The end of the main set tonight, sees Wishbone Ash play “Phoenix”. They sort of had to, given that this tour is called “Phoenix Rising” and it is stunning. The music, that’s kind of a given, but it is more. There’s a convivial, warm atmosphere, where some of these types of gigs can feel cold and clinical, this is the total opposite.
It’s been an interesting show for the hour before that, not least because it feels like a battle between the past and the present. As early as the third song in Andy Powell – who has piloted this band for over 50 years – spots a chap at the front: “You only want to hear old stuff…..? Well we aren’t doing any…” there’s a twinkle in his eye, and of course there is some, but there’s not as much as there might be, nor as much as you’d have expected.
The first three songs are all from the 2000s, and that’s important. It might be that other bands of this vintage haven’t got that confidence, but here? This is an outfit with a desire to push it forward, it seems.
The reason for that, perhaps, lies in the incredible version of “The King Will Come”. It’s from the “Argus” album, released 49 years ago, and something of a classic of the genre – what genre we will come on to – but the solo isn’t played by Powell, but by Mark Abrahams. If Wiki is right then he was born six years after the track came out – and maybe its this freshness that, when allied to the talent, makes the night so superb.
And when you listen to 90 minutes of Wishbone Ash here, it seems that anyone who thought they were “prog” frankly, is wrong. The poster for the show simply says “twin guitars” and that sound, the heavy rock flavours, is one that underpins the whole evening here.
“Warrior” and “Throw Down The Sword” – the last two songs from that “Argus” record – are cases in point. Heavy, and with piercing solos. It’s not hard to imagine a young Steve Harris plotting a way to make this sound his own in Iron Maiden, but on the other side of the coin you’ve got the desire to play “new” stuff and the fun as well. The former is covered with “We Stand As One” a standout moment from the most recent “Coat Of Arms” record, and the latter, well, how about the shoutout read from the stage for a 14 year old kid who’s here with his dad tonight. More holiday camp than rock gig, maybe but there’s an evident bond between the band and the audience (and its noticeable how many couples there are here tonight in the sizeable crowd.
A word for that band too. There have been some drummer “issues” lets say, the third one of the tour is Mike Sturgis, and along with Bob Skeat, 25 years and counting, he provides the bedrock, which Powell and Abrahams build on – and it all comes to a wonderful head on that aforementioned “Phoenix”.
After that gratifyingly there is no real encore (“there’s no room at the edge of the stage” laughs Powell”), but “Way Down South” is warm as a summer breeze and even better, “Blowin’ Free” is rooted in the 70s, but here’s the thing, if it came out tomorrow, you’d still think this was a wonderful band, with wonderful songs.
Maybe that, in a way, explains tonight and why it felt so good – never mind what it sounded like – it was a celebration of magnificent music from a magnificent band, but one with plenty still left to say and one that seems to have eschewed the easy pursuit of nostalgia.