Wishbone Ash + Steve Hill
Thursday 19th October 2017
O2 Academy Islington, London
I knew that last quick pint with some mates in a Waterloo watering hole was a mistake as my bus crawled along towards Islington for a date with Canada's very own one man power trio Steve Hill and the Blues Rock Prog of Andy Powell's legendary Wishbone Ash. As I was just about to enter the larger downstairs venue at the O2 Academy, a journalist from Classic Rock politely stopped and asked me which Wishbone Ash camp I was in - Powell or Turner? - and was a little perplexed when I replied "neither - I'm here to see Steve Hill" as I dashed inside (after a welcome pitstop) to find that, disappointedly, I had missed Hill's opener 'Damned' - quite appropriate really, under the circumstances!
Hill, who hails from Montreal, is an overnight sensation that’s twenty years in the making - a multi-award winning guitarist and singer-songwriter who’s gearing up for world domination. He’s an ambitious and raucous force to be reckoned with on the Canadian and international Blues Rock scene. Now, he’s ready to break out internationally. Following the success of his JUNO nominated ‘Solo Recordings: Volume 1’, which also won "Album of The Year" at the International Blues Challenge in 2013, and JUNO Award winner ‘Solo Recordings: Volume 2’, Steve Hill first released his brand new album ‘Solo Recordings: Volume 3’ in Canada in March 2016. In January 2015, Hill was awarded four coveted Maple Blues Awards including Electric Act of the Year, Guitarist of the Year, Recording/Producer of the Year and Entertainer of the Year. Solo Recordings: Volume 2 won the 2015 JUNO Award for Blues Album of the Year.
Throughout his career, Steve has shared the stage with many of his musical heroes including Ray Charles, BB King, ZZ Top, Jimmie Vaughan, Hubert Sumlin, Jeff Beck and many others. Over the course of nine albums he's explored everything from Hard Rock, Country, and Stoner Rock to Folk music while always incorporating the essence of his first love, the Blues. Steve’s reputation as an exciting performer has provided him the opportunity to showcase his talents at some of Canada’s biggest music festivals including the Montreal Jazz Festival, Ottawa Bluesfest, Jazz Winnipeg Festival, Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, Kitchener Blues Festival and more.
The one-man band Blues Rock guitar machine, recently released his new album ‘Solo Recordings: Volume 3’ in the UK on No Label Records on Friday 6th October. Despite missing the Heavy Rocker 'Damned' - his opening track on 'Volume 3' - with its palpable influence of namesake Dusty, Billy and Frank - the second number 'Go On' from 'Volume 2', was immediate proof, if needed, that one musician can sound like three, with Hill standing up whilst singing and playing guitar, with his feet playing bass drum, snare drum, hi-hats and with a drum stick fused to the head of his trusty guitar, plus he gets the bass notes by feeding three of his strings through an Octaver guitar pedal that’s hooked up to a bass amp! Taken from 'Volume 1', the driving slide guitar of 'The Ballad Of Johnny Wabo' was very reminiscent of Peter Green's 'World Keep On Turning' - "Oh yeah!" - and then Hill swapped guitars for 'Never Is Such A Long Time', this time from 'Volume 2', which deservedly got a great reception from the audience - Hill responding with a heartfelt "thank you so much" - I suppose it must get pretty lonely being up there on stage on your own Steve!
Capturing the moment, Hill then thanked his UK tour team, before, surprisingly playing the last of just two heavy tracks of off 'Volume 3' - 'Dangerous' - his forthcoming kick-ass single – think King King meets Jimi Hendrix – a Blues Rocker if ever there was one, with lyrics about a personal relationship, the subject matter pretty much the backbone of the whole album. He rounded off his all too short thirty minute set with an amazing guitar solo on 'Volume 2's very apt 'Hate To See You Go' before finishing, very surprisingly, with a cover of 'Whole Lotta Love'. "Thank you very much - I love you all" he growled as he departed the stage to rapturous applause. Job well done Steve. Hill continues his 27-date UK tour with Wishbone Ash in October and November.
To be fair, the anticipation of seeing Steve Hill was more than matched by seeing Andy Powell's legendary Blues Rock Prog band Wishbone Ash. Rolling the clock back 40+ years, I will put my cards on the table and admit that they were one of the few bands that passed me by in the 70's - despite tumultuous praise from my peers. Their popular albums included 'Wishbone Ash' (1970), 'Pilgrimage' (1971), Argus (1972), 'There's The Rub' (1974), and 'New England' (1976). Noted for their extensive use of the harmony twin lead guitar format, Andy Powell along with former member Ted Turner not only were voted "Two of the Ten Most Important Guitarists in Rock History" (Traffic magazine 1989), but were also in Rolling Stones "Top 20 Guitarists of All Time". In 1972 Melody Maker described Powell and Turner as "the most interesting two guitar team since the days when Beck and Page graced The Yardbirds". No pressure then - but as it turned out they were immense with Powell on guitar and vocals, Bob Skeat on bass and backing vocals, Powell's new foil Mark Abrahams on guitar and Joe Crabtree on drums.
Whether you were a Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Stoke City or even a Wishbone Ash fan, a backing track of 'Delilah' heralded the arrival of the band onto the Academy stage - Powell immediately asking "Are We Ready" as they opened with the more recent 'Bona Fide' the title track of their eighteenth studio album released in 2002. Their trademark duelling guitar harmonies on 'Eyes Wide Open' belied the fact that this rocking instrumental featuring Powell on his V guitar was taken from an even later album - Clan Destiny in 2006 - real testament to Ash's historical musical influences on bands such as Thin Lizzy, as was the even more recent 'Way Down South' showcasing both Abrahams and Skeat solos on this tune with its Dire Straits feel from 2014's 'Blue Horizon'. Time now for the big hitters as Powell introduced the "A" word, namely the aforementioned 'Argus'. Spontaneous hand clapping complemented Powell's opening guitar on 'The King Will Come', with Abrahams wah guitar solo getting deserved applause before Skeats bass lead into its duelling guitar/vocals finale, before the smiling James Whale lookalike Powell and Abrahams both launched into guitar solos on another 'Argus' classic 'Warrior'.
More hand clapping accompanied the medieval riff of Throw Down The Sword - again from 'Argus', before it was time to break out the chairs and chill as Powell, Abrahams and Skeat sat down for three acoustic guitar numbers. Powell thanked Crabtree's sponsor Yamaha as he introduced 'Leaf & Stream' - again from Argus - with its crystal clear sound, before Powell's Trump/Berlin anecdote went horribly wrong given that is was used to introduce the wrong song - 'Master Of Disguise' instead of 'Wings Of Desire' - cue much hilarity - needless to say that their perfect acoustic harmonies from 1980's 'Just Testing' and 1991's 'Strange Affair' respectively, more than made up for Powell's "senior moment".
The baseball capped Skeat seemed to have a permanent smile on his face as his bass solo led us into more amazing duelling instrumental guitar harmonies on 'F.U.B.B.' taken from 'There's The Rub' - its influence a track which Bob's old mucker and ex-Argent frontman John Verity would have appreciated, followed by the rocking opening of 'Standing In The Rain' - another with a Thin Lizzy feel - taken again from 'Strange Affair' - Abrahams stepping up to the plate with another cracking solo. And talking of Lizzy - substitute 'Jail Bait' for 'Jailbreak' - as the crowd joined in on the track from 'Pilgramage' singing "I'm wondering why ..." as the perpetual Powell shouted "Let me hear you say yeah yeah!" - cue mass hand clapping and Powell rightly praising those gathered "You guys are awesome!" Powell heralded the first taste of their debut album with "Yeah Phoenix man!" - a ten minute monster totally encapsulating Wishbone Ash's unique sound and genre before cries of "We want more" saw them return with two final classics from 'Argus' - namely 'Time Was' and 'Blowin' Free'. A truly awesome night all round of live music, contrasting the old and the new. Andy Powell's Wishbone Ash continue their UK tour in October and November. About time I checked out their back catalogue!
AJ (photos courtesy of Eric Duvet)