Arts Q&A: Ash frontman Tim Wheeler on Leonard Cohen, Nirvana and Van Morrison

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, Ash lead singer Tim Wheeler

Downpatrick singer-songwriter Tim Wheeler
Downpatrick singer-songwriter Tim Wheeler

1. When did you think about a career in music and what were your first steps into it?

I wanted to be a musician from an early age. Me and Mark from Ash were in the same year at Down High School and we both got guitars for Christmas when we were 12. We started our own heavy metal band first before starting Ash when we were 15. We were pretty focused and worked really hard at our music from an early age. We got signed by a label in London when we were 17 and it all kicked off from there.

2. Best gigs you've been to?

Nirvana in 1992 at Belfast's Kings Hall. It was the grunge rock era; they were one of the greatest bands in the world and it was a really iconic show.

Leonard Cohen in New York's Radio City in both 2009 and 2013. They were spellbinding concerts. For an old man he gave an incredible performance, full of energy and emotional spirit.

And Patti Smith at Ocean in Hackney, London, in 2001. She was another who gave a fully committed performance.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Charlie Watts, Nile Rodgers, Stevie Nicks and I guess I could play back-up guitar.

4. The record you would take to a desert island?

Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. There are lots of Northern Ireland references in there to stop me getting homesick.

5. And the book you would take to a desert island?

A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor. It's set in the 1930s and about his journey across Europe on foot. His power of description is like nothing else. It would be the perfect travel book to have if you were on a desert island.

6. Top three films?

Ash is pretty well known for being Star Wars fans – it defined our childhood. My favourite is the first, Star Wars: A New Hope.

I like Westerns and love the Coen brothers' remake of True Grit.

My third choice would be The Exorcist – it's probably the film I've watched the most in my life.

7. Worst film you've seen?

The one film I walked out of was Bridesmaids. I just didn't really get it at the time. I've watched it more recently with my current girlfriend who has given me a new appreciation of it.

8. Favourite authors?

Jack Kerouac, Cormac McCarthy and JRR Tolkien.

9. Sport you most enjoy and top team?

Football. I live near Arsenal's stadium in London and I go and see them whenever I can.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

Japan or Australia. We're very fortunate to go on tour to these places and do some exploring after.

11. Pet hates?


12. What's your favourite:

Dinner? Salted sea bass, though I love all seafood.

Dessert? Tiramisu.

Drink? A margarita.

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?

My girlfriend Julia. We met in New York three and a half years ago.

14. Is there a God?


:: Ash are performing as part of the NI Music Prize on November 17 at Belfast's Ulster Hall. They also headline Ash – 25 years of Ash at Belfast's Limelight on December 16.