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Tim Wheeler honoured by The Open University

Tim Wheeler at The Open University degree ceremony
Tim Wheeler at The Open University degree ceremony

Tim Wheeler has been honoured by The Open University, the Ash frontman joined 277 Open University students for a degree ceremony in Belfast.

Tim was awarded the honorary Doctor of the University at the Waterfront Hall in recognition of his “exceptional contribution to education and culture”.

The Open University makes honorary awards in line with its mission to be open to people, places, methods and ideas, and the promotion of social justice through the development of knowledge and skills.

Tim said he was “incredibly grateful and proud”.

“I’ve very fond memories of the Waterfront Hall when Ash played the Good Friday referendum concert with U2. Returning to the stage to receive this honour will be another very special moment in my life.”

Tim Wheeler ranks Ash’s albums

Ash rehearsing at Atomic Heart Studios, Feb 2015. Photo by Ken Grand-Pierre
Ash rehearsing at Atomic Heart Studios, Feb 2015. Photo by Ken Grand-Pierre

Tim Wheeler spoke to Noisey recently to rank Ash’s current eight studio albums from worst to best. Below is the list along with a brief comment from Tim about each album:

“I don’t really like the recording much, and it’s all the songs we had from our first two years in the band. I guess it was the best songs we had, except from “Girl From Mars,” which we held back on purpose. Listening to it I think half of it is good and half of it isn’t so good.”

“We got to record it in LA at Sound City, which was part of living out our fantasies as teenage Nirvana fans, getting to record where Nevermind was made. But I think we toured Free All Angels so much in the States, and we were sharpening up as a live rock band, and that really fed into the music. And I guess bands like Queens of the Stone Age had emerged as well, and we loved the playing. Rick was all about Dave Grohl’s drumming on that one album of theirs [Songs For The Deaf]. So we were quite influenced by that stuff and all the time we spent in America. Also I think it was written pretty fast, after being so burnt out from touring, so it’s not quite as song-focused as some as the other records.”

Twilight of the Innocents
“This was a record we put out and said it was going to be our last one. I guess it didn’t quite connect with radio the way the other albums had. I’m really proud of it though because it was our first self-produced record and the first one we made after setting up our studio in New York. We put a lot of work into it and I’m particularly proud of the final track on the record, the title track, which was always monumental to play live. We got to work with Paul Buckmaster on the string arrangements for that song.”

Nu-Clear Sounds
“We don’t play much of it live so we forget what it’s like, but there are some really cool sounds, some really cool songs. Maybe if two of the songs were better it’d be an absolute blinder. It starts really great with “Projects” and “Jesus Says. If we put “A Life Less Ordinary” it would’ve done well, because that was the in-between single. It never found a home on a record. Looking back, I think that’s one of my big regrets. That would have been a good move. Nestling it between tracks two and three, it would’ve been fantastic.”

A-Z Series
“It was experimental in both the method of release and the music we were doing. We were trying to surprise people every two weeks with a different style, but it was such a big challenge. It was really exciting and a very creative time. Definitely the hardest I’ve ever worked in the studio. We were also self-releasing, so that was crazy. We were completely winging it all the time. And we did vinyl for every single, every two weeks. Part of the idea was that it’d be digital, but because we did the seven-inches we needed two months lead time to press the vinyl, so that made things quite hairy at some points. We also did a subscription service, which was quite interesting. Our big dream was to go top 40 every two weeks. I think if we only had 2,000 more subscribers we would have done that, but we came quite close. That was the kind of statement I really wanted to make.”

“I’m most excited about it this minute so I’d like to put it first but I’ve got give it a bit of time. I’m going with tried and tested at the top of the pile. I feel it’s got the essence of what’s best about Ash. I think because we’d gone away from making albums for a while. I’d definitely felt the pressure of living up to 1977 and Free All Angels, in the sense that there needed to be stronger songs. I spent a long time focusing on songwriting. I think there’s a sense of nostalgia and looking back on songs like “Hedonism” and “Bring Back The Summer.” I think you can still hear we’re having fun. That’s part of the reason why we called it Kablammo!—we wanted it to be a fun and exciting pop record.”

Free all Angels
“It’s not quite as noisy as the previous two, but it’s up-tempo and rocking. Alan Moulder mixed it, so it has a slightly more posh sound. I think it has a great bunch of songs, a great bunch of singles on it. Some of our defining songs are on there. It was kind of a hard time after the Britpop scene fell away, pretty much all of the UK indie bands were flopping with their follow-up records and then getting dropped. If this record hadn’t been a success it probably would’ve been the end of our career. I knew I had to get back into the pop style of writing, like I did on 1977, because I thought that is what we hadn’t pushed enough on Nu-Clear Sounds. That was the one thing that was missing, definitely.”

“I guess it’s the album we play most songs from, so we’re still very much in touch with it. A lot of the songs are what defined us and how people view us. I’m very proud of it because of how old I was when I wrote it. Some of the songs are simple, but some are clever and I’m surprised when I look at them. We still play a lot of it live and it stands up with everything we’ve done.”

“Shining Light” tops recent poll of Northern Irish songs

Ash’s top 10 chart hit "Shining Light" was the most voted for song at BBC Radio Ulster’s Great Northern Songbook - 150 Years Of The Ulster Hall event.

Last night’s concert at the Ulster Hall saw 10 Northern Ireland artists join the Ulster Orchestra to perform a local composition as voted for by the public, as well as their own choice of song.

The Great Northern Songbook was devised to both celebrate Northern Ireland music and the Ulster Hall in Belfast. The 10 most voted for tracks from a shortlist of 32 songs were performed at the concert.

Tim Wheeler of Ash said he was "dumbfounded and very surprised" at "Shining Light" topping the poll.

"Just looking at the shortlist, there are so many incredible songs, "Shining Light" is 10 years old now so it’s great to know it’s still in people’s minds. And it’s the 20th anniversary of Ash this year, so that makes it all the more special."

Thanks to anyone who voted, it meant I got to hear it blasted by The Answer and the Ulster Orchestra at the Ulster Hall (last night). Great honour!

Tim hints band are considering recording a new album

Ash frontman Tim Wheeler has suggested that the band may reconsider their decision to no longer record studio albums. The band had previously said that their 2007 fifth album Twilight of the Innocents would be their last studio album and they would only be releasing singles from then on. They followed this in 2009 by undertaking a prolific spell of releasing tracks, with one song released every two weeks for a year as part of their A-Z series.

But the band’s frontman has now relented and has told BBC 6Music that he may have been wrong to pronounce that the album format was dead as it was very tough to continually market singles.

"I think the album is probably still the best medium because in a way it’s almost the most economic one when there’s so little money coming in to make music. This probably offers the best way of doing it because you don’t have to market it for very long whereas a year of doing a singles campaign is quite challenging".

Tim in the studio with Coldplay

Tim Wheeler in the studio with Coldplay
Tim Wheeler in the studio with Coldplay

According to a post on coldplay.com, Ash frontman Tim Wheeler recently spent an afternoon in the studio with Coldplay, who are currently working on the follow-up to 2008’s ‘Viva La Vida’. It’s unclear what exactly Tim’s role is at this stage but the post mentions Tim playing guitar. Tim previously played guitar on Coldplay’s track ‘1:36’. An excerpt from the post reads as follows:

They’re also joined for an afternoon by Mr Tim Wheeler from Ash. He straps on a guitar and jumps into the day’s tune. The raised antennae pretty quickly catch a signal. He’s fiddling around at the top of the neck, looking for melodies, just throwing out streams of notes. Chris starts to call over the mic "What was that?". He sings a tiny snippet of something that Tim played only once - almost as something to just get his fingers moving. It’s such a tiny cluster of notes that for a while it’s unclear where they should fall in the chord sequence until finally they drop into place and twinkle like they’ve been there all along, just waiting to be discovered.

Tim Wheeler features in new book on songwriting

The Mechanics of Songwriting
The Mechanics of Songwriting

Ash frontman Tim Wheeler features in The Mechanics of Songwriting: A Guitarist’s Guide, a new book written by Leo Coulter, published by Siduri books. The focus of the book is the difficulties of songwriting and what it takes to write a great song. Through several interviews, including an in-depth interview with Tim Wheeler, it details the reality songwriters face when trying to reconcile authenticity and originality. It features how to find out what key your in and why it matters, how to write memorable riffs and melodies and a detailed analysis of Ash’s 2001 hit single "Shining Light". Here are a few of my thoughts on the book.

As a life long Ash fan and singer songwriter, I was keen to dive in. The book itself is best read with your guitar at hand to try out the techniques discussed as the book unfolds. It is aimed at those who are new to songwriting and just beginning to understand the frustrations that go with it, as such if your not a guitarist or songwriter you’ll find little of interest here. As a completely self taught guitarist myself the book highlights how little I actually know of keys and scales. However, although it touches on complex concepts, it takes you through it in a clear and concise manner, to ease you in gently. Although a few sections may need to be read again, this is encouraged by the author, the point being that you work through it at your own pace and move on when your comfortable. Advanced guitarists may find the early chapters fairly straight forward and jump straight through them, while others like myself may be new to these concepts and take slightly longer.

For the Ash fan out there, the book features an analysis of "Shining Light", which is described as the ‘perfect pop song.’ The author takes a detailed look at the song structure, breaking down the verse, chorus and bridge, explaining the key of the song and the chords used, as well as the final key change after the guitar solo.

There is also a lengthy interview with Tim Wheeler in which he discusses some of his own songwriting methods, showing all of us ‘amateurs’ that even our heroes have to start somewhere. Tim explains how he usually writes the lyrics last, after the song is all arranged. Also, notably Tim explains the writers block he suffered while writing ‘Nu-Clear Sounds’, and the weight of expectation he felt after the huge success of the bands first album. Tim describes the track ‘Gallows Hill’, which was a bonus track from the recent A-Z series, and how he wrote the chorus when he was 15, but couldn’t finish the song off, it was over fifteen years when he successfully paired it up to a verse he had written previously. Definitely well worth a read.

The book contains several other interviews like this with a range of other musicians which split the sections and give you a little break. As well as the interview with Tim Wheeler, I was certainly inspired by the interview with Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields. I have always tended to find myself forcing songs to be a certain length, adding extra verses and bridges to get the song to the magic four minute mark, or the reverse if the song is to long. It was inspiring to hear Stephin say "why does a song have to be four minutes long?", he lets the song find it’s own natural length and doesn’t try to force it. His focus on the melody rather than chords is akin to my own method of songwriting.

The last chapter of the book is the most enjoyable to read. Its encouragement to break away from the ‘norms’ of songwriting, to experiment and move away from the formulaic pop that dominates the charts makes it an interesting and inspiring chapter that will set your creative juices flowing.

As a whole I was very impressed with the book, while it was scary to find out how little I actually knew about keys and chords that blend together, the book guides you through the concepts slowly. It’s a book I will certainly turn to again and again for help and inspiration. It is available now from amazon and the Siduri website.

Congratulations to The Big Ask Campaign!

Last year on their Twilight of the Innocents UK tour Ash had Friends of the Earth join them to help promote their Big Ask campaign, pressuring UK MP’s and government into implementing a new and strong climate change bill. A few days ago the bill was finally passed into law after a long three and a half year campaign. The law is the first of it’s kind in the world, and it includes strong measures including shipping and aviation emissions. The UK has now committed to reduce it’s carbon emissions to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050, with annual targets.

This is a massive victory and goes to show that grassroots organising can be effective in swaying political policy and enable progress on our biggest challenges. Hopefully the UK will encourage other countries to follow suit and move the world towards cleaner, greener, independent and ultimately safer energy policies, ones which won’t require invasions to secure resources. We’ve all been at the mercy of the fossil fuel cartels for long enough. A new green collar economy should now be the focus for government investment and the road to ride out of recession.

Ash Design T-Shirt

Urban clothing company Marshall Artist approached Ash last year to come up with a design for their M is for Music campaign. Various artists and celebrities submitted designs with the proceeds going to a charity of their choice. Ash have decided to give any money made to the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Ash have one of these Tee Shirts to give away to a lucky winner, for the question and details of how to enter the competition check out ash-official.com.

The Big Ask

Anyone attending the current UK Tour may notice that Ash have asked Friends of the Earth to tour with them. Like a lot of people, Ash are really concerned about climate change, which is why they approached Friends of the Earth last month to offer their help in getting the word out about their Big Ask campaign which is calling on the UK Government to take urgent action on climate change. The band had the following to say:

Ash are now joining Friends of the Earth in urging the Government to strengthen their planned Climate Change Law this winter. If the campaign is successful, and the Government listen, the UK will be the first country to introduce annual and legally binding CO2 emission reduction targets. The UK will then be leading the way and setting an example to the rest of the world.

Ash Design T-Shirts for Charity

Ash are among a group of artists who have who have been hand picked by Marshall’s ‘M is for Music’ series to design t-shirts, £10 from every sale will go to directly charity. Ash’s shirt will be available to purchase from next month.

Marshall Artist has reinvented itself for A/W 2007 with the "M is for Music" series. Marshall Artist has hand picked an exclusive group of guest designers from across the wide world of music.

The complete list of artists is: Amp Fiddler Ash, Larrikin Love, Lauren Laverne, Mani, Nightmares on Wax, Paul Oakenfold, Rob da Bank, Roots Manuva, Shaun Ryder, The Mitchell Brothers, The Subways, and Trevor Nelson.

£10 from every t-shirt sold will be donated to the charity of the artist’s choice. So by purchasing one of the ‘M is for Music’ t-shirts, not only are you demonstrating your allegiance to your favourite artist and bagging yourself an ace garment into the bargain, but you will be helping to improve the lives of others.

The ‘M is for Music’ series will be available across the UK from September.

Ash News Round Up

You may have noticed we’ve been away for a few weeks, here’s some of the Ash snippets we’ve missed:

Ash on set for the “End of the World” video shoot
Ash on set for the “End of the World” video shoot

“End of the World” Video Shoot
Ash’s manager Stephen Taverner has uploaded some photos from the video shoot of Ash’s upcoming single “End of the World”. The new video was shot in Tokyo, and features the band playing against neon lights and skyscrapers, it also features a horse and ferris wheel.

Fuji Rock Festival Photos
Ash’s manager Stephen Taverner has also uploaded some photos of Ash’s performance at the Fuji Rock Festival.

Melbourne Set list
Ash played a gig in Melbourne, Australia at the Prince of Wales on August 1st. The set list ran as follows:

I Started A Fire
You Can’t Have It All
Angel Interceptor
End of the World
Walking Barefoot
A Life Less Ordinary
Jack Names the Planets
Kung Fu
Renegade Cavalcade
Folk Song
Girl from Mars
Twilight of the Innocents

Oh Yeah
Burn Baby Burn

Rising from the Ashes
There’s an article with Tim over on the Scotland on Sunday website, Tim talks about the personal nature of the songs on the new record, the departure of Charlotte Hatherley, and their decision to release EPs and singles instead of albums. Here’s some preview bits from the article:

“It’s all Chinese whispers. We hear something she says then she hears something supposedly from us and things are taken out of context. I have nothing but good things to say about her, and I am looking forward to seeing her. It reached a weird point where she had to go out and stake her independence and I guess we did too in our own way.”

“We’re a band, we’ve got our own studio, we’ve got a fan base and the internet. Why not use that to get stuff out a lot faster and more direct? And it will be a lot more interactive because we can feed off people’s reactions to stuff. We will aim to release at least three or four singles or EPs each year in the future. You won’t just be stuck with people’s perceptions being limited to one album that will form their opinion about you for the next three years.”

Ash on 4Music Presents

Veteran Irish punk popsters Ash will be appearing on their first ever 4Music presents next Friday (29th June). The band will be showcasing songs from their forthcoming and final album Twilight of the Innocents, which is out on Monday 2nd July.

The 35 minutes show will feature a storming five song set, including current single “Polaris”, “You Can’t Have It All”, “End of the World”, “Twilight of the Innocents” and another classic.

The show will be broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 on Friday 29th June at 00:10.