Opening proceedings tonight, City Of Thieves were a mixed bag – not of quality or power, both of which they maintained throughout their set, but of influences. Jamie Lailey’s vocals during the first track reminded me of AC/DC, a lot of the music brought to mind NWOBHM and yet, as the set went on, I detected more and more of that slightly different transatlantic sound that bands such as Y&T and Skid Row have. One punter, definitely more knowledgeable than me, described the last song as a cross between AC/DC and Nazareth and praised the band’s “back to basics” style. Moving through the set, Control and Lay Me To Waste had a heavier sound than the opener, Ben Austwick and Adam Wardle playing perhaps the sharpest looking twin guitars I have come across, in almost diametrically opposite styles –Austwick prowling around the stage, making frequent trips to the front of stage to highlight his short “solo” sections while Wardle was a lot more stoic. Lailey switched from five to four-string bass for Incinerate, the title track of the band’s debut EP, which opened in crunching style, while the opening of Right To Silence briefly reminded me of AC/DC again, this time specifically Whole Lotta Rosie. The crowd had definitely been enjoying the music, with louder applause and more complimentary comments than I’ve heard some support bands get but just one audience member took up the band’s invitation to move further forward as they brought their set to a close with the two songs that, to me, had that transatlantic sound, the second being Buzzed Up City, which also featured on Classic Rock Magazine’s cover CD this month. With the twin guitar sound and multi-vocals this was a good opening to the evening and, if the merchandise had been an album rather than an EP, I would definitely have considered a purchase.
“…and I first saw you in October 2015, in York,” I told Andy Powell as he signed the booklet from my recently purchased CD (2014’s Blue Horizon). This was in response to the person ahead of me in the queue, who told Powell that he had first seen them in the early seventies and led Powell to describe me as a “newbie”. I guess that’s fair given that, until tonight, there were only two Wishbone Ash albums in my collection – Argus and another that I didn’t even realise was a compilation until I got it home after buying it. Still, when I saw they were playing Fibbers, I knew I had to be there (even though, initially, it looked doubtful as the gig clashed with Steve Hackett playing the Barbican, a gig I already had a ticket for – thankfully, the clash and the prospect that a large part of a crossover audience would be at the Hackett gig was pointed out and this gig was brought forward by a day).
Following the usual pattern, the audience, by now a large crowd, had moved forward between acts and my gig-buddy and I, returning from a quick drink at the York Brewery took up position much further forward than we usually do. After, what could be described as a “less than enthusiastic” introduction by a roadie, the band took to the stage and launched into Deep Blues, from the latest album, Powell and second guitarist Muddy Manninen nonchalantly playing off each other. Continuing the blue theme they continued, after a bout of unintentional, ear-splitting feedback, with the slower Blue Horizon, this time the two guitarists complimenting, rather than playing off each other, the lead section switching effortlessly between the pair and producing a lovely sound. Powell then announced a return to the older stuff before, much to the delight of the crowd, kicking off the big riff recognisable (even to me) as The King Will Come and then Throw Down The Sword, both from Argus. The former saw bass player Bob Skeat given front of stage spot during the instrumental section while the latter’s lyric sections was broken up by an extended instrumental of screaming guitars. Then it was back to the newer material with Way Down South, done in much the same twin guitar style, Manninen opening the instrumental section for this one, adjusting one of the tone knobs with his little finger while playing. “Nailed it!” Powell’s triumphantly raised index finger seemed to declare at the end.
We returned to 1971 for The Pilgrim, a stunning instrumental which saw Powell playing a riff over Manninen’s soaring sound before a dual riff and then Skeat and drummer Joe Crabtree introduced a lively main section during which Powell and Manninen’s guitars interacted with and between each other, the lead sound flowing backwards and forwards across the pair, backed by Crabtree’s occasionally thunderous, occasionally militaristic drumming. The track had no less than three false endings and the crowd seemed to fall for them all. There was barely a pause between the late-seventies Front Page News and 2011’s Heavy Weather, which the rhythm section opened in an almost laid back style that the track soon outgrew, increasing in volume and energy in a series of leaps and bounds. Powell took time out to explain that blues is more popular in Europe than American at the moment before playing a cover of Jimmy Reed’s Baby What You Want Me To Do, a track which featured an instrumental section so sublime that I just closed my eyes and drifted along to it. I had no idea how much time had passed since the band took to the stage and, quite frankly, I didn’t care. Ten tracks in and we got the first audience clap-along, to a track I haven’t been able to identify, then Powell introduced the final song of the set. Anybody who has been to a gig would have known that wasn’t true and the keen-eyed would have spotted another guitar propped up on stage, as-yet-unused as Powell had been playing a Flying V throughout. Crabtree and Skeat were showcased during the fifteen minute long Open Road, the former kicking things off with rapid drumming, the latter playing a short bass solo – “Is that hard to do,” asked Powell across the stage as it ended. “No,” replied Skeat, smiling. The band left the stage with Powell thanking the crowd and announcing that, “York rocks!”
Of course there was always going to be an encore and that other guitar featured in the return to Argus for Blowin’ Free, another track greeted with enthusiastic applause and, from my gig-buddy, a large amount of bouncing. Most of the people in front of us were, by now, dancing along. Then the evening was brought to a close by a return to a blues sound for the brilliant Jailbait. A newbie I may have been, but this was definitely my kind of music and one of my highlights of the year. I understand Wishbone Ash rarely tour the UK these days and, therefore, a return to York seems unlikely and this could have been my only chance to see them live, so I’m glad that clash never happened.