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Politics and partying (with Tim Wheeler)

By • Jul 17th, 2017 • Category: Feature

When Ash take the stage in Linlithgow in August they’ll do so alongside some of the legends of the music scene – Lightning Seeds, Kaiser Chiefs and Amy MAcDonald to name but three. But wait – these fresh-faced, youngest teenagers on the block are celebrating their 25th year in showbiz. How did that happen?

Tim Wheeler, alongside cohorts Mark Hamilton and Rick McMurray, is no stranger to Scotland.

A recent-ish visit to the central belt was part of the band’s tour of the UK in ‘alphabetical order’ (landing at Falkirk), and is just one of a series of creative plots and schemes from the Downpatrick threesome, which also included releasing an ‘A-Z’ of singles, as well as resolving to stop releasing albums (happily, they relented).

Even debut long-player ‘1977’ was named after their birth year, which we assume was, in those more innocent times, the creative output of the band rather than of The Man. But do the trio have any new plots and schemes lined up?

“We’ve always tired to keep control of things ourselves and not let ’the man’ tell us what we had to do,” states Wheeler. “Got us into trouble a few times but it was our own doing.

“The A-Z tour was one of our favs of all time and we’re still trying to think up another idea to top it…”

“Not so much of a scheme,” he continues, “but we do indeed plot to release two new albums relatively quickly and not leave the usual 3+ year gap between releases.

Ash

“We’ve said we wanted to do that before but never been able to execute it. Right now we’re well into the process of the second new album, with the first new one almost completely finished.

“We’re very excited to get the ball rolling and 2018 should be the start of a few very busy years – fingers crossed!

As we chat, the deal between the band’s elected representatives (i.e. the DUP) and Theresa May’s government is being struck. With Arlene Foster and co. demanding a billion pounds (possibly with menaces) for Ulster, can its people take any consolation in this?

Wheeler’s answer is emphatic. “Any coalition with the Tories is repugnant and morally bankrupt. Let’s just leave it at that.”

I am however keen to know about the state of music for the young in their hometown and the surrounding area. The – let’s face it – bribe – is supposed to compensate for money spent on security previously that could now (hopefully without destroying the peace agreement) go on restructuring the province, and perhaps providing the current generation of youngsters some opportunities not afforded the band when they were growing up. Although what the DUP’s take is on the devil’s music is another matter…

“The ‘Province’ has come a long way through the Peace Process” he responds. “We can only hope that Brexit, and that mentality, which was rejected there, won’t fuck up any of the cross border progress and trade that has helped the economy through a pretty grim decade since the crash in 2008.”

He does relent a little, detecting some room for optimism, however. “Any money going towards great projects like the Oh Yeah Center in Belfast or the the Nerve Center in Derry will help the local music scene massively.”

There’s a line in Stiff Little Fingers’ anthem for youth of the six counties, ‘Alternative Ulster’, about gig venue “the Trident in Bangour”, where gig-goers would have to “walk back to the city”.

“We obviously all love Stiff Little Fingers,” smiles Wheeler. “We got to know Ali (McMordie, bassist), who tour managed Moby when we toured with him in the States. He’s a legend, last time we saw him was in Norwich, getting hammered before staggering into the pedestrianised zone to throw scotch eggs at Dixons….”

With a good few stories of the band’s own off-stage activities kicking around it’s nice to see someone other than Ash the subject of a tale of debauchery. Of course – and I’d not dream of going down this road of questioning – the band’s behaviour may have been different when they were a four-piece. itm? has interviewed the band before, back in the days of print – but second guitarist Charlotte Hatherley was on interview duties that day.
But getting drank under the table by a girl aside, I put it to Tim Wheeler that musically things could be quite different with an extra member. He diplomatically seems to hedge his bets…

“We like and enjoy being a three-piece, it’s our default, but we also love playing as a four-piece too.

“From time to time Charlotte has come back to play some shows,” he continues. “We did some ‘Free All Angels’ shows a few years ago and most recently at the Forum on the ‘Kablammo!’ tour.

“We also had Russell from Bloc Party tour with us for the best part of a year which was cool, but he went back to his day job! Some of the songs written with two guitars are dropped when it’s just the three of us, but for the most part we can pull it off a trio.”

So it will be the slimmed-down version of the band who take to the stage on August 12th. The band should feel at home – Linlithgow is similar in size to Downpatrick and there are a few kindred spirits in what’s an eclectic lineup.

The perennial teenagers are perhaps too young to be playing Rewind – that roving 80s extravaganza that now happens every summer – but I wonder if the band might see themselves and, I dunno, Toni Braxton, Neil Hannon and Peter Andre in a tourbus together in 20 years time?

Wheeler laughs. “We’d go on tour with Neil Hannon any day – dude is great, he’s jumped up and sang ‘Oh Yeah’ with us a number of times. For us every tour is a package tour… a package of HELL YEAH!

“We did tour with We Are Scientists last year,” he remembers, “and formed super group WASH for the encores which got longer every night. That was a package that won’t be forgotten fast, especially the on-stage displays of man love and post show dance floor antics.”

But the band – despite still seeming like a bunch of teenagers – may be the veterans on the Party at the Palace bill compared to the likes of TeenCanteen and even The Noisettes. (ok, fortunately Ian Broudie is on just before them). But how much has changed for the band, with the members all grown up?

“I think we still act like teenagers when we get on tour…” Wheeler smiles. “not all the time… but some of it!”

The band aren’t short of contemporaries, still ploughing out a living from the gig circuit – indeed, Dodgy will play Linlithgow the following day. Ash were of the right vintage to get lumped in with Britpop – there, we’ve said it – but were never really part of it. So have have they managed to embrace it or tolerate it over time?

“At the time we skirted around the edges of it,” Wheeler recalls,” without ever being lumped into the genre or allowing ourselves to get defined as it.

“It was a fun pretty decadent time but also a lot of style with no substance bands, we always felt more aligned with music coming out of the US.”

But we really should look forward – well, to August. Can we expect new songs, or a Greatest Hits festival set? (including four-piece tunes?)

“Lots of new material,” he promises, “so much so that we’re trying to finish two new albums”.

“But yes, we usually do the hits at festivals – gotta!”

Ash play Party at the Palace on the weekend of August 12-13. More at www.partyatthepalace.co.uk

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