Jawbone Press 2015
No easy road behind him and blue horizon in front of him, WISHBONE ASH mainstay casts a glance back to tell a story of war and peace, and life itself.
It’s easy to see Andy Powell as a one-dimensional character, because in public view he’s only a musician. So it’s rather telling that the only part of his autobiography where its pace may seem unsteady is one on guitars, the tools of the veteran’s trade. Yet this part of Powell’s book serves the overall purpose of propelling his story from the past to the present and, well, the future. His story – and that of the band Andy’s been in since 1969. He is the only WISHBONE member to have graced their every line-up and, thus, he bears both the legacy and the burden of it. It’s not your regular rock ‘n’ roll yarn of camaraderie, shenanigans and tall tales behind the music; the memoir goes much deeper as to analyze the motives and emotions of everybody involved in the saga where the author’s personal development had long become the collective destination. It’s not a comedy of errors of their way, but a travelogue of constant learning – hence the tome’s title.
There were mistakes, many of them, and Andy readily admits he has his foibles but, if Powell wasn’t eager to embrace any kind of influence, artistic and otherwise – who could guess he was a fan of BUCKS FIZZ and listens to ARCADE FIRE? but then, who could expect the guitarist to deploy electronica on albums such as “Trance Visionary”? – he might have stopped long ago. Instead, Andy studied everything, from recording techniques to business methods, and of course, he learned from his band mates. Mates, not friends: almost from the beginning of the group narrative – once he’s moved on from his childhood and hippie phase – the guitarist states that he and the other three musicians were in for a joint venture, nothing more, with personal relations between all of them, as well as common non-musical adventures, kept to a minimum. It’s a tad different nowadays, when there’s a bond in the ranks which has been keeping the current quartet together since 2007, longer than any of the previous configurations, yet Powell finds kind words for everybody who’s ever been on-board – because, through the years, everyone contributed to the aforementioned venture – even though some of those liaisons went wrong.
Andy’s brutally honest when he goes into painful detail describing chain of events that led to his legal battle with the original bassist Martin Turner, and his resulting stand against the rest of the ‘70s ensemble over the use of the band’s name. Back in 1980, as Martin was distancing himself from the group, his departure being something many accuse Powell of, and other two members of the collective either agreed with his estrangement or acknowledged Andy’s leadership – if he’s to be held accountable for that decision – so why blame the guitarist now and take the case to court? This is the question Powell doesn’t ask in the book’s pages, opting for the explanation of his reasons with a perspective on behind-the-scenes mechanisms such as booking and promotion where similar billing may cause confusion and incur financial losses. As a result, the tome can serve as a tutorial for songwriting, psychology and survival in showbiz.
That’s where the “warrior” part of the book’s subtitle kicks in, and it’s not pathetic as Andy’s got to fight all the time: for the band to carry on, for his family to stay together in the touring turmoil – Pauline Powell’s been with her husband through thick and thin since 1972 and deservedly has an entire interlude dedicated to her; and the couple’s sons are creatively involved with the band, too – for the new music to be in line with the legacy… Yet this fight is what made the artist strong and his path, and the story, riveting despite the lack of juicy trivia.
It’s a kind of a punctured chronology, with interludes going across time and space – a separate section is saved to the group’s Indian endeavors – to fill in the gaps. So if the reader’s wondering why Ritchie Blackmore, an episodic yet vital mover in the WISHBONE career, is absent from the beginning of it all, he’s in there, appearing where the context demands, as are, in various spots, Leslie West, Keith Moon and other characters whom Powell doesn’t try to rival in the larger-than-life stakes. More than anything, Andy’s trying to remain true to himself, which is the very gist of “Eyes Wide Open” rendering the book – comprehensive, with complete discography and sessions index – a great read. Add a soundtrack to it, and it’s going to be a definitive rock, if rocky, journey.