AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #190 : ASH

A GUEST POSTING by ADY HODGES

HUGE APOLOGY FROM JC :

ADY SENT THIS TO ME AS LONG AGO AS JUNE 2018….THE E-MAIL STUPIDLY PUT ITSELF INTO THE WRONG FOLDER AND SO DIDN’T REACH ME UNTIL THE OTHER DAY WHEN ADY WAS PROMPTED BY MY OWN POST ON GOLDFINGER…..

I am a long time reader of this blog, but a very rare commenter, however, I have been loving the ICA series and have been keen to do one. I debated a few different bands and maybe I might do some of the others later, but this is the one I kept coming back to.

Here we are then, an ICA from Northern Ireland’s finest, Ash. This is a band I have seen live many times and the only band I have seen at all the major venues in Portsmouth where I live (the Wedgewood Rooms, the Pyramids, the Guildhall & Victorious Festival on the seafront) – the Pyramids show on the Free All Angels tour is up there in my top 5 all-time gigs. This a very “hit-heavy” ICA covering most of their career, though nothing from the most recent album, Kablammo!, which is good, but in my opinion is missing a killer tune. I think this ICA is a good introduction to the band and hopefully there are one or two gems here that people haven’t heard before.

Side 1

Jack Names The Planets (from Trailer)

Their first single and the first indication of their lyrical obsession with using space/sci-fi terms. A great blast of melodic energy, that disguises some bittersweet lyrics. If you’re wondering about the spoken section at the beginning of the song, this is the explanation from Wikipedia;

“two Dutchmen, Oscar “Wilde” Vermeer and Patrick “The Brewer” Schrama (who met Tim Wheeler during a holiday in France), suggest that the song should have been called “Jack Names The Planet Nieuw-Vennep”, given that, in their opinion, “Nieuw-Vennep” is a good name for a planet. Nieuw-Vennep is a town of thirty thousand inhabitants in the west of Holland, midway between The Hague and Amsterdam”.

Girl From Mars (from 1977)

The first Ash song most people (including me) were aware of. Their first top 20 hit and their first Top Of The Pops appearance. An acapella opening leads into a smart pop-punk song with a cool guitar solo, ideal for radio during the Britpop years. The lyrics of this song, as well as having more sci-fi references, also features another regular Ash lyrical concern, summer.

A Life Less Ordinary (single)

Charlotte Hatherley joined the band as a second guitarist in 1997, expanding their sound as a result. This is the first release to feature her, a standalone single from the soundtrack to the Ewan McGregor/Cameron Diaz film of the same name, which you’ve probably never heard of. I can remember renting the video from Blockbuster (that’s such a 90s sentence!) because of the Ash connection and also because I rate Ewan McGregor as an actor, I wouldn’t bother seeking it out if I were you, as it’s not a good film. The song by contrast is great, driven by nagging, choppy guitar and a dreamy chorus.

True Love 1980 (from A-Z Volume 1)

In 2007 Ash announced that they would no longer be releasing albums, just singles, as they believed the advent of the download had changed the emphasis to single tracks over albums. This eventually became a series of 26 singles (the A-Z series) released every fortnight for a year, later gathered over 2 compilation albums. This was the first single released this way (although there was a free download song issued prior to it that was not officially part of the series, confused?). It is a wistful love song, underpinned by a retro synthesizer backing, that sounds like an old video game soundtrack, stereotypical Ash and perfect for the 80s themed lyrics.

Won’t Be Saved (from Meltdown)

Ash managed the tricky feat of appealing to both Indie kids & the Kerrang! crowd and there are definite metal influences to some of their work. This is probably best illustrated on the Meltdown album, although ironically not on this track, the penultimate song on the album, which is a more straightforward pop song. The track starts with a simple but melodic guitar intro leading into a charming song of unrequited love with a typical Ash singalong chorus.

Side 2

Walking Barefoot (from Free All Angels)

I always associate the Free All Angels album with summer and I think it is mostly to do with this song, which is a perfect summer anthem. This song, “Burn Baby Burn” and “Shining Light” provide one of the greatest album openings ever in my opinion, the three songs work so well together and I couldn’t break them up, so they start side 2 of my ICA.

Shining Light (from Free All Angels)

It’s difficult to say much new about this song. It is their biggest selling single and probably their most recognisable song and one I have grown to love more as the years have gone by. A wonderful melody, with lyrics full of religious imagery, not surprising really, as Tim Wheeler grew up in Northern Ireland in the 70s and 80s, when the church really dominated society there. Fun fact, this song won an Ivor Novello songwriting award.

Burn Baby Burn (from Free All Angels)

For a time Ash were my favourite band and I played Free All Angels to death and this song in particular, which was my all time favourite song for a time. This is an almost perfect indie single, guaranteed to fill the floor at indie club nights. I love the way the song announces itself with those chiming guitars.

Goldfinger (from 1977)

As I mentioned above, this is a very hit-heavy ICA, but I make no apologies for that, as I’ve always thought Ash were a quintessential singles band. This is their first top 10 hit and their highest ever charting single. What I like about this track is the way each verse starts with a slow stuttering build and the way for such a melancholy song it swings.

Twilight Of The Innocents (from Twilight Of The Innocents)

The closing title track from their fifth album (and at one point their last album). Charlotte Hatherley had left at this point and they were back to a three piece, not that you notice on a track like this, which has some wonderful instrumentation. This is a great closing track, particularly the way it builds into an epic, driven by some powerful drumming, a really effective string arrangement and Tim singing “I’m still breathing, My heart’s still beating” before fading out to just keyboards, all of which makes it a perfect end to this ICA.

Bonus Single

Does Your Mother Know (from Evening Session Priority Tunes Compilation)

Except it’s not quite the end. Ash do a great cover version, often showing some unexpected influences, so I’ve celebrated that by adding a bonus single of cover versions. The A side is this Abba cover taken from a 1995 Steve Lamacq/Jo Whilley Evening Session and included on the 1996 Evening Session compilation album. It’s a very punky take, which I think suits the song well.

Coming Around Again (from A-Z Volume 1)

Another surprising cover, this time a 1986 Carly Simon track, which they turn into a stereotypical Ash ballad, building to a climax where they throw the kitchen sink at it in terms of arrangement, an approach that ends up working despite itself.

I hope you enjoyed my first attempt at an ICA.

ADY

GOLDFINGER

Absolutely nothing to do with James Bond….and it’s not even a posting about Magazine who once did an okay cover version of the theme song made famous by Shirley Bassey back in 1964.

Instead, it is one of the finest moments in the career of Ash:-

mp3 : Ash – Goldfinger

The fourth single to be lifted from the album 1977, it was arguably the one which made them such a stand-out act in comparison with many of their peers. OK, the opening few bars owe something to Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins but once the lyric kicks in and the song slows down there’s a real sense that the 18-year old Tim Wheeler is again proving to be highly capable of writing stuff that is well beyond his tender years. It’s an ambiguous tale that could be about a young lad trying unsuccessfully to come to terms with the fact his relationship has come to an end or equally it could be from the perspective of a junkie waiting on the return of his other half with the next hit. Either way, it’s a great piece of indie-rock that climbed all the way to #5 in the UK singles charts, which remains the band’s best achievement in that respect.

There were three very different types of tracks available on the CD single:-

mp3 : Ash – I Need Somebody
mp3 : Ash – Sneaker
mp3 : Ash – Get Ready

The first is quite experimental, with a strange ever-changing tempo which sounds as if it was waiting to be put in the hands of an uber-producer who could have added strings, brass and a kitchen sink to make it into something epic.

The middle track is Ash at their loudest and fastest, the sort of track that made them so appealing to those who pogoed and those who headbanged.

The latter is indeed a cover of the 1966 hit single by The Temptations. I could be cruel and say it is an effort akin to that by a slightly better than average wedding covers band, but then again, it really is no worse than the sort of covers that Paul Weller and co had been recording 20 years earlier when they were ages with the Ash boys.

JC

LOOK INTO MY TIRED EYES…

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It is really scary to look back and realise that Ash conquered the world before they were out of their teens.

The male trio (Tim Wheeler, Mark Hamilton and Rick McMurray) from Downpatrick in Northern Ireland had already enjoyed a modicum of critical acclaim and commercial success thanks to singles and a mini-LP released before they had even left school but that was nothing compared to the release of proper debut, entitled 1977, which went to #1 in the UK and spawned five hit singles, four of which went Top 20.

They expanded their line-up by adding a female guitarist (Charlotte Hatherley) who was even younger than them and gained a well deserved reputation for incendiary live shows. Unfortunately, the pressure to write and record a smash follow-up to 1977 led to all sorts of difficulties and tensions which showed in the patchy Nu-Clear Sounds released in 1998. It also nearly bankrupted all concerned…

Three years later, and still all in the early 20s, Ash unleashed Free All Angels on the world, a record that had been written back in the sanctuary of Downpatrick and well away from all the temptations and distractions that are put before any successful young band. It would go on to sell more than three million copies world-wide and put Ash, deservedly, back in the spotlight where this time they were far better equipped to deal with all that entailed.

There was one more album – Meltdown – as a four-piece before Hatherley quit in 2006 after a hugely adventurous nine years. The next album recorded as a trio was called Twilight of the Innocents. It didn’t quite fare so well and the band also struggled in the live setting readjusting to being a three-piece and unable to properly perform some of their best known and most popular tracks.

What happened next almost beggars belief.  Announcing that due to the changing ways that people listened to and consumed music, particularly with the advent of downloading, they would no longer record any albums but concentrate on single tracks. They were true to their word, beginning in April 2009 with a 45 called Return of White Rabbit for which the three band members each hand-created 178 sleeves with the single being available to win in different competitions being run through their website. The following month they announced the intention to release 26 singles, one every two weeks over a 12-month period.

That project came to an end in 2010 since when the band have been active only on the live front. But very shortly, on Monday 25 May, they will release Kablammo!, their first new LP in eight years. Things are never easy trying to keep up with Ash.

Here’s one of their best known singles from the Free All Angels era, with the tracks taken from the 2 x CDs that made up the release:-

mp3 : Ash – Burn Baby Burn
mp3 : Ash – 13th Floor (radio 1 session)
mp3 : Ash – Only in Dreams (radio 1 session)
mp3 : Ash – Burn Baby Burn (album version)
mp3 : Ash – Thinking About You
mp3 : Ash – Submission (Arthur Baker mix)

Only In Dreams is a cover version of a Weezer song.  And here’s a little know fact….Burn Baby Burn was the first song played on BBC 6 Music when it aired on the morning of Monday 11 March 2002.

Here’s an acoustic version of the song as made available on a ‘special’ CD release of the album:-

mp3 : Ash – Burn Baby Burn (acoustic)

Enjoy