By David Hennessy
“I do get people tweeting me in summer saying ‘I’m listening to your Christmas record’, it’s a bit weird,” Ash frontman Tim Wheeler tells The Irish World. “Having said that, we ended up making the record during the summer. Christmas is a state of mind that you can actually tap into if you really need to.”
Tim and his girlfriend Emmy the Great (who has played with bands such as Noah and the Whale) will be at London’s Koko this Friday for a festive celebration like no other when they play the songs from their festive record, This is Christmas before taking the show to Tim’s home province and Belfast’s Limelight on December 15.
Famed for songs such as Girl from Mars, Goldfinger and A Life Less Ordinary, Ash have recorded five studio albums. The inspiration for a festive record came when Tim and girlfriend Emmy were stranded in Sussex during the Christmas of 2010: “The inspiration was from the crazy snow storms a few years ago. It was a really bad one. She was trying to get to Hong Kong to see the rest of the family and I was trying to get to Belfast. I went to Heathrow six times and flights were just cancelled all the time which was a nightmare but eventually made it. We were stranded when we wrote the songs and then a little while later, we realised they were actually really good so we went recording them during the summer.”
After its release in 2011, the pair have delighted fans with their festive shows. Could it become a Christmas tradition? “I think it’s something we’d love to do every year. Christmas is a time of traditions and we’re really proud of our record as well so it should get an airing every year.
“I can’t wait. It’s fun playing all the Christmas songs. It’s happening quite early this year so I’ll be able to relax and enjoy the Christmas time after that so I can’t wait. It’s been a while since I was home so I need to get back.
“The show’s good lighthearted fun with songs like Zombie Christmas and Jesus the Reindeer. It’s a chance to tell the story of Christmas with some good tunes behind it too. We’re also fond of playing some of the traditional songs like Fairytale of New York, a few covers like that as well.”
Speaking of Christmas traditions, is Shane MacGowan’s Fairytale of New York one of Tim’s favourite Christmas songs? “Yeah, it’s quite funny how people don’t know it too much over in America, the place it’s about, but yeah, it really captures Christmas, a time when emotions are running really high and it’s got a good story.”
So what will 2014 bring? Fans of Tim’s band will be pleased to hear it will bring Ash’s first studio album since 2007: “We’re definitely planning on recording new music recording next year. We’ve done quite a lot of touring and writing this year and we’ll probably record it next year. It’s been a while so I’m looking forward to it.”
Downpatrick native Tim now lives in New York while bass player Mark Hamilton is also in America but drummer Rick McMurray lives in Scotland. How does the distance affect the band? “It’s not too bad because Mark is over here as well, it’s just about getting Rick over for a bit. Myself and Mark moved to London when we were 18. I think it’s just from the amount of touring that we’ve done and the amount of time we’ve spent together, it doesn’t take too long for us to click together and play, we get back into the swing of things very quickly. After 21 years, it’s kind of easy. We were in London for nine years and now I’ve been in New York for eight years. I really love it here, it will probably be the base for the next few years. I don’t know where to go after this. I really enjoy it here.”
Tim did much work on the soundtrack for the recent Stone Roses inspired drama, Spike Island. Is scoring films something he would like to do more of? “Yeah, I loved it. Since October I’ve been working on a TV series for Sky called Fleming which is about (James Bond creator) Ian Fleming’s life and that was really cool because there wasn’t so much guitar work. A lot of the music of Spike Island was in the flavour of The Stone Roses so that wasn’t too big a stretch for me. It was quite easy to do that but with Fleming, we worked with a lot of strings so that was a much bigger challenge, but I loved it. It’s really fun.”
Is writing music for screen far removed from writing for yourself as a performer? “In some ways, it’s nice because you’ve got the material there. You don’t have to stretch your imagination for the feeling because the emotions are already there, you just have to bring them out. It’s a whole different discipline really. It’s really freeing when you’ve trained yourself in rock/pop songs.”
After Christmas, comes New Year. Will Tim be making any New Year’s resolutions? “I recently took up kick boxing again, I’m quite enjoying that so I think I’ll continue with that. I just want to push the song writing more. I had such fun the other day with Justin from the Vaccines, he was telling me about this 20 song challenge that he sometimes does where you have to write 20 songs in 12 hours. It’s something you undertake with friends and then you all get together at the end and play each other your work. That was really fun.”
Tim Wheeler and Emmy the Great present This is Christmas at Koko on Friday December 13 from 12.30am until 4am. For more information, go to: http://www.thisischristmasalbum.com.
The Irish World has five pairs of tickets to see Tim Wheeler and Emmy the Great at Koko this Friday.
To be in with a chance to win, please answer this question:
Q. What is the name of little known reindeer that Tim mentions in the interview?
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