Thursday, April 26, 2012

Every band I've ever seen #1: Wishbone Ash, Bath Pavilion, 6/6/1980

In the late 1970s there was a clear distinction between the two mainstream music weeklies.  I know: I read them both.  They were fat tabloids, and reading them thoroughly could fill the week until the next issues.  The NME luxuriated in the afterglow of punk, and championed miserablist, politicised, electronic music play by monochrome men with sunken cheeks in long coats: their poster boys were Joy Division.  Sounds wasn't like that: it had instead focused on the emerging New Wave of British Heavy Metal whose stars (Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Saxon) would rule over the genre for the next two decades.  NWOBHM, as the awkward acronym had it, traced its heritage back beyond punk's Year Zero into the early 70s, and as a result I absorbed by some process of osmosis an interest in folk metal bands like Hawkwind and Wishbone Ash, without ever hearing their music.  When I saw that Wishbone Ash (too uncool to ever get an abbreviation) were playing Bath, I was sufficiently intrigued to buy my first concert ticket.

The venue was unimpressive: the Pavilion was a pavilion, a shed in the park.  The interior was like an enlarged church hall, with a simple stage at the far end.  The audience stood and waited, watched the support band   (a generic and lowly heavy metal band which never made the cut) and cheered the main act when they rushed on stage.  Although their lighting rig was minimal, they exploited it to the full, changing moos and tempo, and with the addition of dry ice at judicious intervals created a thrilling spectacle.  The concert mixed recent and classic tracks, all new to me of course.

  • Doctor
  • Lady Whiskey
  • Helpless
  • I Need People
  • The Pilgrim
  • Lookin’ For a Reason
  • Runaway
  • Living Proof
  • The King Will Come
  • Phoenix
  • Blowin’ Free
  • Jailbait
  • Bad Weather Blues
  • Too Much Monkey Business
The slow and stately Pilgrim and Phoenix made the biggest impression, but all of it seemed brilliant.  I was surprised when I talked to a friend who had snuck in through the open doors in the latter stages that he had left unimpressed.   The next day I rushed to the record shop to buy the tour's single; the shop assistant nodded in approval "yeah I better buy that soon".

Over the next few years I gradually amassed a near-complete collection of their studio and live albums, in search of the magical precision and excitement I had experienced, blind to the anti-climax that followed - only on Live Dates (Vol 1), Argus and Pilgrimage did the vinyl version approach the reality, and I am left to wonder how much of the quality of the concert was created by the wafts of marajuana smoke and the strange new experience of loud live music.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Martin,
I saw them round about that time, maybe late May 1980 at the Bath Pavilion. They were great and VERY LOUD. ears still ringing the next day. The support act was a crappy band called The Trend. Really crappy.

I was on a road trip and had stopped that evening in Bath. I was going to park when I saw a crowd gathering outside the pavilion and drinking ale. I asked what was happening and a guy said "it's the Wishbone Ash". - so I raced to park, get a room back to the concert.