Twenty years ago, a teenage trio charged out of Northern Ireland with a career-definiting debut album.
Ash's "1977" -- released six months after the group members finished high school -- fused punk, grunge and Britpop into a fiery 12-song blast that's stood the test of time well. It topped the U.K. album charts at the time, while the New Musical Express has ranked it as one of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
This year Ash, still intact after nearly 25 years together, is celebrating by playing the album in its entirety, and it's also released an archival set, "Live on Mars: London Astoria 1997," from a five-night run at the venue. There's a new album on the way, too, but singer-guitarist Tim Wheeler is happy to go back to "1977" and what that meant to him and his bandmates...
He may have been turning 19, but with the benefit of hindsight Wheeler hears a decidedly sentimental tone to "1977." "I was think the other day as I was palying it that it's quite a nostalgic album -- which is probably why it works well to go back and visit," Wheeler, 39, explains. "We started making it at the end of my teens, and our lives were going through a really seismic change. I think I was already feeling nostalgic about leaving all my friends and youth behind. I knew my life woudl never be the same, so there was that touch of nostalgia to it. A lot of the songs were looking back -- even though we hadn't gone anywhere yet."
Wheeler and his mates are, not surprisingly, somewhat blown away by the legacy "1977" has accrued over the years. "I enjoy that," he says. "I definitely know it left a big impact with a certain generation fo kids. It's really nice to meet people who say that album defined a really important time in their youth -- exactly the same as it did for us. That's cool."
But Ash is even more blown way by the admiration experessed by people they admired. "We found it appealed to a lot of older punk rockers," Wheeler says. "I've met peole like Steve Diggle and Pete Shelley (of the Buzzcocks), Joe Strummer and Mick Jones (of the Clash), Bernard Sumner (of Joy Division and New Order). All these people were into us. They were OUR heroes, so it was amazing to get some recognitiion from an older crowd as well. Joe Strummer asked me for my autograph the first time I met him, 'cause his daughter was a big (Ash) fan. I was thinking, 'This is completely the wrong way around...'"
Ash is a little different now than the band heard on the new "Live On Mars" album. "We played everything really (expletive) fast, and quite messay, quite raw," Wheeler says. "But it captures a good time. It's all about the energy in the room. It captures how we were live at the time. Those shows we did were at the end of almos ta year of touring and a bit of a victory lap in London, five sold-out nights in one of our favorite places to play. It did inspire me to dig out a couple of covers we haven't done for awhile, like the ABBA song, 'Does Your Mother Know.' Coming back to the live album made us dig that out again to play on this tour."
Wheeler, Mark Hamilton and Rick McMurray have been together since 1992, and Ash's frontman doesn't foresee that changing any time soon. "I think there's a very strong freindship and a real love of what we do," he says. "We also weathered storms early on. We just never felt like stopping, really. It's such a buzz making music, getting that excitement, wanting to see how people react to it, looking forward to playing it live...That hasn't worn off, for any of us."
Friday, Sept. 30. Doors open at 8:30 p.m.
The Shelter, 431 E. Congress St. Detroit.
Tickets are $19.77.
Call 313-961-8137 or visit saintandrewsdetroit.com.
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