GibsonBass You talked about the writing around
the Wishbone Ash songs, how did you approach it, did you come up with the
vocal melodies first or were you writing music first?
Martin Turner I tend to go in to an almost trance
like state I suppose you would call it and I havenít got a bloody clue what
Iím writing more times than not. Itís certainly not a cerebral exercise although
on an occasion Iíll take the basis of an idea thatís come to me. Itís like
hooking in to your sub conscious and then Iíll re jig it, re write it add
more, rearrange, put more lyrics in to it whatever which is a more deliberate
calculated thing but the best songs for me have always been the ones that
have come in a really pure flow from the sub conscious or whatever/wherever
it comes from, God, Buddha, another planet you know itís almost like automatic
writing, itís almost like that for me anyway but it varies. There are other
tunes where say Steve (Upton, drummer) used to write a lyric and he would
give it to me to sing and put music to and I wouldnít be able to make it scan
so I end up kind of rewriting his lyric.
GibsonBass So then after youíd got that initial
idea youíd then take it away and build it in to the songs that we hear on
the Wishbone Ash stuff?
Martin Turner More often than not. Most of the Argus
material I had put together, written the song on acoustic guitar and then
say Andy or Ted would add bits to it. Sometimes theyíd change stuff and Iíd
be like ďno wait a minute, letís not change stuff for the sake of changing
itĒ but you know like say the beginning figure on Throw Down The Sword or
the opening guitar on The King Will Come you know the sort of contributions
that Andy would put in to the stuff and in becomes a continuous flow but itís
bits done by different people kind of morphed together to make one piece of
GibsonBass So would the twin lead and other guitar
parts, would they be worked out before or would you jam out bits?
Martin Turner Mainly the process, particularly in
the early days was me singing a melody and then one of them would painstakingly
work out the notation by ear, there was no bloody crotchets involved, bars
and staves and all that stuff. Theyíd work it out and I would sing the harmony
and the other guitar player Ted or Andy would work out the harmony. Now thatís
a bit of a painful process but once we got that down as like a trade mark
sound we could put that together fairly quickly
This early clip of Wishbone Ash performing Jailbait in 1970 demonstrates the twin lead guitar sound of the band (click the central arrow to activate video)
GibsonBass So you would know what ingredients to
Martin Turner Yeah. What I would sing wouldnít be
exactly the way that they would play it, they would put all the bends in and
the flicks and if you sang the melody it would sound not as good as the eventual
thing that was played on the guitar with all the bends and twists and all
the rest of it. It worked as a kind of a Wishbone Ash trademark I suppose.
As the seventies went on more and more I think they got so used to the way
that I would just chuck out what would be really a psuedo classical melody
I would call it. They started to do their own stuff as well but it never quite
had that what I call slightly classical edge to it, it tended to be more straight
rock Ďní roll, straight thirds, fifths whatever because some of that stuff
I used to do was fairly odd and quite difficult to play.
GibsonBass If you listen to the early albums through
to the late stuff you can hear the progression and difference.†
Martin Turner Some of it to be honest, some of the
riffs I used to refer to them as Noddy riffs. Particularly on the first album,
is it Queen Of Torture and itís like something out of Noddy and Big Ears really.
Or it always reminded me of like the Lone Ranger and Tonto jogging along on
horseback firing at the Indians or whatever. It had an almost caricature quality
about it that people recognise it, it becomes very identifiable and part of
the style of the band.
GibsonBass Although everyone obviously identifies
with Argus, I like those early albums thereís some interesting stuff on there
Martin Turner Yeah they have a certain something
(sings riff to Lady Whiskey) itís very simple, thereís not a whole lot of
GibsonBass No but itís very effective. Can you
remember what bass you were using on those first albums? Argus was a Rickenbacker
Martin Turner On the first album I was using a Jazz
bass, which I was not happy with at all to be honest.† I really donít like
the sound of it. If I was playing that now it would sound totally different
and in fact that makes it quite difficult to do because I wouldnít be able
to get near that sound because it was very much a jazz bass and it was at
the stage where I was experimenting to try and find an instrument for me.
Prior to that I had a home made £5 guitar with a Framus pickup on it which
I was happy with but all the producers and engineers and everyone would say
get rid of that piece of rubbish. I just offered it back to the guy who sold
it to me a couple of years ago. I rang him up and said ďIím just about to
take this thing down the tip, do you want it back?Ē and he said ďoh yeah,
yeah donít do that, Iíll have itĒ. The second album I think I was messing
about with a Fender six string, I was trying different instruments. I think
I started getting in to Precision bass on the second album, I wish I still
had it. Iíve got a couple of Precision basses one of which I call old faithful.
Itís a 60ís instrument, 63 or 64, itíll always give me a good sound maybe
a bit 'vin ordinaire' but I can rely on it, itíll always
give me a decent sound but I like to experiment to get something a little
more exotic first.
GibsonBass Do you have a favourite album from this period?
Martin Turner I tend not to have favourite albums
of Wishbone Ash, I mean I do do it on occasion where Iíll review the music
but really my job is to make the bloody stuff not be reviewing you know. Let
me be honest there is absolutely no denying that I put my heart and soul in
to the Argus album. For me it was like a year long schlep, it was like giving
birth. I mean I really put a lot in to that album writing a lot of those songs.
I think at the end of that album when I finally heard it playing back in the
control room it was such a massive relief and I was so knocked out at how
it sounded. I didnít know at that stage it was going to be received popularly
or whatever the right word is, I had no idea of how people would perceive
The above two video clips from 1973 show the first line-up of Wishbone Ash: Martin Turner - bass, Steve Upton - drums, Andy Powell - Gibson Flying V, Ted turner - Fender Stratocaster. Above: Warrior, below: Blowin' Free (click the central arrows to activate video)
GibsonBass And how significant it is today
Martin Turner but for me it sounded like I wanted
it to sound and it sounded magnificent and it actually made me cry you know
I couldnít stop myself. It was such a massive relief I just was overcome you
know at the end. I enjoyed it sure I did, there are things on there that I
love, the way the things fitted together. Thereís always been an issue really
about who did what, who wrote what. I mean the band was working at itís peak
in that era Ď72/í73
GibsonBass Yeah because itís not listed strictly
who did the vocals and writing?
Martin Turner No we had an arrangement where by
everyone was credited as writing the material. On the Argus album I wasnít
very happy with that, I asked for it to be changed. I wanted the credit for
writing the songs but they wouldnít go with it and we did have a bit of a
tiff, it was just handbags really as the football pundits say but they condescended
to give me credit for lyric writing. Blowiní Free was written before bloody
Wishbone Ash existed in the 60ís but itís like when everyone is putting in
ideas, when everyone is involved and they are putting in their creativity
as well then itís hard to say actually I need credit for writing that song
because it becomes part of everyone, and the band was in such great shape
at the time. Steve Upton for instance did a massive amount of work for the
band on a day to day level and had we cut him out of song writing it would
have been grossly unfair really in certain respects so we did stay with that
arrangement for a while even though I rocked the boat about it.
GibsonBass So Argus as it stands, are you 100%
happy with that or is there anything you think Iíd like to go back and change?
Martin Turner As a creative person no, youíre always
in search of perfection. The Argus album went out with flat vocals on it,
I mean Iím famous for singing vocals flat. At the time I really didnít give
a shit, years later in retrospect when it became our most revered album I
actually went back and remixed it at one point purely to get it in tune and
the remix is done that way. Also the King Will Come is extremely slow and
ponderous so I gave that a nudge, the tempo.
GibsonBass We talked
about your singing, which is a crucial part of the bands sound, how did you
find singing and playing the bass? Playing the kind of bass you play, youíve
got a lot of lines.
Martin Turner Yeah, yeah I mean it is, itís very
easy to learn half a dozen chords and you move your right hand up and down
in a kind of automatic motion in order to play rhythm guitar ala John Lennon,
and youíre singing itís fairly straight forward. To actually play a melodic
bass line, and sing at the same time, I was always fairly good at it because
I did a long apprenticeship in the 60ís of playing covers in a semi pro band
The Empty Vessels in the West Country but there are occasions on which itís
actually pretty tricky to do. I can tell you how to do it, you have to learn
one of the things really well like the bass line then you concentrate, you
play the bass line kind of on automatic so that a part of your brain is playing
it but you donít have to concentrate on it. Then you switch over to sorting
the vocal out and itís just purely a question of thatís the way it can be
done. The minute you make a mistake on the bass youíve got to switch back
to that mentally and just blag it with the vocal or keep singing and then
once youíve got the bass back on track you switch over again. If you can do
that very fast then it sounds fine. Itís like saying, what was that famous Troggs line
ďSplit Your HandsĒ? Itís like split your brain.
GibsonBass I can relate cause Iím the singer and
bass player in my band.
Martin Turner I guess you need the mentality, I
mean women always go on about how good they are at multi tasking but a bloke
with a beer in his hand itís like letís keep things simple. So do I really
want to be playing bass and singing at the same time? No letís just place
bass, and itís a lot easier to just play bass but Iíve done it for so long
I could do it stood on my head really.
GibsonBass Wishbone Ash like many bands that emerged
in the late 60ís were able to grow and evolve. Youíve got a catalogue of albums
unlike today where bands that donít kind of cut it on the first album may
be dropped from the label. Did you have total creative freedom when you were
Martin Turner Youíre working with a producer, in
our case that was Derek Lawrence who had done stuff with Deep Purple, in fact
they were really instrumental in introducing us to Derek. He worked with us
for the first three albums so thatís a pretty solid crew right there, Martin
Birch engineering as well that was a good set up. As far as our record company
were concerned we signed with MCA as they were or Universal in Los Angeles
so we were a British band tied to an American label. They were brilliantly
well organised on a kind of global basis which suited us because we wanted
to be able to go everywhere. They didnít have a lot of input creatively, you
know you signed to other labels like Atlantic and they would certainly have
a lot to say about. The music the creativity would get scrutinised but with
our record company it wasnít like that at all it was more like they appreciated
music and they were in to it but they didnít really get to interfere or too
involved at all. If there was something they didnít care for or was offensive
to them they would say so but we never had any of those problems it all went
very smoothly with them really for a very long time.
GibsonBass What about deadlines in terms of recording,
did you feel pressure there in terms of weíve got to get another album out?
Martin Turner In the early days when youíre a young
chap and your career is taking off and your life is mapped out for the next
eighteen months and youíre on this tour and then youíre doing TV and then
youíre back in the studio for rehearsal, then youíve got to go in and make
your album in three or four weeks itís quite a bit of pressure. In fact Ted
Turner one of the original guitar players, I think he found that pressure
too much after a few years. We were all under a lot of pressure, we actually
needed a months holiday but we couldnít because youíve got these commitments
mapped out months in advance and Ted had no option really to leave the band
in order to get the relief that he needed and that we all needed really. He
was just that much younger than us and a bit more in at the deep end. Weíd
all had a bit more experience of dealing with it.
GibsonBass Listening to the Wishbone Ash records,
thereís a healthy variance in them but thereís a distinct change in feel from
Wishbone Four to the first album that Laurie (Wisefield) played on which was
Thereís The Rub. Also I noticed your bass sound started to vary as well on
Thereís The Rub, where you using different basses on that record after youíd
got in to the Thunderbird, were you experimenting again?
Martin Turner I actually mainly used a Fender Precision
on Thereís The Rub. Bill Szymczyk who was producing it who I would probably
rate as my all time favourite producer, heís recorded some of the greatest
rock pop songs. Lifeís Been Good To Me (Joe Walsh), the stuff he did with
the Eagles, I rate him I really do and it was fantastic to work with him.
He actually wanted to work with an English guitar band, The Who were on his
list, we were and we hooked up, we said yeah weíd love to. It was the first
album we were going to be recording in the USA so we went off to do it. He
was a little bit upset that Ted had left and Laurie had replaced him but we
were like donít worry about it Bill itís the same Wishbone Ash, ish rather.
So because it was the first album in America and because the reason he wanted
to work with us, itís like industrial espionage really, he needed to find
out how we went about getting these guitar things and it was very simple basically
we spent a huge amount of time on recording the guitar lines, the trademark,
the harmony guitars and the solos. We had a fantastic collection of amplifiers
and guitars at that point and we put a lot of time in to it. He actually said
if I can get the guitars from your band and the voices from the Eagles I could
make the greatest hit record, and thatís exactly what he did. We literally
finished that album Thereís The Rub and he, The Eagles were already in town,
they used to come out and eat with us and they started recording Hotel California
in the same room the day after we finished. I can hear the tricks that he
learnt from us about guitars, the solos in Hotel California for instance.
I can hear the sound of the room itís uncanny.
GibsonBass It must be quite surreal to listen to
that album and you can probably relate to Hotel California quite specifically
because of the recording.
Martin Turner Very much so. They come down, rent
the same villa that weíd stayed in. I thought they did an absolutely fantastic
job on that album, I donít relate to it as him ripping off our ideas at all
quite the opposite it was stimulating. I learnt a lot of stuff from Bill Szymczyk
and recording in America, tricks that I still use to this day and I think
equally we showed them some of the experimentation, non orthodox ways of going
about getting guitars it was a good trade really and to this day Hotel California
is one of my favourite albums, I chuck it on now and again.
GibsonBass Me too and I shall listen to it with
a bit more interest now.
Martin Turner Yes itís fascinating you know the
drums are in the exact same spot and theyíve got the big lumps of eight by
four under them to reflect the sound, it just sounds the same to me. I did
have a bit of an issue with Bill over the bass. Theyíve got this thing Americans
with orthodoxy, Iím constantly surprised at how conservative they are. Itís
like a bass is down low and thatís where it should be and it does the same
job and you plonk away and I was like no man that ainít me I donít do that
shit Iím like in your face bam.
GibsonBass I was going to say thatís a direct contradiction
really of how you play.
Martin Turner He kind of found that a bit weird.
I wouldnít say we fell out over it we didnít, we used to kind of make each
other laugh about it but it was a bit of a compromise. I look back when I
listen to those tracks for instance, that bass is snarling! Although it was
a compromise I like what we ended up with. He was reasonably happy and so
was I. I think itís infinitely more interesting than another bass player plonking
around in the lower audio spectrum, which to me was boring. I mean Iím not
slagging that off if people are happy to play that way and in the context
of their approach to music that is right and correct then I take my hat off
to them. Unfortunately I must be some kind of freak who ainít prepared to
settle for that you know.