Tag Archives: argus

73. MARTIN TURNER “Written In The Stars” (2015)

Front cover (Pic: MT)

W.I.T.S.: The excellent front cover (Pic: MT)

At last! The long awaited new album from Martin Turner is here! Its been a long while in the making; but my God it was worth waiting for! Personally I think that this is the best thing that MT has put his name to since his classic magnum opus, Argus back in ’72 – and he has certainly given us plenty of good music in between over the years. Yes, I know that is a big call – and I’m not saying its going to attain the almost Holy status of Argus – but I honestly think that this is a truly wonderful album.

The title, Written In The Stars, suggests that it is perhaps a concept album (a description that is often inaccurately said of Argus too). Although many of the tracks on this work do share the common theme of fate and destiny, a few seem to be unconnected; so I suppose its a semi-concept. From my interview with MT last year (See  my article #25), I learnt that he is convinced that the universe is pre-ordained. He is also interested in things as diverse as re-incarnation  and the science of astronomy. These things have undeniably inspired the quite remarkable songs that have emerged from his prolific pen in the past; but it has all come together in the new album, which is a show-case of MT at his best – and in collaboration with his band and others too.

It is a collection of eleven original tracks (three of them instrumentals); and all excellent. Guitarist Danny Willson described it very succinctly (on his Face Book page) as: ‘Its sorta rocky / bluesy / proggy / folky / poppy and very guitary!’ A more accurate description could not be made, I think.   It took a year to record (From July ’14 to July ’15). This is because ‘Martin is a perfectionist’ ex-guitarist Ray Hatfield told me at his last gig with the band (See my review #56). Well MT and his boys have certainly produced something approaching perfection, I must say.

The band on these recordings consist of the man himself on Bass and vocals; Tim Brown (Drums); Danny Willson (Guitars/vocals); and Ray Hatfield (Guitars/vocals). But Ray recently left the band and was replaced by new boy Misha Nikolic, who has also contributed some work during the later stages of recording. Some other musos were also drafted in as necessary; and everyone involved has done a fine job indeed. They work well together on stage; and they’ve worked well together in the studio.

The album begins unusually, with two instrumentals: ‘The Big Bang (Overture)’ is a piece that sets the ambience of mystery and awe, appropriate for most of the collection. And this is followed by ‘The Beauty Of Chaos’. Its an excellent piece; with a Marvin-esque themed riff – ‘the Hanky part’ as Ray described it to me – courtesy of Danny. Some excellent slide; muted harmonics; acrobatics with a tremolo arm; atmospheric backing vocals; and some great rattling bass from MT himself, characterise this impressive instrumental. Tim also demonstrates his skills right from the start.

The title track ‘Written In The Stars’ follows. I was there when this song was first aired at MTWA’s excellent gig at Touchline Live Music in Essex last October  (See my review #25). Lyrically, its this song more than any other that describes MT’s beliefs.  Its a good quality Heavy-Rock number with a Progressive leaning; and contains all that you’d expect from an MT tune; with impressive vocal harmonies, and superb axemanship.

MTWA at Touchline Live Music in October 2014 (Photo by JPC)

MTWA at their Touchline Live Music gig in October 2014 (Photo by JPC)

‘Lovers’ goes off piste as regards the Destiny theme; but seems to fit nicely within the collection all the same. Its a lighter pop-rock love song; again with suitable vocal harmonies.

‘Vapour Trail’ I first witnessed at its debut during MTWA’s excellent gig at the Beaverwood Club last April (See my review #44). This studio version begins with a little flourish on a nylon-strung acoustic which gives way to a fine arpeggiated section and a nice motif riff.  This tune is very reminiscent of Mk 1 or Mk 2 Wishbone Ash material (the classic WA period) – we could be back in the ’70s! It has a very tasty solo section. In true concept album style, the song then merges into…

… ‘The Lonely Star’. Its the third and final instrumental in the collection. Instrumentals can be tricky buggers to get right – they have to remain interesting to keep the listeners attention; and as a listener, you have to listen. This piece does not disappoint.  Lengthy solos from the ‘Harmony Twins’; including impressive wah-wah  work, makes this a satisfying track indeed. Again, fade to ….

… ‘For My Lady’.  It is another tune that was first presented to the fans at the Beaverwood gig (see #44). And again deviates from the main theme. It has a kind of off-beat Reggae-style edge to it in the verse; but has a Folky / Mediæval feel about it in the chorus. This gives way to a beautiful quiet section; followed by a great twin lead guitar part. Of all the tracks on this album, it is the one that could most easily be plucked out and inserted into Argus! Quite a remarkable song in construction really.

‘Pretty Little Girls’ is a great fun rocker. There is an excellent driving beat courtesy of Tim; quality vocal harmonies; nice rhythm guitar; great lead guitar from Misha; and that inimitable rattling bass from Mart! A number that will go down well live methinks!

Then comes my favourite track of all: ‘Falling Sands’. (And this is no easy shout among a collection of such wonderful music). In true Wishbone Ash style, it was penned by all four band members (before Ray left).  It is a marvellous song with a melancholy ambience that starts with a lovely themed riff.  Close your eyes and drift away in the beautiful guitar solo!

The penultimate track is the Ray Hatfield penned ‘Mystify Me’. This an excellent song that first appeared on Ray’s second solo album At The Drop Of A Hat in 2013 (See my review #51). It was another song that I was privileged to hear debuted at the band’s Touchline gig in October ’14. (See my review #25). I think this number is entirely compatible with the feel of the album – and with MTWA material (both old and new) in general. It has a legitimate place on this album. I also think it shows how Ray’s writing was influenced by spending ten good years with MT.

‘Interstellar Rockstar’ finishes the album with an awe-inspiring Prog-Rock masterpiece. The multiple textures on this amazing recording are breath-takingly arranged. There is some beautiful Classical Guitar  from Misha; an ethereal backing choir riding under an other-worldly lead vocal melody; some subtle recorder-work; and a sublime guitar section, beginning with Willson superb on slide; and giving way to Hatfield’s wonderful soaring lead guitar solo.

The album was recorded at Liscombe Park Studios in Buckinghamshire, using some classic, vintage valve-based equipment; and this has had a profound effect on the overall finished sound of the work. MT, who describes himself as a ‘Studio Cat’, is an experienced muso who is adept at creating music; and all his skill and knowledge has been channelled into this new magnum opus. The CD version comes in a standard jewel case with a good booklet containing all credits and production / recording info; plus the lyrics of course. The excellent cover illustration is very apt – very concept album, very Proggy, and very 70s; and I love it!

This is an utterly marvellous piece of work in my opinion, and I recommend it highly if you are a fan of Turner; the original Wishbone Ash; Prog-Rock generally; or just excellent guitar music. Its the nearest we are going to get these days, to the original Mk 1 Wishbone Ash, that’s for sure, so its too good to ignore! I’ve heard some bloody good new music this year, and there are still three months to go, but I’ll stick my neck out and call it my album of the year – no question! Enjoy. PTMQ

 Here is a link to Martin Turner’s website… http://www.martinturnermusic.com/

56. MARTIN TURNER’S WISHBONE ASH (+ STEVE KELLY) at the VILLAGE BLUES CLUB’s 6th Reunion, DAGENHAM ROUNDHOUSE. Saturday, 30th May, 2015 + a few words about the venue.

MTWA: Ray's last gig! (Photo: PTMQ)

MTWA: Ray’s last gig! (Photo: PTMQ)

Well this was a very special gig indeed; but I’ll start by explaining a little about the venue. The Village Blues Club used the Dagenham Roundhouse (in the suburbs just East of London, for those not too familiar with the area), as their venue between 1969 – 75. The list of major British and Irish bands that played there during this time is lengthy; and the status of the club and venue is legendary in SE England: Led Zep; Floyd; Purple; Gallagher; Queen; Genesis; Lizzy; Hawkwind; Heep; Stray; to name but a few, all played there. Unfortunately, due to complaints from residents about the noise (loud music; revving bikes; etc), the local council put a stop to the club in ’75. The Roundhouse is still a pub that holds occasional events; but nothing like the calibre of its legendary past. One of the regulars from those early days, was Ken Ansted; who, in 2008, started the Village Blues Club Nostalgia Group on Face Book. And one of the activities of the group is to hold a members only reunion (originally annually; now twice yearly – in May and September), at the old venue. Among the exalted list of great bands that trod the boards at the Roundhouse in its heyday, was of course, Wishbone Ash.

As you are probably aware, these days there are effectively two Wishbone Ashes – Martin Turner’s and Andy Powell’s. (See my Blog #5 for some info on the split). But for the 6th Reunion, MT had kindly agreed to play with his band. I said above that this was a very special gig – not just because these Village reunions apparently have all been very successful due to the exclusive and friendly nature of the Nostalgia Club – but it was significant in the history of MTWA too. This was because one of MT’s guitarists, Ray Hatfield, was to play his last gig with band after ten years of sterling service; and his recently announced replacement, Misha Nikolic, was due to make a brief debut too.

Support act: Steve Kelly (Photo: PTMQ)

Support act: Steve Kelly (Photo: PTMQ)

I arrived at the venue with my journalist son James by about 8 o’clock. There were several people I knew in the audience including the ubiquitous Dave and Brian from Touchline Live Music with their respective ladies; and the knowledgeable Darren Wisdom on the Merch stall. We had a brief chat with the guv’nor Ken Ansted; and with  the soon to depart, Ray Hatfield;  who is often to be found chatting with the punters before and after gigs. (See my Blog #51 for a review of Ray’s excellent album At The Drop Of A Hat).

The support act was another of the regulars from the old Village Blues Club days, Steve Kelly. He played a solo acoustic set beginning with Led Zep’s ‘Immigrant Song’; followed by Quo’s ‘In My Chair’. The next song was dedicated to the locals whose complaints led to the closure of the club back in ’75 – the Small Faces’ ‘Lazy Sunday’. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to get on with me neighbours!’ he aptly sang; and ‘Here we all are sitting in the Roundhouse!’ He also covered ‘It was A Very Good Year’ famously sung by Sinatra. He did some of his own songs too: ‘Butter No Parsnips’; Suburban Villa’; ‘Hash’ (an instrumental which he renamed in honour of the nights special guest ‘Wishbone Hash!’; ‘You Can Never Shine’ (dedicated to Kevin Ayers; ‘Phoenix’ and ‘Sights And Sounds’. A good little set.

Just before 9PM, MTWA emerged from the Green Room and stepped on stage to great applause. Their excellent set list was pretty much that which they played when I saw them six weeks before at The Beaverwood Club. (See my review Blog #44). Suffice to say, that if anything, their performance was even better! Maybe it was the friendly and cosy ambience of this great little venue; or maybe it was the tangible realisation that these four would not play regularly together again. But whatever the reason, all four of these fine musicians (Martin; Ray; Danny Willson; and Tim Brown) gave a superb performance – maybe the best I’ve seen them play.

MTWA: Misha's first appearance (I apologise for the quality of this photo! PTMQ)

MTWA: Misha’s first appearance (I apologise for the quality of this photo! PTMQ)

And I think the rest of the audience probably would have agreed with me. The place was rockin’ –  packed and sweaty! The fans consisted of people of all ages, but mostly middle-aged rockers – like myself! As I looked around, I saw a Johnny Winter look-alike; several blokes who resembled Jesus; and bizarrely, a dead-spit of Andy Powell! All were digging the MTWA vibe! The limited tickets had sold out some while before the gig, so everyone there was up for it. And we weren’t disappointed.

As usual, it was a two-part set, plus encore. They played three songs from their forthcoming album Written In The Stars;  five from the classic Argus album – including an astoundingly good rendition of ‘Sometime World’; and many of the other old WA live favourites. But the encore was especially good – and significant. Starting with ‘The King Will Come’ (which had everyone singing along); the lads then played ‘Doctor’ (from Wishbone Four, 1973). It was to be Ray’s last number for MTWA; and Martin thanked him for the ten years he had put in. Ray has been very popular with the fans, and left the stage to rousing, well deserved applause.  Finally, the new boy Misha was called on stage to do the final number, ‘Jailbait’; borrowing Ray’s guitar. He was warmly welcomed by all; and we’ll be eagerly seeing how he contributes to the band – its a tough act to follow though!

Good luck to Ray as he embarks on new projects – including a third album soon, I hope. Good luck to Misha as he joins one of the best live bands in Britain. A big round of applause for Ken Ansted and his crew for all their hard work in getting this fantastic gig off the ground. And finally, a big thank you to the charming ladies behind the bar who all worked tirelessly, providing beer with a lovely smile! PTMQ

Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry on the Dagenham Roundhouse…. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dagenham_Roundhouse

Here is a link to the Official MTWA website… http://www.martinturnermusic.com/

25. MARTIN TURNER’S WISHBONE ASH at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC, Hullbridge, Essex. Friday, 17th October, 2014; plus, a few words with MT back-stage beforehand.

TURNER AND ME: Pre-show back-stage chin-wag! (Photo by JPC)

TURNER AND ME: Pre-show back-stage chin-wag! (Photo by JPC)

It was very  good of  MARTIN TURNER to invite me round for  a chat before  his gig at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC, Hullbridge, Essex; and of DAVE KITTERIDGE of the club for sorting it all out. My boy James and I turned up early at the venue; and after  promoter Dave greeted us; we soon got chatting with a couple of fans in the bar, while we waited for the nod from MT for an interview. We also had a chat with the very informative DARREN WISDOM on the merch desk too; and I bought MT’s new album The Garden Party. As we waited, we  had a few words with long-term MTWA guitarist RAY HATFIELD who was on stage making some fine adjustments to his FX set-up. We talked about his solo albums, and he said he’d written a song that was to be played by MTWA tonight – ‘Mystify Me’. No, its not a cover of the old RONNIE WOOD song, but a totally original piece. This led us to talk of ROLLING STONES guitarists; and Ray said he was a big fan of MICK TAYLOR, a most underrated musician – and I must agree with that.

Before long, we got the invite back-stage where we were greeted by MT and his other long-serving axe-man, DANNY WILLSON. Martin was relaxed and we were soon speaking about his friends in the band BLUE BISHOPS (see my blog entry #21), who he jams with at times.   I wasn’t sure if he would want to speak about the recent controversy between himself and ANDY POWELL (see my blog entry #5), but he did so very freely. However, those issues are outside the scope of this review – suffice to say that the whole unfortunate business still rankles  him deeply; and I’m not surprised. He was, shall we say, less than complimentary about AP! Enough said.

Now, anyone who knows me, knows that my favourite album of all time, is the Wishbone epic, Argus; and it has been since I first heard it back in the 70s. So inevitably I brought up the subject. MT avidly discussed the themes of the album in some length and detail (it being, after all, his magnum opus), but his comments on this deserve to be the subject of a dedicated future article on my blog. (Watch this space). He also told the story of his lost Rickenbacker 4001 Bass guitar, which he used on the album.

MTWA (Photo by JPC)

MTWA (Photo by JPC)

I asked also, about new material. MT said that four tracks have been recorded; with another two – possibly four – in the pipeline. The whole band apparently, are currently collaborating in the song-writing; and ‘Mystify Me’ (a song by Ray Hatfield – as stated above) being one of two newbies planned for that night. Then my son James (who is actually a sports journalist) asked Martin if there is a theme to the new album. This was a good question, as it led our host to wax philosophical. The new song ‘Written In The Stars’ (due to be the opening number at the gig) apparently encompasses his view of a pre-ordained Universe. He believes in re-incarnation, and I asked if he was a Buddhist. No, he’s not; but he is interested in the Hindu religion; and feels that he has, in the past, fallen foul of the goddess Kali. Now you may, or may not believe this; but you cannot deny that it influences his admirable song-writing. James also asked if his new music has branched out. Martin thought so. He mentioned his love for various musical genres other than rock and blues – classical; jazz; and Hindu music, which he says ‘are bound to’ influence him. Of course.

Now, I know the official name of the band has recently been changed to MARTIN TURNER PLAYS THE MUSIC OF WISHBONE ASH (actually, to me it will always be MTWA!); but what I wanted to know was, who will the new album be credited to? It can’t be labelled as MT PLAYS THE MUSIC OF WA, because WA never played it in the first place. MT says that this is undecided at the moment; but that the artist’s name will probably include the name ‘WA’ in it  somehow – as long as it doesn’t contravene the recent court ruling which found in favour of Andy Powell’s use of the name. I also asked why a simple MARTIN TURNER BAND, or similar wasn’t used.  He answered that WA would be incorporated in the advertising for gigs etc anyway, so why not include it in the title? Fair enough.

MR. TURNER - master of the Thunderbird! (Photo: PTMQ)

MR. TURNER – master of the Thunderbird! (Photo: PTMQ)

By the time we returned to the auditorium, it was packed with MTWA fans eagerly awaiting the show. We didn’t have to wait long before Master Of Ceremonies BRIAN SANGWIN introduced the band. Soon the lads were on-stage belting out the new tune that we’d just discussed back-stage: ‘Written In The Stars’. Its a great song and proved to be a good opener. Old Argus favourite ‘Warrior’ followed; and was performed in an exemplary fashion. Its as near as you will ever get these days to the original album version. As on the album, this was immediately followed – and counter-balanced – by ‘Throw Down The Sword’. Again, we were transported back to ’72! We witnessed a  beautiful harmonised twin solo from Hatfield and Willson; with MT as usual, faultless on his Gibson Thunderbird bass.

Another of my WA favourites followed: ‘Goodbye Baby, Hello Friend’, originally penned by ex-WA guitarist LAURIE WISEFIELD for the ’77 album, Front Page News. MT quipped that Ray H would sing it – as he was the one who most resembled Laurie! The instrumental ‘Lullaby’ from Pilgrimage followed; with Danny W,  highly competent  on 12-string.  The progressive and bluesy ‘Persephone’ was up next. The whole band impressing with their musicality. Heavy rocker ‘Living Proof’ hit us without further ado; new drummer TIM BROWN impressing us with his skin-beating.

Martin then announced that the band would have a short break after one more song.  At this point I was most surprised to hear the iconic Argus track ‘Blowin’ Free’; as it is usually reserved for the encore. But then why not? It was a superb rendition as you’d expect; and ended the first half of the set on a high.

After the break (involving beer and chat!); Martin and his boys returned to the stage and began Part Two with another Argus classic: ‘Some-Time World’. I love this song. Its strummed, vocalised intro soon gives way to Turner’s iconic, busy bass-line – in fact, a busier bassist you’ll not see outside of the jazz world! Hatfield and Willson did a fantastic job on it too; as did Tim on the skins.

'Thank you, Hullbridge, and good night! (Photo: PTMQ)

‘Thank you, Hullbridge, and good night! (Photo: PTMQ)

Next was the eagerly anticipated, Hatfield penned, ‘Mystify Me’. It did not disappoint. It is highly compatible with classic WA material. It went down well with the crowd. I liked it a lot. And I’d like to hear the studio version (along with the other new one; the opener ‘Written In The Stars’). Another old favourite ‘Lorelei’ (from New England, ’76), was played next; followed by TED TURNER’s song  ‘Keeper Of The Light’ ably sung by Danny W.

Another instrumental, ‘Outward Bound’ (also from New England)  was followed  by an impromptu joke, told by MT in his stand-up comedian mode! It was about astronauts and Red Indians. A more serious theme was explored in the lyric of  ‘Lifeline’. Then Martin said they’d do a song from the very first WA album ‘..that was 1907’ he quipped! It was of course the old fans favourite, ‘Phoenix’ (1970). And thus ended the main set to rapturous applause.

The question now was: Did we want them back for encore? ‘Let’s here it for Martin and the band with no name!’ called Brian Sangwin. And we cheered loudly until ‘the band with no name’ returned. After a few bars of the ancient song ‘Greensleeves’, they  launched themselves into the unmistakable intro of ‘The King Will Come’. It was the fifth song from Argus, and another sublime rendition! The wah-wah solo from Ray was excellent. Rocker ‘Blind Eye’ followed, and ended with MT teasing his fans by coining the phrase ‘Zimmer-Rock!’ The finale – if not ‘Blowin’ Free’ – had to be,  of course, the live favourite: ‘Jailbait’. (Martin had talked to us earlier about the inspiration for this song). Then he thanked the band who each did their solo; and all staff – both his and the club’s; before exiting the stage to wails of approval.

It was one of the best gigs I’ve seen this year. Thanks to Martin and the band for a fantastic show; and taking the time to talk to James and myself.  And to Dave Kitteridge and his Mrs; and all the staff at the Touchline for all their hard work in making a memorable evening. Cheers, PTMQ