Charlotte was a working rock guitarist even before she left her West London high school. Working towards her A levels during the day, the 15 year old was playing loud, scungy gigs round the London club scene with the proto-riot grrl group Nightnurse. She'd answered a classified ad in Melody Maker, played Purple Haze to startled lead singer Ellyott Dragon, who immediately knew the intense, skinny girl was going to bring her own touch of class and commitment to the edgy outfit -- just as long as nobody knew she was underage.
Two tough years of gigging, a growing fan base and a 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 a Nightnurse gig at the Blue Moon, Putney.
Ash were looking for a fourth member, a guitarist to add beef to their heavy schedule of live performances. They'd auditioned a number of contenders, all male, but nobody had seemed right, before a friend suggested they should check out the kid making waves on the club scene. "It's a girl!" headlined NME when they heard the improbable news. Ash fans were divided: many presumed she must be Tim's girlfriend. And then they heard her play.
Charlotte had 2 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." She got her A Level results while playing a gig in Germany. By now they were meaningless.
Her first studio recording with Ash was on the 1997 single A Life Less Ordinary, 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 become 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 4-piece, that the (increasingly glamorous) female guitarist who so powerfully rocked and so sweetly sang the harmonies had always held that corner stage-right.
Meanwhile, under the inspirational influence of Tim Wheeler, perhaps the best young song writer of his generation, Charlotte began to compose. "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 was on the Wild Surf single of the same year.
Fans really started to take notice when her song Grey Will Fade appeared on the 2001 single There's A Star. This optimistic message to a troubled school friend came complete with haunting multi-layered harmonies. When online Ash fans vote for their favourite B sides, Grey Will Fade regularly appears among the top 5. Reaction to the song and to her highly original voice came as a surprise and a challenge to Charlotte. Maybe she could write a whole album full of songs. Said Tim: "Go for it!"
But writing, recording demos and organising the album had to be done while Ash continued their punishing non-stop schedule. 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 10 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."
In January 2006 after 9 years Ash and Charlotte Hatherley have mutually agreed to part company. The decision is completely amicable and they wish each other the very best for the future. Ash are returning to the studio later this year to make the follow up to 2004's "Meltdown" album.
Charlotte is currently recording tracks for her second solo album (following "Grey Will Fade") which she plans to release in the Autumn this year.