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Ash: The Kids Are Alright!

From teen hellraisers to unlikely elder statesmen, Ash look back on 20 years of near-death experiences, broken bones and glorious tuneage.

Oh yeah, it was the start of the summer…Late May, 1999, and Ash’s Tim Wheeler is on a swimming trip with his parents. “I had scars all over my body from slicing myself up with razor blades, and I was like: ‘This is fucking tricky. I’ll have to jump in the pool really quick and hope no one notices.’ So that was when I thought to myself: ‘I’ve got to sort this shit out.’”

Five years earlier, Ash had crash-landed from Downpatrick, Northern Ireland into a London scene entirely obsessed with Britpop. Initially touring in their school holidays, Wheeler (guitar, vocals), Mark Hamilton (bass) and Rick McMurray (drums), proudly touted as ‘Guaranteed Real Teenagers’, soon embarked upon an unbroken run of six Top 20 hit singles, thanks to Wheeler’s casual propensity for coughing up radio-friendly seven-inch exemplars of grunge-infused perfect pop. 

Their debut 1977 album had effortlessly topped the charts, but mainstream commercial success came at a heavy price. A crushing promotional workload left the band ‘psychologically damaged’. Burnt out from relentless touring, its attendant over-indulgences and the sheer weight of expectation, Ash – temporarily swelled to a quartet by the addition of second guitarist Charlotte Hatherley – set about writing and recording a ‘difficult’ second album that mirrored their inner turmoil. 

In the wake of 1977’s sunny exuberance, the darkly cathartic Nu-Clear Sounds comparatively flopped, leaving Ash devastated, disillusioned and exhausted. As band morale sank to an all-time low, Wheeler simply disappeared, retreating to an anonymous New York City hotel room for the therapeutic sting of a razor blade. 

“We were staring into the abyss,” he recalls, “and I thought our dream was over.”

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