Downpatrick punk-popsters collide with the charts, avoid university and begin diligent career-building

GUITAR BAND Younger Than Supergrass Shock! Like their post-pubescent energo-rock peers from Oxford, County Down trio Ash have recently climbed the singles chart ladder with the turbo-charged ‘Girl From Mars’, which debuted at Number 11. This fine feat is made greater by the fact singer and principal songwriter Tim Wheeler and bassist Mark Hamilton passed their A-levels (the former got two Bs — English and French — and a C in Maths, the latter a B in Art) at the same time.

So, turning your exam paper over now, answer the following question: which felt better, basking in pleasures hitular or passing your exams? “Neither had the full impact,” Wheeler hedges, tucking into a trad fry-up. “We were so busy this summer that there was no time to get that excited. Every so often, I’d sit back and think, Yeah, Number 11, I can look back in 20 years and be proud. But the charts haven’t meant much for the last few years anyway.”

Like Supergrass again, Wheeler and drummer Rick McMurray (the band’s interview-friendly faction) admit to growing up in the shadow of their elder brothers’ record collections, which literally bulged with “bad heavy metal records”. Yet by the time Ash had released ‘Jack Names The Planets’, the first of four catchy singles, they were close personal friends with messrs punk and pop. “That’s because friends of ours at school played in a punk band that did Stooges covers at 100 miles per hour,” Wheeler explains.

To their knowledge, no Downpatrick wannabes have yet attempted to emulate them. “There are maybe some bands coming out now,” Wheeler figures, “but before that, a lot wouldn’t have realised what we were doing because we just played at weekends. People there are ignorant of what’s happening. Since I got my exam results, they keep saying, So, you going to university next year? Which is mildly insulting.”

Without much in the way of deliberation, Ash have packed in the academic life, opting for the feet-on-the ground combination of concerted musical activity and continued residence in back home. The “small town frustration factor” as Wheeler terms it wasn’t a deciding factor: “You only have to move to London to get a record deal, which we didn’t have to do. I want to be famous and successful, though — I’ve been that way since I was about eight. Since I saw Michael Jackson!”

In yet another Supergrass-type scenario, the boys have expressed a desire to escape the more crass aspects of life as a teen phenomenon, like photo-shoot requests to dress up in school uniforms (“we stuck on all this make-up to fuck it up”) or mortar boards (“we refused!”) and journalists asking for “rock’n’roll stories of kids on the piss and things like that. I’d like people to be more interested in the music, though I admit I’m only really starting to get the words together.”

This self-confessed lyrical inexperience helps explain why the title of the new single ‘Angel Interceptor’ (Captain Scarlet fans will understand) was chosen for its spacey connotations rather than the song’s content. As McMurray says, “It’s like ‘Girl From Mars’, which wasn’t really about a girl from Mars. It was more to do with summer exuberance and being young.”

“‘Angel Interceptor’ is actually about missing someone sexually,” says Wheeler. “We’re not just about being frivolous and fun; a lot of our lyrics are about loss and missing people, which is the kind of thing that I can be attracted to quite a lot, that feeling of melankaly.”

“You mean ‘melancholy’,” interjects McMurray.

Melancholy. That’s it!” blushes the boy with the B in English. “Oh God! Can we change the subject?”

© Martin AstonQ, November 1995

Leave a Comment