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Daniel Ash of Bauhaus: The slickest guitarist in post-punk

When discussing the many great guitarists of the post-punk/goth era, one name is always placed resoundingly at the top of the pile, the late John McGeoch. 

Boasting a stellar CV that saw him feature in essential outfits such as Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Visage, The Armoury Show, and Public Image Ltd., what McGeoch did for guitar-playing, and music as a whole cannot be understated, and we hear his influence alive and well today in the popular rock music of Radiohead, U2 and Johnny Marr as well as more niche, but nonetheless important acts such as Shellac and The Jesus Lizard. 

Whilst McGeoch is deserving of how coveted his efforts are, as his dynamic work on cuts such as ‘Spellbound’ and ‘Castles in Spain’ display, since the days when post-punk and goth were at their zenith, there has been another guitarist, who is equally as dextrous, and who really pushed the form to its limits. In some cases, he went much further than McGeoch, who as we know, often utilised the same guitar sound. 

This is of course Daniel Ash of Bauhaus, Tones on Tail and Love and Rockets, one of the slickest guitarists rock has ever seen, with an artful style that is unmatched. Fusing the glam incandescence of the likes of David Bowie, Roxy Music, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and Roxy Music with the bite of punk, Ash’s style is one of the most unmistakable of the era, and is capable of sending the listener into a trance with ease.

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From the get-go, the Telecaster-toting Northampton native was always striving to “make the guitar not sound like a guitar,” with the use of textures, effects, and tools such as the EBow. It was the atmosphere he created that was the main reason Bauhaus were able to cultivate the sound that they described as “dark glam”. 

Whether it the cold space of ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’, the swirling doom of ‘Dark Entries’ or the acoustic elegance of ‘All We Ever Wanted Was Everything’, Ash has delivered a range of incredible moments over his career, imbuing his back catalogue with a multi-faceted nature, a claim that even his most esteemed contemporaries, such as McGeoch and Keith Levene cannot make. 

Dedicated to his craft, it’s a reflection of Ash’s skill that only a year after Bauhaus had formed, Siouxsie and the Banshees wanted to poach him when they were going through their famous guitarist struggles. Ironically though, this search culminated with them signing John McGeoch and having their most fertile period.

Speaking to post-punk in 2014, Ash was asked about the invitation to join Siouxsie and the Banshees, to which he replied: “Yeah, at one point, because they would go through guitarists quickly. I was very flattered at the time. Bauhaus had only been going for a year or so and I got a message saying they wanted me to audition for the band. I had no intention of leaving Bauhaus because I was so excited about what I was doing. I was completely satisfied with being in that band, but it was very flattering to be asked. I think Peter was worried for a second…”

In that same interview, Ash lucidly outlined his guitar playing style and Bauhaus’ refreshing sound: “Well, when we were working together, my personal obsession was to make the band sound like nobody else. If we started working on a song and we’d got to a particular chord change that sounded like pop music or something, or just sounded corny or something we’d heard before, I would deliberately change that and take it somewhere else and do a chord progression or something to make it sound original. Also, I’d use the e-bow a lot, or a drum stick on the strings – anything to avoid sounding like just another rock band.”

He continued: “A big part of the band was to stand out and be something different. I do remember over here when we were first signed up with A&M Records, they couldn’t put us in a category because they didn’t know what we were. They couldn’t put us in rock, or reggae, or pop music; it was just something else, and I personally was chuffed about that. I thought that was great, there wasn’t a category they could put us into. I thought that was an achievement for us.”

For anyone wanting what is Ash’s most rivetting performance on the six-string, look no further than ‘In The Flat Field’. One of he and Bauhaus’s more upbeat takes, in terms of style, think Mick Ronson meets Joy Division-era, Bernard Sumner. Shrewd and atmospheric, wherein effects and technique dance a balancing act, here, you quickly understand where many subsequent guitarists take their cues.

Whilst Daniel Ash’s grandeur is evident for all to hear, it is augmented by the status of the guitar players he’s influenced. 

John Frusciante, who is one of the most eminent guitarists of all time, once said that it is Ash’s commitment to innovation and pushing the boundaries of the instrument that cemented him right at the top of his list of favourites.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers man explained: “I like all kinds of guitar players, but it’s people like the ones I just mentioned [Matthew Ashman of Bow Wow Wow and Bernard Sumner of Joy Division] whose playing really amazes me, and it’s because of their ideas, it’s because of what they thought. It’s because they approached the instrument differently than anybody else. It’s people like Keith Levene from Public Image and Daniel Ash in Bauhaus who are exploring the possibilities of what you can do with the guitar, whereas other people seem like they’re just exploring what you can physically do, and that serves no interest to me anymore.”

However, perhaps the most glittering praise of Daniel Ash’s work came from another one of the most revered axemen of all time, Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction. Speaking to GuitarWorld in 1991, he revealed that his penchant for serving the song over technical peacocking was directly inspired by the Bauhaus guitarist. In his account of Ash, he captured the essence of his work perfectly. 

Navarro said: “Yeah, Daniel Ash, the guitarist from Bauhaus and Love And Rockets. It amazes me how he uses sound, as opposed to technique. For me, it doesn’t matter how difficult something is, it doesn’t matter how impressive it is, it’s what sounds best that really counts. If banging on the open E string with the wah-wah all the way open, so that it’s just a cool frequency sustaining, is what makes the song, that’s great.” 

He continued: “At shows I have seen guitar players come up to the stage and stand right in front of me, cross their arms and get this, like, scowl on their faces, as if to say, ‘Let’s see how good this guy really is.’ But my attitude is, ‘Who fuckin’ cares?’ And Daniel Ash is a great example of that because he’s not the greatest player in the world. But I listen to some of the stuff he does and it’s just a hundred times more interesting to me than listening to a Van Halen record.”

Elsewhere, the other celebrated guitarists that have named Daniel Ash as a defining force in their craft have been the likes of Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, Hide of X Japan, and many more. Adding to this is that his work can be heard in the music of almost every post-punk band in the most recent resurgence, confirming that his influence is not specific to one genre, a testament to the dexterity and pioneering essence of his work.

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