Downpatrick's Most Famous Sons Return
Ash are back with a new single and album number five
Ash have delivered more chart hits than any other band from NI. In the period 1995-2004, they registered 16 top 40 singles in the UK.
Two of their albums have gone straight to number one and chief songwriter Tim Wheeler has been honoured with an Ivor Novello Award, plus a handful of trophies from NME, Q and Hot Press.
Tim Wheeler and bassist Mark Hamilton started to nurture the rock dream in 1989. Based in Downpatrick, Co Down, their early efforts were inspired by metal acts such as Iron Maiden and Megadeth.
Luckily, their English teacher at Down High (novelist David Park), provided the singer with an Undertones album, opening up a whole other dimension.
They swapped the band name Vietnam for Ash, and they fell in with drummer Rick McMurray, a year older, but also possessed by the spirit of rock.
Around 1993, a demo tape made its way to a London publicist, Paddy Davis, who passed it on to a friend, Stephen Tavener, who was setting up a new label, La La Land.
This connection resulted in the band’s first single release, ‘Jack Names The Planets’ in February 1994.
After signing with Infectious Records, the band completed the year with the release of ‘Petrol’ and ‘Uncle Pat’. A mini-album, Trailer (1994), summarised their early efforts.
In 1995, Tim and Mark finished their A-levels, turned down the offer of a Pearl Jam support and sustained their profile with three brilliant, melodic singles; ‘Kung Fu’, ‘Girl From Mars’ and ‘Angel Interceptor’.
The band recorded their debut album with Owen Morris, who had also worked on several Oasis hits.
The long player, named 1977 (the year that Tim and Mark were born in, and also the launch date for their favourite film, Star Wars) was released in May 1996 and topped the chart in the first week of release. Two singles, ‘Goldfinger’ and ‘Oh Yeah’ also featured strongly in this year.
In 1997, Charlotte Hatherley was hired. She had previously played in a London–based indie band called Night Nurse, and was immediately involved in the clamour of festival dates and a U2 gig in Belfast. She played on the soundtrack theme to ‘A Life Less Ordinary’, the only major release of that year.
On May 19, 1998, Ash appeared with U2 in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall to support the ‘Yes’ camp in the referendum for the Good Friday Agreement.
The band’s intense rise was reflected in their second album Nu-Clear Sounds (1998). There were thrashing statements such as ‘Jesus Says’ and ‘Wild Surf’, but reactions were muted.
Under pressure, Tim came back with the material for the third album, written at home and recorded in Southern Spain.
Close to bankruptcy, the band staked their future on a single ‘Shining Light’ which rightfully restored them to the top ten in February 2000, and won Tim the Ivor Novello award for Best Contemporary Song.
The next release, ‘Burn Baby Burn’ was chosen by the staff at Q and the readers of The NME As Single Of The Year.
Buoyed by this fresh popularity the album ‘Free All Angels’ was their second chart-topping album, outselling Janet Jackson in the process.
A compilation named Intergalactic Sonic Sevens celebrated the band’s radio-friendly prowess in 2002.
Two years later, they released Meltdown, a series of songs recorded in California with Foo Fighters producer Nick Raskulinecz. The accent was once more on powerful rock songs, directed by Rick’s strident beats.
In 2006, after 9 years, Charlotte Hatherley and Ash mutually agree to part company. Hatherley recently released her second solo album, Grey Will Fade.
The reversion to a three-piece puts a new set of pressures on Ash's shoulders, and after several rehearsals the band have 27 new songs to work with. The transition is both exciting and prolific.
The single ‘You Can’t Have It All’ is the first cut from forthcoming album ‘Twilight of the Innocents’.
It is brisk, vibrant power-pop, lean-cut and carrying not the slightest surfeit of sound, a vocal gnashing of teeth with lyrics that bitch and bite.
The guitar is effortlessly exhilarating, taut and prickly, whilst the rhythm section is immense, bombast and power mustering unstoppable momentum.
Harmonised backing vocals and electronic squeaks and squawks flesh out the sound, but essentially it is melody and a quick-to-make-your-acquaintance chorus that are the basis of this track.
‘You Can’t Have It All’ is a classic Ash single from a pedigree singles band - long may they continue.
You Can’t Have It All is released April 16