Ash front man Tim Wheeler on ambition, the current state of NI music and accidentally headlining Glastonbury.
Ash are a band that have seen and done it all over the course of their 25 year career.
They are without question one of the best loved and most successful acts to ever hail from Northern Ireland, they have graced the stages of some of the most revered festivals in the world, headlined two different stages at Glastonbury in the same year, sold millions of records and won countless awards.
In a nutshell, they are legends of Northern Irish music and when they kick off their summer dates at Stendhal Festival on August 11, visitors to Ballymully Cottage Farm in Limavady will be treated to a gig that will showcase everything that has brought them to their rightfully exalted status.
However, despite the accolades and the success, Ash are a band who are always seeking the next big challenge, the next big gig, the next big record, as lead singer Tim Wheeler says: “We really try not to dwell on the past and rest on our laurels. In many ways we have the exact same mind-set now that we did when we were just starting out. We love the energy and excitement of gigging and recording.”
Their Headline slot at Stendhal Festival on August 11 is the band’s first show of their summer tour and Tim says that they cannot wait to get back on stage.
“Gigging is always a buzz, I think it always will be and in terms of our performance at Stendhal as it’s the first night of our tour, it will be that extra bit exciting for us, we can’t wait to be honest.”
In terms of festival pedigree Ash have plenty of notches on their bedpost and will come to Stendhal with some phenomenal festival experience.
“Reading is always really amazing in terms of crowd reaction so we always have a lot of fun playing there,” explained Tim.
“Probably our best festival experience was at Glastonbury the year we headlined the pyramid stage by accident. We were booked to headline the Other stage, which was amazing in itself but a bizarre string of circumstances brought about by the fact that it was an incredibly rainy year, meant that the band who were due to headline the Pyramid stage on the Sunday night couldn’t get on site. We on the other hand couldn’t get off site, so we were asked to fill in. It was amazing and I think we might still be the only band to headline two different stages at the same Glastonbury.”
Ash have certainly come a long way from their early days in Downpatrick and have been an inspiration to several generations of aspiring musicians from Northern Ireland and Tim reckons that while there is a much better infrastructure for young musicians here than when Ash were cutting their teeth, there are two main aspects young musicians should focus on.
“It really is all about the songs and the live performance,” he said. “There are more venues now that host live music and places like the Oh Yeah Centre which are of great benefit to young musicians but it really boils down to having good songs and a good live show. If bands can get those two things down, then they have as good a chance as anyone.
“The system is very different now, we were lucky in the sense that we met the right people, had a great label and great management who provided us with support, but we always placed song writing above style and we toured like crazy to get our live show to a high standard, so yeah for any young bands out there, you develop most when you are gigging, so gig as much as you can.”
Ash were honoured last year at The NI Music Awards when they received the Legend Award. It is no more than their career deserves when you consider the success they have enjoyed. For Tim and the band it was a wonderful evening but one that they say they are keen not to dwell on.
“It was amazing,” said Tim, “we were really proud to get that award and to get the recognition that comes along with it but it was also a bit strange accepting a legends award because we have plenty more to offer. We are still hungry for music, be it gigging or writing, we have a new album in the pipeline which we hope will be out in early 2018 and we always feel that despite what we have achieved, we always need to prove ourselves.”
In terms of the current crop of Northern Irish acts Tim says he is always delighted to see them coming through and hopes that we can start producing a few more real showstoppers.
“Two Door Cinema Club are great but I suppose everyone knows them now, so as far as up and coming guys from Northern Ireland go at the minute, for me Ciaran Lavery is the stand out.
“We are always very aware of our musical heritage and very proud to represent Northern Ireland. There is always someone at every gig wherever we are in the world from Ireland, so it is a big part of who we are and it is amazing for us to be even a little part of the musical heritage we have.
Ash’s headline slot at Stendhal Festival in Limavady this August 11, is the start of their 2017 tour and Tim says that those amassed at Ballymully Cottage Farm are in for an all hits, all the time, type of show.
“We are really looking forward to getting back on the road and our first show at Stendhal has us very excited. I imagine the show is going to be highly energetic and we will be pretty much banging out all our hits to set us up for the tour in the right way.
“It’s special too because Stendhal is one of only a couple of festivals in Northern Ireland at the minute. When we were starting out, we wish we could have had the opportunity to play in a festival setting in Northern Ireland, but that just wasn’t an option for us. For young and up and coming bands, festivals provide a phenomenal experience which can get your music to a wider audience.
“So for us, we are delighted that we can come home and play Stendhal as it has a bill made up mostly of home-grown talent and that is a hugely positive thing for music in Northern Ireland.”