1989-1991: Downpatrick, Co. Down, N. Ireland Starting high school Timothy James Arthur Wheeler and Mark Alexander Hamilton meet at the age of 12. They are rubbish at football. Turning to music they set out on an excellent adventure, but gain reputation locally as the worst band in County Down as guitarist and bassist in Iron Maiden wannabes Vietnam.
1992: With grunge hitting its peak Vietnam split. Stuck for a drummer they recruit cowboy booted church sticksmith Richard Wilson McMurray aged 16. Picking the first short word they like in the dictionary, ASH is born.
Inspired by Nirvana, Mudhoney, The Pixies and local punk rock gurus Lazergun Nun our teenage heroes play most weekends at dives in Belfast and Downpatrick, changing their reputation into a super-teen punk pop machine. Ultra-prolific songwriters, they fund countless demos with money saved by starving themselves during lunch break and an infamous tuck shop scam.
1993: Ash’s third demo tape, Garage Girl tops local charts and Mark uses their school’s Young Enterprise scheme to fund and press their first record. Despite these achievements the band start to get disillusioned, with GCSE exams looming they wonder how to get a record deal in a country with a non-existent music industry. These are the pre-MySpace days folks!
Things are looking bleak, but Tim finds time on holiday to write evergreen classic, Girl From Mars. On the verge of breaking up, enter local Svengali Bill McCabe who markets them as rent boys and sends their tapes off to his London contacts. Publicist Paddy Davis and radio plugger Stephen Taverner fall for the tape. Taverner takes a leap off faith sending the band £300 to go into the studio…
1994: The band’s first single, Jack Names The Planets is released on Taverner’s newly formed La La Land label and picks up play on Radio One, impressing influential DJs Steve Lamacq, John Peel and Mark Radcliffe. Months later the 17 year olds’ fates are sealed; they sign to Infectious Records. Their first London show follows at the Camden Falcon. All done on Easter break!
The summer sees a frantic week-long recording session in London with producer Marc Waterman and the band’s first Infectious singles, Petrol and Uncle Pat top the UK indie charts. Trailer, the mini album, is released in October, and the band make their US debut with a limited 7” release of Petrol on indie label Generator Records.
1995: In March, Infectious releases Kung Fu Wheeler’s paean to martial arts hero Jackie Chan and The Ramones. Eric Cantona’s infamous flying kick dons the cover art. He berates the band, faxing the label, “I spit on your record”.
After leaving school in June and embarking on a sold out riot around the UK, Girl From Mars crashes into the UK Top 20, and establishes Wheeler as a writer of truly great pop tunes. At home the parents watch in disbelief as their sons appear on BBC institution, Top Of The Pops.
The band sign to Warner Records in the US and NASA uses Girl From Mars as hold music on their phone systems! Kung Fu is also picked up by Jackie Chan himself and the song is used in the title credits to Rumble in the Bronx.
Their first raucous appearance at Reading Festival is so dangerously over-packed and out of control, security stops the show twice! The band commence their first world tour, and Angel Interceptor, the third in a wonderful series of singles, continues the band’s trajectory along with a swift but bone-shattering UK tour.
1996: After 3 months in Rockfield Studios with maverick Oasis producer Owen Morris the band emerge with their debut album, 1977, this being the year Wheeler and Hamilton were born and the year Star Wars was released. The album shoots straight to the top of the UK charts and their nihilistic teenage rampage becomes a press sensation as covers on Smash Hits, NME, Select and Kerrang hit the shelves.
The summer of ‘96 belongs to Ash. They scalp 2 UK Top 5 hits with, Goldfinger and Oh Yeah, and sell out 5 consecutive nights at the London Astoria. The festival season crescendos at Reading, with over 60,000 heat-scorched bodies singing along to, Oh Yeah, the anthem of the summer.
The on-going tour excess is documented on film. Narrated by Ewan (Obi-wan) McGregor the self funded, Teenage Wildlife is yet to be released due to concerns of family disownment! 1977 goes on to sell over a million copies worldwide.
1997: Glastonbury, June ‘97. It’s the year of the mud and Steve Winwood pulls out at the last minute. On site, and having already headlined The Other Stage on the Friday night, Michael Eavis offers them chance to make history… Ash close the Pyramid stage on Sunday evening to become the first act to headline the mega festival twice in one year.
With the addition of guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, poached from London outfit Nightnurse, the three become four… Her first gigs are in front of 40,000 people at the V97 Festival and under the huge arches of U2s Pop set at Botanic Gardens, Belfast and Lansdowne Road, Dublin.
Written for the film of the same name, single A Lifeless Ordinary, produced by Arthur Baker, hits the UK Top 10; it marks the end of the 1977 chapter.
1998: Burnt out by the blitz of the last three years, and under pressure to repeat the success of 1977, the writing of the follow up album is a troublesome time. Ash retreat to country isolation at Stambridge Farm Studios to demo and Wheeler suffers writers block. Before the session is scrapped, Tim receives a very important phone call…
It is planet Earth’s President himself, Bono. The conversation results in Ash playing a part in the single most important event they have yet to be involved in, publicly campaigning for the Yes vote in Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement referendum. A historic concert at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall takes place; Hume and rival politician UUP leader David Trimble meet on stage and shake hands. The following week the papers are full of it and the positive publicity helps to pass the referendum.
Owen Morris is re-recruited to perform a salvage job and Ash return to Rockfield in Wales. Chaos ensues; taking a harder and darker direction, Nu-Clear Sounds is critically acclaimed but confuses the general public. The album ‘only’ charts at No. 7, but still yields the hit single, Jesus Says and gains gold status in the UK.
1999: After a fun filled January touring on the Big Day Out festival in Australia reality hits hard. 1999 marks the nadir of the bands career, Nu-Clear Sounds hasn’t achieved what it could have, Tim seems intent on not doing press and goes AWOL, ending up in New York making the self-deprecating, blood, drug and sex fueled video for, Numbskull. Tim sends Tav a note with the video saying, “I’ve killed Bambi”.
Ash follow their US A&R man changing labels from Warners to Dreamworks, but with changes of label personnel the campaign stateside becomes a complete disaster!
2000: After six months off, springtime sees a rejuvenated Ash reconvene at Tim’s folks’ house, playing and creating songs in the same garage where it all began in ‘92. The process is stress-free and the writing is prolific. Armed with over 30 songs and Rock McMurray’s new Mohawk, (pre-Beckham) they head to a villa in the decadent Mecca of Puerto Banus, Southern Spain with guru Owen Morris to record. Our heroes have the summer of their lives, with songs coming to them effortlessly and morale sky-high.
Ash make their best album yet, but it isn’t going to be easy to re-convince the public. Using the Internet to re-establish their fan-base they release the download only single Warmer Than Fire and embark on a grassroots tour of tiny UK venues.
2001: The touring pays off and in January Ash’s first chart single in almost two years, Shining Light smashes its way into the UK Top 10. Two fingers to the haters who had written them off, Ash are back. The rifftastic Burn Baby Burn, with a scorching hot cheerleader video, puts the rock back in the singles chart at Lucky 13. Headlines are grabbed by some perfectly timed publicity stunts, including the ritual burning of 300 Westlife CDs in front of tabloid photographers.
The new album Free All Angels is released in May beating Janet Jackson to the coveted Number One spot. The platinum-selling album arrives just in the nick of time, as Ash are £1000 away from bankruptcy. The band headline Reading, and a world tour takes Ash up to Christmas. Free All Angels spawns two more hit singles, Sometimes and Candy. Q magazine crowns their return to form with the Single Of The Year Award for Burn Baby Burn.
2002: There’s A Star gives the band their 5th UK Top 20 hit from Free All Angels. Burn Baby Burn is voted Best Single by the readers of the NME. At the Irish Hot Press Awards, Free All Angels picks up the gong for Best Irish Album and Shining Light comes away with Best Single. Meanwhile Mr. Wheeler wins Best Contemporary Song for Shining Light at the Ivor Novello Awards.
On tour in the States, a recording session results in the Motown punk of Envy, a brand new track for the singles collection, Intergalactic Sonic Sevens. The compilation includes a second CD, Cosmic Debris, containing 22 B-sides (as voted for by fans). Intergalactic Sonic Sevens earns the band another UK Top 5 album and gold disc.
Meanwhile things are looking promising stateside as Free All Angels gets its US release on dance label Kinetic records.
2003: January sees Ash shoot an abstract short film with a duo of French directors. The art movie is entitled, Love and Destruction and is shown on Channel 4. It baffles as much as impresses. A one-off screening at The Electric Cinema on London’s Portobello road is attended by press and select fans.
Having spent most of the previous year opening for Moby, Our Lady Peace, Coldplay, Dashboard Confessional and Saves The Day, Ash finally headline their first US tour in 6 years! The tour is a success, but after 9 months on the road and a promising radio build with Burn Baby Burn, things take a turn for the worse as Kinetic goes bankrupt.
Results of the incessant touring are evident during the writing of the next album. Rock McMurray has grown into his name and the direction of the new material is harder and more aggressive. After two spells of rehearsals the songs are demoed and ready for the studio. Foo Fighters producer Nick Rasculinecz is so enthusiastic about making the album Ash can’t refuse him. Taking them to Sound City Studios, the birthplace of Nirvana’s Nevermind to record is like a pilgrimage, only to be superceded by the presence of King Grohl himself. By the end of the year Meltdown is finished, a slick album retaining Ash’s gum-tingling pop harmonies and guitar-throttling riffs but swelling their reedy punk sinew into full on rock muscle.
2004: Clones, the first single from Meltdown, is release as an Internet-only download with a dark and gritty performance video. Follow-up single Orpheus gets hammered on UK airwaves and hits the singles chart at number 15. It goes on to feature with the title track Meltdown on the soundtrack for cult movie Shaun Of The Dead.
Meltdown debuts at No. 5 in the album chart achieving instant gold, and the subsequent tour peaks with Tim’s flaming V salute to the crowd at Hammersmith Apollo, their largest ever London headline show!
In August Charlotte releases her debut solo album, Grey Will Fade on Double Dragon Music. LucasArts fly the band to San Francisco to visit Skywalker Ranch and see Republic Commando in development.
2005: 2005 starts with a bang in Japan. The sold-out tour reminds us of how amazing Ash’s Japanese fans are. The band returns to the US in March and take to the road on a co-headline tour with band of the moment The Bravery. Meltdown is released in the States by Ash’s new label Record Collection.
The tour includes a private show for LucasFilm, LucasArts and ILM staff at the ILM sound stages in San Rafael. LucasArts release the video game Republic Commando featuring Ash track Clones and Mark accepts another trip to Skywalker ranch for a guest screening of Revenge of the Sith. Pig in shit comes to mind. A 4-track tie-in EP simply titled, Commando is released for the tour.
Ash complete the Meltdown era in grand style, supporting U2 on their 3rd consecutive world tour, before returning to their respective homes, and a 6-month hiatus. After 8 years living in London, Tim and Mark relocate to New York City.
2006: In February, after 9 years together, Charlotte Hatherley and Ash mutually agree to part company.
As if by fate Tim stumbles across unwanted studio in space Manhattan. The room is perfect and Ash take on the lease. Having their own base to record and rehearse from is something they’ve always dreamed of. Rick regularly darts across the pond from Scotland and after several rehearsals the band have 27 songs to begin work on. The transition back to a 3-piece is both exciting and prolific.
2007: In February, the band release free download I Started A Fire as a taster of their new Studio album Twilight Of The Innocents. The album’s first single You Can’t Have It All hits number 16 in the charts, and is followed into the Top 40 by epic ballad Polaris. However, in the age of digital download and diminishing album sales the album fares less well; in June, Tim announces from the stage at the Isle of Wight Festival that Twilight Of The Innocents will be their last album.
Rumours of a split are denied as Tim promises a dramatic return to the brave new digital world: "the way people listen to music has changed, with the advent of the download the emphasis has reverted to single tracks".
2008: Mark reveals to fans that work on the ‘singles only’ future is under way, as the band performs two 1977 shows at London’s Roundhouse; the gigs are recorded for a special re-release of their debut album.
2009: Nearly 12 months of work at their Manhattan command centre has produced an enviable payload of new tunes: the ultimate singles band are about to unveil the ultimate singles collection.
The band announces what amounts to a creative Everest, the ‘A-Z Series’: 26 singles in one year, a single for each letter of the alphabet, one release every fortnight. The first taster is free download Return Of White Rabbit, and the UK press loves it; a refreshing electro take on the unstoppable Ash formula, it suggests the ambitious new release schedule has revitalized the band.
The unique subscription service run from the band’s website and own label ‘Atomic Heart Records’ is kicked off with ballad True Love 1980 and is promptly followed by another Ash innovation, the A to Z Tour. The band embark on an alphabetical tour of the UK, a brave – if not foolish – trip around the British Isles from Aldershot to Zennor, bringing the Rock back to some of the nation’s lesser known music venues.
2010: The A-Z Singles Series continues a pace with the release of letter G, Ichiban at the beginning of January and the announcement of a spring tour of the UK. At the end of the month, Ash are back in their New York studio to record further tracks which will complete the year-long run of single-sided alphabet singles.