Ash back in Norwich as a trio

EMMA LEE Slimmed down to a trio following the departure of guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, Ash are back with a new album and have a date at the UEA, Norwich, on Thursday. EMMA LEE caught up with drummer Rick McMurray.

EMMA LEE

There's a strange phenomenon happening. Look at the bands heading out on tour, and there's some familiar names from the past hitting the road once again. And we're not talking rock dinosaurs - these are the likes of Kula Shaker, Dodgy and Shed 7.

It's only been a decade since the country was dubbed 'Cool Britannia' and Noel Gallagher was hob-nobbing with the establishment at Downing Street, but there's already a growing market in Britpop nostalgia.

While Ash were contemporaries of these bands, thanks to their slightly heavier rock-pop sound which looked to the opposite side of the Atlantic for its inspiration, they neatly managed to avoid getting pigeonholed with them and weathered home-grown guitar music's decline in the late 90s.

It was energetic tracks like Girl From Mars, Kung Fu and Oh Yeah, that won them fans - and throughout their career their “if it ain't broke don't fix it” ethos has kept their fans happy, conjuring up classics like Shining Light, Orpheus and Burn Baby Burn.

Star Wars-obsessed friends Tim Wheeler (vocals and guitar), Mark Hamilton (bass) and Rick McMurray (drums) formed the band at school in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, 15 years ago.

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Guitarist Charlotte Hatherley joined in 1997 to beef up their sound, but then left last year to concentrate on her solo career.

The newly slimmed-down Ash has just released a new studio album, Twilight of the Innocents, and are about to head out on tour.

According to Rick, they're feeling reinvigorated. But it's not just the line-up that's different. They're now a transatlantic band - Tim and Mark have moved to New York to taste the Big Apple. And Rick has himself relocated - although not on quite such a large scale - from Belfast to Glasgow.

Rick says that they're looking forward to playing their biggest shows yet since going back to their original line-up. They got a taste for touring again when they road-tested their new material at smaller venues earlier this year - including a very sweaty show at the intimate Waterfront in Norwich.

In their career, they've notched up five top 10 albums and 16 top 40 singles. But, as bassist Mark admits, they needed a kick up the backside.

Work on the latest album started in 2005, after they finished touring with U2.

Tim discovered his move to New York, and the anonymity it afforded him, fuelled his creativity. They found their own studio and recording started at the beginning of 2006 and produced it themselves, meaning no clock-watching and more freedom to experiment.

“It meant Tim could really stretch himself…we could afford to take more risks and make the album sound exactly how we wanted it to,” Rick says. “We've seen hundreds of bands come and go since we came on the scene,” he adds. “And a lot of fizzle out because their songs dry out and they don't develop. You need to push yourselves and you need a great songwriter. Tim has always worked at his craft and the results are there to see on this album.“I think we're all enjoying it. Tim's really enjoying doing all the guitars himself again. People are seeming to like it.”

One of the album's stand-out tracks, Polaris, has a bit of a showbizzy story behind it. Tim met U2 frontman Bono when he was on holiday in the south of France, ending up with a stay at Bono's residence and started writing the song - a candid tale of heartbreak. The intro is the original recording as played on Bono's piano. With the new album unleashed, Rick says he's enjoying being on the road again - and is looking forward to a return visit to Norwich.

“We've been coming to Norwich since about 1996, if not earlier. It's one of those gigs that sticks out as being a good place to play, we get a great reaction,” he says.

t Ash play the UEA in Norwich on Thursday November 1. Tickets £16.50 advance from UEA Students' Union, The Waterfront, Soundclash, www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk www.ash-official.com and the UEA Box Office on 01603 508050

t Main support comes from Dead 60s. Opening the evening will be Sheffield indie soul sons The Dodgems. The band's debut single, You're Not What You Used To Be, was voted Fresh Meat of the Week on Zane Lowe (Radio 1). The Dodgems music blends pomp and riffs with off-kilter organ lines and sweeping walls of feedback. Their new download-only single Candlewax is released through No Carbon Records on Monday.

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