The frontman of Northern Ireland’s chart-conquering rockers Ash on his most prized gear, early years and live tears.
Got my first real six-string
“My first good guitar was a late 70s Fender Strat, bought for about £200 from a newspaper ad. Then when we got our first advance, I couldn’t believe it. I was 17 and I was dead proud to be able to go and buy a Les Paul and a Marshall amp. I was a big Thin Lizzy fan so I was excited.
“I’ve got a decent collection now over the years. I was lucky enough to buy a 1960 Les Paul Black Beauty through a dealer in the 90s and obviously the price of that one has sky-rocketed, so it’s become really valuable. That’s the main guitar I use on the recordings.”
Good morning, Vietnam
“I was about 11 and myself and Mark [Hamilton], the bass player from Ash, were massive heavy metal fans. Our favourite bands were Iron Maiden and Megadeth, so guitar was the weapon that we definitely needed to get. We both got guitars for Christmas when we were about 12. Mine was a Destroyer copy.
“We were not good enough to play the music that we wanted to play, so we decided to start writing songs right from the beginning. They were really bad, but that was how we learned. The band was called Vietnam and we also had a song called Vietnam and, if we’d ever got to make an album, we definitely would have called that Vietnam as well!”
Down in it
“One of the hardest shows that we’ve ever played was a festival in Docklands arena with Nine Inch Nails headlining their first UK gig in five years. On the day, their drummer got ill and they had to cancel the show, so we had to step up and headline. It was a bit rough... There was one guy with a lot of eyeliner on in the front row just giving us the finger for the entire show. He looked like he was crying. I don’t know why he stayed!
“Then there have been many gigs with technical malfunctions. Sometimes it gets off to the worst possible start, but you just have to keep going. You can’t let it show, because if you get in a bad mood onstage you kind of ruin a gig for everyone by not making the effort.”
A life less ordinary
“I guess a lot of people associate us with the Britpop thing. In some ways we’d get lumped in with that even though we thought we were a lot more rock than the Britpop bands, but in some ways it was kind of a perk. Britpop was huge in Japan and around the world and I think that kind of helped us in a way to get these fans worldwide. I think sometimes it bugs me, but I also think that we’ve kind of transcended being in any one scene at this point, so it doesn’t really matter.”
Feelings that I can’t disguise
“I didn’t know that Burn Baby Burn was going to connect the way it did. That was a song that I had kicking around for ages with a different chorus that just wasn’t as good. I wrote a new chorus for it, but I wasn’t as excited about it because it had taken a few years to get there. Then, once we started playing it live, people were flipping out for it and it became a big hit – radio played it loads. So you don’t always know [what a hit looks like], but I guess I knew to keep working at it!”
Ash’s new album Islands is out now on Infectious Music.