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Wishbone Ash - The Vintage Years 1970 - 1991 box set review

Wishbone Ash blaze, crash-dive and become yacht-rock captains on this monolithic, 30-CD box set

Wishbone Ash - The Vintage Years
Wishbone Ash - The Vintage Years

Limited to 2500 copies, The Vintage Years includes all 16 Wishbone Ash studio albums recorded between 1970-1991, plus rare album outtakes, B-sides and 12 previously unreleased studio tracks. The set also includes three original live albums and eight previously unreleased live albums (full track listing below). 

The box set also includes a 156-page coffee table hardback book written by Classic Rock's Dave Ling, which includes personal photos, rare posters and flyers and collector's memorabilia, plus a 36-page poster book covering the early years through to Here to Hear, four reproductions of original posters, a facsimile of the band's MCA debut album promo pack, a 7" flexi disc for the single Blind Eye, the first of the 11 Japanese singles series, and individually signed photos of each band member: Martin Turner, Andy Powell, Ted Turner, Steve Upton and Laurie Wisefield.

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It took eight quid and an impossible decision to launch Wishbone Ash into the world in late 1969. The money bought the Melody Maker advert that attracted guitarists Andy Powell and Ted Turner to audition for bassist Martin Turner and drummer Steve Upton. When they couldn’t decide between the two, they went with both, resulting in the twin-guitar front line format that eventually became part of rock’s very fabric.

After 1972’s career-peak Argus, Ash had 20 tortuous years of challenging follow-ups, inter-band friction and changing line-ups, and released 16 albums before splitting in 1991. Powell and Martin Turner might have battled acrimoniously in court for the name in 2013 (Powell won), but for this colossal, 30-CD, career-spanning edifice the original four plus later members all collaborated with annotator Dave Ling in revisiting every one of them.

The Vintage Years is the consummate collection, and long-time fans looking for added attractions will salivate over its many out-takes, rarities and bonus live recordings, including eight full desk-quality concerts. Along with Ling’s 156-page hardback book, posters (some in a second book) and assorted memorabilia, it’s enough to keep Ash devotees enraptured for weeks. Wishbone Ash had already demoed enough tracks for an album before Ritchie Blackmore fast-tracked them to MCA in 1970 after they’d impressively supported Deep Purple on tour. Purple producer Derek Lawrence oversaw their self-titled debut, showcasing those twin guitars revving up on Phoenix. The demos are here among the extras.

Wishbone Ash - The Vintage Years

1971’s Pilgrimage (here with two alternative takes and a studio version of Where Were You Tomorrow) emphasised guitars to conceal weak vocals, but Ash found prog-minting glory with their 1972 masterpiece Argus, with its dramatic peaks of The King Will Come concept section. Three-track promo album Live From Memphis provides worthy extras. 

Ash then adjourned to a Welsh cottage to write, but stalled when tensions flared. Without Lawrence, 1973’s Wishbone Four sagged (1972 single No Easy Road is a bonus). Much livelier are two bonus sets capturing Southampton and Portsmouth shows on the tour that produced the double Live Dates. Ted Turner then left, and was replaced by Laurie Wisefield from Home.

Recorded with Bill Szymczyk in Miami, There’s The Rub reinvented Ash as smooth yacht rock, twin guitars softened over harmonised country rock and ballads. Ash had their Top 20 album, and Szymczyk his blueprint for Hotel California.

1976’s Locked In, dismissed as an atrocity ruined by producer Tom Dowd’s southern-soul etiquette, was Ash’s only album for Atlantic, and here deserving reassessment as a yacht-rocking guilty pleasure. The same year’s sparkling New England is joined here by the Edinburgh show from the accompanying tour. 

Front Page News, again done in Miami,Ash took further steps into Americanisation with laid-back glistening grooves. Again, the sparks are in two bonus live CDs recorded that year. 

For No Smoke Without Fire (’78) they were back in the UK, but sounding oddly sterile. Maybe tellingly, only three of its songs are on the recording of that tour’s Bournemouth show, two on the Tokyo disc. 1980’s roots-homaging Just Testing welcomed Claire Hammill’s backing vocals and contagious energy (extras include outtakes released on 2004’s Lost Pearls). The bonus Chelmsford show ignored the new album, although two tracks appear on the double set recorded in Bournemouth on the ensuing 10th-anniversary tour.

Martin Turner left after Live Dates Volume Two, and for 1981’s Number The Brave he was replaced by singer-bassist John Wetton, but Ash obviously missed their founder’s spirit. With Trevor Bolder having replaced Wetton, Ash displayed their new-found love of ZZ Top on 1982’s Twin Barrels Burning (here with three buzz-saw out-takes). That was followed by Raw To The Bone (’85), an ill-judged stab at metal with squealing singer Mervyn ‘Spam’ Spence (five bonus demos without him eclipse the album). 

Next, Wisefield baled, leaving Ash floundering, until former manager Miles Copeland invited a willing original line-up to join his No Speak instrumental series, resulting in 1987’s William Orbit-produced Nouveau Calls exhaling balmy 80s mood music. Vocals returned on Here To Hear’s strapping AOR-jazz fusion collisions, but Steve Upton departed before 1991’s Strange Affair, which rekindled old sparks. 

Despite the ongoing conflicts and those band-acknowledged clinkers, that Wishbone Ash deserve such lavish treatment is now without question. The extra material included on The Vintage Years 1970-1991 will keep diehards enraptured for weeks, although a contents list would have been handy for what is the last word in ultimate monster box sets.

Track Listing

 Disc 1
1 Blind Eye (Wishbone Ash)
2 Lady Whiskey (Wishbone Ash)
3 Errors of My Way (Wishbone Ash
4 Queen of Torture (Wishbone Ash)
5 Handy (Wishbone Ash)
6 Phoenix (Wishbone Ash)
7 Lady Whiskey (First Light Recording)
8 Roads of Day to Day (First Light Recording)
9 Blind Eye (First Light Recording)
10 Joshua (First Light Recording)
11 Queen of Torture (First Light Recording)
12 Handy (First Light Recording)
13 Errors of My Way (First Light Recording)

Disc 2
1 Vas Dis (Pilgrimage)
2 The Pilgrim (Pilgrimage)
3 Jail Bait (Pilgrimage)
4 Alone (Pilgrimage)
5 Lullaby (Pilgrimage)
6 Valediction (Pilgrimage)
7 Where Were You Tomorrow (Pilgrimage)
8 Alone (Full Length Album Sessions Version with Vocals)
9 Alone (First Light Recording with Vocals)
10 Where Were You Tomorrow (Album Sessions Studio Version)

Disc 3
1 Time Was (Argus)
2 Sometime World (Argus)
3 Blowin' Free (Argus)
4 The King Will Come (Argus)
5 Leaf and Stream (Argus)
6 Warrior (Argus)
7 Throw Down the Sword (Argus)
8 Jail Bait (Live from Memphis 1972)
9 The Pilgrim (Live from Memphis 1972)
10 Phoenix (Live from Memphis 1972)

Disc 4
1 So Many Things to Say (Wishbone Four)
2 Ballad of the Beacon (Wishbone Four)
3 3No Easy Road (Wishbone Four)
4 4Everybody Needs a Friend (Wishbone Four)
5 Doctor (Wishbone Four)
6 Sorrel (Wishbone Four)
7 Sing Out the Song (Wishbone Four)
8 Rock 'N Roll Widow (Wishbone Four)
9 No Easy Road (1972 Single Version)
10 Blowin' Free (1972 Single Version)

Disc 5
1 The King Will Come - June '73, Croydon, Fairfield Hall (Live Dates)
2 Throw Down the Sword - June '73, Newcastle, City Hall (Live Dates)
3 Rock 'N Roll Widow - June '73, Reading, University (Live Dates)
4 Ballad of the Beacon - June '73, Reading, University (Live Dates)
5 Baby What You Want Me to Do - June '73, Portsmouth, Guildhall (Live Dates)
6 The Pilgrim - June '73, Croydon, Fairfield Hall (Live Dates)
7 Blowin' Free - June '73, Newcastle, City Hall (Live Dates)
8 Jail Bait - June '73, Reading, University (Live Dates
9 Lady Whiskey - June '73, Reading, University (Live Dates)
10 Phoenix - June '73, Croydon, Fairfield Hall (Live Dates)

Disc 6
1 Silver Shoes (There's the Rub)
2 Don't Come Back (There's the Rub)
3 Persephone (There's the Rub)
4 Hometown (There's the Rub)
5 Lady Jay (There's the Rub)
6 F*U*B*B (There's the Rub)

Disc 7
1 Rest in Peace (Locked in)
2 No Water in the Well (Locked in)
3 Moonshine (Locked in)
4 She Was My Best Friend (Locked in)
5 It Started in Heaven (Locked in)
6 Half Past Lovin' (Locked in)
7 Trust in You (Locked in)
8 Say Goodbye (Locked in)
9 Bad Weather Blues
10 Chicago Tease

Disc 8
1 Mother of Pearl (New England)
2 (In All of My Dreams) You Rescue Me (New England)
3 Runaway (New England)
4 Lorelei (New England)
5 Outward Bound (New England)
6 Prelude (New England)
7 When You Know Love (New England)
8 Lonely Island (New England)
9 Candlelight (New England)

Disc 9
1 Front Page News (Front Page News)
2 Midnight Dancer (Front Page News)
3 Goodbye Baby Hello Friend (Front Page News)
4 Surface to Air (Front Page News)
5 714 (Front Page News)
6 Come in from the Rain (Front Page News)
7 Right or Wrong (Front Page News)
8 Heart Beat (Front Page News)
9 The Day I Found Your Love (Front Page News)
10 Diamond Jack (Front Page News)
11 Come in from the Rain (Live)

Disc 10
1 You See Red (No Smoke Without Fire)
2 Baby the Angels Are Here (No Smoke Without Fire)
3 Ships in the Sky (No Smoke Without Fire)
4 Stand and Deliver (No Smoke Without Fire)
5 Anger in Harmony (No Smoke Without Fire)
6 Like a Child (No Smoke Without Fire)
7 The Way of the World - Part 1 (No Smoke Without Fire)
8 The Way of the World - Part 2 (No Smoke Without Fire)
9 Time and Space (Album Session Outtake)
10 Firesign (Album Session Outtake)
11 Hard on You (Album Session Outtake)
12 John Sherry Jam (Album Session Outtake)
13 Sherriff of Sherwood (Album Session Outtake)

Disc 11
1 F*U*B*B - Live at Tokyo Sun Plaza 1978 (Live in Tokyo)
2 The Way of the World -Live at Tokyo Sun Plaza 1978 (Live in Tokyo)
3 You See Red - Live at Tokyo Sun Plaza 1978 (Live in Tokyo)
4 Jail Bait - Live at Tokyo Sun Plaza 1978 (Live in Tokyo)
5 Blowin' Free - Live at Tokyo Sun Plaza 1978 (Live in Tokyo)
6 Bad Weather Blues (Live B-Side from 'You See Red' 12" Single)
7 Helpless (Live Single)
8 Blowin' Free (Live Single)

Disc 12
1 Living Proof (Just Testing)
2 Haunting Me (Just Testing)
3 Insomnia (Just Testing)
4 Helpless (Just Testing
5 Pay the Price (Just Testing)
6 New Rising Star (Just Testing)
7 Master of Disguise (Just Testing)
8 Lifeline (Just Testing)
9 Halfway House (Album Outtake - Claire Hamill Vocal)
10 Fast Johnny
11 Come on
12 Is Justice Done (Album Outtake)
13 The Bells Chime (Album Outtake)
14 Out on a Limb (Album Outtake)
15 Where You Been (Album Outtake)
16 Halfway House (Album Outtake - Martin Turner Vocal)
17 Football and Boxing (Album Outtake)

Disc 13
1 Doctor - Hull City Hall, 1980 (Live Dates Volume Two)
2 Living Proof - Bristol Colton Hall, 1980 (Live Dates Volume Two)
3 Runaway - Wolverhampton Civic Hall, 1980 (Live Dates Volume Two)
4 Helpless - Wolverhampton Civic Hall, 1980 (Live Dates Volume Two)
5 F*U*B*B - London, Hammersmith Odeon, 1978 (Live Dates Volume Two)
6 The Way of the World (Live Dates Volume Two)
7 Lorelei (Live Dates Volume Two)
8 Persephone (Live Dates Volume Two)
9 (In All of My Dreams) You Rescue Me (Live Dates Volume Two)
10 Time Was (Live Dates Volume Two)
11 Goodbye Baby Hello Friend (Live Dates Volume Two)
12 No Easy Road (Live Dates Volume Two)

Disc 14
1 Loaded (Number the Brave)
2 Where Is the Love (Number the Brave)
3 Underground (Number the Brave)
4 Kicks on the Street (Number the Brave)
5 Open Road (Number the Brave)
6 Get Ready (Number the Brave)
7 Rainstorm (Number the Brave)
8 That's That (Number the Brave)
9 Roller Coaster (Number the Brave)
10 Number the Brave (Number the Brave)
11 My Mind Is Made Up (B-Side)
12 Get Ready (Single Mix with Claire Hamill Backing Vocal)
13 Now or Never (Album Outtake - John Wetton)
14 Hard on You (Album Outtake)

Disc 15
1 Engine Overheat (Twin Barrels Burning)
2 Can't Fight Love (Twin Barrels Burning)
3 Genevieve (Twin Barrels Burning)
4 Me and My Guitar (Twin Barrels Burning)
5 Hold on (Twin Barrels Burning)
6 Streets of Shame (Twin Barrels Burning)
7 No More Lonely Nights (Twin Barrels Burning)
8 Angels Have Mercy (Twin Barrels Burning)
9 Wind Up (Twin Barrels Burning)
10 Cat and Dog Fight
11 Go for the Gold
12 Night Hawke

Disc 16
1 Cell of Fame (Raw to the Bone)
2 People in Motion (Raw to the Bone)
3 Don't Cry (Raw to the Bone)
4 Love Is Blue (Raw to the Bone)
5 Long Live the Night (Raw to the Bone)
6 Rocket in My Pocket (Raw to the Bone)
7 It's Only Love (Raw to the Bone)
8 Don't You Mess (Raw to the Bone)
9 Dreams (Searching for An Answer) (Raw to the Bone)
10 Perfect Timing (Raw to the Bone)
12 She's Still Alive
13 Apocalypso
14 Valley of Tears
15 Nkomo
16 Talk to Me 

Disc 17
1 Tangible Evidence (Nouveau Calls)
2 Clousseau (Nouveau Calls)
3 Flags of Convenience (Nouveau Calls)
4 From Soho to Sunset (Nouveau Calls)
5 Arabesque (Nouveau Calls)
6 In the Skin (Nouveau Calls)
7 Something Happening in Room 602 (Nouveau Calls)
8 Johnny Left Home Without It (Nouveau Calls)
9 The Spirit Flies Free (Nouveau Calls)
10 A Rose Is a Rose (Nouveau Calls)
11 Real Guitars Have Wings (Nouveau Calls)
12 T-Bone Shuffle

Disc 18
1 Cosmic Jazz (Here to Hear)
2 Keeper of the Light (Here to Hear)
3 Mental Radio (Here to Hear)
4 Walk on Water (Here to Hear)
5 Witness to Wonder (Here to Hear)
6 Lost Cause in Paradise (Here to Hear)
7 Why Don't We (Here to Hear)
8 In the Case (Here to Hear)
9 Hole in My Heart - Part One (Here to Hear)
10 Hole in My Heart - Part Two (Here to Hear)
11 Heaven Is (Album Outtake)
12 Bolan's Monument (B-Side)
13 Duffle Shuffle (Album Outtake)

Disc 19
1 Strange Affair (Strange Affair)
2 Wings of Desire (Strange Affair)
3 Renegade (Strange Affair)
4 Dream Train (Strange Affair)
5 Some Conversation (Strange Affair)
6 Rollin' (Strange Affair)
7 You (Strange Affair)
8 Hard Times (Strange Affair)
9 Standing in the Rain (Strange Affair)
10 Chimes of Freedom (Album Outtake - Andy Powell Vocal)
11 Standing in the Rain (Album Outtake - Martin Turner Vocal)
12 Strange Affair (Album Outtake - Brass Mix)
13 Dream Train (Album Outtake - Brass Mix)
14 Rollin' (Album Outtake - Brass Mix)
15 Chimes of Freedom (Album Outtake - Andy Powell Vocal)

Disc 20
1 The King Will Come (Portsmouth 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
2 Warrior (Portsmouth 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
3 Throw Down the Sword (Portsmouth 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
4 Ballad of the Beacon (Portsmouth 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
5 Rock 'N Roll Widow (Portsmouth 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
6 Everybody Needs a Friend (Portsmouth 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
7 Blowin' Free (Portsmouth 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
8 Jail Bait (Portsmouth 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)

Disc 21
1 Doctor (Portsmouth 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
2 So Many Things to Say (Portsmouth 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
3 Baby What You Want Me to Do (Portsmouth 1973 - Wishbone
4 Phoenix (Portsmouth 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
5 It Ain't Easy (Portsmouth 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
6 Where Were You Tomorrow (Portsmouth 1973 - Wishbone Four
7 Live Dates Recording Tour)

Disc 22
1 The King Will Come (Southampton 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
2 Warrior (Southampton 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
3 Throw Down the Sword (Southampton 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
4 Ballad of the Beacon (Southampton 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
5 Rock 'N Roll Widow (Southampton 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour
6 Everybody Needs a Friend (Southampton 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
7 Blowin' Free (Southampton 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
8 Jail Bait (Southampton 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
9 Doctor (Southampton 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
10 So Many Things to Say (Southampton 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)
11 Baby What You Want Me to Do (Southampton 1973 - Wishbone Four / Live Dates Recording Tour)

Disc 23
1 Runaway (Edinburgh 1976 - New England Tour)
2 The King Will Come (Edinburgh 1976 - New England Tour)
3 Warrior (Edinburgh 1976 - New England Tour)
4 Lorelei (Edinburgh 1976 - New England Tour)
5 Persephone (Edinburgh 1976 - New England Tour)
6 (In All of My Dreams) You Rescue Me (Edinburgh 1976 - New England Tour)
7 Outward Bound (Edinburgh 1976 - New England Tour)
8 Mother of Pearl (Edinburgh 1976 - New England Tour)
9 Rest in Peace (Edinburgh 1976 - New England Tour)
10 Time Was (Edinburgh 1976 - New England Tour)
11 Bad Weather Blues (Edinburgh 1976 - New England Tour)
12 Jail Bait (Edinburgh 1976 - New England Tour)

Disc 24
1 Blind Eye (Marquee Club 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
2 Lady Whiskey (Marquee Club 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
3 The King Will Come (Marquee Club 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
4 Warrior (Marquee Club 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
5 Throw Down the Sword (Marquee Club 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
6 Front Page News (Marquee Club 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
7 Sometime World (Marquee Club 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
8 Goodbye Baby Hello Friend (Marquee Club 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
9 Runaway (Marquee Club 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
10 Phoenix (Marquee Club 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
11 Jail Bait (Marquee Club 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
12 Blowin' Free (Marquee Club 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
13 Bad Weather Blues (Marquee Club 1977 - Front Page News Tour)

Disc 25
1 Blind Eye (Newcastle 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
2 Lady Whiskey (Newcastle 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
3 The King Will Come (Newcastle 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
4 Warrior (Newcastle 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
5 Throw Down the Sword (Newcastle 1977 - Front Page News Tour) Front Page News (Newcastle 1977 - Front Page News Tour
6 Sometime World (Newcastle 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
7 Goodbye Baby Hello Friend (Newcastle 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
8 Runaway (Newcastle 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
9 Come in from the Rain (Newcastle 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
10 Jail Bait (Newcastle 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
11 Blowin' Free (Newcastle 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
12 No Easy Road (Newcastle 1977 - Front Page News Tour)
13 Bad Weather Blues (Newcastle 1977 - Front Page News Tour)

Disc 26
1 The King Will Come (Bournemouth 1978)
2 Warrior (Bournemouth 1978)
3 Errors of My Way (Bournemouth 1978)
4 You See Red (Bournemouth 1978)
5 F*U*B*B (Bournemouth 1978)
6 The Way of the World (Bournemouth 1978)

Disc 27
1 Phoenix (Bournemouth 1978)
2 Anger in Harmony (Bournemouth 1978)
3 Time Was (Bournemouth 1978)
4 Runaway (Bournemouth 1978)
5 Lady Whiskey (Bournemouth 1978)
6 Jail Bait (Bournemouth 1978)
7 Queen of Torture (Bournemouth 1978)
8 Blowin' Free (Bournemouth 1978)
9 Bad Weather Blues (Bournemouth 1978)

Disc 28
1 Doctor (Guildford 1980 - Just Testing Tour)
2 Blind Eye (Guildford 1980 - Just Testing Tour)
3 Way of the World (Guildford 1980 - Just Testing Tour)
4 Living Proof (Guildford 1980 - Just Testing Tour)
5 The King Will Come (Guildford 1980 - Just Testing Tour)
6 Lifeline (Guildford 1980 - Just Testing Tour)
7 Insomnia (Guildford 1980 - Just Testing Tour)

Disc 29
1 Phoenix (Guildford 1980 - Just Testing Tour)
2 Blowin' Free (Guildford 1980 - Just Testing Tour)
3 Queen of Torture (Guildford 1980 - Just Testing Tour)
4 Helpless (Guildford 1980 - Just Testing Tour)
5 Jail Bait (Guildford 1980 - Just Testing Tour)
6 Bad Weather Blues (Guildford 1980 - Just Testing Tour)
7 Too Much Monkey Business (Guildford 1980 - Just Testing Tour)

Disc 30
1 Doctor (Chelmsford 1980 - Blowin' Free Tour)
2 Lady Whiskey (Chelmsford 1980 - Blowin' Free Tour)
3 Helpless (Chelmsford 1980 - Blowin' Free Tour)
4 I Need People (Chelmsford 1980 - Blowin' Free Tour)
5 The Pilgrim (Chelmsford 1980 - Blowin' Free Tour)
6 Lookin' for a Reason (Chelmsford 1980 - Blowin' Free Tour)
7 Runaway (Chelmsford 1980 - Blowin' Free Tour)
8 The King Will Come (Chelmsford 1980 - Blowin' Free Tour)
9 Phoenix (Chelmsford 1980 - Blowin' Free Tour)
10 Blowin' Free (Chelmsford 1980 - Blowin' Free Tour
11 Jail Bait (Chelmsford 1980 - Blowin' Free Tour)
12 Bad Weather Blues (Chelmsford 1980 - Blowin' Free Tour)