No Smoke Without Fire album cover
Wishbone Ash had its roots in a band called Empty Vessels, which consisted of bass guitarist/vocalist Martin Turner, guitarist Glen Turner and drummer Steve Upton. Empty Vessels changed their name to Tanglewood and moved to London, where Miles Copeland offered to become their manager. Glen Turner quit, and in October 1969, the band needed a new guitarist. Turner and Upton narrowed their choices to two candidates, Andy Powell and Ted Turner. It was suggested that they try both guitar players to see what it would sound like to have twin lead guitars. A new name was chosen, and after band members wrote several suggested band names on two pieces of paper, Turner picked a word from each list: “wishbone” and “ash”; thus the band was rechristened Wishbone Ash. The band would incorporate elements of folk, progressive rock and classical music into their music. They opened for Deep Purple in 1970, and after jamming with Andy Powell during a sound check, Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was impressed enough to recommend them to producer Derek Lawrence, and helped them secure a deal with Decca/MCA Records. The first album, “Wishbone Ash” (1970), was a success, and spawned a single, “Blind Eye”. “Pilgrimage” (1971), which focused on folk and acoustic music rather than the blues rock that dominated the first album, also did well, reaching #14 on the U.K. charts. Next came the promotional EP “Live From Memphis” (1972). With their third studio album, “Argus” (1972), the band reached their commercial (and arguably creative) peak, as the album went gold and was named by readers “Album of the Year” in the year-end issue of Sounds magazine. The band was now a headline act and gaining international popularity. “Wishbone Four” (1973) was their follow-up to “Argus” and their first album without producer Derek Lawrence (they decided to produce the album themselves). It was a departure from the previous album, with none of the twin-lead guitar and folk harmonies of “Argus”. Sales paled in comparison its predecessor, and Ted Turner would leave the band after the subsequent tour, shortly after the release of the “Live Dates” (1973) live double album. Laurie Wisefield was recruited to replace Turner, relocated to America, and released their fifth studio album, “There’s The Rub” (1974), which featured more of a soft rock sound. The band continued this trend with “Locked In” (1976). Their next album, “New England” (1976), featured a mix of hard and soft rock songs, and was more popular than its predecessor, although the band did not achieve the level of commercial success they had with some of their previous albums. “Front Page News” (1977) did even better, becoming their most successful album since “There’s The Rub”. After years of experimental albums, Wishbone Ash would return to their roots with “No Smoke Without Fire”, which was also the first Wishbone Ash album produced by Derek Lawrence since “Argus”. This album also spawned the single “You See Red” b/w “Bad Weather Blues”. This is today’s featured single.
Although “No Smoke Without Fire” was touted as a “back to their roots” album, “You See Red” seems to retain many of the elements of its immediate predecessors. Featuring funky, tightly interwoven guitar melodies, harmony vocals by Turner, Powell and Wisefield, and a rhythm section that provides a solid backbone without being overpowering, Derek Lawrence has produced a radio-friendly song that is eminently suitable for release as a single. The song is built around a simple yet catchy riff, which is repeated as Turner sings about a man who has been cuckolded: “When a days work is done/And you’re down on the ground/You come home just to find/That she’s not around/You see red, you see red/When she takes you for a fool”. The album version of this song runs 5 minutes and 48 seconds, and this allows for several different sections. About 2 minutes and 20 seconds into the song, when Turner sings “So you drink your gin/And drown your sorrows”, this signals the beginning of a bridge that runs about 45 seconds, which provides a softer-sounding counterpoint to the harder-edged sound of the rest of the song. This is followed by an instrumental break featuring a guitar solo, then a reprise of the opening lyrics, but at first accompanied only by Upton’s drum, and then by a subdued-sounding guitar, before both guitars chime in one final time before the song’s coda, which features a few more chords, and then a drum fill which quickly fades out. Overall, “You See Red” was an ideal choice for the lead single (as well as the lead track on the album).
The B-side of this single, “Bad Weather Blues”, is a non-album track, and is live version of a Powell/Turner/Upton/Wisefield composition. It’s a rocking blues boogie tune that is a throwback to the band’s early days, and is about a man returning home after spending time in prison: “Well, I been away/I said I been away for so long/Tell me, have you/Have you done me wrong?” Even as the song’s protagonist asks this, he acknowledges his own infidelity, as he admit that he “done laid this high-class babe out in the hay”. Still, he wants to “shake the dust” from his shoes and return home. Wishbone Ash was likely a good live band, as they could feed off the energy of a crowd, and in the middle of this song, there’s a spirited exchange with the audience as Turner urges them to sing along and to sing louder. Although blues-rock in this vein was already old hat even in 1978, this song is a pleasant upgrade from the sort of filler that usually ends up on the B-side of many singles. Although it clocks in at 8 minutes and 36 seconds, it’s not tedious at all, and ends just as you’re really getting into it.
This single (catalog #: 12 MCA 392) was issued as a 12-inch single by MCA Records in 1978. I’m not sure what the label looked like, but I suspect it was MCA rainbow logo with clouds and blue sky in the background. Although “Bad Weather Blues” was originally a non-album track, it was one of the bonus tracks on a CD reissue of “No Smoke Without Fire” (a CD which, according to the official Wishbone Ash website, has now gone out of print).
After the release of “No Smoke Without Fire”, Wishbone Ash went on hiatus for about a year before reconvening to record “Just Testing” (1980). Pressured by MCA to come up with more commercial material, the band considered recruiting a new singer and restricting Turner to playing bass guitar. Turner soon quit the band, and was replaced by John Wetton (ex-King Crimson). Ostensibly, Wetton was also to be the new lead vocalist, but he only sang lead vocals on one song on their next studio album, “Number the Brave” (1981). All other songs were sung by Claire Hamill, who would permanently join Wishbone Ash on the 1981 tour. Wetton subsequently left the band and was replaced on bass by Trevor Bolder (ex-Uriah Heep). Wishbone Ash was dropped by MCA Records after this album and moved to Castle Records for “Twin Barrels Burning” (1982) an album which featured a New Wave of British Heavy Metal-influenced sound and peaked at #22 in the U.K., becoming their highest-charting album in years. Trevor Bolder left the band in 1983 and was replaced by Mervyn Spence (ex-Trapeze). Wishbone Ash switched to I.R.S. Records for “Raw To The Bone” (1985), which was another heavy metal album, with a sound similar to that of it’s predecessor; nevertheless it failed to chart in the U.K. Not long afterwards, Laurie Wisefield quit. In 1986, Spence quit and was replaced by Andy Pyle (ex-Kinks).
In 1987, I.R.S. Records wanted to launch a subsidiary label of all instrumental music (dubbed No Speak), but founder (and ex-Wishbone Ash manger) Miles Copeland felt he needed a high-profile act to successfully launch the label. He convinced the original members of Wishbone Ash to reunite for the first time in 14 years for “Nouveau Calls” (1987), an album which drew a mixed reaction from fans but which marked a resurgence in the bands popularity, as the band played large venues for the first time since the late 1970’s. “Nouveau Calls” had all instrumental music, but the follow-up, “Here to Hear” (1989) had vocals, thus becoming the band’s first studio album with vocals to feature the original lineup since “Wishbone Four”. After this album, Steve Upton retired from the music industry. The band used session drummer Robbie France on some tracks on the upcoming album but eventually settled on Ray Weston before the release of “Strange Affair” (1991). Later in 1991, the band decided to continue without Martin Turner, and again enlisted the services of Andy Pyle. Ted Turner left in 1994, ending his second tour of duty with the band.
In 1995, Andy Powell, the only remaining original member, restructured the band. Roy Weston was gone, and Andy Pyle was dismissed; he formed a completely new lineup with guitarist Roger Filgate, bassist/vocalist Tony Kishman, and drummer Michael Sturgis. The band, which had originally been an equal partnership of all the members, was now essentially his business venture, with the other members being hired help. This lineup released one album, “Illuminations” (1996). Martin Turner filled in for Kishman during the 1995-96 25th anniversary tour of the United States. In 1998, Powell formed a completely different lineup, with bassist Bob Skeat, guitarist/vocalist Mark Birch, and drummer Ray Weston. Two albums of techno and dance music were release in the meantime, “Trance Visionary” (1996) and “Psychic Terrorism” (1998) (the former was a surprise hit, reaching #38 on the U.K. dance chart). The band released an all-acoustic album in 1999 called “Bare Bones”. In 2001, Mark Birch was replaced by Ben Granfelt. The following year, they released “Bona Fide”, their first studio album of all-new material in six years. In 2007, Weston quit and was replaced by Joseph Crabtree, who played on their next studio album, “Power of Eternity” (2007).