The band were rewarded for the standard of their songwriting at the 2004 Kerrang Awards. The main songwriter in the band is guitarist and vocalist Tim Wheeler, although all members have an input along the way. Mark explains the process: “Tim is the main songwriter, he writes about 90% of everything. Usually he’ll have a melody for a verse and chorus and he’ll play the ideas to us. Then we all start to jam it out working out the different parts and adding our own ideas etc. It’s a really natural process that just comes easy to us. Over time the song will usually change and develop. The lyrics are usually the last things he writes about a day before they’re due to be recorded.”
The success of the band’s music coupled with their down to earth attitudes has meant that they find themselves playing gigs in venues at both ends of the spectrum. “We love that we have the variety and ability to mix it up. Playing in front of thousands of people is amazing, but we also love the sweat pit shows where we’re right in the faces of the crowd. It keeps it interesting for us that on one day we’re supporting U2 in front of 95,000 at Croke Park, a few days after playing a manic club show to 600 in Derry” enthuses Mark.
A record of Ash’s on tour escapades exists in the form of a film that was shot of the band around the time of the release of 1977, however this has never been released. The reason for this is rumoured to be the band’s rather enthusiastic embracing of the rock and roll lifestyle and their consequent realisation that it might not be a good idea to put such displays of youthful debauchery on public release. Mark confirms this. “It cost a fortune of our own money to make so hopefully sometime it will see the light of day. We were pretty young, reckless, and out of control at the time. We shit ourselves that our parents would see it and never talk to us again so we wanted to wait and put some distance between it and us. Who knows hopefully we’ll get it out there in the next few years. It’s a well-made movie by Irish cameraman Darren Tiernan and has a great insight into what it’s like when a band explodes practically overnight and the madness that surrounds that.” It sounds like it would be well worth the price of a cinema ticket!
It must be said however that the band are about more than just the usual rock clichés. For one thing, Ash have shown their willingness to lend their support to causes they believe in. One such occasion was their performance at the Waterfront in Belfast back in ’98 with David Trimble and John Hume to show their support for the Good Friday Agreement. When asked about this side to the band, Mark says “I don’t think that bands should preach to people but they can certainly help causes they feel very passionately about. Being involved with the Good Friday Agreement was the most important single thing we’ve ever been a part of. Sure there’s political deadlock at the moment but the main thing is that the ceasefires have held and we live in relative peace. The Waterfront show was really a huge rally to gather support for the ‘Yes’ vote. In the run up to the referendum there had been a lot of negative campaigning by the ‘No’ parties and in the polls it looked like the majority would not be achieved. Bono, John Hume and Trimble called us and told us we needed to unite to do a show and a huge media event to highlight how important it was for the young people to get out and vote for a better future. The papers and news were then saturated with positive messages and pictures for the whole last week. The vote passed and we were involved in a historic day”. He is similarly approving of this summer’s Live 8 concerts: “It seems that the G8 [sic] shows were a great success. Billions of debt were cancelled, which is amazing. People like Bono and Geldof have the ability to organize and generate public awareness about issues that in turn means the politicians have to listen”.
One thing about which the band are even more passionate is their well-publicised love of Star Wars. Their passion was rewarded last year when the band were asked for a song to use on the soundtrack to the Star Wars game Republic Commando. This was the first time that George Lucas had used a band’s music on anything to do with the Star Wars franchise. Mark explains how the situation came about: “We got approached about 18 months ago by the head of LucasArts Europe who was aware that we were big fans. She asked if we had any music we’d consider submitting for the game or consider writing something. We’d only just demoed the track Clones a week before and it was a perfect coincidence. It was amazing to be the first outsourced music in the Star Wars universe”.
In the light of such dedication to the Star Wars cause, I had to ask Mark’s opinion on Return of the Sith. He responded with the expected verbosity of such an avid fan (the following is a brief excerpt from his full review!): “Of course I’ve seen it! Been three times and got to go to Skywalker Ranch for a preview a few weeks before release which was immense. I loved Revenge of Sith. My favourite parts were: The Obi-Wan and Anakin finale, when Kenobi tells Skywalker/Vader he didn’t turn Padme against him but that ‘You did that to yourself’. It is too hard for Anakin to accept what he has done and it pushes him over the edge to want to kill his former master. And after their epic duel when Anakin is lying burning and Obi-Wan watches and cries, ‘I loved you’, telling him he was like his brother, intense and tragic. And Yoda’s scenes with the Emperor are also show stealing, especially when the Force flings Palpatine head over heels”.
With so much success and so many great experiences behind them, it’s good to see that at the heart of it all Ash haven’t changed greatly from the vaguely nerdy teenage rockers of the Trailer days. Although now of course they get personal invites to the preview of Star Wars instead of having to queue at the local multiplex. Does the band sometimes get tempted to aim for the realm of stadium rock I wonder? Maybe it’s time to break out the big rock anthems? Mark considers the possibility: “After watching U2 they have lots of bits that go ‘whao’ for the crowd to sing back. Who knows?” Indeed, if the band continue to develop as they have done, they might well need the huge sing-along choruses. After all, with Bono and George Lucas on their side, the furthest reaches of the galaxy are the limit for Ash!