During our last tour of Germany in January 2020 Andy and I spoke to Germany's leading guitar magazine, Gitarre & Bass.
We gave a rundown of the guitars and equipment we were using while on tour in Europe with Nazarath and Uriah Heep and spoke about the then due to be released new Wishbone Ash album, Coat of Arms.
The feature is only written in German unfortunately, but check it out and enjoy.
For anyone wanting to read this interview in English, below is the German to English translation. “There are lots of excellent guitarists in the world, but most of them can only play at full blast, and that's exactly what we don't want to get in Wishbone Ash's case” Andy Powell.
Up to today the songs from 'Argus' (1972) belong to the fixed part of every Wishbone Ash show, supplemented by highlights of further class albums like 'There's The Rub' (1974) or 'Just Testing' (1980). Brand new to the program, however, are songs from the current disc 'Coat Of Arms', presenting for the first time their new guitarist, 42- year-old Englishman Mark Abrahams. We took the opportunity to talk to 70-year-old Andy Powell (AP) and his much younger colleague Mark Abrahams (MA) about the working relationship.
Andy, after 50 years with different line-ups and you as a constant: What are and were the criteria for joining Wishbone Ash?
AP: First and foremost, playing finesse, but also the ability to understand this band and its music. And, of course, the ability to work as a team. Equally important are: Sense of melody, a good tone and the art of being able to control your instrument. There are many good guitarists in the world, but most of them can only play full blast, and that is exactly what we don't want in Wishbone Ash. Our songs have a lot of dynamics, so we need musicians who can rock out when they need to, but also use their fingering sensitively when the song calls for it.
Mark, when you joined Wishbone Ash, which songs were easy for you to learn, and which were more difficult? MA: The easiest ones were of course the ones I could play anyway as a long-time fan of the band, so 'Blowin Free', 'The King Will Come', the songs from 'Argus'. It was more about getting the tone and feel right here, for example in the quiet passage of 'Warrior' where it's all about how you touch the strings. Difficult for me was, for example, the song 'F.U.B.B.', because it is nine minutes long and filled to the top with two-part passages, without interruption. Did you have to change your equipment when you joined Wishbone Ash? MA: Yes. I had ENGL amps before that, which sounded more modern than the Orange amps I play now. Initially, I switched to Fender combos before Andy put me in touch with Orange. These amps really have that classic vintage sound, and of course the design to match. And for the pedalboard? MA: I used to have a big rack system based on the TC Electronics G-System in the past. Now I play single pedals. As a result, I have exactly the sound I need for Wishbone Ash Andy, have your musical tastes and preferences in guitars and sounds changed over the years? AP: Of course, I am most famous for the Flying V. Over the years I have owned many of them and always come back to them as they are the symbol of the band. Nevertheless, I constantly test and buy other types of guitars as well. In the studio I also play models from Düsenberg or Fender, always depending on what sounds I want to get for a new record.For rhythm parts I like to play Fender guitars, because they sound very clear and have a sharp attack. But at the same time, Flying Vs are always in use in the studio. Mark and I are experimenting a lot with different pickups. In the eighties, guitarists were always asking for more power, for even hotter pickups. Today it's the opposite, at least for me. Today I'm looking for a vintage sound that sounds as transparent as possible and where you can hear the fingers play just like Stevie Ray Vaughan did. For me the Di Marzio concept has become obsolete, my current guitar guru is Andreas Kloppmann, who we just visited this morning as he lives close by. Almost all of my current guitars are equipped with his pickups. The same applies to Mark's guitars. Interestingly, we discovered Andreas Kloppmann independently. A few hours ago he was telling us a lot about his latest discoveries in terms of Alnico magnets. He knows a lot of exciting things about pickups and makes sure that they significantly improve the sound of a guitar. I'm fortunate enough to have some really great vintage guitars, so I know how old Gibson or Fender models can sound. To come back to your question: On our new album 'Coat Of Arms' I played, among other things, a 1952 Fender Tele, even though many people think it was a Gibson. There are some guitars that we never play on stage, because of course we don't want to expose our most precious treasures to the risk on tour. Mark, you use a Tokai Les Paul and a Fender Strat on stage. What type of guitar did you grow up with? MA: I like Strat and Les Paul almost equally. My first guitar was a Stratocaster, but I sold it for my first Les Paul. After that, Les Pauls became my favorite guitars, even though I also play a Strat with Wishbone Ash. Both guitars have very different sounds. At home I have a Les Paul Junior with a P90. What's the story behind your Tokai Les Paul, which had a reputation in the early eighties for being better than Gibson Les Paul’s at that time. MA: I am fortunately friends with the guys from Tokai in England. I've known them for a long time because I worked in a guitar store for a while and sold a lot of Tokais. Then when I came to Wishbone Ash, I bought a wonderful Les Paul Gold Top, which is currently my main guitar. To save it, I asked the guys at Tokai to get me as identical a copy as possible, whereupon they organized this one for me, which I now have on tour with me. It has the same neck and electrics as my Gold Top - it's also a wonderful guitar. Andy, what era of Wishbone Ash does 'Coat Of Arms' remind you of? AP: To different phases. It was recorded very straight, similar to 'Argus' back then: just four musicians playing together. Only a few tracks were doubled, because doubling was barely necessary. There are at least a few cross-references to earlier tracks. For example, 'It's Only You I See' has the feeling of 'You Rescue Me' from the New England album. But that kind of thing happens unintentionally, you don't realize it until later when it's all finished. I come up with an idea and Mark says, "Oh, that sounds like a piece from 'New England' or from an earlier era of the band. I know that the fans like those sounds and that content, and that kind of thing happens naturally on Coat Of Arms. Again, Mark has a big part in that, because he naturally sees Wishbone Ash's history with different eyes than I do. I am and was simply too close to the events to be objective. In this respect, Mark is for me the yardstick, whether an idea is good or not. MA: There's a song on the new album called 'Too Cool For AC' where the riff is mine. I had a kind of 'Jail Bait' in mind, so it's a riff that's divided into two parts. Mark, do you have a favorite Wishbone Ash album? MA: Yes, 'New England', with songs like 'Outward Bound' or 'Lorelie'. Have you been asked by Andy what numbers you would like to play on tour? MA: Not on the last one, but on the one before that. I really wanted to play 'Standing In The Rain' because it reminds me of my childhood, eleven years old, in the back seat of my parents' car, in the front on the tape recorder, that song is playing. (laughs) But actually I love all the numbers we play without exception. Andy, do you have a favorite album or era of your career? AP: The story of this band is incredibly multifaceted. At the moment, I'm concentrating on songwriting more than ever before. And from this point of view I also judge Wishbone Ash's career. That's why I am so perfectly complementary with Mark, because he, on the other hand, pays more attention to the sound and attitude of certain phases. I think we've developed our songwriting hugely over the last 20 years. But of course I have to agree with the fans that the 1970s was a great era for Wishbone Ash. And of course I also have to agree with them when they say that 'Argus' is a masterpiece. Argus' was our third album, we had found our sound, and above all, with 'Argus' we had created the musical basis to be able to exist on big stages in America. Until then we had only played in small clubs in England, and there are different songs that work in clubs than on huge stages. On small stages you need faster songs, like 'Vas Dis', 'Queen Of Torture' or 'Handy'. But such numbers would fall apart on big stages. On big stages you need such anthems as 'Warrior' or 'Lay Down The Sword', stadium rock numbers, great songs, which we have always had in our program since then and which the fans love. Of course, we still have many followers who grew up in the 1970s, and I understand why they like those songs. But unlike many other bands whose great importance was only in a certain phase, we've been in business for 50 years, so we have full artistic freedom and can incorporate quotes from a wide variety of decades in our new songs. The great thing about the current phase is: Rock music has come full circle, vintage rock or classic rock, whatever you want to call this music, is totally in again. And that naturally serves a band that has always worked organically. But didn't you also benefit from a certain artistic naivety when you were young? Something that you do intuitively and therefore acquires a very special charm, because it is precisely not characterized by experience, but by a certain virginity. AP: A super observation! As a young musician you have total freedom and you are in direct contact with your feelings. You don't use your brain so much as your heart, and you put your ideas together more like a puzzle. In our case, the result was indeed timeless. I think one of the best songs I've ever written is 'Errors Of My Way'. At that time I was only 20 years old, so how could I already make such analyses about my still short past? (laughs) Actually, such a song should be composed by a 50- or 60- year-old. So there are tunes that you're surprised today that you were able to write at such a young age? AP: Yes, there are, but honestly, I don't think about it that much. The fact is: we survived back then because we were able to draw a lot of motivation from our poorness. We were really starving back then. In 1969 we lived in a shabby flat in London and worked twelve hours a day on our music. Back then, you moved out of your parents' house at 17 or 18 and made your own way. We were simply young adults who had no other option than to be permanently creative and produce albums. When we signed our first record deal, there were immediately tough demands from the product manager: "We want two albums and four tours from you per year and including at least one in America!" And of course you did what the record company told you to do, not realizing that you would quickly be burned out that way. In a way, it was a bit like slave work. You produced non-stop, because you didn't want to miss the momentum and you recognized the urgency. For me, unlike my bandmates at the time, it wasn't a problem, I'm a real workhorse. I could still effortlessly drive twelve hours and tour week after week. I don't know if that's a good quality, but I have it. Thank you both for the nice conversation!