What does it sound like?:
Remastering and reissuing 2 albums from Wishbone Ash’s 1980’s period might seem a thankless (and pointless?) task, but the estimable Cherry Red Records have not only taken it on, but made a nice job of it too. The albums both come as a 2-disc package with extensive sleeve-notes by Classic Rock magazine’s Dave Ling, the blessing of the various members of the band (as well as the late Trevor Bolder’s estate,) and some previously unreleased extras. So, what do you get for your cash? Let’s do them in chronological order and start with Twin Barrels Burning.
The album was originally released in 1982, as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was shaping the rock landscape in the UK, and the influence of NWOBHM is hard to ignore. The sound is hard, with lots of big guitars, harmonies and songs about ‘ladies of the night.’ So, if your only exposure to the band was Argus, you were in for a shock. However, as Andy Powell says in the sleeve notes, the sound had nothing to do with NWOBHM, “the reason the album sounded like it did was simple – we had discovered ZZ Top.”
The line-up that had seen them through the second half of the 1970’s, after Ted Turner’s departure in early ’74, had changed with bassist and vocalist Martin Turner moving on in 1980 (‘did he fall or was he pushed?’ Amongst Ash fans it is the eternal question.) Andy Powell, Laurie Wisefield and Steve Upton recruited John Wetton on bass and vocals (although, oddly, he only sings one song on that album) but John only stayed for one album, Number The Brave, before going off to form Asia. He was replaced by Uriah Heep’s Trevor Bolder (as he had been when Bolder joined Heep) and that line-up recorded Twin Barrels Burning.
Recorded mostly at Jimmy Page’s studio in Cookham, Berkshire, the album reached No.22 in the UK charts, their highest position since New England in ’76.
The remastering has cleared the mud off the album’s boots. Guitars are clearer, the drums more balanced in the mix and Trevor Bolder’s bass playing is terrific. Vocals are shared between Andy, Laurie and Trevor and, whilst the lead vocals are not the strongest, the harmonies are excellent. The 3 Bonus tracks sound like any of them would have made the original album if it had been released on CD, rather than the ‘time-restrictive’ vinyl. One in particular, Go for the Gold, sounds like it could be on Thin Lizzy’s Thunder & Lightning album, which would come out a year later. Every time I hear the intro I’m just waiting for Phil Lynott’s growling vocals to come out of the speakers. The second disc is the American remix of the original album, which has never been on CD before – and, frankly, it should have stayed that way. None of the band liked it and Trevor Bolder happily said, “Even the cover was naff.”
The second part of this reissue is the 1985 album Raw To The Bone. Generally regarded as the heaviest album of their career, it saw yet another line-up change. Trevor Bolder had gone back to Uriah Heep after a world tour, where he would remain until his death in 2013. Wishbone recruited Mervyn ‘Spam’ Spence, who had been the replacement for Glenn Hughes in Trapeze when Glenn joined Deep Purple. Whilst Mervyn’s bass skills were not up to Bolder’s standard, his vocals were exactly what was coming out of the radio, especially in the U.S. They may not be to every Ash fan’s taste but, for the first time, Wishbone had a proper 80’s rock singer in the band. The album they recorded, with the Police’s producer, Nigel Gray at the desk of his own Surrey Sound studios, came out in May 1985. It was released on Neat Records after a deal with a major label fell through at the last minute. It did not chart on either side of the Atlantic. In fact, Twin Barrels Burning would be the band’s last chart album ever (or, should I say, to the present day.)
The first thing I noticed when I got my vinyl copy home, in the summer of ’85, was how little lead guitar there was, how few solos, how little of the band’s distinctive, groundbreaking twin lead sound there was. However, when you heard what else was coming out of rock radio in ’85 that was the trend. Bands were now going for more of a ‘wall of guitars’ sound in the mix, a fatter, heavier sound – tough, then, for Andy & Laurie to stamp their mark on the sound.
The album opens with it’s best song, Cell of Fame. It sets the tone, drives along, and Spence’s vocals are perfect for the song and the sound. The quality of the rest of the album is mixed, in terms of songs. People in Motion was a great song when played live. Dreams actually has some twin lead and Perfect Timing has a short Andy Powell solo (hurrah!). Oh, and you also get the truly horrible version of Little Feat’s Rocket In My Pocket. I had erased it from my memory for 32 years but, reviewing this, it is back. Bastard. The Bonus track, again, could easily have been on the final album. Mervyn Spence would follow Laurie Wisefield out of the Wishbone Ash revolving door within a year of the album’s release.
What you also get on Disc One of this reissue is 4 tracks from a demo-session recorded a year later, available for the first time. They feature Andy and Steve Upton with Phil Palmer on guitar and Brad Lang on bass. The tracks were never intended for release but they are pretty good, with some terrific playing from AP. The second disc of this release is excellent. You get the four tracks that the band recorded, just before the album’s original release, for Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show. The band sound tight and I am sure that I listened to the session when it first aired. You also get 4 live tracks from a gig at the Hammersmith Odeon on 21st June (thanks to @Colin_H for the extensive research in his wonderful book with and about Andy, Eyes Wide Open) – 2 of which are Argus classics, King Will Come and Blowin’ Free.)
What does it all *mean*?
These 2 remastered albums both come out on Cherry Red Records on 2nd February and Wishbone fans will lap them up. They may not be every Ash fans favourite albums but they have been put together and packaged with love and respect for the band’s place in the history of British Rock.
Goes well with…
Might suit people who like…
Classic British Rock.