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Words: Greg Phillips Pictures: Jason Rosewarne

International blues-rock guitarist, singer, songwriter and one-man band Gwyn Ashton is currently in Australia on his annual antipodean jaunt. The Welsh-born, Adelaide-bred and UK-located (soon to be in Central Europe. Yes he’s Brexiting too!) is spending an extended amount of time down here this year, playing a variety of gigs from festivals to beachside hotels and inner city pubs and clubs. On a pleasant Summer Saturday afternoon in February, photographer Jason Rosewarne and myself stumbled across Gwyn playing the famous St Andrews Hotel, across the road from the legendary hippie market.

With a couple of racks full of guitars, a kick drum, a bass rig and three guitar amps on stage you’d be forgiven for thinking a four or five-piece band was about to hit the stage, however it was just Gwyn and his imposing arsenal of cool noisemakin’ machines. None of them were there just for show either as each and every one was picked up at some stage during the afternoon, almost always accompanied by a fascinating tour or recording story and there were plenty of those too. With a career spanning back to the early 80s, it was delightful to hear tales of his time backing Australian icons Stevie Wright, John Swan and Jim Keays. As he left our shores for the UK and Europe, the stories followed there too, whether it was guitar teching for The Rolling Stones’ Mick Taylor at a London Jack Bruce tribute, touring with Rory Gallagher’s band, or the time Billy Thorpe asked him if Mick Fleetwood could sit in with his band. After 60 minutes onstage together he was instantly on the short list as lead guitarist for ‘something big’.

Musically, Gwyn borrowed generously from his current release Sonic Blues Preachers, an album he recorded with Drummer John Freeman, formerly of the Bon Scott fronted band Fraternity. Gwyn’s brand of raw, dirty, rockin’ blues rang out loud and proud to an appreciative audience, as he schooled us in the blues with a variety styles and tones. Material from the Ragas, Jugs and Mojo Hands album (soon to be repackaged as Migrations for the European market), recorded with Chris Finnen and Peter Beulke showed us his deft touch on acoustic instruments, while tracks from the Solo Elektro record offered up some sensational trippy licks, befitting the venue’s location.

The day’s tone came courtesy of a 1960s Guyatone LG-127Ts Mosrite copy, an Epiphone Casino, and a Fender JV squier bodied Strat with Fender ’57-‘62 pickups, all tuned down to D. For his slide parts, Gwyn chose a ’62 Silvertone, made by Danelectro and tuned to open F and a Teisco SS4L with 4 Gold Foil pickups tuned to open C. For his acoustic sounds, Gwyn used a 1930 National Triolian, a late 60’s 12 string Maton and a Bill Asher Weissenborn hollow neck lap slide. Amp-wise, it all came out of a 5E3 Fender amp and two Fender Excelsior Pros, all low wattage amps only dialed up to 3 or 4. For his trademark one-man band sound Ashton’s guitar signal was split via a Boss octave pedal into a Fender Rumble 500 to allow him to thumbpick heavy basslines whilst simultaneously driving his amps with a variety of boosters, fuzz boxes and echo units.

A powerful and thoroughly entertaining three-hour journey, punctuated only by a couple of drink and parma breaks finally came to an end with a gritty version of Baby Please Don’t Go, souped up with Ashton’s ‘dance mix’ treatment, which the discerning audience lapped up enthusiastically. Gwyn Ashton has dates running through until the end of March before returning to the UK and Europe.

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