11/11/2021 Martin Turner Ex Wishbone Ash Review by Darius Drewe

Well, blow me down - a gig in my actual town.

Since relocating to Derby some months ago, my concert-attending 'norm', such as it is in post-pandemic times, has become either a 90-minute commute into Notts or a 2-hour jaunt to Leicester: there's been the occasional jaunt further West as well, either to Bilston, Brum or Stoke, but a few local band bashes aside, I've somehow managed to attend very little in my adoptive hometown itself. Not that gigs haven't happened in the 'hood: since alleged Freedom Day, the Venue just round the corner has played host to a fair few high-profile indiesters such as Justin Sullivan, Ferocious Dog, Richard Hawley, Pete Doherty and [FKA British] Sea Power, this very venue has seen China Crisis purvey their unique brand of post-punk electro and Scouse stand up comedy, and there's plenty more to come over the next six months as well. Indeed, I'm off to see Dixieland jazz legends the Pasadena Roof Orchestra at the Derby Theatre tomorrow- so things clearly do occur round here. I just haven't been to many of them.

Moreover, this is the first time I've actually set foot in the 'Pot's fabled back room, known locally as the city's true temple of classic rock and blues mythology- and to say I'm overjoyed to finally be here would be an understatement. And, might I add, what better band could there be to introduce myself to the place with than that fronted by THE one and only Martin Turner? His unique blend of West Coast [as in Torquay] harmony, hard rock, blues, progressive time-changes and proto-AOR has always been imbued with a rare beauty and warmth, music that not only stirs the soul and shakes the booty but caresses the body and mind- and, in the cosy glow of several pints of Derbyshire's finest ales, so does this place. In fact, one might almost say that artist and venue were tailor-made for each other.

In addition, there's a quasi-local connection, as both guitarist/second vocalist Danny Wilson [formerly of NWOBHM cult heroes Brooklyn] and drummer Tim Brown hail from nearby Leicester, and several of their local 'posse' have made the 20-plus mile journey across to see them. No longer just 'the guitarist', or 'that bloke whose brother was in Diesel Park West', Wilson is now as an integral a part of Turner's lineup as Ted Turner or Laurie Wisefield were: not only does he ably handle a powerful lead vocal on the late 70s rarity You See Red, but his breezy harmonies, much like those of Brown and Serbian twin-guitarist Misha Nikolic, recreate the classic sound of 70-78 Ash better than any previous MT lineup have done, elevating revived classics like the rarely-heard Sorrel and the astounding Argus-era stalwarts The King Will Come and Sometime World to a whole new level entirely.

Indeed, whilst Turner and band seem understandably keen these days to move away from the live sets of the 00s and 10s, which relied too much on that certain classic album named after a million-eyed Greek god, the last-named is still the most astounding selection of the entire evening: every sweet vocal, chiming chord, galloping riff and flowing variation on That Bassline [reminding me precisely why MT is my favourite living four-stringer] is absolutely perfect, and an affirmation of why, for all the jokes made about them over the years by people who simply don't understand [or who just know fuck all] WA were and still are special. No wonder every dual-guitar outfit from Lizzy to Quo to Maiden to the Dead Boys and XTC ripped them off. Not that it's all about the old stuff: The Beauty Of Chaos, from 2015's Written In The Stars opus, blends seamlessly with the classics and shows why the veteran Devonian and his cohorts are still every bit as vital a band as the original WA were, and if rumours are to believed, there's another album in the pipeline for 2022. If it's anything like its predecessor, I shall very much look forward to it.

Dare I say, possibly, that they're even more interesting than the current Andy Powell-fronted lineup that actually holds the band's name? Well, put it this way- yes. For a start, whilst AP's Ash are all too often often reliant on thumping boogie blues-rock, the more textured interplay betwixt the four members of MT's gang is ideal for the band's proggier side- and seeing as tonight's show includes a 50th-anniversary performance of the classic '71 release Pilgrimage in full, they couldn't be better suited. The jazzier end of Brown's drum-chops takes full reign on its cover of Jack McDuff's Vas Dis and the angular, stop-starting title track, both numbers again exhibiting the combo's harmony vocal prowess to its full: elsewhere, the pensive bucolicism of instrumentals Alone and Lullaby provides the perfect foil to perhaps my favourite Ash tune of all time, the lamenting Valediction, although sadly it seems Turner himself is less than keen on it, allowing Wilson to handle lead once more lest he himself 'drops off whilst singing' Nonetheless, the chill experienced by your writer at finally hearing it is near-indescribable: moreover, the six-stringer once more excels himself, further consolidating his position as the group's secret weapon.

Personally, if I find the album has a weak spot, it's always been the clearly-made-up-as-they-went-along boogie nonentity of Where Were You Tomorrow: it pales into insignificance next to the masterful riffage and perfect singalong of the undisputed headbangers' classic Jailbait, and despite being played with ebullience, its only real purpose [much as suspected] seems to be to allow several punters to slowly file out to beat the interval bog'n'bar queues. But, you know, personal choice and all that: there are as many others out there who equally aren't particularly keen on the lumbering, juddering instrumental F.U.B.B. , but I personally happen to love it and am as thrilled to see it back in the set as I am the stomping AOR of Living Proof. The same could also be said, one guesses, of Mart's drug stories and Essex girl jokes, but by now, they're all very much part of the MT Ash "schtick": and as they'll ALWAYS be funnier than those interminable stories Dave Cousins tells at every Acoustic Strawbs gig concerning "Pans People getting their knickers in a twist" to The Hangman And The Papist, perhaps we should all be grateful for small mercies.

Sadly, the night, much like any truly great rock n roll show, is not without 'incident': they do say that life imitates art, and as Turner croons the lines "doctor can you help me please" [from Doctor itself, possibly the best song Pete Townshend never wrote] it is slightly disconcerting to look to my left and see a member of the audience getting stretchered off by the bouncers [which is not a 'bollock innuendo', in case you ask] with heart problems. You seriously couldn't make it up. However, the good news is, though he missed a piledriving one-two finale of Blind Eye and Blowin' Free [complete with the by-now-expected pre-headbang audience participation section] he seems, at latest report, to have made a full recovery. I guess that's the redemptive power of music for you- that, and a fine selection of ales.

Tonight, Martin Turner and band provided ongoing proof of why live music in an intimate atmosphere is SO important: even during their most successful period [72-76] the Ash still seemed like the world's biggest club band, and now their Rickenbacker-toting founder and original frontman has returned to that very environment, purveying his uniquely intricate, offbeat, textured, layered and yet cosy, warm, fun take on progressive and melodic rock with almost no rival or equal. I'f I'm still as cool as him when I'M 74, I'll be a happy man: in the meantime, I'll just keep coming back as often as I can to watch, listen and admire. Did I mind the late, post-bus finish [11 30] and the long walk home? I'll be honest with you, I didn't even want to go home. As David Coleman might have said, "eeeextraooordinary"