Ash exploded onto the indie rock scene in 1994, while the fresh faced trio were still at school in their native Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland. A string of youthful punk-pop singalongs catapulted them into Indie stardom, but it was their UK Top 20 hit ‘Girl From Mars’ coupled with a energetic appearance on the BBC’s Top of the Pops that established the band as a mainstream act.
Their two-decade career has been a relentless rollercoaster ride of highs and lows as the band have faced bankruptcy, record labels collapsing and an industry in turmoil, but miraculously have survived intact.
They have released a total of six full length studio albums: 1977 (1996), Nu-Clear Sounds (1998), Free All Angels (2001), Meltdown (2004), Twilight of the Innocents (2007) and their most recent effort, Kablammo! (2015).
Frontman Tim Wheeler acknowledges that after an eight-year break from the album treadmill, the time was right to revisit a tried and tested format.
“It’s going really well,” Tim tells TeamRock. “We’ve been out touring the album and the new songs have really reinvigorated the live show. The reaction from the fans has been great. Until recently, people seemed to be mostly buying and listening to single tracks and we saw a chance to break out of the album-tour-album cycle we’d been in. But of course, in the end, the album didn’t die, and we’ve seen vinyl make a big resurgence, which I think is all about people wanting to get back to the experience of listening to albums as a complete work. We wanted the new album to be full of songs that stand up with the old classics on record and live. We launched a Pledge campaign halfway through recording. It was a good kick in the ass to finish the album because, months ahead of release, we already knew we’d sold a bunch of copies. I felt an extra obligation to make a killer record for these fans willing to support us without hearing a note of what was coming.”
Here then, are Tim’s 10 best Ash songs…
JACK NAMES THE PLANETS (Trailer, 1994) I’ve got to say this is a really hard thing to do. I’ve put a lot of my soul into my songwriting, and with over 20 years of songs, it’s tough to make a list of 10 because I’m leaving out so many songs that are important to me. They all define moment in my life. But I’m going to start with Jack Names The Planets. I consider it the first good song I wrote. I was 15 and we’d just formed Ash. It became our first single two years later and we still play it a lot today.
GIRL FROM MARS (1977, 1996) Our first hit, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary last month. I actually wrote this one when I was 16, two years before it came out. Our manager and record label didn’t want us to record it for Trailer because they thought it had hit potential and they didn’t want to waste that while we were still at school and wouldn’t be able to properly promote it. So once all the exams were done we put it out and it changed our lives for good.
KUNG FU (1977, 1996) It’s a dumb and really fun song and got us honorary membership of the Jackie Chan fan club at the time. It’s still one of our best live songs to this day.
GOLDFINGER (1977, 1996) I was really proud of this at the time because of the chord sequences and melodies. It’s a long way from three-chord punk rock and was a big moment in our development.
PROJECTS (Nu-Clear Sounds, 1998) Nu-Clear Sounds was a really tough album to write trying to follow up the pop success of 1977 while also trying to let people know we were a serious band. We sacrificed the pop side for this album. In the end, the album didn’t connect with fans as much but I love it and I think it was a big part in sealing our longevity. Charlotte (Hatherley) had joined by this time and I love the two-guitar interplay on Projects.
SHINING LIGHT (Free All Angels, 2001) Shining Light saved our career and really set us up for good. I knew we needed to come up with a really big song to get ourselves back on track and I spent a long time writing trying to find that song. The night I wrote it, I was really excited, I got the guys round the next day and they loved it too. It went on to be a top 10 hit, set up Free All Angels to be a Number One album and it also won an Ivor Novello award. It’s also been covered by lots of people, which is a great honour.
NOCTURNE (Candy, 2001) I’ve got to give a shout out to one of our b-sides because I think there were some gems amongst them. In the ‘90s we had to record four b-sides for each single and sometimes that was a nightmare – but it also gave us a chance to have fun and experiment a lot. I think this is a really sweet one.
TWILIGHT OF THE INNOCENTS (Twilight of the Innocents, 2001) The album was a tough release for us as it came in the middle of the record industry falling apart. It was the first album we produced ourselves, so I was really proud that we pulled it off. Singing this song live each night sustained me during that tour. It’s really powerful live.
TRUE LOVE 1980 (Atomic Heart, 2010) We went for a real synth pop production on this and maybe people didn’t expect that style from us – but I think there’s a great Ash song at its core.
MACHINERY (Kablammo!, 2015) We’re touring the new album at the moment and it’s brilliant how well the new tracks are connecting with the fans amongst all the old favourites. I really like the melody and story in this song. Like a few other tracks from Kablammo!, I wrote this on ukulele. I found it was a good way to bring back a simplicity to the writing and then once the power of the band was added, you’d never guess its origin.
Ash’s new album Kablammo! is out now as a download, vinyl and CD release. They play the Festival Republic Stage at this weekend’s Reading and Leeds festival and tour non-stop until the end of the year. For a full list of dates, please visit the band’s official website.