1977 Feature / Q&A + London Astoria Live Review
Autumn 2008
Articles & Photography: Steve Bateman

With Ash recently announcing a 1977 20th Anniversary Tour, to celebrate, here's an archived Feature / Q&A about the making of the album, followed by a live review of the band's staggering 1977 London Astoria gig in 2008...

On September 5 / 6, 2008 @ the London Roundhouse and Astoria (aka Ashtoria) respectively, Ash will be performing their full-length debut album 1977 – complete with backdrop – along with a host of b-sides and rarities, before later returning to the stage for an encore of Greatest Hits and new material. An epic pair of sets indeed, which understandably, Mark, Rick, Tim and the Ash faithful, are all extremely excited about!

Originally released on May 6, 1996, through Infectious Records and produced by Owen Morris + the band – who 18 months earlier (during Morris' Christmas downtime producing The Verve's A Northern Soul) initially tested the waters together by working on Angel Interceptor and Kung Fu (originally slated as a b-side) at Loco Studios in Wales, after the trio had first approached him. This birthing of their fruitful creative partnership was deemed to be a resounding success by all, with Girl From Mars recorded next and put out after the release of Kung Fu, followed by the group's third single, Angel Interceptor.

Speaking to Ash's official website, Tim recalled: "It's that classic thing of having years to write your debut and only a short time to write the follow-up. Except in this case, it was a good thing, because we were so young when we started the band. With Trailer, we used the best songs from our first couple of developing years as Ash, which cleared the decks for writing 1977. By the time we were doing 1977, I'd learned so much more about songwriting and had a clearer idea of what we could do. We were leaning less on our early influences. A lot of that was down to hanging out with Owen Morris. We'd been doing sessions with him over the previous year, where we'd come up with Kung Fu, Girl From Mars and Angel Interceptor and he taught us so much. In December '95, we had 3 weeks off at home to write stuff for the 1977 album sessions that were going to be kicking off in January. I didn't really have that many song ideas – we actually had no complete songs. Owen came over to Northern Ireland to stay for a few days and run through any ideas we had. I remember we rehearsed Oh Yeah and Lose Control with him and he helped us get the arrangements into order, but he wasn't that sure whether we had enough other material. We were sitting in my old bedroom and he asked me to go through all the ideas I had. I played through everything I thought was good. He wasn't too excited by anything, so finally I went alright this is the last idea I have (Goldfinger), it's a bit weird and probably would be nothing more than an interesting b-side. I played my weird little verse and chorus and all of a sudden he got really excited, it was the one he'd been looking for. We went out to the freezing cold cottage we used to rehearse in and played it through for the first time as a band. Owen got us to play round the chorus instrumentally as an intro and it really worked, it sounded powerful and different."

The 1977 LP, which went straight to # 1 (Ash were the first Northern Irish act to ever achieve this feat), has been certified Platinum and has now sold over 1 million copies worldwide, remaining a firm favourite amongst music lovers 12-years on! Thanks in no small part to its impressive collection of powerfully melodic, hook heavy, punk-pop songs, such as Lose Control, Goldfinger, Girl From Mars, Kung Fu, Oh Yeah, Angel Interceptor, Lost In You and the ‘infamous’ hidden track, Sick Party. All of which, perfectly encapsulate the joys of being young, falling in love, endless Summers and what it feels like to have the rest of your life ahead of you.

Written while the Downpatrick group were all still teenagers studying for their A-Levels, and recorded at Rockfield Studios, Wales, the album’s title was inspired by "three events which shaped the band." As 1977 was the year of Mark and Tim’s birth, saw the explosion of punk and also the release of Star Wars IV: A New Hope, which the record references by opening with the sound of a TIE Fighter and closing with the song Darkside Lightside – each paying homage to the group’s long-running infatuation with George Lucas’ original sci-fi trilogy.

Although Ash’s 1994 mini-album, Trailer (so-called because it was intended as a trailer for what was to later come), was a learning-curve and gave the 3-piece their first proper taste of recording in a studio. 1977 was a chance to hone their skills and make a ‘THIS IS WHAT WE’RE ALL ABOUT!’ mission statement to the world, and they delivered it with aplomb – albeit by having to adapt to Morris' well-documented "maverick" recording techniques and methods along the way. The bulk of the album was recorded during the Rockfield sessions and half of it was written in the studio. Goldfinger was the first song recorded and marked Ash's first UK Top 10 single, smashing in at Number 5 in April '96. Lost in You was tracked on the final night before moving to Orinoco Studios for mixing.

Mark told Ash's official website: "Well, from what I remember, we didn't seem to start any work until late afternoon or early evening. Pretty much every day, we'd work late and through the night. Owen doesn't get up before midday and in the afternoon, we'd all have to go to the pub for a session, which is how we got to know all the locals. Once we were on 'a vibe' we'd then get Nick (the engineer) to drive us back and get down to doing stuff. One of Owen's main things was getting us all trashed and having fun, which would then hopefully rub-off on recording. Owen came over to Downpatrick for a few days before we went to Rockfield Studios and we played through ideas in the shed. He was more interested in going to the pub, so a lot of it had to be developed in the studio. I don't think we worried too much about stuff like having material ready back then! We were pretty prolific and had loads of ideas to mess around with. Lose Control wasn't even mixed. That's just a rough desk mix that we thought sounded perfect, it is what it is, in your face! I'm still surprised we never got sued for the TIE Fighter – I guess Lucas liked the homage! As for Britpop, that's a bit of a dirty word to us, we never associated ourselves with that scene, so whatever... There are parts of Trailer that make me cringe but I think, by 1977, we knew what we were doing enough, to not let anything awful make it on there. The album's got a lot of spirit and I think the lyrics and emotion captured in Lost In You is pretty amazing, it shows how good Tim's songwriting is, even as a teenager. I reckon it's aged pretty well because there's a lot of young kids at our shows that know all the words, some of them would've been toddlers when it was released!"

So, to help promote the forthcoming 1977 shows and the 3CD Deluxe Edition reissue of the LP, which is set to be put out through Rhino later this year (further details can be found @ Mark has very kindly answered a special 1977 R*E*P*E*A*T Questionnaire, which focuses primarily on his thoughts on the forthcoming commemorative gigs, his memories of making and touring the album all those years ago, the lasting appeal of a modern classic, and what the future holds for Ash.

All that remains left for me to say is, Good Luck to the guys with both shows, have a really great time and like many other devoted fans, I’ll see you down the front…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1. Firstly, whose idea was it to play 1977 in its entirety, and can fans expect to see other Ash albums performed in full in the future?

“Well, after we heard Rhino were gonna release the 1977 Deluxe Edition, our agent asked us if we wanted to do any 1977 shows to help launch it. We hadn’t really thought about it until then, but it sounded like a lot of fun and a good excuse for a party! No plans as-of-yet to do any other in full shows at the moment, but who knows, in a few years we could do Free All Angels. We were just gonna do the Roundhouse, but because it sold out so quickly, we added the Astoria as it’s our favourite venue. Dunno how in demand a Nu-Clear Sounds one would be! : )”

2. Have you been pleased with the reaction from fans, the music press etc. to the announcement, and what was the best thing that someone said about 1977 upon its release in The ‘90s?

“It’s hard to remember the reviews, as it’s 12 years now since it was first released… how old does that make me feel! But it’s cool to know that it’s now regarded by many people as a classic album. The reaction by the fans has been great. The shows sold out quickly and because the 3CD set is gonna be packed with bonus material, they should be content. They’re all happy on our forums anyway!”

3. If you could handpick some of your favourite artists / bands to play their albums in full, who would it be and which records?

“I’d love to see Weezer do Pinkerton and The Blue Album again. We toured with them on the Pinkerton US Tour, and it was one of the best experiences ever. I also wouldn’t mind seeing The Smashing Pumpkins do Siamese Dream again. We supported them years ago at the SFX in Dublin, but the PA sucked so bad you couldn’t even work out the songs. Sonic Youth doing Goo or Dirty would be awesome.”

4. Is it rewarding for you all, to think that 1977 is regarded by so many people as one of the great debut LPs of all-time, and do you have any favourite debut records?
“It’s a bit embarrassing for me when people say that to you. You’d be a bit of a cock if you nodded along going “Yeah, it is one of the greatest isn’t it.” My favourite recent debut is the Klaxons’ Myths Of The Near Future – they really exploded from out of nowhere with that and deservedly so, the songs are classics.”

5. Of the Ash songs that you haven’t performed very often, including b-sides etc. which are you most looking forward to playing live?
“Looking forward to playing Innocent Smile off 1977, because we haven’t done it in a long time and we used to really spaz-out during it. Also some of that era’s b-sides – we got a week of rehearsing beforehand to knock them all into shape.”

6. Are the 1977 shows going to be filmed / documented for DVD?
“Yes, they’re being filmed – dunno if they’ll be commercially released on DVD, but we’re definitely gonna put both the shows online. We’ve just re-launched which is under ongoing construction, so it’ll be good to have some great new content for that.”

7. What are some of your fondest memories of writing and recording 1977, and are the individual songs evocative of the time in which they were created / do you have a personal favourite?

“We had the greatest time with Owen Morris recording 1977 in Rockfield Studios, Wales. There’s many, many stories; playing in drag, the Italian stalker who hid in the bushes outside the studio, the sick party, Tim dancing on acid to The Scream (bonus track on the Deluxe Edition), partying with the Monmouth locals, sledding down the Welsh hills… there was a lot of fun times to be fond of. For me, Lost In You is one of our greatest songs because the music and recording captured the emotion in the lyrics precisely. It was the last song recorded for the album, but arguably the best. There’s such a good bunch of singles on there, it’s hard to pick a favourite, but Kung Fu and Girl From Mars always get the crowd going mental live.”

8. Are there any major changes that you would now make to the album?

“Definitely not, it really captured what we were all about at the time perfectly. Tim’s voice has come on a long way, he’s a much stronger singer now, but he sounds very vulnerable back then, which was maybe part of the appeal. We could of remixed the album and made it more hi-fi, but then it might have lost a lot of it’s charm and those who’ve listened to it for years, might hate a more polished mix. It has an excitement to the sound that’s hard to replicate.”

9. Do you remember how you felt when the LP was finished (along with the artwork), and you could hold your own record + buy it in the shops?
“I don’t remember getting the actual finished copy, but that’s always a pretty satisfying feeling. After all the work you put into something and then taking and holding the final product off the shelf, is a kinda cool vindication.”

10. Were there any alternative titles / artwork ideas?
“Yes, we did have a name suggestion box in the studio. The album was almost delayed because we didn’t have a title until the final deadline day. I remember some of the alternative titles including: Three Tits – The Good, The Bad And The Ugly – Young, Dumb And Full Of Cum… all kinda Three Stooges references!”


11. Of all the 1977 promo videos, which one was the most fun to make?

“Oh Yeah was cool, ‘cause I had to make-out with a Swedish model for 2 days. That didn’t bother me too much! Angel Interceptor was fun as well – there’s a lot of hidden messages in that video that not many people know about. I’m sure if TOTP or MTV had spotted Tim simulating wanking on the bed, they wouldn’t have playlisted it! Ha.”

12. Do you have any interesting tales from your time on the road touring 1977, and what was your most rock ‘n’ roll moment?
“Jesus, we were constantly drunk and pretty out-of-control during that period. There was usually some trouble to be found and we’d find it in one way or another. One of the funniest and silliest moments I remember, was stealing a massive Flipper The Dolphin cardboard cut-out from a Norwegian hotel lobby, then being chased after by the bellboy! Most rock ‘n’ roll – albeit clichéd moment – was wrecking a Japanese hotel room and landing ourselves with a gigantic bill. That was the last time we ever did that!”

13. Is there a standout gig or performance from that period?
“Reading ‘96 was amazing for us. That’s why we dug it out and mixed it for the Deluxe Edition. Also, the 5 night run at the Ashtoria was amazing – another reason why we’re returning there to do the second show.”

14. Over the years, I’ve read on many occasions how if the band could go back in time to give yourselves advice, it would be, “Don’t let success go to your head.” But if you could sum up the 1977 era with a few words, what would they be?

“Young, Dumb And Full Of Cum. (Actually would’ve been an ok title!)”

15. Lastly, can you reveal any details about new Ash material – musical direction, song titles etc.?
“We’re really going in loads of different directions. Not being tied to the album format has freed us up immensely. We’ve got some really different production styles going on, everything from full-on OutKast style pop to 80’s disco and Misfits! We aim to release more new music in 2009 than in any year before. Keep up-to-date with all Ash developments @ Thanks, Mark.”


Live @ London Astoria
September 6, 2008

A legendary band performing a legendary album at a legendary venue!

It’s not very often that you have a chance to say something like that, let alone witness such a spectacle, but on Saturday, September 6, 2008, I was one of the lucky ones who was going to have that opportunity! For tonight, like last night at London’s Roundhouse, Ash – as detailed in my special 1977 pre-gigs Q&A with Mark – are playing their full-length debut album, as well as delving into b-sides and rarities from that era, before returning to the stage for a svelte encore of Greatest Hits and new material.

Seeing the iconic Astoria with ‘TONIGHT ASH 1977’ spelt out in red letters on the marquee outside, is enough to set any fan’s pulse racing. Then, as Ash devotees make their way inside the sold out theatre, we’re greeted with the stimulating sight of a mammoth 1977 stage backdrop and 1977 themed merchandise. At 8.15pm, as the lights dim and as a nod to the trio’s inexhaustible affection for Star Wars, fittingly, the 20th Century Fox Fanfare is Mark, Rick and Tim’s intro music for this evening, with the audience’s vociferous cheers and the very lively atmosphere, no doubt also being heard in a galaxy far, far away! : )

For the next hour, there aren’t going to be any surprises for those of us who know the 1977 tracklisting off by heart, but the prospect of hearing rarely performed songs and the full LP live, in running order – a record that lots of us have grown up with and absolutely adore – as part of an epochal set, is something rather special indeed. As the colossal sound of a TIE Fighter reverberates through the Astoria’s speakers, Tim’s escalating guitar-shredding becomes harder, faster and louder, signalling the start of the high-octane Lose Control. And with multi-coloured strobes flashing everywhere and Rick pummelling his drum kit intensely looking on, Mark and Tim do literally “Let it go,” thrashing about all over the stage as if the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll has possessed their souls!

The mesmeric and melancholic Goldfinger, then sees the band bathed in gorgeous gold glitter-ball light and is nothing less than captivating, certainly befitting its ‘golden oldie’ status. Long regarded as one of Ash’s finest compositions, its impressive musical structure is underpinned with some of Tim’s most poignant (rite of passage) lyrics, detailing how at the time, his life was dramatically changing with the group’s growing success.

What can be said about the beloved indie anthem Girl From Mars, that hasn’t already been said? It’s a stone cold classic that always gets the crowd going, and the brief moment after Tim’s guitar solo where he delicately sings, “Today I sleep in the chair by the window, it felt as if you’d returned. I thought that you were standing over me, when I woke there was no-one there, I still love you, Girl From…” before once again launching into the barnstorming, fuelled-up chorus with “Mars” is spine-tingling!

As with the 1977 album, I’d Give You Anything is devilish and discordant, before the bittersweet and beautiful Gone The Dream, comes as a blissful respite in what tonight, will be a predominately energised set list. Next up, the Ramones vs. Jackie Chan bar room brawl – otherwise known to you and me as Kung Fu, confidently flexes its muscles and complete with the song’s popular midpoint breakdown, Mark and Rick’s imperious bass and drums combo sounds immense and unstoppable! The guys are all beaming afterwards and are clearly revelling in every moment of this, their second celebratory 1977 show, which is a genuine sense of occasion for all who are here… almost a reflected glory.

“Time to turn over to side two” Tim chuckles, and we all know what’s coming next, the sublime Oh Yeah. This has to be one of my most favourite Ash tracks EVER – due to its sweet sentiment, sweeping strings, a magnificent melody and a wondrous, moreish guitar solo. Tim, whose voice sounds strong and assured, even encourages the audience to sing, “Oh yeah, she was taking me over and oh yeah, it was the start of the summer” a cappella style, before taking over the song’s reins once again. Both Let It Flow and Innocent Smile, see serious rock-outs and shape-throwing action occurring on stage, matched by frenzied pogoing from the spirited crowd on the sticky floor, as well as way up in the balcony.

Referring to the Astoria – which incidentally, having performed here more times than anybody else, is “the best venue to play in the world” according to Ash – Angel Interceptor is introduced by Tim with him remarking, “I remember playing this next song here in 1995, and it had just gone into the charts at # 14.” Again, like the accompanying tracks from 1977, this is another slice of prime punk-pop and its euphoria and velocity are all-enveloping. Wow, is the only word that I can think of to describe the warm, glowing feeling I have inside!

Now it’s time for the great lost Ash single that is Lost In You, which Mark revealed to R*E*P*E*A*T “is one of our greatest songs because the music and recording captured the emotion in the lyrics precisely. It was the last song recorded for the album, but arguably the best.” And after this evening’s rendition, you’d be foolish to disagree, as it sounds heaven sent! Particularly the aching key lines, “I’m dying to speak to you, dying to get through,” plus “And you're far away, but you are always on my mind,” that are topped off with yet another exceptional guitar solo from Mr. Wheeler, flaunting his unmistakable signature guitar tone in the process.

Both the band and the audience can’t believe how quickly the gig is going, and the expansive Darkside Lightside packs a potent punch that finishes the 1977 set perfectly. There’s no Sick Party, but that’s perhaps not a bad thing after all! ; )

Mark, Rick and Tim, then take a well-deserved bow to rapturous applause and exit stage right. A few minutes later, 4 Stormtroopers escort them back on with their hands behind their heads – yes, you read that correctly, 4 Stormtroopers! Tim attempts to pacify the patrol by telling them and the baying crowd, “I guess we’re gonna do an encore now.” So, safe in the knowledge that Ash are going to play some more songs for us, the unit leave the stage satisfied.

We’re then treated to the highly-anticipated selection of vintage b-sides and rarities from the 1977 vault, including a swaggering T.Rex. A cover of Dusty Springfield’s I Only Want To Be With You – which Tim presents as “a camp classic that we used to play at the Astoria’s G-A-Y Night.” Followed by riotous interpretations of Helen Love’s Punk Boy and Cantina Band from Star Wars. All of which, are left covered in the group’s fingerprints.

A couple more Ash originals are also played, including Uncle Pat and the stunningly accomplished A Life Less Ordinary, which in 1997, was an important transitional song that the band now feel is one of their “best” – and rightly so, because to this day, it continues to be electrifying! The real highlight from this section of the nostalgic show tonight however, has to be Cantina Band, as it’s so much fun, and afterwards, Tim jokes, “Whoever wrote that song must've been on A LOT of drugs!”

With a strict 10pm curfew, Ash promise to play as many songs as they possibly can before we run out of time, and fans are given a hefty Orpheus, a faithful cover of The Undertones’ timeless Teenage Kicks – played because “a friend in attendance asked them if they could” – and a flawless Shining Light. Tim then announces that the group has been “secretly recording” lots of new songs this year, which are set to be released in 2009, and as a small taster, an acidic punky track entitled Ichiban (which in Japanese means # 1) is aired for our delectation. It’s fast, it’s furious and could well be the illegitimate love child of Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life.

Jack Names The Planets is jubilant and pardon the pun, but Burn Baby Burn will forever be smokin’ hot! While just as Darkside Lightside did earlier this evening, the epic Twilight Of The Innocents – a definitive career benchmark – suitably ends this half of the gig on an additional high note. Understandably, the trio are subsequently showered with roars of approval / appreciation, soaking up the audience’s adulation with huge smiles on their faces, before waving goodbye to everyone with the Star Wars theme song playing in the background. A very apt finale indeed.

What a band, what a set, what a night – Mark, Rick and Tim did themselves proud!

As we all know, Ash have been “Making Noise Since 1977” and if tonight is anything to go by, they’re still going to be making it and mining ‘elixir of life’ melodies for a good number of years to come yet! It will be exciting to relive the professionally filmed for posterity Roundhouse and Astoria shows @ once they’re online. And of course, listening to the 1977 Deluxe Edition reissue (released November 3, 2008) – which is further proof of how the record has stood the test of time – will be a constant reminder of both gigs, bringing many fond memories flooding back for those of us who were fortunate enough to be there in person.

In closing, I’d just like to thank the guys for such a fantastic time, and for all of the other superb shows and music that you’ve given to us over the years – long may it continue.

Now bring on the new stuff! : )

A very special thanks to Ash, to Mark @ Outthere and to Ash’s Tour Manager Rich, for all of their time and help.

1977 Ashtoria Set List

Lose Control
Girl From Mars
I'd Give You Anything
Gone The Dream
Kung Fu
Oh Yeah
Let It Flow
Innocent Smile
Angel Interceptor
Lost In You
Darkside Lightside

I Only Want To Be With You
Punk Boy
Cantina Band
Uncle Pat
A Life Less Ordinary

Teenage Kicks
Shining Light
Jack Names The Planets
Burn Baby Burn
Twilight Of The Innocents

"Making Noise Since 1977"

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