many critics and rock fans still consider ‘Live Dates’ a true iconic album and one of the best live albums ever. Can you understand why?
,,I think it captures the spirit of the early seventies and it captures a band that is just at their peak, which Wishbone Ash was at that time. And the cover is amazing, the artwork, the whole thing, the running order of the songs. We had that success with ‘Argus’ and I do not think that people realised that we were such a good live band. Recordings like that are kind of historical recordings. They are of an era, of a mentality, so I think that is why people still love it. It crystallizes a moment in time, that mentality of the early seventies.”
TWIN GUITAR PIONEERS
And of course, it is a real guitar album.
,,Right, the twin guitar sound, which was our sound that we had, we had a plan with that. Many bands in the early seventies worked extremely hard to have an individual sound, think of Yes or Jethro Tull and certainly Wishbone Ash.”
You were the twin guitar pioneers, right?
,,Yes, we were actually. Thin Lizzy openly admitted that they were inspired by us and now a lot of metal bands, like Maiden and Judas Priest are influenced by our guitar sound, yeah.”
Looking back over the years at what you achieved, what sort of things fill you with pride?
,,Well, I am proud of the fact that the band has been around for so long. But most proud of the community that we created because, somebody asked me the other day, ‘How do you promote your band?’. I said ‘We don’t. We are just part of the wallpaper, we are part of the culture’. We can go anywhere in the world and play for people and people come. That is really what I am really proud of.”
What was the best Ash line up ever?
,,Oh, my goodness. Of course I love the current line up, we have our own enjoyment, but I think the first line up was like iconic, to use your words. We were young, we had a massive amount of passion and we were not that great individually as musicians, but we worked damn hard. So the work ethics of the original band was second to none. It was scary actually how hard we worked, not just playing gigs but also working on our music.
We wanted to learn how to play better, we were prepared to lay everything on the line to be successful. I mean, even starving, totally. We really lived in shit holes in London, we had no money and we struggled. I never forget that struggle. Yeah, we just hustled our butts of, ha ha… The first three years of the band that is where I get my work ethics from as it was just very intense.”
Looking ahead, are there any goals left to reach with WA or perhaps on a personal level?
,,To relax a little bit more. This summer I am going to relax some more, but, ambitions? We might do another album, but I am not getting pressured into one as we have been very consistent over the last twenty years with albums, so… It is a funny thing right now as the mystique is gone out of albums and everybody is streaming. It is a strange time we are living in actually. We can always come up with ideas for new songs for sure. I mean lyrically there is lots to write about at the moment as it is a scary time we are living in and there is so much to comment on.”
How important are lyrics for Wishbone Ash?
,,Very important, I mean I think that ‘Argus’ had some great lyrics. Martin Turner really did a good job there as those lyrics still stand up to this day. They are about war, the folly of war, so they are quite philosophical indeed from a young man’s standpoint.”
Best Ash album ever?
,,I used to avoid saying it as I always thought that every album was dear to me, but the iconic – to use your word again – album, the classic one is ‘Argus’; it has to be. Recently we released a couple of great albums like ‘Blue Horizon’ or ‘Coat Of Arms’, so…”
Worst Ash album?
“I really have a problem with ‘Locked In’ (1976). We were treated really badly then. We should have really scrapped that one as it was not representative of an Ash album as we lost our big rock sound on that one.”
Now, the set list is set. All the ‘Live Dates’ tracks….
“Well, actually, not all as we are not going to do ,,Lady Whiskey’’ as I have a light bronchitis. For that one, I have to scream my head off, so …. Again, really looking forward to playing those great songs.”
Are there still WA songs that you have never played live?
,,Oh, yeah, there are some we have never played live, some more quiet acoustic things…”
Or songs from ‘Locked In’?
,,Yeah, and that is not going to happen as there are a couple of tracks from that album I just do not want to go near, ha ha.. You know, there is a song of which the music is great, which is called ,,Loaded’’, but I do not like the lyrical sentiment in there. I can’t go out there and sing about drugs, you know. I mean I have taking plenty of them, but I am not interested in singing about getting high, getting loaded, fuck that, no…”
That was the seventies, right?
,,Yeah, ha ha, you are right, leave that to metal bands… ha ha…”
WISHBONE ASH TOURING LIFE
Is it still fun to be on tour?
,,Yes, I love it, I love the life, I am addicted to that life.”
How do you keep in shape?
,,I just overeat and overdrink, basically, ha ha…. The thing about doing this is that it is very physical. It is not just the playing, but the travelling is exhausting. We are really good at it, it is a way of being active without going to the gym. I love travelling, I love the diverse cultures of Europe, food is a big love of mine, I love wine and I like meeting different people.”
Germany is one of your favourite countries to play, right?
,,Well, Germans are one of the most loyal audiences for us. I love the culture, I love those little towns, I love German beer, German women and I love doing business in Germany because they are always very direct.”
How’s your German, then?
,,Sehr gut, ha ha, no, although German is not a difficult language.”
Dutch is difficult, right?
,,Oh, my God, yes, it is, Dutch is mad really…”
What do you do on the days off during the tour?
,,We do not have that many days off. We play six days and one day off generally and when we have a day off, we like to go walking. Just stroll around and have a beautiful meal somewhere, so just relax a bit.”
Do you still listen to music?
,,Not heavy music. I generally listen to music that is very well crafted, I like a good production and love singer/songwriter stuff. “
OPENING FOR THE WHO
What band would you like to be on stage with?
,,I was very fortunate that my first real rock opportunity, when I was fourteen, was to open for The Who. Then two years later we opened for them in America for the Tommy tour. The Who was always my favourite band in the world. They pulled a live thing together in a really classy way that was second to none and had the right rock attitude. Townsend was a skilful player, a hooligan on the guitar and Keith Moon was a unique drummer. That band was the ultimate live band.”
If I was Andy Powell and you were the music reporter what would be your last question?
,,Wow, really now…. The one everyone asks me; how long do you keep going.”
Oh, that one, when do you retire?
,,Yeah, they talk about retirement, and they ask what your retirement plan is and I go like I do not have one…..ha ha… I like this life, it gives me energy, it keeps me young.”
Thanks for your time. Andy.
,,Thank you, always a pleasure to talk to you.’’
Photos by Martien Koolen