In 1989, Mark Hamilton and Tim Wheeler, two thirteen year olds in Belfast, begged their parents to buy them guitars. They honed their skills daily and when they got good enough, they formed a band. They spent all of their free hours after school playing death metal riffs at decibels imperceptible to the human ear. They called themselves Vietnam (and sounded just as chaotic) and they were determined to be the next Megadeth. Lucky for us, the teenage mind is easily swayed. Had they stuck to that lofty goal, they never would have evolved into the hitmakers they are today- a band known as Ash.
So, maybe the desire to front a metal act was the driving force behind Ash’s humble beginnings, but the outgrowth of it is anything but ridiculous and past its prime. As Mark and Tim matured, (and gained a drummer in Rick McMurray, a school mate a year ahead who scoffed at their feeble attempts at glam glory and stepped in to show them what a real band was made of), their true musical genius became apparent to those around them and they were soon an all out teenage phenomenon. Their debut mini album Trailer (September ’95) drew so much interest that soon, the boys were flying to London and being fawned over by labels and press alike. These eager 17 year olds were soon after recording what would be their breakthrough LP, the timeless piece of pop that is 1977, (June ’96), aptly titled to represent both the year of Tim and Mark’s birth and the release year of Star Wars- an obsession shared by the band. 1977 stands firm as an embodiment of all that is youth- lust, love, frustration, and mischief. The record also marked Ash’s first stateside visit, underscored by the single “Girl from Mars”, a romantic ditty about being in love with an alien, or at least a chick who seems to be a space cadet. Fresh in their place as media darlings and chart toppers, Ash soon grew tired of this life and the ups and downs that came along with it. Drama ensued.
Addictions, arguments, arrests, even a full on breakdown here and there. A second guitarist, Charlotte Hatherley, (gasp, a girl!) was added. Out of this period came their sophomore effort, 1999’s Nu-Clear Sounds, which showcased this all new Ash- edgier, raw, and full of angst. The “new” Ash wasn’t received as warmly as they had expected. However, fate works in mysterious ways. And so it was that in April 2001, Infectious Records released Free All Angels in the UK, an album that went on to become one of the biggest of the past year. With Free All Angels, Ash has certainly risen out of the proverbial “ashes” and proven that they still have it in them. Gone is the naivete of 1977, and in it’s place, a mature look at the past, written in the form of some of the catchiest tunes you’ve ever heard. The NME raves, “There hasn’t been a more consistently electrifying rock album since Definitely Maybe.” In fact, the LP’s smash hit “Burn Baby Burn” has earned the band accolades galore, including both an NME Brat Award and Q “Single Of The Year” honors. Not to mention, found itself in a cushy spot in many a top ten list throughout the Western Hemisphere and a most recent nomination for Tim Wheeler for the prestigious Ivor Novello songwriter award in the UK.
Free All Angels is chock full of gems, each a refreshingly catchy single you’ll find yourself singing in the shower. Inspirational insights, such as “Candy”, and pop masterpiece, ‘Sometimes’, boast lush strings and yearning lyrics- a departure for this band. But Ash even make a brief return to their pre-1977 full-on-power-pop roots with crowd pleasers like the sexy “Submission” and rocker “World Domination.” And now, the band seems more poised than ever to break into the nu-metal and kiddie pop dominated world of American music. A handful of recent U.S shows, including a successful SXSW date and two sold out nights at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom indicate that something’s definitely brewing.