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Ash frontman Tim Wheeler travelled the world when writing new album Islands, and his wanderlust produced a vibrant return to form for one of Britpop’s best-loved bands. Gary Walker meets the Northern Irish singer to find out why the band still care about vinyl as much as ever…

They pressed their first record at the same time as studying for their GCSEs, released a volley of infectious chart-topping 7”s and a million-selling album while in their teens; cut 26 singles in a single year, and provoked Eric Cantona into threatening to “spit on your record”. Ash’s next move, in 2007, was to announce that Twilight Of The Innocents would be their last physically released album as the digital revolution took hold and they split from Warner subsidiary Infectious. Thankfully, the band hadn’t banked on the resurgence of interest in vinyl, and this spring unleashed their seventh LP – Islands.

Records remain just as close to the Downpatrick, County Down band’s hearts as when frontman Tim Wheeler, drummer Rick McMurray and bassist Mark Hamilton formed their Iron Maidenaping first band Vietnam as 12-year-olds inspired by their fledgling collections of punk and metal albums.

With a catalogue that already included the debut mini-album Trailer, coming-of-age Britpop classic 1977, the darker Nu-Clear Sounds and the swoonsome yet underrated Free All Angels, the decision to turn their backs on albums was shortlived. 2007 proved to be vinyl’s nadir, as sales bottomed out before starting to climb again and Wheeler, who grew up listening to Pixies, Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Mudhoney records, was happy to change his mind.

“I’m delighted about it,” he says. “It was a reaction to the streaming and digital iPod world. I think it was definitely a reaction to losing the experience of having a physical product. The physical format makes it easier and you feel more connected to it. I completely understand that, from my early days of collecting vinyl in the early 90s, with all the indie bands I love. It’s great to see it make this comeback.

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