The Beat Goes On…
Tony Dewhurst talks to drummer Joe Crabtree about his remarkable career with rock band Wishbone Ash and his schooldays at Clitheroe Royal Grammar
Joe Crabtree would play entertaining lunchtime music shows for his pals when he was studying at Clitheroe Royal Grammar School but these days he is more used to performing in giant arenas in front of thousands of adoring rock fans across the world.
Joe, Wishbone Ash celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2019 and one of the final dates of the tour was your homecoming show at the Grand, Clitheroe, what was that like?
“I’ve many warm memories of the Grand when it was an old cinema, and I used to go there as a kid, eat ice cream and watch a film. I do remember how it looked though, like a church with a big TV. It was lovely to catch up with so many friends and family there and it was one of the best venues we played in the UK.
“At the last show one of my old drum students introduced himself. I taught him when I was 16 and I hadn’t seen him for twenty-odd years.
“A week later the tour had finished, and I had a few hours to do my laundry, pack my case, before flying to Los Angeles to visit my fiancée for Thanksgiving. We had done 31 UK shows in 35 days, so it was a pretty exhausting schedule. People say, ‘Joe what an exciting life you have’, but it is certainly not as thrilling as it sounds.
“We get very little time to see the cities we play and spend many hours travelling by bus and plane. But I feel very privileged, playing music as my career.”
You were aged 11 when you were given a drum kit as a Christmas present and you were teaching drums at a music school in London when you were recommended to Andy Powell, the founder member of Wishbone Ash, how did that come about?
“I’d never heard of Wishbone Ash, even though it is a similar genre to a lot of music I grew up listening to. I think it’s better that way – it allowed me to put my stamp on the music and I didn’t feel intimidated to be playing with my heroes.
“I joined straight away and I got to know the band during a 13-hour train journey into Russia – it’s one way to bond.
“I’m 39 now, and I still find it amazing that Wishbone Ash had been playing for 10 years before I was born. I suppose I’d compare it to being in a relationship, but with three other people.
“However, to find a combination of people that get on so well for long stints on the road is remarkable. Wishbone Ash’s music spans half a century, so there’s a lot of variation in musical styles and that keeps things very interesting.
“I must have done okay because they haven’t kicked me out after 12 years on the drumming stool. The funny thing is, my Uncle Peter from Burnley, was always a huge fan of Wishbone Ash – they were his favourite band – so when I got the job it was a pretty cool thing. It was one of the reasons I joined Wishbone Ash and Uncle Peter came to many UK shows. The whole thing is a bit of a dream really.”
What song or moment influenced you to play the drums?
“It was hearing The Rhythm of the Heat by Peter Gabriel. That album has great drumming with very tribal rhythms. That’s what made me want to play the drums. I still think about that album when I drum.
“My influences include John Bonham, Phil Collins, Ringo Starr, Ginger Baker – and my parents’ record collection. Later on, I discovered the world of session drummers, like Dave Weckl and Vinnie Colaiuta. That opened up a door to another world of drumming I simply couldn’t have imagined.”
You have travelled the world with Wishbone Ash for the last dozen years, where is home now?
“I’m technically homeless at the moment. I’ve spent the last two years travelling around the globe with the band and my fiancée. I did have a home in Los Angeles, but we’ve decided we like England as a better place to live.
“That’s the plan, I think, to return to England. I have a great love of the Ribble Valley and I look back very fondly on my time at Clitheroe Grammar. It was a lot of fun – I had a couple of bands at school, Hairy Jeremy and Core. I felt like a rock star! It was all good training for things to come.”
Wishbone Ash release their new album in February