Ash have been one of my favourite local bands for the last twenty five years. I first took interest in them around 1994 and by 1995, they were supporting Therapy? at the Ulster Hall. This was months before their debut album 1977 was released and also prior to that they had released a clutch of great singles leading up to the album.
Before 1977 came out, Trailer was released as a mini album in October 1994. Two songs from my top 15 come from the album. Petrol (11) and Jack Names The Planets (9) are two great songs and regularly feature as part of the live setlist. Both songs were recorded while the band were still in school.
Ash were due to celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary as a band with a tour last year. Unfortunately the pandemic put those plans on hold and I will have to wait until next year to see them.
As part of celebrating 25 years, both Petrol and Jack Names The Planets got the remaster treatment for the new promo videos below.
Debut album proper 1977 was released in May 1996. Drawing comparisons with The Buzzcocks, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., the album features six songs that make my top 15. Oh Yeah (2), Girl From Mars (3), Goldfinger (5), Kung Fu (6) and Angel Interceptor (8) are all great songs.
The album took it’s name from the year that punk rock broke into the mainstream and also when Star Wars came out. You can tell they are big Star Wars fans. You can hear the sound of a tie-fighter in the background at the start.
The difficult second album, Nu-Clear Sounds came out in 1998 and the band became four as Charlotte Hatherely joined as second guitarist. Considered a commercial and critical failure, the album for me is an underrated gem. A more harder approach than their debut which is not bad thing, it includes my favourite track from the album, Wildsurf (10) which has a Beach Boys vibe to it.
This live version from Later with Jools Holland on BBC is one of my favourites.
At this stage the band are on the brink and almost bankrupt but they regrouped and put together what was definitely the finest comeback album, Free All Angels (2001). Lead singles Shining Light (4) and Burn Baby Burn (7) are great singles. This is a good sign of a band that have a great knack for producing great singles.
Shining Light won an Ivor Novello Award for songwriting and Burn Baby Burn was named as NME single of the Year.
Meltdown released in June 2004 would see the last of Charlotte Hatherley’s involvement with the band and they would go back to being a three piece again. Choice cut from this album was Orpheus (12). A live favourite since it’s debut and it definitely has the road trip feel to it.
With only fifteen songs to choose from, two albums get a miss through no fault of their own. Twilight of the Innocents (2007) and Kablammo! (2015) have no entries to the top 15. Also missing the top 15 are the A-Z Singles series where they put out a single over a fortnightly basis, 26 in total.
The most recent studio album, Islands (2018) showed comparisons with The Beach Boys, The Ramones and even Derry legends The Undertones. Both Damian O’Neill and Michael Bradley from The Undertones provide background vocals for Buzzkill (14) which is a pure pop song which was the lead single.
As the countdown is slowly heading towards no.1, the next two songs are choice b-sides. Cantina Band (15) was the b-side to Girl From Mars. Being true Star Wars fans, the John Williams composed song gets the reworking by the band and it is fun song to do live.
Ash have been compared with loads of bands and they have often been compared to Weezer which is quiet a compliment. Only in Dreams (13) is a very faithful cover of the Weezer classic from their Blue Album (1994). The song was the b-side to Burn Baby Burn.
And in at no.1 is the non-album track A Life Less Ordinary which was Charlotte Hatherley’s debut with the band. The song was the title track of the Ewan McGregor/Cameron Diaz movie of the same name which came out in 1997 and my favourite track. Can’t say much about the film though!
Very much a fan favourite and it features heavily in their live sets, It is not too often you find yourself in the crowd when the band are playing live and it goes on on TV. Footage below is from Glastonbury 1999 which I had attended. I remember going down to the front with no care in the world going absolutely mad when this song came on. The video footage goes quite fast between stage and crowd so it was near impossible to spot myself!
The top 15 in order:
- A Life Less Ordinary
- Oh Yeah
- Girl From Mars
- Shining Light
- Kung Fu
- Burn Baby Burn
- Angel Interceptor
- Jack Names The Planets
- Only in Dreams
- Cantina Band
Check out my Spotify playlist for the above. Sadly, the Ash cover of Only In Dreams is not available on Spotify.