I like Ash. So Ash have got their very own page on my website. I’m sure they will be ecstatic.
We had two number one albums together and a bunch of hit singles.
More than anything, the recording of “Free All Angels” was probably the happiest, most fun and joyful session I’ve been involved with. And for that alone I will always love them.
I met Ash when they were doing their ‘A’ levels. I think we did a quick session at Loco studios where I’d just finished recording The Verve and before I recorded there with Oasis.
We recorded “Kung Fu” and a couple of other songs. It was a funny time. Rick McMurray was the most entertaining thing I’d ever met. I’d never laughed so much. I really can’t go into details, but a teapot became involved and essential to Rick’s mental and physical well being. Like I said, I can’t go into details.
And fish. Don’t mention fish.
I’ll try and write some worthwhile drop downs for each album I was involved with, before success went to their heads and they decided to work with someone else and try becoming a “serious” rock band. I’m not one to tell them that I told them so, but…….
After we’d recorded Kung Fu and Angel interceptor at Loco Studios, we moved to Rockfield to record Girl from Mars. The band got Mark Stent to mix Angel interceptor. I don’t think they liked my mixes from the word go. When I was mixing Morning Glory at Orinoco, in London, one night I had a message from Ash saying that they were recording the b-side for Girl from Mars (which I had mixed a few weeks earlier) at Rak Studios and did I fancy getting over there to help out. So over I went: the were attempting a cover of the Cantina Band theme from Star Wars. There was a bit of an odd vibe. Rick McMurray was obviously bursting to tell me something, but wouldn’t. I played them a few mixes that I’d just completed from Morning Glory….which they all said they loved. It turned out that they had got some other mix person to re-mix Girl from Mars during the day, but were too scared to tell me…..although they were happy enough for me to help them out on a bloody b-side.
I usually find it’s best to tell people if you are going to remix anything they’ve produced. Infact, it is courteous to offer them the chance to re-mix the tracks first, before employing someone new. I should’ve smelt a rat.
So, in about January 1996, we I went to Down Patrick, in Northern Ireland to do some routining of the songs before we went in the studio to record the rest of their first album. I had a lovely reception from each member of the bands families. Everyone there was incredibly kind.
When it came to the songs, it quickly became clear that they didn’t have much prepared. Infact, I think they only had the backing tracks….no lyrics or melodies….for Goldfinger and Lose Control…..and those had no arrangements. So we arranged those as backing tracks, and that was the extent of the album rehearsals. Infectious had booked us six weeks recording time at Rockfield Studios, so Tim Wheeler assured me that writing the rest of the songs and finishing all his lyrics and melodies would be no problem whatsoever in that time. We had absolutely nothing to worry about.
(On the first two albums I worked on with Ash, Mark Hamilton kept wanting to called them, quite pointedly, “Dreams/Reality”.)
So we got on with recording the backing tracks. We worked to click tracks and Rick would play along and we’d record multiple takes, and then edit those takes together to assemble the best bits. Good, old fashioned 2” tape editing…..much like The Verve sessions. It worked well, and we achieved better backing tracks than on the previously recorded singles.
And then when we could go no further with the backing tracks, Tim would disappear into his bedroom, for as long as it took him to write the lyrics. He’d take on average three days to write the lyrics. This was at a time when Rockfield was charging £1,000 a day. So Mark, Rick and I would watch TV….go down the pub….generally get bored….until Tim would emerge and present us with his words.
Anyway, by the end of our six weeks in Rockfield, we hadn’t finished the ten tracks needed to complete the album.
So we went up to London, and settled into Matrix Studios, in Fulham, where I’d mixed some of Definitely Maybe, for a few more weeks, and attempted to finish the vocal overdubbing.
We finally moved to Orinoco to mix.
1977 is a very patchy record. Patchy sonically…..that was my responsibility, but we really had no idea of the songs until the last minute…it was hard to make dynamics work. And the song quality was patchy. Patchy is how I’d describe it. In a word, patchy.
But the album went to number one, and the band had their highest chart entry with Goldfinger. Infact there’s a little story about that: apparently, when Infectious and Ash’s radio player heard my mix of Goldfinger, that I’d mixed in Rockfield….apparently the radio plugger said that it sounded like a really bad demo. So Korda Marshall, the owner of Infectious came down to Rockfield, and I turned it up loud…made some minor adjustments (I’m not sure that I changed anything…?….surely I must’ve changed something…?) and the man from Infectious he said yes and everyone was happy.
It was and still is, Ash’s highest ever UK singles chart entry.
I can’t remember exactly why, but Ash didn’t ask me to produce Nu-clear sounds for them.
So, apparently, this time they write and rehearsed up an albums worth of songs, before actually going in the recording studio.
They went into Rockfield with Chris Kimsey.
Mark Hamilton kept me informed of the recordings….he didn’t sound too happy. But apparently Tim was loving Chris Kimsey’s approach to “keeping it real”, no eq’ing and he also got his engineer to make lots of notes after each overdub….just in case.
Anyway, it transpired that after he’d mixed the entire thing, the band and Tav, their manager, all though it sounded terrible. But they’d really blown their entire recording budget. Tav asked if I could help.
I’d just bough myself a big ProTools set-up from my old friend Freddo (John Fredericks….Technical Earth….they charge you the earth, I know that….), and suggested to Tav that I copy all the multi tracks to my Protools system, so I could have listen and do some work at home. So we did that, and I started getting ideas and trying some edits here and there. Then I offered to mix and finish the album for no fee: I was feeling far too generous at the time.
Infectious found some more money and we went back into Rockfield for a month to mix.
There’s one funny story: I’d just bought a new Range Rover (yes, my Oasis royalties were coming in thick and fast)….and Tav had a new Cherokee Jeep thing. One night when we were bored we decided to take them off roading on one of the back fields at Rockfield. It was very dark and we thought it would be a laugh. At some stage in the proceedings I suggested to a slightly drunk Mark Hamilton that he should have a go driving my Range Rover. Mark said that he’d love to have a go. So he got in the drivers seat and put his foot down. And he kept his foot down. And we were going really fast all of a sudden. So I was shouting to Mark to break….and stop accelerating….and then suddenly we were in a ditch, then out of a ditch, then we hit a plough, and there was sounds of smashing and then crashing and breaking and then we were in another deep ditch and the range Rover finally stopped. I looked round, to see if everyone was ok. Mark was laughing, and Charlotte Hatherley was in the back seat looking petrified: some huge metal farm implement part of a plough had come through her window and through into the roof and had very narrowly missed her head. I asked Mark why the fuck didn’t he press the break pedal when I’d told him to? And he replied “I’ve never driven a car before, I don’t know what a break pedal is.”
We sheepishly went to bed, after getting the Range Rover out and it limping back to the studio.
In the morning Tav and I were summoned to see a very angry Kingsley (the lovely, kind and gentle owner of Rockfield Studios). We went over to the other studio where he was sat, with the producer John Leckie (the one time I met such a luminary figure such as he). And Kingsley said, that he didn’t mind about the fences, and the ploughs, and all that sort of damage….but that if we’d have hit one of his cows in that field he would have taken killed us. We didn’t even know there were any cows in the field….it had been very dark.
And to make matters worse, my first wife, Penny, turned up at the studio, while we were apologising to Kingsley, saw the wrecked Range Rover, assumed I’d been dunk driving, and went ape-shit mental. It took her a few days before she saw the funny side.
So……back to Nu-clear sounds. I finished mixing it. I actually quite like this album. But it was full of depressed songs. Tim wrote happy, great Ash songs (like oh yeah, and Shining light) when he’s just met a new girlfriend, and his love juices were flowing. When he’d just split up, he wrote dark, self pitying songs, like the ones on Nu-clear sounds.
The album was not a huge success.
I’d had a posh new manager for about 18 months, following Be Here Now. But I didn’t want to work for a while….I’d been in the studio solidly for about 13 years and my wife, Penny gave birth to twins. So eventually, Ros Earls (for it was she), told me that she didn’t want to manage me anymore. I told her that she should keep managing me because I was going to start working again, specifically on the new Ash album. Ros told me that she had spoken to Korda Marshall and that he could guarantee her that there was no way on Gods earth that Owen Morris would be producing Ashs new album. I told Ros that she should have faith in me, but she decided to sack me anyway.
But Mark from Ash, definitely wanted me involved. He came down with all their demos. They had written and demoed something like 40 complete songs….with words and melodies and everything! We had a good listen, and I fell in love with the songs.
But Korda still insisted that there was no way that Infectious would pay for Ash to go in the studio with Owen Morris.
So Ash, paid for a weeks studio time at Wool Hall Studios in Bath, and I recorded them for free. We recorded Shining Light and a b-side, Warmer than fire, which was a song written by Steve Ludwin.
And they paid for Alan Moulder to mix it.
When recording Shining light, I suggested to the band that we utilise the editing capabilities on ProTools…..to the extent, that we virtually quantise the drums (this was before any automatic drum quantise programs on ProTools), as to attain a perfect rhythm track….to make our recording undeniably poptastic and radio friendly….basically avoiding all the “keeping it real” shit of the past and being modern able to slot into radio play next to any other computer programmed piece of music. This entailed Rick puttying down a bunch of performances, editing together the best bits (fills and feel etc)….and then I individually edited each drum hit and moved it into place via the tempo grid map. This took me about four hours. And it sounded great. I also added drum samples to the sounds….so we had a lovely, perfectly in time and beefy sounding drum track. The rest of the recording was straightforward. We were all happy. And we went to London to watch Alan Moulder mixing it. Actually, Alan Moulder was a real gentleman to work with: he knew his stuff, and if anyone asked for something to be changed, his brilliant stock answer was “I’d just been thinking the same thing”. He added his trademark drums samples and delivered a fine mix.
Even Korda liked it.
But Korda was still not agreeing to me producing the album. His story was that the songs weren’t ready yet. There weren’t enough singles. He was basically stalling.
One morning, I was with Tav and Steve Ludwin, our American friend who wrote Warmer than fire, in London, and we were discussing the problem of Korda not agreeing to go ahead with the Ash album. We all knew that it was nothing to do with the songs, it was just that Korda still didn’t want me involved, even though we’d proved our point with the recording of Shining light.
Steve said he was going to ring Korda, and pretend to be Rick Rubin. So he rang Korda, and got put through to him. Steve introduced himself as Rick Rubin, and explained that his good friend Butch Vig had played him a demo tape by a band called Ash, and that he (Steve as Rick Rubin) loved the songs and would like to produce their new album. Korda couldn’t believe his luck, and told Rick (Steve) that he also loved the songs and would love Rick to produce Ash: whatever Rick wanted….money no object! Rick (Steve) told Korda he had to go, and to get hold of him through his management. Next thing we knew, Korda immediately rang Tav to tell him the great news that he had secured the services of Rick Rubin to produce the new Ash album! Tav said to Korda, that hadn’t Korda been insisting that the songs weren’t good enough and the album couldn’t go ahead until they’d written better songs to Kordas satisfaction? And anyway, Korda knew that the band only wanted Owen Morris to produce the album. Korda apparently said something about the songs actually being fine and Tav should tell the band that they had to use Rick Rubin now.
So…we left it at that.
We all attended some gig that night in Camden. Korda and the Infectious crowd were there too. By this time Korda had started realising that maybe Rick Rubin hadn’t actually been Rick Rubin….he wasn’t able to get hold of Rick through his office and his office knew nothing of Rick’s interest in a little band called Ash.
Korda, apparently, decided that it was me who’d made the phone call to him. I took umbridge to this false assertion and I think there were some heated words between us.
The next morning Tav rang me and said that Korda had agreed for Ash to go ahead with the album with me producing, but only on the condition that I ring Korda to apologise and that I take a significant reduction in my fee. So I rang Korda and ate extremely humble pie.
I actually like Korda. I met him again recently….he’s re-started Infectious, after all his years as a corporate whore at Warner Brothers. And he’s ok. He likes making records. Though as usual, I doubt that he’ll ever give me a call.
So we went back to Woolhall for three weeks and recorded about four songs.
And then we went to Spain to record. To a studio that I can’t remember the name of….it was up in the mountains above Puerto Banus.
We loved that studio. It was a Spanish palace. At night, the lights of Puerto Banus would start twinkling at us, and we’d head down for a few hours. We found a bar, called The Devils Bar, that was run by a very friendly English bloke called Steve (or Steve Devil as he became known) who became a good friend. Mark Hamilton had a cocktail created for him and named in his honour. Ashs sound man and living legend, Ian Laughton, was present on the entire session. He was a great person to have around. I would generally go back to the studio, suitable refreshed and carry on working until the sun rose. We’d sleep in. Hit the pool. And start recording all over again. It was an amazing place to be and we recorded some beautiful music there. A good time was had by all.
We returned to London, where Alan Moulder mixed the album at Rak Studios.
The album went to number one. The band had seven hit singles from the album. And Tim was awarded an Ivor Novello for his songwriting.