As the man himself embarks on his Beauty Of Chaos Tour, Martin Turner spares a few moments with The Carouser to talk about the evolution of Wishbone Ash’s Argus.
How was the first gig?
It was absolutely incredible. It was sold out. Ram-packed. Very enthusiastic crowd. One guy on the way out, he came over, grabbed hold of me and gave me a big kiss on the neck.
Is that a first for you in all your years of touring?
No, I’ve had this stuff before. Chris Difford, one of the guys in Squeeze. I went along to the Half Moon and he was playing the old Squeeze hits. They had a girl singing and it sounded absolutely brilliant for those songs. And I gave him a big kiss at the end.
I’m sure he appreciated it greatly… How does it feel to be back on tour again?
Yes! Well, I’ve been doing it since like the early sixties so it’s like a second home really. We’re doing the whole of the Argus album which I don’t think was ever done by the original band. It was released in 1972 so it’s now 45 years old. 45th anniversary… I doubt I’ll be doing it when it’s 50. I might be up in the big gig in the sky by then…
It’s amazing, even though it [Argus] was recorded all those years ago, it’s fresh as a daisy. A lot of music from that era sounds very dated. It still sounds fresh and full of life which is great. We’re also playing a few tunes from our most recent album called Written In The Stars. In fact, “Beauty Of Chaos” is one of those tracks. And we also play a variety of songs from the ’80s. From the olden days, as my children call it.
What was the writing process of Written In The Stars to the writing process of Argus?
Similar. I mean Argus was a wacky one. The themes on there were very big. “The King Will Come” is an Orthodox Christian concept straight out of the bible, pretty much, except the second verse it’s actually based on something from a Muslim book. It’s a bit of a hybrid. “The Warrior” for instance was something that bugged me for years. Why is it that a young man who was full of piss and wind and got a lot of energy, often gets harnessed by warmongers. And all these young thugs sign up to it. But I thought, wait a minute, people are gonna think that I advocate it. I thought I better write another song that’s a peace song that throws down the sword… I mean the two of them go together beautifully. “Throw Down The Sword” is kind of hidden. I did grow up as a young lad, and I was in the choir. I ended up head choir boy and singing all the time.
The process for me is the same- I’m a bit of a wacky one. When I’m writing I have to get into what I call “semi-trance-like”. Then it seems to just come to me very quickly usually. Scribbling stuff down as quick as I can. The song “Written In The Stars” was exactly like that. I wrote it down so quickly I didn’t even have to think about it. When I read it back afterwards I thought, “My God! What is this?”. But it’s quite an intense lyric about the world and how everything is written in the stars. On a cosmic… and a personal level. I’ve been told throughout my lifetime by various weird and wonderful people that certain things would happen, and sure enough they did.
Fantastic! And how does touring compare?
Nowadays it’s rather different. We’re not playing to tens and thousands of people, we’re playing to a couple of hundred or a few hundred and we’re much more in charge of it. I drive the band with the equipment in it to gigs. We’ve got a sound man that travels with us. We call that exercise.
So you’ve really stripped it back down to the basics then?
Yeah, well I mean it’s not great if you have a hernia. Everything to do with rock ‘n’ roll music is heavy. The better equipment it is, the heavier it is. We travel a lot. If you haven’t got the gypsy spirit, it’s not a job for you really.
So could you go through what your rider used to be and what you rider is now?
Back in the ’70s on the rider it would be a bottle of Bacardi (one of the guitar players), a bottle of brandy (our drummer) and a bottle of whiskey which I used to drink. Chivas Regal is the one they use to turn up with the most. I actually reached a point in 1976 where we were on the road for six months and I started drinking really heavily. It was the only way I could cope with being six months on the road. We’d get to a gig in the afternoon and it’s there so you start drinking. By the time I left the gig about midnight, I would have drunk half to three quarters of a bottle of scotch a day- that’s quite heavy.
Right at the end of our tour in Australia, I was running on scotch and coke and Bolivian marching powder I think it’s called. I wasn’t eating properly, I didn’t really need anything else, that was enough. I was getting very thin and then I got sick. I started breaking down. Sweating, no energy and then I noticed that my wee wee had turned dark brown… So, I went to see a doctor in Australia and spoke to him for a while and told him everything that was wrong. He said, “Well I think you caught Hepatitis mate”. I thought, oh my God. I haven’t got time for that! He said, “Well, if you stop drinking and drugging and get to bed early mate, you might just be able to slip out of its grasp.” And he told me to take 5000 milligrams of vitamin C a day. I managed to shake it off. I think that was a point in my life where I was really being a bit excessive with alcohol.
Well I know that you drive now so it’s a bit harder but do you still have a few?
Obviously, one shouldn’t drink and drive. I must admit I was guilty of it in the ’70s. I was bad. You know the XJS 300 horse power car? And I got to the house, I got out of the car and I couldn’t stand up. I stumbled down the pavement and reached up to get the key in the door. I mean that is just awful. I’m not proud of that phase really.
Nowadays, I’m really sensible about it. A great drink- a glass or two of wine. White wine. All my guys are beer drinkers basically. To me, German beer is the best. I don’t know what it is. They have very strict laws over there about the way it’s brewed. And it really is beautiful, clean. Pilsner! I mean the original stuff from Czechoslovakia. I will have a beer at the end of the gig on occasion. It quenches the thirst unlike anything else.
Who’s your favourite person to drink with?
My brother Kim. He worked with Police and Sting. One night in Torquay, he took me out to this restaurant and we had some really great food and had a bottle of wine or two. He looks at me and says, “Great meal wasn’t it?”. I said, it was brilliant Kim. And he said, “I just thought of something…. you used to wipe my arse!” He had a great sense of humour.
So drinking buddies… he was probably the main one. And funnily enough I used to drink with my dad as well. I mean, we had a tough time during the teenage punk… It’s always difficult growing up. It was that awkward phase where he used to get on my case and I’ll tell him to sod off. Then, years later, when I was in my twenties, we gradually became really, really good friends. We used to love going to the pub and having a drink together.
I was sitting there with him one day and I thought, I’ll freak him out. I was like, here, Ed! I’m seriously thinking about suing mum. He said, “Really? What on earth do you wanna go and do that for?” I said, well for having me modified and I want the bit back because I was circumcised from when I was a baby, right. He said to me, “No, no no you don’t wanna be doing that.” I said, why not? He said, “What you don’t understand is when they circumcised you, they threw away the wrong piece!” Hahaha!
What do you think of the current music industry?
Muse- they’ve been hugely successful. Their music is absolutely brilliant. I feel a kinship with them, partly because they come from the West Country and partly because the main guy, Matt Bellamy, clearly is influenced by classical music. Which I am as well, I grew up on classical music. I think a lot of that appears in Wishbone Ash stuff that I’ve written. To me, that is pseudo-classical melody that I am quite punking out. You don’t recognise it as that because its performed on electric instruments in a rock ‘n’ roll style. There’s something about that melodic aspect which you get from classical music. I do recognise that with him. I’ve not seen them but they’re albums are great.
So after your tour is over, do you want to carry on doing this for the foreseeable?
Yes, I hope so! I can imagine that I will be performing on the stage until I drop. I really enjoy it, the travelling,working with my guys… We’ll be wanting to get into the studio and make another album. There’s a lot to be done on recordings, we’re doing a box set. We’re finishing off a video soundtrack at the moment. There’s a lot…
Martin Turner is currently on tour. Find the dates and information here. Photography By Manny Manson.