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Charlotte Hatherley - Ash guitarist delivers solo debut


Feature: Jack Foley

NOT content with her work on new Ash album, Meltdown, guitarist, Charlotte Hatherley, is now set to release her first solo material, in the form of single, Kim Wilde, on June 7.

The track, which is available for download via her website, marks the realisation of a childhood ambition, for the talented singer-musician has been coveting her place in the musical spotlight ever since she was a teenager.

Indeed, Charlotte was a working rock guitarist even before she left her west London high school - working towards her A-levels during the day, and playing loud gigs around the London club scene with her group, Nightnurse, after dark.

Two tough years of gigging, and a growing fanbase later, and Nightnurse’s first record deal followed.

But the A-levels (English and music) were still not in the bag when an established young Northern Irish rock trio, and their manager, slipped unnoticed into one of the band’s gig, at the Halfmoon, in Putney.

Ash were looking for a fourth member, a guitarist to add beef to their heavy schedule of live performances, and even though they had auditioned extensively, nobody had seemed right.

Yet, when they eventually caught Charlotte live, their choice was immediate, prompting the NME to declare, ‘It's a girl!’, in its headline, once the improbable news was announced.

Needless to say, Ash fans were divided at first, with many presuming that she must be Tim Wheeler's girlfriend. But then they heard her play.

Charlotte had two weeks in a rehearsal studio before making her Ash debut at the V97 Festival in front of a highly critical audience of 50,000.

"Nightnurse had been happy when 100 fans caught us Upstairs at the Garage," says Charlotte. "I was shit scared but the boys were great. They saw me through the first year when everything was new and terrifying."

The plucky teenager subsequently got her A-level results while playing a gig in Germany - but, by now, realised they were meaningless.

Her first studio recording with Ash was on the 1997 single, A Life Less Ordinary, and then on the 1998 album, Nu-Clear Sounds.

Just as touring the world became normal for her, so did Charlotte's cool persona and driving talent, which quickly established itself as a solid feature of the 'new Ash'.

By the time they were criss-crossing America with their 2001 No. 1 album Free All Angels, new fans presumed Ash had always been a four-piece.

Meanwhile, under the inspirational influence of Wheeler, Charlotte began to compose her own material.

"Tim was brilliant, always interested and encouraging," she says.

Her first song, Taken Out, appeared as a B-side on the 1998 Ash single, Jesus Says, and Gonna Do It Soon, appeared on the Wild Surf single of the same year.

But fans really started to take notice when her song Grey Will Fade appeared on the 2001 single, There's A Star, as this optimistic message to a troubled school friend came complete with haunting multi-layered harmonies.

Indeed, when online Ash fans vote for their favourite B-sides, Grey Will Fade regularly appears among the top five.

Reaction to the song, and to her highly original voice, came as a surprise and a challenge to Charlotte, which she felt more than ready to accept, viewing it as an excellent opportunity to write a whole album full of songs.

Tim agreed, and told her to ‘go for it’!

But writing, recording demos and organising the album had to be done while Ash continued their punishing non-stop schedule, and it wasn't until the group settled in Los Angeles, for a few months in 2003, to record Meltdown, that Charlotte was able to get together with her chosen producer, Eric Drew Feldman (once part of legendary Captain Beefheart's Magic Band and Frank Black's solo producer), drummer, Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey, Marianne Faithful), and top recording engineer, Rob Laufer, to put down the ten tracks that would form her first solo release.

"It was an amazing experience," she recalls. "Time was always short, and some days I would be laying down a track for Ash in the morning, before crossing LA to work on my own stuff in the afternoon."

But the punishing schedule was worth it, and through the album, Charlotte has been able to catalogue some of her major influences, including The Pixies, XTC, and Talking Heads.

There are even elements of The Beatles in some of the choral sections, while her major hero, David Bowie, is said to come through in her unexpected lyrical poetry.

But Ash fans need not worry, for the emergence of Charlotte as a solo star, does not signal the end of her Ash days.

"Not at all!" she promises. "It's amazing to be a member of such a great rock band; plus, to be able to see my own solo project through to the finished album. How lucky am I!"

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