Review by Damien Doherty for MPM
This is a band I’ve literally grown up listening to, the same age as myself, and in their infancy my mates and I were also trying to forge a fledgling musical career. Of course the lads from Ash had an advantage in that they were much more talented and handsome than we were.
And time has fared well for the lads, all still looking handsome, fit and well. Tim Wheeler has lost none of his boyish good looks, Rick McMurray is sporting a beard that can only be described as being as legendary as he is (side note, at a Super Furry Animals gig at the Limelight in the early 90s I got word that my mate had passed out in the toilets, upon my arrival there was Rick attending to him, so let me restate – Rick is a Legend!). And Mark Hamilton; well I’d like to know what fountain of youth he’s drinking from, he’s as fresh faced as the first day and exploding with energy as he wrestles his Thunderbird bass around the stage.
Support for tonight’s gig is by Downpatrick teenager Charlie Hanlon and his band, playing a super indie rock/pop set, and the crowd love it. Definitely one to watch in the future.
By nine o’clock the Ulster Hall is filled to capacity, I’d say they could have sold this out over several nights. The excitement is building with calls and whistles for the band.
Then we have the familiar intros to The A-Team, then (Fl)Ash, albeit both slightly modified, signaling the arrival of the Co. Down trio.
The audience erupts and the band set out their stall immediately by launching into my golden trinity of Ash songs – Goldfinger, Shining Light, and A Life Less Ordinary – a strong start indeed! Three of the most carefully crafted compositions in indie/alternative rock history. Angel Interceptor has the whole place jumping, and then it’s right back to the beginning, Jack Names The Planets, (I wonder has anyone actually called a planet Nieuw-Vennep (cos that’s a good name for a planet)).
First of the nights’ special guests now, Backwater’s Barry and Boyd join for their song Silver Surfer, there’s now twin Flying Vs on the stage, and the guys stay for a beefed up version of Petrol. The districting opening chords of Uncle Pat ring out. Nostalgia time again – I remember how excited I was at the time that this song was used for a Heineken ad, helping to thrust the lads further into the limelight. It might be Xmas but there’s no silent night as Oh Yeah hits, the entire audience singing along.
Next up we have Sometimes, one of the most beautiful songs about break-up and heartache there is, a lyrical mastery laden with astrological metaphors. The multitudes join in as Walking Barefoot commences, before all hell breaks loose! And I get to share a moment with Tim as he spots me waving frantically from the balcony and responds with a deft throw of the horns without missing a note.
Enter the next special guest, Snow Patrols Nathan Connolly, and the quartet launch into a superb version of Orpheus, Rick taking a thunderous drum solo. Then Clones the lead single from the Meltdown album, and something Ash could never be accused of being. Exit Nathan and the band launch into one of the most perfect indie-pop songs written, Arcadia. Newest song Darkest Hour of the Night next and Tim delights the crowd with word that they are writing new material, roll on 2023!.
Every hand in in the air clapping for Confessions in the Pool, followed by Let’s Ride with Tim tap-tap-tapping out his solo, and then a microphone appears on stage for Mark and somethings a-brewing. Arghhhhhhhhhh in unison as Numbskull strikes with a challenge to the assembled masses, it’s a scream off. Tim then Rick vs the audience, before Mark blows everyone away with guttural aplomb!
It may be -2 outside but everyone’s sweating inside, and it’s about to get hotter. Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan noises signal Kung Fu as martial arts Santa appears from stage right, busting moves all over the shop. And hold on, where’s Mark going? Off over the barriers into the crowd, barely visible in the throng near the front he plays out the remainder of the tune before crowdsurfing back to the stage. “Good wee posse there” he declares while he’s regaining his composure. No time to recover though, Girl From Mars is up and everyone dances, jumps, and sings along.
Last song of the night declares Tim, “Ash’s most Xmassy song” There’s a Star. It’s a beautifully emotional experience, there’s tears in a few eyes as everyone enjoys the moment, many locked arm in arm, swaying.
5 minutes later and they’re back, and with them is Derry superstar Damian O’Neill from the Undertones. They rock into the fantanstic Buzzkill, the song that Damian and Mickey Bradley collaborated on, but no one’s killing the buzz tonight.
With Dee still on stage I think everyone has guessed the next song, but what follows is one of the most surreal two and a half minutes. Acting luminary and one of Northern Irelands favourite sons Jimmy Nesbitt appears on vocals – and he kills it! He deftly delivers the timeless classic Teenage Kicks with confidence and swagger, peeling off his jacket and fires it into the crowd midway to reveal a specially designed NI football shirt with the number 30 on the back! If the acting doesn’t work out you know what to do instead Jimmy!
But now it’s really the end, Tim speaks about not knowing what it is that’s kept the guys together for 30 years, but Rick says it best by declaring his love for his bandmates in a truly touching moment. What better to send the fans home with than Burn Baby Burn, everyone is on their feet and the venue is hopping. To rapturous applause the lads leave to the sound of Harry Belafonte singing Jump in the Line (Shake Senora) in the background, before Rick calypsos back onto stage for a last goodbye.
What a fucking gig was all I could think as I exited the venue. Note perfect and energetic performance with fantastic sound and lighting, an iconic band in such an iconic venue. In the company of my 14-year-old son I too was a teenager again, albeit for just a couple of hours. Ash everybody, superstars one and all!
Photography by MPM