Interview with legendary Martin Turner - founding original member and key creative force of Wishbone Ash

"I think the cataclysmic events of the war years in the 40s and the austere, grey, healing and slow reconstruction during the 50s gave rise to a huge outburst of idealistic and artistic outpouring in the generation that came of age in the 60s."

Martin Turner: The Rock Wish Took Place

Martin Turner - founding original member, lead vocalist and key creative force of Wishbone Ash - embarks on a busy period of recording and international touring during 2014. Wishbone Ash was formed by West Country musicians Martin Turner and Steve Upton, who arrived in London in 1969 to embark on their musical journey. Intent on creating a musical sound that was rich in texture and melody, Martin Turner envisaged the band’s innovative harmony-guitar hallmark and guitarists Ted Turner and Andy Powell were recruited via a now legendary Melody Maker advert. The partnership of the original line-up of Wishbone Ash forged a unique musical identity that would produce some of rock music's best loved works and influence numerous successful bands and result in millions of album sales and concert attendances.

Over four decades later, the enduring music of the classic marks of Wishbone Ash continues to delight audiences worldwide through both live performances and a rich legacy of recorded work that continues to be enjoyed by fans old and new. As lead vocalist and key creative force, founding original member Martin Turner was central to the critical and commercial success of Wishbone Ash’s most revered albums, with his passionate vocal delivery, songwriting ability, keen melodic sense and production values being a key ingredient in the definitive Wishbone Ash sound. Martin Turner continues to perform the band’s best loved works with his current band, which features guitarists Ray Hatfield and Danny Willson, and drummer Tim Brown and remains faithful to the original Wishbone Ash blueprint. Since 2005 Martin Turner has delighted audiences worldwide with its performances of material from the classic periods of Wishbone Ash’s history.

In 2012 Martin Turner also published his personal memoirs in the critically acclaimed autobiographical book No Easy Road – My Life and Times. Following an extensive period of worldwide touring that has celebrated the classic years of Wishbone Ash, Written in the Stars - Live Dates 2014 sees Martin Turner moving positively forwards with a show that not only contains stage favourites and classic album cuts from the extensive Wishbone Ash repertoire, but also introduces brand new music. Martin Turner's new album The Garden Party – A Celebration of Wishbone Ash Music will be released as a 2CD set through Cherry Red on 13 October 2014. This much anticipated release documents a special invitation-only concert performed by Martin and band and features guest appearances from classic Wishbone Ash members Ted Turner and Laurie Wisefield.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe Martin Turner sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

MT: When I formed Wishbone Ash with Steve Upton's help in 1969, I wanted two guitar players who could play together in harmony. I found that if I sang the harmonies and we translated them onto guitars it gave us an original, distinct and recognizable sound that was fairly unique. It was a bit of a long winded process, but the results were very good. Maybe one of the reasons is that I was brought up as a young child with a great deal of Classical Music which influenced me a lot when I came to make my own music, and I recognize that a lot of the melodic content could be described as "pseudo classical" but this is not easy to recognize when played in a Rock and Roll guitar context.

The lyrics I write are often from direct emotional experiences that I have had and on some occasions it is more a case of me tuning into the cosmos or tapping into universal energy which then comes through me - a bit like automatic writing - I am merely the conduit for the energy. I hope you can understand, although sometimes I have to admit that I don't even understand what I have written myself!

"I was told in my teens by mystics what my path would be, and even though I tried at times to take a different path, fate would always contrive to bring me back to the path of music and creativity. This process for me was very deep and I discovered that it was so powerful that it could destroy me if I did not adhere to the path."

Why did you think that the Wishbone Ash music continues to generate such a devoted following?

MT: It is very strange indeed how Wishbone music seems to provoke such a passionate response in the people who listen and enjoy it. The music also seems to have a very long "shelf life" in that it does not seem to date, but continues to sound fresh and relatively modern. I can only imagine that one of the reasons is that it contains strong melodies, but also I think there is an element of magic in it, for want of a better word.  Sometimes when I have been involved in the creative process of writing music I do feel a bit like a wizard, in that I take something that is "invisible" (creative energy) and eventually when the writing, playing and recording  has been done, it eventually goes back into the air in the form of sound waves which are invisible again.

I do find that whole process magical, although I do not profess to have a great deal of control over it.  It is not something that I could not do to order.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? Which memory makes you smile?

MT: I very often have instincts about people I meet - I know that they are important, but the reason why is not apparent at the time of meeting. There are many examples of this - here is just one - In the early 70s Wishbone Ash was asked to play support act to Mott the Hoople when they performed their "All the Young Dudes" tour - A huge hit song written by David Bowie who was emerging as a fantastic talent and a great writer at the time. I felt when I met them all that they were important somehow and then after the tour my Rickenbacker bass got broken and I needed to find a Bass guitar fast because we were gigging a lot at the time. I rang Pete Watts from Mott and asked if I could borrow one of his Thunderbird bass guitars. He lent me one that was a bit of a mess - it had also been smashed and then repaired but not very well.  I got it rebuilt properly and have ended up using that instrument for live shows over the last 40 years. That guitar feels almost like a part of my body when I strap it on.

This is the kind of thing which was of huge importance for me but it also makes me smile.

"Music is always changing but good melodic content seems to have wide and long lasting appeal. Computers and technology have given us lots of power and potential but I don't think that they are always beneficial to the core issue which is creativity."

Which memory from The Garden Party sessions with old collaborators in studio makes you smile?

MT: The Garden Party took place at my Manager's House outside in the car park and was largely a spontaneous idea to say "thanks" to at least some of the people who had supported us through the years.

We invited Ted, Laurie and Steve. Also invited were people who had worked with the band back in early days (1970s). To our amazement, everybody came along and Laurie and Ted bot joined us on stage. It was a very special event indeed and everyone enjoyed it immensely.

There were huge problems with the recording however - a very nasty "buzz" on everything that was a nightmare to get rid of. I mixed the thing twice without success - it was still buzzing until I got hold of some software which stripped out the offending noise so, it was a question of third time - lucky.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

MT: Music is always changing but good melodic content seems to have wide and long lasting appeal. Computers and technology have given us lots of power and potential but I don't think that they are always beneficial to the core issue which is creativity. I still think that music is better made "organically" with musicians playing together and reacting to the moment.

My concerns are about "greed" which is at the centre of so much that is wrong with our world.

We cannot expect music to be available for free on the internet, it is important that art and creativity is rewarded and acknowledged for the inspiration and comfort it can provide rather than being over commercialized and trivialized.

"The lyrics I write are often from direct emotional experiences that I have had and on some occasions it is more a case of me tuning into the cosmos or tapping into universal energy which then comes through me - a bit like automatic writing - I am merely the conduit for the energy."

What were the reasons that made the UK in 60s to be the center of Folk/Blues/Rock searches and experiments?

MT: Who knows - I think the cataclysmic events of the war years in the 40s and the austere, grey, healing and slow reconstruction during the 50s gave rise to a huge outburst of idealistic and artistic outpouring in the generation that came of age in the 60s.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

MT: I heard a story recently about a North American Indian who watched USA astronauts practicing in the Nevada desert when they were preparing to fly to the moon. He was puzzled and eventually walked over to them and asked what they were doing. They told him that they were doing exercises in preparation for travel to the moon and he told them that the moon was sacred in his culture because they believed that it was the place that the spirits of the dead resided. He asked if they could deliver a message to the spirits for him when they got to the moon. They said "yes they could" and he then taught them what he wanted them to say in his native tongue, which they learnt to say by copying his words. They asked the Indian what the message meant and he said he could not tell them, that would spoil the message. They parted company and the astronauts went back to their base where they searched for someone who could speak the Indian language and found a guy who could. When they repeated the Indians message the man laughed and when they asked him what the message was he told them - "Do not believe a word these people tell you. They are only here to steal your land" Music - I loved the Adele songs that went out a couple of years ago - very refreshing, also quite fond of Muse who have made some very good albums and songs. They also come from the West Country - same part of England that I am from.

What is the best advice ever given you and what advice would you give to new generation?

MT: There are plenty of other things to choose in this world but if you choose a musical career you can expect a rocky road and you must be very focused and determined in order to succeed.

I was told in my teens by mystics what my path would be, and even though I tried at times to take a different path, fate would always contrive to bring me back to the path of music and creativity. This process for me was very deep and I discovered that it was so powerful that it could destroy me if I did not adhere to the path.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

MT: I would be quite interested to travel back in time to the reign of Henry the 8th in the 1500s, he being the serial womanizer who broke links with the Pope and formed his own religion which is a legacy we still live with in this small Island nation today. There are other points in History probably equally fascinating - James the 6th of Scotland, who became King James the 1st of England Scotland and Wales effectively creating the UK which has been showing signs of coming apart recently. Also the time of the Roman Empire, which vaguely still exists in the form of the EU, and I have never been to Jerusalem, which seems to be the most disputed plot of land in history.

The Arabs and the Jews are both fascinating peoples and it would be good to visit at some poignant time maybe when Jesus Christ was alive. It would also be a trip to visit Russia in the time of Tchaikovsky or Shostakovich for me having a lifelong love of Russian Classical music.

Martin Turner - Official Website

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