As Wishbone Ash past members fight over the use of name of the band, this wonderful album cannot be spoiled. Released in 1972 the album is a classic of melodic seventies rock. The moody cover depicts a soldier from ancient times gazing down into a valley. Although it is a figure with helmet and spear, for me it evokes peaceful times, like the figure is a guardian of the valley. Perhaps others interpret this as a soldier planning to attack, but the warm hue of the light suggests calm not anger. Inside the gatefold are portraits of the band playing live – a lot of this album must have been performed live in the studio as there are so many long and involved instrumental pieces with guitar solos that could only have worked as spontaneous jams around the structure of the songs. I saw them live twice in the seventies, once in 1973 and once in 1974, the latter with Laurie Wisefield after Ted Turner quit and although they were promoting Wishbone 4 and There’s The Rub respectively, they still played songs from Argus as it was a hit album reaching Number 3 in the British charts in 1972.
It opens with the melodic arpeggio of Time Was, at nearly 10 minutes long you understand that this is an album that has no fear when it comes to guitar solos and long instrumental passages. Having said that the songs remain lyrical and Martin Turner’s songwriting skills provide the framework for the band to weave their magic. Turner makes the stories compelling, a cross between folklore and love with strong melodies. Unexpectedly at around 3 minutes it all goes uptempo with twin duelling guitars and solos galore from Andy Powell and Ted Turner that jump in and out of the song. In 1972 a band could play a 10 minute song with countless guitar solos and it never sounded brash, just warm and kinda sad that it had to end. Great thudding drums from Steve Upton that sound like they are made of trees and earth.
Sometime World is soft and flowing with a beautiful melody and some delicate guitar sounds and then it does exactly what the first track does – after nearly 3 minutes it turns into an uptempo song. A strong melodic bass riff and more solos – it’s a guitarists wet dream but always anchoring on the songs and coming back to the melody, as we just nod our heads in time and let the whole day go by carried along with the waft of patchouli oil and incense until the night comes and the song finally fades out.
Blowin’ Free, one of their most famous songs is next with its D shape riff up the neck, one of the first songs I learnt to play. The guitar is kind of soft, the bass hard, the harmonies sweet, the tempo chugs along and you can see the whole theatre bouncing to the beat. The harmonies are like Crosby Stills And Nash, in fact, Crosby, Stills Nash and Young’s, Déjà Vu had only been two years before this. The song has dynamic pauses, reverb guitar and tension but it all keeps coming back with even more soloing. But that’s what they do, they solo, they sing sweet harmonies, melodic verses, grinding bass, seventies drums and solo, solo, solo.
Side 2 opens with what must be their best song, The King Will Come, fading in with marching drum and wah-wah guitar in the background, rhythm guitar prevalent, bass soft…and then one of the great seventies guitar riffs – love it. Harmony vocals again, folkloric lyrics and instrumental passages that bring the riff back and in the middle of the song, solos, solos, solos. Really you must never tire of guitars to listen to this album, guitars and harmonies. But still the songs are strong and having both strong songs and vibrant solos brings a smile to your face. Memorable riffy ending to this song to.
The pastoral Leaf and Stream is all arpeggio and yes, melodic vocals and sensitive solo guitar. It works every time, it’s so easy on the soul, it’s like pouring honey into your ears. There’s a mythology built up around the guitars in the Wishbone Ash, not to say that they aren’t a massive trademark of the band. One of the first twin lead guitar bands, adept, melodic, passionate solos, great guitar tones, dynamic duelling but without the quality songs on which to let loose they would mean less. Also Turner’s melodic bass lines contribute to a three guitar attack.
Warrior another one of their most famous songs is an intense passionate song, with a folk rock feel but with heavier guitars. It breaks down into a moody verse, a soul searching lyric but from the point of view perhaps of the character on the cover. It builds and builds and takes 4 minutes to get to the chorus but it’s worth the wait. The lyric makes me think that the “warrior” on the cover has overthrown the tyrant and is living in peace! It’s actually spectacularly hippie lyrics and the song melts into another Wishbone Ash favourite, Throw Down The Sword, (another riff I learnt as a kid). Has it suddenly turned into a concept album? Was it a concept album all along? Peace and love in violent times, in a setting of ancient warriors. It is so completely uncynical, it is like a wonderful storybook with free reign for the guitarists to solo as much as they like with happy endings and more guitar solos. The guitarists must have thought they’d died and gone to heaven.
No Easy Road finishes the album, could almost be Mott The Hoople. But in those days bands were more similar to each other than you thought at the time. Singles bands, albums bands but that warmth that ran through them all, made the listening experience so rich. The bands with the solos, the bands without them, this was one of the bands that had the solos and more solos and more and more solos but the great songs and the skillful playing made it a complete, flared, long haired and with that peace and loving feeling, a heart warming experience. Don’t knock it, I was there, I know how it felt and it felt really really good.
Note: In 2010 Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash re recorded the Argus album.