I nearly didn’t make it to tonight’s gig. While making my way home from that afternoon’s Leeds match I had my first ever car breakdown. Luckily, apparently due to some sort of premonition, I had taken out breakdown cover just that morning. Therefore, thanks to a quick response from the RAC (who didn’t know that I was planning to go out) and a lift from Andy (who did), I managed to get there with minutes to spare. Sadly, in the rush I forgot to pick up anything that I could use to take meaningful notes, so this review is more or less from memory.
Tonight’s support came from Stolen Earth – who are now just a matter of weeks away from releasing their debut album – whose set has been described to me as their “rockier” one. Short though it may have been, it certainly had enough content to allow most, if not all, the band members their time in the spotlight. The near improvisational opening to I Live and the always excellent swansong of Perfect Wave allow Adam Dawson to show off his superb guitar playing, with the latter also giving Paul Teasdale a chance to pluck his stuff during its bass-heavy opening. Bitterness Fades allows the keyboards of John Sykes a more prominent role in proceedings and the light relief of the opening to Tuscany Sun showcases Heidi Widdop’s acoustic guitar. All through the set Barry Cassell’s drums provide a solid background to the songs. It was almost certainly due to the slightly different set that, even though we had only seen the band perform a few weeks ago, tonight sounded completely fresh and even managed to surprise, with the almost space-rock mid-section of Unnatural Disaster being something that I don’t remember hearing before. Unfortunately, despite the usual high standard of music, Heidi’s vocals were a little swamped tonight, which slightly took the edge of the overall performance. Hopefully, the sound will be better-handled at the album launch gig in June as we already know that, in the right circumstances, this band can sound superb.
Wishbone Ash are one of the older prog-rock bands that I have only just come across. I only own one album by them – the much-admired Argus – and have only listened to it a couple of times. Martin Turner was a founding member of the band, playing bass and providing vocals for it for the first decade, before leaving in 1980. In 2004 he formed Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash as a touring band to perform classic material (although they have also re-recorded Argus as their sole studio album) and it is this incarnation that we are seeing tonight. Despite being in his mid-sixties, Turner is still energetic and, let’s say, slightly full of himself (in a good way) on stage and this was the most energetic performance of the “older” bands that we have seen recently. The set’s opening song, The King Will Come, was the only song that I at least vaguely recognised, despite two tracks from Argus (Warrior and Sometime World) being included. After the first song, Turner promised that the band – Dave Wagstaffe on drums and Ray Hatfield and Danny Wilson on guitars – would be playing us “some hippy music from the 70’s”, but we got so much more than that. In a varied and entertaining (although, I am informed, shorter than usual) set, we got a slice of old style folk (Lady Jane), something that could almost be described as jaunty (Sometime World), something much rockier (No Easy Road), a touch of the Blues (You Turned A Blind Eye) and even something more akin to melodic AOR (Living Proof). There was also a stunning instrumental section which, despite starting out in a more simple manner than most modern prog, managed to get more complex, louder and somehow bolder as it went along. This may be the closest I ever get to seeing the original Wishbone Ash, and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. As, apparently, did the musicians, especially the front-line who spent much of the set flashing smiles and pulling faces at the audience and even resorted to a bit of showboating during the final song of the encore. Definitely worth checking out if you like classic 70’s rock.