Winterland, San Francisco
November 3, 1973
Photos by Dan Cuny
Text by Michael Collins Morton
Wishbone Ash formed in Devon, England, in 1969, when Martin Turner, a bassist and singer, and Steve Upton, a drummer, joined with two guitarists, Andy Powell and Ted Turner (no relation to Martin). It was the twin guitars of Andy Powell and Ted Turner, both taking the lead and both thoroughly stunning, that provided Wishbone Ash with the distinctive sound that would set them above most of their musical peers.
The first two albums by Wishbone Ash, Wishbone Ash (1970) and Pilgrimage (1971), were well received, but it was their third album, Argus, released in 1972, that brought them an even wider degree of praise and fame. Argus, which was named album of the year in both Melody Maker and Sounds, contained many of their most famous songs, including "Time Was," "Sometime World," "Blowin' Free," and "Warrior."
In 1973, when Wishbone Ash appeared at Winterland, the four musicians were at the peak of their collective abilities, offering a performance that was polished and exciting. Martin Turner stood at the center, with Andy Powell to his right and Ted Turner to his left. Martin Turner, who kept a serious demeanor throughout the show, sang with strength and conviction. Andy Powell and Ted turner, both singly and together, were quite extraordinary on their guitars, frequently lifting the music to rare heights.
I remember thinking how, just a few hours before, we had met Martin Turner in his hotel room. He was in bed, but seemed totally at ease having the four of us disrupt his rest. I mentioned that we were going to the show that evening and his response was, "Oh, do we have a gig tonight?" When I saw him on stage, I wondered how anyone could put on a performance like that not knowing it was scheduled that day. They were one of the best live bands I ever saw.
Another thought has occurred to me as I write this. I wonder who held our place in line at Winterland when we all left to meet the band at their hotel room?
I loved the twin guitar writing. Ted Turner and Andy Powell were a well-matched pair. Andy Powell played blistering, rocking, up-tempo, explosive solos on his Gibson Flying V, and Ted Turner played beautiful, lyrical lines, sometimes anchoring the chord structures with his rhythm guitar playing, both of them combining when playing twin harmonies, pushing the songs forward. Their styles really complemented each other. Martin Turner played a thundering bass with great muscular, repetitive patterns, and had a great voice, and Steve Upton was a powerful, yet tasteful, drummer. They were a guitar-only band (with the exception of John Tout from Renaissance, whom I admired, playing organ at the end of Argus) with great vocal and guitar harmonies.
The Winterland concert was wonderful, they were in top form. The tracks from the second side of Argus were amazing. I think they also played "Phoenix," with its slow buildup and cathartic end. On some tracks off Argus, the music would build in a lyrical way, and suddenly the spotlight would hit Andy Powell and his Flying V, as he jumped out with a powerful, stinging guitar solo. What great contrasts! They must have played songs from Wishbone Four, which was just out as well, but I wasn't familiar with them yet. At the end, Steve Upton came out from behind his battered drum kit, Dixie cup and towel in hand, and greeted the audience with a toast and hello. I learned later that he was the founding member who originally put the group together.
Tracking the band down for autographs the morning of the concert, at the hotel in Japan Center around the corner from Winterland, wasn't my idea (I don't think), but I was intrigued, though a bit apprehensive. Dan had the gumption to call the desk from the row of courtesy phones in the hotel lobby and ask for Martin Turner, who we saw as the leader (being the front man). They gave Dan the room number and he called again to that room. Martin Turner told him to wait for a while and give him some time.
When we went up there, the rooms were off an isolated hallway. We talked to Martin Turner, who was playing some interesting jazz fusion music like Mahavishnu Orchestra. (The first two Wishbone Ash albums had some jazz influence, with him scat singing on "Handy," and a rare rock cover of brilliant organist Brother Jack McDuff's "Vas Dis.") We drifted over to another room with an open door, where Ted Turner and some of the road crew were watching old black-and-white TV reruns, and I remember we asked him what touring was like. He said it was "like being made to follow a carrot at the end of a stick." (He interestingly left the band soon after, to travel to South America.) Ted Turner was one of my favorite guitarists - when he left and Laurie Wisefield (from Home) took his place, the music, though still interesting, lost some of its heart and lyricism.
The Winterland set was stunning, and couldn't be captured by the live double album released later. Wishbone Ash's music was simple on one level, but well-crafted and emotional, with great drive. They were excellent musicians and songwriters, and I consider myself lucky to have seen them when I did.
While waiting in line at previous shows, we had learned that some of the bands used to stay at the Miyako Hotel, which was a few blocks away from Winterland. To be totally honest, I don't remember who I went to the hotel with, whether it was Gary, David, or Michael, as I’m sure we all have recollections of this and they are different. I know that when we did go to see if the members of Wishbone Ash were indeed staying at the Miyako Hotel, it seemed that the duty of asking "if" they were there squarely landed on my shoulders.
I remember picking up the white lobby phone, and with my heart pounding, asking the operator if Martin Turner was there. When, to my amazement, they connected me to his room, I didn’t know what to say. I remember saying something like, "We are really big fans of your band and would like to meet you and get your autograph." Martin said, "Sure, we're happy to meet you, just give us about fifteen minutes then come up to my room." I turned to the others and let them know. We went up to his room, and low and behold, there was Martin. Andy Powell, Ted Turner, and Steve Upton were in the room across the hall, watching Leave It to Beaver, and we got an opportunity to meet them as well. I really couldn't believe we were talking to these (in my mind) music gods.
When the show started and the band came on, I know they recognized us in the front row, because I remember them looking down and nodding. They did do some of the Wishbone Four album, but when they did songs like "The King Will Come," "Time Was," and "Warrior" from Argus, with their intertwining guitar solos from Martin Turner and Andy Powell, that just blew me away. Martin Turner's bass and Steve Upton's percussion were outstanding. I also remember them playing a few tunes from their first album Wishbone Ash, which I liked as well. I believe they played "Phoenix" and "Errors of My Way." Their vocals were tight, but I especially liked the two guitars weaving in and out of each others' notes. This is definitely one of the top ten shows, musically, that I saw. Wishbone Ash always holds a very special place in my heart, not only for the show they put on, but also for being nice enough to meet us. I liked the images from this show, too. I think it portrays them well. Enjoy.
We went into the lobby of the hotel and prevailed on Dan to call Martin Turner's room. (I suppose the rest of us were too shy to make the call.) To our surprise, Martin answered the phone himself, and told Dan that we could come up to his room in a few minutes. We crept up to his door, wondering what might happen, and knocked. Martin opened the door and welcomed us into his room. After answering our timorous questions and giving an autograph to each of us, he told us that we could go to the room across the hallway, where the rest of the band was hanging out.
We departed from Martin Turner's room and knocked on the other door. I remember thinking that we might soon be taking in a view of unbridled merrymaking by riotous musicians, but instead, we found them all sitting quietly on a couch, wearing looks of boredom and watching television. They were watching Leave It to Beaver, which was about as far from the wild side of rock'n'roll as one could get.
That evening, when the musicians took the stage at Winterland, they gave us a nod of acknowledgment when they saw us standing at the front. Their performance was thoroughly amazing, one of the best that I have ever seen by any band at any venue. I saw many bands perform in those days, and I have seen many bands since, but I have never forgotten that performance by Wishbone Ash. They truly were a wonder to hear and behold.
More about Wishbone Ash at David's Rock Scrapbook
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