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 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/