Ash - crunching out guitar riffs and tuneful songs which look back to the 70s, rather than today's digital environment. They're one of the brightest hopes on the British - well, they're actually from Northern Ireland - scene.
The band had a standard inauspicious start. Rick McMurray got the drummer's job because, in the words of bassist Mark Hamilton, 'We were desperate and he was the only kid in town who could play drums . . . I felt suicidal even considering getting this geek in the band.' This 'geek', with his peroxide locks and all-round cool demeanour, is now arguably the band's most fully fledged rock star. But then things have moved fast for Ash since they went full-time professional in the summer of 1995, after Tim Wheeler (guitar/vocals) finally finished his school career. Pressures of school work had already forced the band to turn down prestigious slots supporting Pearl Jam and Soul Asylum.
The band themselves celebrated their precociousness on the cover of their debut mini-album, Trailer (1994), with its picture of a howling baby in a high chair and a woman on a phone saying, 'They're still kids - too young to marry, vote or drink in a pub. But tragically, they're not too young to sell themselves for sex." Nor to sell records, of course. This grunge/pop/punk mixture hit the UK indie charts in October 1994 and settled down for a marathon stay, supported by an increasingly effective line of singles: "Petrol" and "Uncle Pat", which were lifted from the album and did well enough, and "Kung Fu" (1995) which stormed the indie singles list with a vengeance and brushed the UK Top 60.
In Britain's long hot summer of 1995, which elevated the likes of Dodgy and Supergrass to stardom, Ash scooped the lot by producing "Girl From Mars", which some would argue gave Oasis a ride as catchiest pop workout of the year. By this point the production skills of Owen Morris - the man who had given Oasis a hard-edged gloss - were in fact also shaping the sound of Ash. The B-sides were the surreal "Astral Conversations With Toulouse Lautrec" ('A quite terrifying techno-thrilled crash along' as the NME put it), and an equally offbeat cover of "Cantina Band", a track first heard in Star Wars, where it was played by a bunch of aliens in an eaterie peopled by some of the galaxy's weirdest life forms.
By this point the band had signed a five-album deal with Warner Reprise in the US, and the serious work had started. This included festival dates at Glastonbury and Reading, Euro treks with as many press stops as gigs, and the small matter of recording the first album for a major label.
The investment from the massive US corporation came at a time when Green Day could ship platinum on the strength of recycled British punk riffs from the 70s. The bet clearly was that Ash had the vision and ability to surpass such feats, and this was supported by the appearance of their second album, 1977 (1996), whose grinding riffs, killer hooks and attitude look took it straight to #1 in the UK charts. It featured "Girl From Mars", of course, and did a good job of matching it with the likes of "Goldfinger" (masses of melody and power chords) and "Gone The Dream" (which had echoes of early Pink Floyd). Taking its title from the year the lads were born, the album also tipped its hat towards the Star Wars movies (the first of the original trilogy had its UK release in 1977) by kicking off proceedings with the scream of a passing TIE fighter.
In the wake of 1977's chart performance Ash continued to gig, landing high-profile support and festival slots - such as Glastonbury - to build up an international fan-base. Touring took precedence over studio work and, to satisfy demand for new product, the UK independent label Death Star released the rough and ragged Live At The Wireless (1996); an 'official bootleg' of 10 tracks assembled 'live in the studio' during their 1996 tour of Australia. In August 1997, the band announced the addition of guitarist Charlotte Hatherley to the ranks. Hatherley was sharing composing credits by the spring of 1998 when Ash contributed the title song to the film A Life Less Ordinary. Their second full-length studio set - Nu Clear Sounds - was unleashed mid-way between their appearance at Reading - which had seen them preceding Page and Plant on stage - and a full scale UK tour.
With Brit-pop and grunge a distant memory Nu-Clear Sounds made a stab for a wider ranging rock sound - aided by the involvement of producer Chris Kimsey. The hard edges and solid hooks were joined by extended intros and production effects, sales were respectable but reviews were mixed. By the time 'Wildsurf' was released as the second single 'this geek' McMurray had joined the writing crew - contributing 'Stormy Waters' as a b-side. Time is still on their side and the work rate remains impressive, all of which suggests the band still have the potential to build an international reputation.