Holmfirth Picturedrome and The Grand, Clitheroe
A trip to snowy Yorkshire and two Wishbone Ash shows: Holmfirth Picturedrome on Friday, AshCon (the Wishbone annual convention, which is conventionally the last date in their annual UK Oct/Nov tour) at The Grand, Clitheroe on Saturday.
Mrs H and I had crammed in a few socio-cultural events the previous couple of days and had lunched with troubadour sensation Sarah McQuaid and her svengali Martin Sainsbury the afternoon of the Holmfirth show, catching up with news and bonhomie in a terrific country pub.
Would bonhomie be the order of the day when we met AW’s AttackDog that evening in Holmfirth? Well, we found our B&B (eventually – up a hill out of Holmbridge, turn right at the oncoming blizzard, and a few hundred yards to the warmth and comfort of Coddy’s Farm – highly recommended!) and then headed straight out again to Holmfirth, the metropolis four miles up the road. Almost everyone else in our farmhouse B&B was going there. The Picturedrome clearly has a great effect on local hospitality businesses.
Arriving at the venue, I left my spare ticket (Carol From Luton being indisposed) at the door for ‘AttackDog’). The bouncer looked pretty sheepish at the prospect. And he was right to be so. 10 minutes later, a huge commotion – chairs flying, bottles smashing, people’s heads getting kicked in – announced to one and all that AttackDog was on the premises.
I introduced myself, and after breaking my nose and telling me to watch my step in a visceral Glasgow accent, the Dogster took his place beside us on a balcony overlooking stage-right. the meek lady in tow, handing out bandages and fire-fighting insurance claims, turned out to be Mrs AttackDog. Aside from smashing in the face of a surly staff member who decided two extra chairs weren’t going to work when placed beside us, Mrs Dog could hardly have been more different to her husband.
Doris Brendl – apparently the daughter of piano legend Alfred Brendl – put on an impressive progressive rock show, wearing a willowy oufit and oozing early Kate Bush vibes while people dressed as pirates with stovepipe hats played in her band. I didn’t feel the need to buy a record, but it was certainly a top-level support act whose records are, I’m sure, very well produced and likely to appeal to pastoral English prog buffs. They were appearing on 19 dayes with WA, and Andy Powell speaks highly of them. Doris’ eyesight may not be the best though – she seemed to think the best route to the merchandise stall from the dressing room (just above the balcony area) was between the balcony wall and our just-enough-leg-room row of seats, seemingly unaware of the wide walkway just behind us. Pushing past AttackDog, she had no idea how great a risk she was running…
I can’t quite recall what WA opened with – a couple of mid-period songs, I think. But it was a well-crafted set that took in old, new, and in between. ‘Jail Bait’ from the first album was featured, and three from Argus: The King Will Come, Throw Down The Sword and Blowin’ Free along with Front Page News and You See Red from the Wisefield era. More recent material included In Crisis from the terrific ‘Power of Eternity’ album and a fabulous, slightly Celtic instrumental ‘The Spirit Flies Free’ (this may be unrecorded – not sure, offhand…). The very recent ‘Deep Blues’ and a blistering ‘Open Road’ provided, back to back, vehicles for extended workouts mid-set, while first album epic Phoenix was the encore – rising from the Ash.
Despite an interval backslide into punching out bystanders at the bar and shouting, ‘Who you lookin’ at, pal?’ to various people who weren’t actually looking at him, AttackDog became increasingly placated, nay ecstatic, as the show progressed. Both he and Mrs Dog had seen Wishbone Ash in 1974 but not since. Getting banned from the Hammersmith Odeon for ripping out all the seats and breaking Ted Turner’s jaw back in the day might have had something to do with that sojourn, of course, but decades of anger management sessions have transformed him. Most of the seats were still there when we left the Picturedrome and only three ambulances had been called. Barely a fracas compared to how it used to be.
The next day was AshCon, Clitheroe. It’s always struck me that this would be a great name for a Wishbone tribute act – particularly one that wasn’t any good: AshCon – all the hits played badly; you’d be wanting your money back after. But there were no such concerns with AshCon proper. Fan supremo and WA’s marketing guru Guy Roberts runs a brilliant event every year, despite the difficulties in getting the right place at the right price. I think he’s found a real winner in The Grand – a fabulous room, central to the town (a lovely place – a good afternoon of window shopping, bookshop browsing, coffee and owl appreciation), with an unbelievably great sound system, a bar area and good backstage facilities.
The Wishbone diehards are a great crowd – it’s a real community atmosphere. Mrs H noted that Ash people seem to be very slightly ‘outsider’ types but in a good way – a bit like most hobbyists, I suppose: surfers, stamp collectors, people who write books (!), etc. I was at AshCon last year and I was delighted that several fans came over and told me how much they enjoyed the book I helped Andy to write. Andy and I had done a fun Q&A session last year and this time around I was to be ‘Roving Mic’ in the audience, taking questions from fans for Andy at the end of a soundcheck ‘insight session’ during the late afternoon.
I must say, Andy was extremely good at this, demonstrating how a WA soundcheck works, how they’ve got it down to a fine art, how some venue’s desks these days can be set to recall the settings from the last time a given act played there (amazing), etc. While working through this condensed soundcheck as anthropolical experience, the band performed four songs that hadn’t featured at Holmfirth and wouldn’t feature that night during their concert proper. A couple of requests were also taken for either then or the evening show which were, indeed, pulled out of the bag – amazing VFM for those present, and an example of how much Wishbone care about their fanbase. At this stage in the game, it really is like a big family, it seems to me, with some great characters – Reiner, the uber-WA discographer from Finland; Big Harry, helping out on the merch table, from Holland; Geordie Derek from, well, Geordieland (actually, London currently, to be fair) – whose rather strong accent when asking questions at these sort of events is often the source of fun for band and punters, but he takes it good spirit!
Doris Brendl’s band and other artistes took part in the afternoon event (we only arrived midway through, so missed them – the owls on display in Clitheroe market were too captivating).
That evening, the concert was sensational – the best sound mix I’ve ever heard at a live show – powerful and crystal clear. One could choose to listen to one instrument in a given song and, magically, the others would slip down in your hearing and allow this to happen, just by deciding to concentrate on, say, Bob’s bass or Muddy’s guitar. WA sound man Daniel, from France, is of course a big part of this, but the venue sound set up is at least half the magic (a concert was recorded here a few years back and is in the recent ‘RoadWorks’ 4CD live box set).
‘Persephone’ was added to the set, by request I think, and the sound quality allowed for a comparison between the four (I think) guitars Andy used during this show and the one at Holmfirth. There was one guitar, a ‘rock’n’roll’ instrument, white with f-holes, that he used on two numbers including Blowin’ Free. It’s a nice instrument but I wasn’t convinced it was quite right for the iconic lead solo in Blowin’ Free. Still, if it keeps things fresh for Andy, who has to play that song every night forever, then fair enough!
The Wishbone massive – the best kind of fans any band of 40+ years standing could ask for. Plus AttackDog at Holmfirth, who promised to stop biffing people next time around.
It made me think..
That I’ll probably be back next year…