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The legend continues

Published: August, 2008

Ash bassist Mark Hamilton is interviewed about Ash’s classic debut album 1977.

You wrote in the Ash bio that “lessons were learned” when you recorded Trailer over a frantic week long session. What lessons were they? Talk about Marc Waterman’s production style.
We’ll before that we’d never really been in a proper recording studio with an actual producer. He was a great guy but a bit of a slave driver. We weren’t the most competent of musicians so he had us doing take, after take, after take. Working rather harder than we were used to! I guess we also had just bought our first proper instruments with our advance from Infectious and we were still working out our basic sounds. I also remember knocking out my front tooth with the bass and looking like a right scumbag and Ireland were in the World Cup which was cool. We really were very naive in the studio and this first real session was quite a learning curve.

In contrast, talk about the 1977 sessions. Much has been said about Owen Morris and his ‘ways’, but what was daily life like at Rockfield? Was it dresses and drugs all of the time?
Well from what I remember… we didn’t seem to start any work until late afternoon or early evening. Pretty much everyday we’d work late and through the night. Owen doesn’t get up before midday and in the afternoon we’d all have to go to the pub for a session, which is how we got to know all the locals. Once we were on ‘a vibe’ we’d then get Nick (the engineer) to drive us back and get down to doing stuff. One of Owen’s main things was getting us all trashed and having fun, which would then hopefully rub off on recording. I remember one night we brought half of Monmouth’s drunks back for a party at the studio, I think the master keys to the whole farm got knicked. That night didn’t go down too well with Kingsley the owner. We were all on a roll, out of high school and into a full time band, every day was an adventure which inevitably ended up with partying. The dresses incident was harmless fun, but Rick and Leif did get weird looks from one un-savory local called Lilly who thought they, “loved each other”… too much. Hungover afternoons could be kinda slow, and once the tracking was done, me, Leif and Rick had a lot of time to kill while Tim wrote and recorded vocals. There was a pool and ping-pong table to occupy us and we got pretty handy at making bucket bongs!

Trailer features many songs that had been recorded for years on 4 tracks, with Cosmic Ray, and at Novatech Studios. How much pressure did you feel starting (mostly) fresh with the songs for 1977?
Yeah, apart from “Girl From Mars” all the songs were pretty much new. Owen came over to Downpatrick for a few days before we went to Rockfield Studios and we played through ideas in the shed. He was more interested into going to the pub so a lot of it had to be developed in the studio. I don’t think we worried too much about stuff like having material ready back then! We were pretty prolific and had loads of ideas to mess around with. I remember showing Owen the two chords of “Innocent Smile” and that it was gonna be a brilliant, white noise, Sonic Youth rip off. He didn’t think much of it initially but it turned out rather epic. I guess you might know ”Lost In You” was written and recorded on the last day!

You called your first EP Trailer as a reference to ‘things to come’. Did you have any idea how massively successful your first full length would be? When did it kick in that you’d made a classic record?
I don’t think it ever has sunk in that it was a classic album. When people say that you get kinda embarrassed… I dunno, maybe we’re a bit too modest about stuff like that. It was an amazing day when we found out it went straight to No. 1 in the album charts. Being the first Northern Irish band to have done that, it’s nice to have that record. More recently Snow Patrol kinda blew us away sales wise but we got there first!

You’ve lived with 1977 for 12 years now. Looking back on it, do you see it as a slice of Brit-pop genius? Do you hear bits that make you cringe? Do you feel it has aged well?
We’ll it’s been hailed as a classic album by many different critics which is kinda cool. Listening back you can really notice how Tim’s voice is a lot different to what it’s like now. He’s really worked on his singing and it’s got much stronger. Production-wise it has a very exciting vibe to it, I guess it could have been a bit more hi-fi but I don’t think that’s what we were gunning for. “Lose Control” wasn’t even mixed. That’s just a rough desk mix that we though sounded perfect, it is what it is, in your face! I’m still surprised we never got sued for the Tie-Fighter, I guess Lucas liked the homage! As for Brit-pop, that’s a bit of a dirty word to us, we never associated ourselves with that scene, so whatever… There are parts of Trailer that make me cringe but I think, by 1977, we knew what we were doing enough, to not to let anything awful make it on there. The album’s got a lot of spirit and I think the lyrics and emotion captured in “Lost In You” is pretty amazing, it shows how good Tim’s songwriting is, even as a teenager. I reckon it’s aged pretty well because there’s a lot of young kids at our shows that know all the words, some of them would’ve been toddlers when it was released!

Any hints on artwork changes for the Rhino re-issue?
No, I really don’t want the artwork to be that different. People will always associate the front cover with the one from ’96 so it’d be wrong to fuck with that. Inside will be a kinda montage of all the artwork from the different elements of the package. It’d be good to get some live shots from the Reading show but I don’t know if we’ll be able to track any down yet. It’s gonna be a 3 CD digi-pack, hopefully it’ll look sweet.

What can fans expect at the 1977 shows in September?
We’ll we’re really into playing long sets now and we’ve been looking forward to these shows since we found out we were doing them. I guess we’ll start off by playing the entire 1977 album first. Then we’ll do various B-sides from that era and “A Life Less Ordinary”, as it signalled the end of that chapter. Then we’re planning on coming back to play a long encore of greatest hits, and new stuff! To be honest we’ve not worked out the full set list yet but we’re gonna make it one to remember. I have a few idea’s for spectacle and we’re having a massive 1977 backdrop made up, as both shows are being recorded and filmed. My parents are coming over and Andrea says she’ll divorce me if I do a live “Sick Party” but hey it’d be a shame to omit such a defining moment in our history!

Ever think of becoming a redhead again? I think it was a cool look.
It has actually been discussed whether or not I should dye it orange again for these London shows! I dunno if I could really go through with it. I’d have to bleach it lighter first and then color it which might fry it more than it already is. I dunno if I wanna look like a 30 year old version of Paramore! Ha…