Ash Dish The Dirt

Did you know Tim’s nickname at the scouts was “Timmy Testicle” or that Charlotte guzzles Vodka? We make each member of Ash leave the room in turn, and ask the others to reveal the hidden scandal and gossip.

“NO,” is Ash’s Flying V-welding frontman Tim Wheeler’s immediate response. “I don’t think we’ve told you any lies. We should have really, but hey…”

You’d half expect them to. And you wouldn’t blame them if they had. In fact, it’d probably have been wise, considering.

Sat in the lounge of Ash’s tour bus parked up a tiny backstreet outside Rotterdam’s Night Town venue, it’s just like the old days again. Time was when Ash were just three lads, old school friends from Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.

Except that they were never just three lads: Top Five hits, a world tour, a Number One debut album, a sell-out five-night run at London’s Astoria, the only band ever to headline Glastonbury twice… in the same year, augmenting their line-up with a cool as hats girl who brandishes a guitar like she was born with it attached. And then there’s the breakdowns, the gin, the drugs, the rows, the writers block. Since their debut, the sumptuous ‘Jack Names The Planets’, touched down way back in January 1994, they’ve been there, done that and got the cap-sleeve T-shirt to prove it.

And now it’s just the three of them again — Tim, drummer Rick McMurray and bassist, Mark Hamilton — sat on a tour bus on the European leg of their second world tour. Inside the venue, Charlotte Hatherly, Ash’s fourth member is nervously pacing up and down the dressing room. And for good reason.

See, for all the ups and downs of their phenomenal rise, for all the records they’ve sold, blistering live shows they’ve played, not a whole lot is known of them as individuals. Sure, we’ve heard the rabble-rousing tales, we’ve heard the rawk missives, the dressing room shenanigans. They’ve played up to the rock stereotype with ladles of style. Now it’s time for some home truths.

Alienation. Paranoia. Guilt. Make them sweat. Want to know what Ash are really like? Best to find out from those who know them inside-out: the others.

So the idea is to send one out of the room, while the other three dish the dirt. And to repeat the trick with the whole band. Gloves off, no-holds barred. Worried? They should be. The truth is out there.

Seconds out. Ding ding.

*

CHARLOTTE HATHERLY 

In one word?

Mark: “Hedonistic.”

Rick: “She’s good at getting trashed every night. I really like her enthusiasm for hedonism. I wish I could think like that.” 

And her weaknesses?

All: “Vodka”

Mark: “She can be easily led astray when she’s drunk.”

Needs protecting then?

Rick: “Charlotte just gets on with her own thing, but we do keep an eye out for her. If she ever needed any help, we’d definitely be there. She’s more than capable of looking after herself.”

Tim: “The funniest thing was on the UK tour. Mark was going, ‘Fucking hell, Charlotte gets totally pissed every night and I have to help her to bed.’ And everyone goes, ‘What the fuck are you talking about? What have we been doing to you for the last couple of years?’!”

Mark: “She’s made a real difference to the band, she’s made us really stand out. We tried a few blokes when we decided we were going to get another guitarist, but they were just… boring.”

Does she have any bad habits?

Mark: “She’s always loosing things: her wallet, clothes. She looses loads of clothes.”

Rick: “She’s really messy, too. She leaves shit all over the place.”

Mark: It’s not exactly a bad habit, but if you’ve finished your food, she’ll go round to other people’s plates and have a bit of a scavenge. And…”

Rick: “Here it comes…”

Mark: “She plays Led Zeppelin CD’s all the time. Sometimes you’ll be in rehearsal and she’ll start playing all this really discordant stuff like [makes a noise like a hacksaw cutting through a blackboard]. It’s maddening.”

Who does she get on best with in the band?

Tim: “Maybe Rick.”

Mark: “Me and Tim are always getting bothered by things, Rick’s more like Charlotte, in that they don’t get that stressed out.”

Is she romantic?

Tim: “She goes through phases with romance, but she seems to get bored very quickly.”

Rick: “She became single very recently and seemed really happy about it. She was getting used to the idea of being single. Then we had five days off, and when she came back, she had a new man!”

What would she be like to go out with?

Tim: “I don’t think it would be very serious… Oh God, I don’t fucking know.”

Rick: “Not my type.”

Tim: “I can see how she’d be attractive to a lot of people, but again, not my type. It’d be like sleeping with your sister.”

Mark: “It’s like I can say Tim’s a good-looking guy, but, you know, he doesn’t do anything for me.”

What pisses her off?

Tim: “If she does get pissed of, it’s very hard to see it. She doesn’t show it.”

Rick: “She got burgled recently, I think that pissed her off a bit, but that’d piss off most people.”

Tim: “She’s still getting used to the whole press thing, stuff about her that’s not true or bullshit about the band, that still pisses her off.”

What’s the best way to wind her up?

Mark: “Drink her vodka.”

*

RICK MCMURRAY

In one word?

Tim: “Funny… No, eccentric.”

Mark: “Odd.”

Tim: “Misunderstood.”

Mark: “Strange.”

Charlotte: “He’s very funny, but there’s more to him than just a sense of humour.”

Mark: “He’s a smart cunt. He didn’t revise for his A-levels and he got straight A’s!”

How easy is it to wind him up?

Mark: “We like to wind him up, especially about not coming on the Elastica tour. He was at university and couldn’t be arsed! The tour felt really fundamental in the rise of the band and he missed it.”

Mark: “We took two weeks off school…”

Tim: “And Rick had two hours a week at university. If he’d toured, he’d have missed four hours of lectures.”

Do you think he regrets it?

Tim: “He probably doesn’t give a shit. He once said he’s the most can’t-be-arsed person in the world.”

Does he get pissed off?

Mark: “He was pretty angry when we did the B-sides to ‘Jesus Says’.”

Tim: “It was the first time we had to do two CD’s and we had to do some B-sides purely for chart reasons. Me and Rick didn’t want to do it, so we went out and got totally pissed, and had a bit of a tragic night. I got up the next morning and found that Rick had flown back to Belfast.”

Mark: “So we got Danny from Supergrass to do some drumming. I don’t think Rick was too happy with that.”

What’s his type?

Tim: “Belly dancers. Big girls. A nice full figure.”

Mark: “He likes to sleep a lot and shag and that’s about it. He likes to do a pub quiz with his friends. That’s all he ever says he does.”

Is he a hit with the opposite sex?

Tim: “He is with his girlfriend. He’s always telling us about it. There was this fan who used to write him all these f***ing dirty letters. He attracts more of the weirdos. He kept getting letters off her going on about his arse.”

But he’s the drummer. Sits down all the time. At the back…

All: “Good point.”

Thank you. What’s he like when he’s pissed?

Mark: “He’s a lunatic. He used to get outrageously drunk, to the point where he was out of control. He’s a lot better now. He still has his moments though. Probably the worst was when we were getting an aeroplane from Thailand to Australia. He was paralytic. He was ringing the attendant button and the stewardess arrives and goes, ‘Yes sir, what would you like?’ And he goes, ‘I want a big bowl of fucking cum.’ She just ignored him and went away, but he rang again and when she came back he goes, ‘You know what you want? You want a big Irish cock.’ He can be really ignorant when he’s drunk.”

Charlotte:  “Then there was this time he was on the plane reading a copy of Celebrity Skin magazine… he was sat next to a priest.”

Tim: “He does not give a fuck.”

Who does he get on best with in the band?

Tim: “I get on best with Rick.”

Charlotte: “I find him the easiest to talk to. I probably have the most heart-to-hearts with him.”

Mark: “We like to slag each other off all the time, but that’s just for fun. We have got really close, crying on each other’s shoulders and saying how much we love each other, stuff like that.”

What was your first impression?

Tim: “At school discos, he used to wear black cowboy boots and a white muscle top. We thought he was a weird guy. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what he was all about.”

*

TIM WHEELER

One word to describe him, please.

Rick: “Short.”

Mark: “I first met him when I was 11 and he was tiny. Like, really tiny. His nickname at scouts was Testicle.”

Rick: “Because his name stars with a ‘T’?”

Charlotte: “Timmy Testicle.”

Rick: “The first thing I noticed about him was his boundless energy. He still has his moments; in the studio, he’s still bouncing around the room at five in the morning going, ‘Let’s go for another take.'”

Charlotte: “My first impression was, you’re… so… short.”

His weakness? If it’s any of our business…

Charlotte: “He didn’t have much confidence in himself with the new songs. He had a DAT full of brilliant ideas, but he didn’t think they were good enough! He can be a bit too self-conscious.”

What kind of person is he?

Rick: “When he gets wound up about something, he gets really, really wound up.”

Rick: “He keeps it all bottled up then it gets to the point where it all comes out at once. He’s also really charming. He’s the first one to jump in and start chatting with an outsider.”

Charlotte: “Whenever he meets fans, he’s always so chatty and lovely. We always end up having to drag him away.”

Rick: “It’s classic at Reading. We’ll be going to do an interview or something, and it’ll always take him 20 minutes to walk through the VIP bit. The normal reaction is, ‘I’ll see you later, I’m just off to do this.’ He starts chatting to people, I’m sure life stories get told to him as we’re walking through.”

Not too chatty onstage though…

Mark: “He’s never really been one to talk to crowds too much.”

Rick: “There’s been some funny moments. On the 1977 tour he was like, ‘Has anyone got the new album?’ Silence. He tried it again at another show. Silence. Again.”

Is he reliable?

Mark: “Oh yeah… reliably late.”

Rick: “He’s always 45 minutes late. If there’s a cab picking us up, we’ll get to his house and he’ll still be in his pyjamas. Something in his mind just doesn’t click and say, ‘Shit, I better hurry up.’ It kind of goes, ‘Shit, there’s a cab, I better potter around the house, feed the cats.'”

Charlotte: “It’s got to the point where you know you can be late, because you know Tim’s not going to be there.”

Mark: “He’s got weird eating habits, too. He likes weird food products, stuff that shouldn’t be eaten by humans. Anything with a list of at least 20 E-numbers.”

Rick: “They fuel his dreams.”

What’s he like when he’s pissed?

Mark: “It’s rare to see Tim pissed. When he gets really drunk, it’s pretty funny. He never used to be into smashing dressing rooms, but recently he… erm, is. I think he’s enjoying himself more, instead of seeing touring as a pressure, he’s realised that it can be fun.”

Rick: “And going through the experience once before helps. The first time, he was a bit worried about it.”

Is there anything you’d like to change about him?

Mark: “His lateness springs to mind.”

Rick: “Maybe it’s because he’s got short legs and it takes him longer to get places.”

Who does he get on best with in the band?

Mark: “Probably Rick. They have a touchy, feely thing.”

Rick: “He does touch me a lot actually. I don’t really know why. There’s definitely sexual undertones, a Mulder and Scully-type thing.”

What’s his most appealing quality?

All: “His arse.”

Charlotte: “He’s got a really lovely arse in his tight blue jeans.”

Rick: “Oh it looks good. Being the drummer, all I get to see onstage is Tim’s arse.”

Is he a hit with the opposite sex?

Rick: “Yeaaaah.”

Charlotte: “Because of his…”

Rick: “Stature?”

Charlotte: “Apparently he has got a big one.”

*

MARK HAMILTON

First impression?

Charlotte: “That he’d never, ever, ever look at me. He’d talk to me but he’d always be looking down… which I thought was quite strange.”

Rick: “It takes a long time to get to know Mark.”

Tim: “He was hard work when I first got to know him. He moved to my town when we were about 11. He was just this weird kid. The first time I approached him was when I saw him wearing an Iron Maiden backpatch. If he can’t relate to you, he doesn’t give a fuck.”

At our cover shoot he was very hands on, helping our snapper out. Unusual behaviour for a pop star?

Tim: “That was very Mark. He does that all the time. He’s good at… I don’t know what you’d call it, but he’s good at it.

What’s his most appealing quality?

Charlotte: “He’s very open-minded…”

Tim [choking]: “What? He’s very narrow-minded when it’s something he’s never experienced before.”

Charlotte: “He’s very sure that what he thinks is right and proper and that’s the way it is. But you can have a good chat to him about his theories on life and stuff. He’s got lots of theories.”

Rick: “Mad ideas.”

Does he have any bad habits?

Tim: “He likes to be looked after, mothered.”

Rick: “You can hear him shouting from his bunk in the morning — ‘What’s the weather like? Where are we? What day is it?'”

If you could change one thing about him, what would it be?

Tim: “I wouldn’t want to change him. That’s what he is. He’s unique.”

Who does he get on best with in the band?

Tim: “I think it’s about the same with everyone.”

What’s he like when he’s pissed?

Rick: “Out of control.”

Tim: “Sometimes we call him ‘Wrecking Ball’. He quite likes destruction. He’s definitely got a mischievous streak.”

Rick: “The more you tell him not to do something, the more he wants to do it.”

If you had to write a personal ad for him, what would it say?

Rick: “Bastard lanky streak of piss.”

Requires?

Rick: “…looking after. It’s really funny, he phoned up our management company when he first moved to London because his electricity wasn’t on. He thought he could get them to sort it out.”

Tim: “If there’s an easy way to do something, he’ll totally abuse it.”

Is he a hit with the opposite sex?

Charlotte: “Mark is fucking great onstage, he looks so cool. I can totally understand why people go for him.”

Would he be a good person to go out with?

Rick: “It would be all right if you enjoyed looking after someone.”

Charlotte: “I think he’d be hard work, but he’d be very loveable if you were prepared to give him that amount of time.”

Has he got good taste?

Tim: “If Mark says a movie is really good, don’t go and see it. He loves Hollywood blockbusters. Titanic is his favourite movie.”

Rick: “He’s obsessed, he thinks he drowned on the Titanic in a past life. He’s had a sequence of vivid dreams about it.”

One word to describe him.

Tim: “Mentalist.”

*

LOOK WHO’S STALKING: Tim’s bunny-boiler story

Rick: “Tim attracts his fair share of freaks and nutters. There’s the classic Italian stalker. She even turned up in the studio. In Wales. It was in the middle of nowhere.

Mark: “She was hiding in a bush in the middle of f***ing winter, hiding in the freezing cold. In the pitch black. We were walking down this path and we saw this glow of a cigarette so we went to get the others because we thought it might be some sort of gang looking for trouble.”

© Neil MasonMelody Maker, 28 November 1998

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