- 23 Oct 21
Tim Wheeler of iconic rock band Ash revisited their debut album '1977' at The Grand Social on Monday night. Hot Press' Up Close and Personal series is run in conjunction with Aidan Shortall of Up Close and Personal promotions and supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.
On May 6th, 1996, Downpatrick band Ash – fronted by Tim Wheeler – released their debut album, 1977. It rocketed them into the rock 'n' roll stratosphere, debuting at #1 in the UK charts.
The album was home to some of Ash's greatest hits, including ‘Girl From Mars', ‘Kung Fu’ and ‘Angel Interceptor'. Produced by Owen Morris, 1977 was later named No.9 on Hot Press's esteemed list of The 250 Greatest Irish Albums of All Time.
As part of Hot Press’ ‘Up Close and Personal’ series, the celebrated band leader and main songwriter Tim Wheeler talked about the band's epic debut with radio presenter (and lead singer with The Undertones) Paul McLoone.
Tim Wheeler was greeted warmly by a packed crowd as he jogged on-stage at The Grand Social on Monday night. McLoone and the musician immediately jumped into reflecting about the band's humble beginnings, like two old friends meeting up for a pint, after years apart.
Wheeler discussed how it has been 25 years since their "album of youth" was first released, capturing a moment in time when he left school – and his life changed completely. Despite being just 19 when the album was released, Wheeler says he still very much relates to the songs. They brought an infectious energy into the world and into Irish music – that remains marvellously timeless.
The album, 1977, held a real significance for the band - not only because it was the year Wheeler and Hamilton were born; and the year pop-punk went mainstream; but also for the fact that Star Wars was released.
"I guess we were clinging hard to childhood for most of our careers," Tim exclaimed, with a grin.
The first track on the album, 'Lose Control', was conjured up from some leftover riffs and fully embodies the ethos of punk rock. "I'm sure even when I get old the song will make me jump in the air," the musician proclaimed.
For the second track on the album, 'Goldfinger', Wheeler pulled out his guitar for an acoustic version of the well-loved tune. "I've loved pop music since I was a kid so I love strong melodies," the musician revealed, a fact that is very clear through the unique complexities of this dark and mysterious track.
The duo discussed 'Girl From Mars', the quintessential third track from the album that Wheeler would perform live later. "It's the type of song where we sort of kick in and everyone throws their pints in the air," he said.
That particular hit was written when Wheeler was just 16, he explained. After he and his girlfriend at the time broke up, he explained, it was hard to understand his feelings – and therefore easier to write about a girl from outer space.
As the night went on, the two discussed Ash's long time agent, business buddy and occasional drummer Steve Strange, who died a couple of weeks ago. Steve was a man who loved and supported Ash every step of the way – and McLoone dedicated this show to his memory.
When discussing the recording of the album - completed at the infamous Rockfield - Tim reminisced about a time when the boys went to a charity shop, bought dresses, and played in them. "Maybe if it wasn't for the cross-dressing, the album wouldn't be as good," he joked.
Throughout their time as a band, Ash were compared to many outfits, including melodic punk heroes, Buzzcocks. Wheeler saw Pete Shelleys band years later and thought, "You could easily say we were a big rip off of them, for sure."
Wheeler was always experimenting in his songwriting, which helped to create a properly multi-faceted album. At the suggestion of his producer, Owen Morris, fifth track 'Gone The Dream' has a soaring orchestral backdrop, produced with a 30-piece orchestra. "It was a magical day, really, hearing the tracks transform," Tim said of that experience.
Their manager told them that at Ramones shows they used to get ninjas to kick off stage invaders, which inspired Wheeler to write 'Kung Fu'. With Eric Cantona's legendary kung-fu kick on a opposing supporter who was giving him dog's abuse, as the single cover, this Jackie Chan tribute was a lot more of a hit than Wheeler had been expecting.
The next live performance bathed Tim Wheeler in a golden light as he performed 'Oh Yeah', the band's wonderfully nostalgic track about teen romance.
As the show continued, Wheeler chatted about his songwriting style, explaining that he needs quiet, which was not conducive to writing on the road. "It's kind of embarrassing when you're sitting there, trying out things that are really bad," he laughed.
'Angel Interceptor', the next song on the LP, came about because Tim wanted to write a bit of a sequel to 'Girl From Mars'. Wheeler rooted these sci-fi influences strongly within the album. The last song, 'Darkside Lightside', was also a reference to Star Wars, cementing the band's obsession with the great horizon-less unknown of space.
The final live performance was an epic double-whammy, with Tim Wheeler closing out the show with 'Girl From Mars' and a surprise performance of 'Kung Fu'. With the audience clapping and singing along, Tim ended the show-stopping night on a brilliant high note. All in all, an evening o savour...