RUNNING RED LIGHTS – AN INTERVIEW WITH NO HOT ASHES
RUNNING RED LIGHTS – AN INTERVIEW WITH NO HOT ASHES
The Irish hard rockers known as No Hot Ashes turned out to be a musical revelation to me when I stumbled on their debut album a couple of months ago. What sets No Hot Ashes apart from most other melodic rock and hard rock acts out there (besides the fact that NHA are way better than the majority of them) is that these guys started out all the way back in 1983 and were inspired by UFO, Thin Lizzy, Foreigner, and Whitesnake, but due to different circumstances things fell apart and for a while it seemed as if No Hot Ashes were but a mere footnote in the chronicle of Irish rock music. Luckily for all of us, the ensemble reunited in 2013 for a single gig, which was a huge success, and eventually No Hot Ashes entered the studio and recorded a killer full-length assault that was recently released via Frontiers Music. The band’s highly talented vocalist, Eamon Nancarrow, was kind enough to answer all of our questions and provide us with some great insight into the inner workings of No Hot Ashes and enlighten us as to what inspires them to write and release such splendid music. If you have yet to acquaint yourself with the band’s brilliantly executed debut offering, do yourself a huge favor and check the album out as soon as humanly possible – it is a dream come true for lovers of memorable rock music. Read on, folks.
First of all, I want to say thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Your self-titled debut album is a varied and dynamic one. I absolutely love it! It has this unique atmosphere to it that I cherish, and on top of that the lyrics make me reflect on a lot of things, which is obviously a great thing. Where do you find the inspiration to compose and write music?
E.N.: Thank you so much for your kind words. We are very proud of the album. All my lyrics are from personal experience. They are about events or people in my life. "Boulders", for example, was written about my mum and dad’s struggle following her stroke. My dad had vowed that he would not let her go into a nursing home and even though he is now 82 he has stuck to his word, she is still at home. I think I would find it difficult writing lyrics that did not affect me. I also I feel that my vocal performance benefits from singing about something I have feelings for.
How do you look back on the early days of Not Hot Ashes? Do you feel sentimental and nostalgic whenever you think about the first few years of the band’s existence?
E.N.: I do feel nostalgic because they were very exciting times. We were teenagers full of testosterone and adrenaline LOL. Now that I’m 52 I have the aches and pains that go with that age, I no longer feel invincible. I live in equally exciting times now as a dad of three children, it’s just a different type of excitement. One of the songs on the album sums this up perfectly; "Good to Look Back" has the lyrics ‘look to the distance along the vanishing lines let your heart follow the signs, but it’s good to look back sometimes’. Basically I’m saying keep looking forward but enjoy the memories.
What exactly does the band name signify or connote from your personal perspective?
E.N.: The name is a phrase that is printed on plastic dustbins LOL. It instructs you not to put hot ashes in the bin in case you set fire to it. Dave’s (guitar) mum thought it would be a great name, in that, when you go to put anything in the bin you would be reminded of the name. And so it has proved. Hundreds of people have said to me that the band was brought to mind when they read the sign on the bin. I just hope they don’t associate us with rubbish LOL.
Tell us a bit about the other members of No Hot Ashes. Where did you all meet? Do you hang out in your spare time away from NHA or is the band pretty much where you meet and what you all have in common?
E.N.: Dave Irvine (guitar and backing vocals) is a founder member of the band. He is a songwriting genius and a fabulous guitar player. Dave’s tastes in music are melodic hard rock, blues and country rock. Paul Boyd (bass and backing vocals) is another founding member. Paul appears on the album but has sadly passed away. Paul died after a brave battle against cancer a year ago. His death has been incredibly hard for us as we have known each other for 35 years as bandmates and friends. Paul was a gentleman, a wonderful musician and songwriter. Paul listened to and played many types of music but his big love was country music. Steve Strange (drums) joined NHA a couple of years after we formed. He is a very successful booking agent and promoter in the music business. He handles bands as big as and wide ranging as Coldplay and Saxon. Steve played drums for Fastway with Fast Eddie Clarke. He is a powerhouse behind the kit and technically brilliant. His tastes in music, as you can imagine, are varied and many. Tommy Dickson (keyboards) joined at the same time as Steve. In fact, he is Steve’s cousin. Tom plays three keyboards and boy does he know his way around them LOL. He writes great music. One of the highlights on the album is "Boulders", which Tommy wrote the music for and I wrote the melodies and lyrics. Tom loves melodic rock and prog rock. One of his favorite bands is It Bites. Niall Diver (guitar and backing vocals) joined the band after Dave was taken ill. We were due to support Foreigner on the Irish leg of their tour. He was only meant to be in the band until Dave was well enough to return. But when Dave rejoined the band he insisted that Niall stayed. So now we have two brilliant guitarists, which is great for guitar harmonies. Niall has a varied taste in music that ranges from Frank Zappa to Mastodon. Billy Causby (bass and backing vocals) joined the band after Paul’s sad passing. We took a long time to replace Paul. In fact, we didn’t know if we would carry on at all. We came to the conclusion that Paul would have wanted the album to be released. He was very proud of it and we were proud of his performance. You have to be a special talent and person to step into Paul’s shoes and that’s what Billy is. Billy’s tastes in music again are varied; he loves Rush and Steven Wilson, so he can play a bit. He is also in a glam rock tribute band LOL. I joined the band as lead vocalist shortly after it formed in 1983. Paul had played bass and sang prior to this. I think the boys wanted some eye candy so that’s why I was chosen LOL. My tastes in music are AOR, hard rock/heavy metal and Irish folk music. As a band we don’t hangout as such, but we do meet up at gigs and festivals that Steve would be involved in. We are close as friends and that was very evident when Paul died. Friends don’t always need to be in each other’s company to prove they are friends.
How do you feel about performing live and how does that contrast to working and playing music in the studio or in the rehearsal space?
E.N.: I think it depends on where you are playing and recording. Some gigs can be brilliant depending on factors such as crowd reaction and weather. We played Steelhouse festival a couple of years ago in torrential rain with most of the crowd sheltering in a beer tent. The day before were played to thousands of people basking in beautiful sunshine at Ramblin’ Man Fair. I think if Steelhouse had of had the sunshine it would have been a completely different atmosphere. I love playing live and normally I hate the studio as there is a lot of hanging around, but we recorded this album with the great Frankie McClay at Einstein studios in Antrim. The man is a hoot. He kept us focused and entertained the whole time we were there. The time flew and the result is amazing.
Speaking of performing live, I recall reading somewhere that it was a tribute gig back in 2013 that set the ball rolling and helped resurrect NHA. Could you elaborate a bit on that whole affair and how (or why) you reached the conclusion that NHA ought to be brought back to life again (I am obviously extremely happy that you guys are back together and that your album rules beyond belief J).
E.N.: Back in the 1980s there was a venue in Belfast that all the local rock acts played called the Rosetta. In 2012 it was knocked down to make way for a supermarket. A friend of ours, Rab Barry, decided to put on a gig to celebrate the Rosetta days and also to remember two friends that had sadly passed away. Rab asked me if NHA would reform to play it and I said no. Not that I didn’t want to do it, I just knew that Steve lived in LA and it would be a logistical nightmare trying to rehearse. Out of the blue I was called by Paul who told me that he had spoken to Steve and he wanted to play the gig. So true to his word he would fly in from LA to rehearse in a shed at the bottom of Paul’s garden and then fly straight back LOL.
The gig was a massive success and we went down a storm. Steve decided that we were not going to break up again and that we would carry on. He said that he would get us some support slots with big bands and a couple of weeks later we were supporting Foreigner LOL.
Just out of curiosity, could you list a few of your all-time favorite bands or just some bands in general that have meant and still mean a lot to you be it rock or pop bands or whatever comes to mind?
E.N.: I love Journey and Foreigner so you can imagine what a thrill it was to share a stage with the latter. Another AOR band I have been a fan of since their first album is FM and again we had the pleasure to be a support band on their "Heroes and Villains" tour.
Deep Purple, Whitesnake, AC/DC and all the classic bands of the 70s and 80s rock my boat.
But the band that I return to time and time again is the Rolling stones I love them. I was born a month premature because my mum went to see them when she was pregnant – true story LOL. I was born to rock.
Are there any bands in particular that inspire you when it comes to writing music of your own?
E.N.: As I said the Stones are a massive influence on me. But there are two songwriters I admire for the quality of their songwriting and the stories they tell; they are John Waite and Paul Brady. I urge your readers to listen to "Rovers Return" by JW and "Back to Center" by PB. They are different styles but brilliant songs. The song "The Island" by Brady is just wonderful.
Do you remember how, why, and where you became obsessed with classic rock back in the day?
E.N.: I remember sitting in my dad’s car on a long trip back from a family holiday in Donegal and "Breaking the Law" came on the radio. I had been a Rolling Stones fan from a very young age, but this was something else. It blew me away. From then on I have been a rock fan. So Judas Priest are to blame LOL.
Who comes up with most of the ideas for your song material? How do you guys go about writing and composing songs for NHA? Do you compose and write stuff separately and then bring all of that to rehearsals where you then arrange it and whip it all into shape, or is everything written and arranged collectively from scratch?
E.N.: We are very lucky in this band in that we have great musicians and songwriters. Dave is brilliant at writing catchy riffs. He will put together pieces of music such as "Glow". He will then give it to me to write melodies and lyrics. That song was written about my partner of 25 years and how I have grown to love her more and more over time. Paul wrote the music for "Running Red Lights" and again I wrote the melodies and lyrics. Everyone in the band contributes to each song. Niall (guitar) and Steve (drums) put their stamp on everything. There are no egos – the song is the important thing. For example, I wrote the music and lyrics for "Jonny Redhead" and "Good to Look Back", but they sound vastly different than I imagined once the boys got their hands on them. They made them great songs.
How are important are a band’s lyrics to you? Would you say that lyrics are just as important as the actual music in some cases? Lyrically, your album covers a lot of ground, not just musically, but lyrically as well. Did you guys write the music first and then the words afterwards, or the other way around? How important are the lyrics to you on a personal level?
E.N.: The lyrics are massively important to me. I tell stories with the words. The lyrics are about my life and my experiences. Sometimes the music will come first like on "Boulders" and "Over Again" and sometimes it’s the lyrics and melodies that come first like on "Jonny Redhead" and "Good to Look Back". I found singing the cover of "Souls" by Rick Springfield that appears on the album a challenge to sing because I could not connect emotionally with the lyrics. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is a brilliant version but they would not have been lyrics I would have come up with.
I am a huge fan of Thin Lizzy, Grand Slam, and Gary Moore, just to list a few examples, so I just have to ask how the Irish hard rock/melodic rock/AOR scene was back in the early 80s from your perspective and whether there was a thriving and inspiring scene in and around Belfast when No Hot Ashes was launched?
E.N.: The 80s were a time of violence in Northern Ireland. Most bands would not add Belfast to their tours and who could blame them. What this meant is that local bands like us thrived because there was nothing else for the fans. The rock/metal scene brought people from either side of the divide together. There was no politics or religion when they were rocking. Thin Lizzy and the likes of the brilliant Mamas Boys paved the way for up and coming bands and they would always add a local act as support. I have to say that I have all but forgotten the negative aspect of life in NI in the 80s; all I really remember are the good times with good friends.
What are some of your thoughts on how the music industry has changed these past 10-15 years? I am not merely thinking about piracy or illegal downloading, but the way in which fans and listeners «consume» music these days via digital platforms and so on? Nobody seems to pay any attention to the album format anymore but instead picks single tracks and then compile playlists. It almost seems as if people do not have the attention span to actually listen to an album from start to finish anymore. Any thoughts on that?
E.N.: The internet is a very strange place! It certainly helps get your music to people who would never have heard it in the past. In the 1980s the likes of Eternal Terror would never have heard of No Hot Ashes. So in that respect the internet is a brilliant marketing tool and we use it the best we can. The downside is that the public has free access to our music, which isn’t great, but part of modern life. I would rather people hear our music for free than not at all. When we brought out the single "She Drives Me Crazy" in the 1980s, we financed it ourselves by investing the money from our gigs. We could not get record companies to come to Belfast as they were afraid of being killed LOL. The only way we could get our music out was to release it independently. Because we had no distribution deal we sold the single anywhere we could. Our gigs were a great place to sell the single and my mum and dad had a corner shop where it was also sold. If you spent over £5 you got a free single. Many an old lady got a heavy metal single with her toilet rolls, bacon and potatoes LOL. A sale is a sale after all. I agree with you that the attention span of people listening to music nowadays seems very short. I am guilty of cherry picking through YouTube myself, but I must admit that if I find something I like, I am more inclined to want to hear more. The response we have had for the album would suggest that there are still a lot of people that listen to albums in full.
What are NHA currently up to in terms of band activities? Are you composing and writing new material these days or rehearsing for future live activities?
E.N.: We are preparing for our appearances at Download and Ramblin’ Man Fair festivals. We are very excited about these. For many years I wouldn’t have thought of writing new songs, but after we reformed I can’t stop. I have ideas for at least ten new songs. If the album sells well and Frontiers want another album we should be ready.
Thanks once again for doing this interview and best of luck to you guys in the future. Any final words to our kick-ass readers?
E.N.: It has been my pleasure, thank you. To all your readers I say get the album, you won’t be disappointed, and keep on rocking!