How Star Wars and heavy metal became a vital distraction during the Troubles...

Ash bass player Mark Hamilton writes for Clash about the importance of escapism...

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This world is not always a nice place to exist in.

Money, work, health, a myriad of challenging relationships. kids (if you have them), living conditions, shitty services, traffic, politics, the weather; our lives continuously navigate a web of stressors that can and often cripple or back us into the darker recesses of our minds. Life isn’t always fair, and nobody ever said it was gonna be easy, but learning how to steer our personal journeys, through said struggles can help us cope with them much better.

In recent years the importance of ’self-love’ has been touted on a million blogs, Facebook updates and Insta feeds. Taking timeout to breathe, break free of our realities, and recharge can avoid burnout, fatigue and the serious consequences of depression.

Self love is something Ash is very familiar, something we’ve always referred to as ‘Escapism’ and it’s been instrumental in our story and success.

As kids of the 80’s Ash grew up during the troubles in N. Ireland. For me, when plonked in front of the TV it was impossible not to be reminded of the reality of the bombings and shootings happening on our doorstep. The inane 'talks-about-talks' as pitched politicians frothed at the mouth. It was a pretty grim picture of where we lived.

While we were fortunate to have never been directly affected by the killings, the environment was that it could happen at anytime. Watching families grieve during the evening news was the norm. The apparent randomness of the shootings meant it was always in the back of your mind. You could be next.

Is that knock on the door a gunman who’s gonna shoot my Dad?

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I remember if I thought about it too much fear would creep in, and like the majority of people in the province, to get by, you just had to put that fear in a box and try to forget about it as much as possible.

For me and countless other kids that meant traveling to a Galaxy, far, far away… re-watching our grainy copies of Star Wars on worn out VHS cassettes and playing out the adventures of Han, Luke, Leia, Chewie and the droids with 3 3/4” plastic figures. It was what we lived for.

School was just an annoyance, I’d watch the clock ticking to get home to the excitement of playing out this galactic space opera, alone or with equally obsessed friends. Burying Boba Fett in a piss-filled mud hole in the garden for (a geniusly improvised Scarlacc Pit) as the heroes rode off in taped together toilet roll tubes for speeders was the stuff of dreams. It didn’t get much better. Our imaginations were on crack and running rampant. 

That very real sense of escapism is what Tim and I bonded over. We met when we were 11 years old at the start of high school. It instantly became apparent that we shared a common love of Star Wars and Heavy Metal. He was wearing a WASP back patch stitched onto his denim jacket. I had Iron Maiden.

The fantastical gruesome artwork of the heavy metal genre paired with the speed riffing, thrashing drums and falsetto wailing of the music was as far removed from the soul destroying church music we’d been indoctrinated into and subjected to for the worst hours of our lives every Sunday. We soon realised music could be our escape route from a boring 9-to-5 existence.

The dream was essentially Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. We wanted out, and as we knew we’d never make professional footballers the only way to do it was to succeed with a band. It came our mission and we were razor focused with blind belief that we could do it.

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While many Irish artists would address the troubles in their music, and credit to them for doing so, that was never our MO. We were still children and didn’t feel we could speak with any authority on it. We’d leave that to the ‘adults’.

As we grew through our teens all we wanted to write about was girls, stars and the summer. Laughably all things we knew little about. Irish summers are short if non-existent so we yearned for them nostalgically through the rest of the year, but these where the three things we dreamed about more than anything.

ABBA and Beach Boys inspired pop-songs wrapped up with Metal tendencies in a Nirvana-esque shambles. That was our formula, we emerged ourselves in it, and so far it's got us through 25+ years as Ash. Nostalgic yearning for summer. Decades of life in a bubble, stunted growth, peter-pan syndrome, not having to grow up live in the real world.

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'Teenage Wildlife: 25 Years Of Ash' is out now via BMG - Clash review HERE.

Catch Ash at the following shows:

March
17 Leeds Stylus
18 Newcastle O2 Academy
20 Glasgow SWG3
21 Manchester O2 Ritz
22 Nottingham Rock City
24 Bristol O2 Academy
25 Portsmouth Pyramids
27 London Roundhouse

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