Photography & Review: Glenn Rossington.
Saturday night in B-town and celebrating a 21st Birthday is not normally my kind of setting, but when it comes to the 21st Anniversary of a formidable album, complete with the full original line-up who played on said record is a situation I don’t want to miss. Northern Ireland’s Ash are in town, playing a trilogy of dates across the UK to celebrate their 2001 ‘Free All Angels’ album.
Alan McGee’s newest signing is in support tonight, The Gulps. Based in London but made up of members from the four corners of Europe and the Middle East. Their hybrid sound of The Clash meets The Hives, meets the Sex Pistols certainly got the audience warmed up with frontman Harry All giving it his all to the baying crowd. Their set went down a storm with tracks such as ‘Surrender’, ‘Freedom to the People’ and set closer ‘The Kings House’ being particular standouts.
By the time 9pm rolls around, the audience are in fine fettle. A bunch of indie/punk classics are being pumped out via the in-house sound system as the start of the show is delayed by roughly 10 minutes. When the lights eventually fade, Ash frontman Tim Wheeler walks casually to the centre of the stage, picking up his trademark Flying V and launches straight into the opening riff to ‘Walking Barefoot’.
The opening is elongated as each member takes their place on the stage; Charlotte Hatherley steps up and is greeted by cheers (she has returned for these anniversary shows only), next is bassist Mark Hamilton, and finally drummer Rick McMurray. Once everyone is in place and jamming along to the opening section, boom! We are off.
What follows is an intense but brilliant and fun filled set with the band playing the album in full. Obviously, we get the hits from the record: ‘Shining Light’, ‘Burn Baby Burn’, ‘Sometimes’, ‘Candy’ and ‘There’s A Star’. But it’s some of the rarer tracks tonight that are so impressive. ‘Cherry Bomb’, ‘Submission’ and ‘Nicole’ sound mega. ‘Shark’ and the closing ‘World Domination’ equally bringing the cheers to the evening.
As the last notes die out, the band launch straight in to the “hits and obscurities” section. We begin with a battle, or as Tim Wheeler describes it; “Ash vs Birmingham” as we have a scream off which signals the classic ‘Numbskull’. ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ (the first Ash single to feature Hatherley on guitar), ‘Projects’, ‘Orpheus’ and ‘Clones’ complete the main set alongside a cover of Little Hell’s ‘Warmer Than Fire’ and a final version of ‘Kung Fu’.
Traditionally, after a few minutes of chanting and applause from the crowd, the band return for an encore. They begin by blind sighting us by launching in to their Weezer cover of ‘Only In Dreams’. Unless you were at the previous night in Manchester (or saw it via Setlist FM) then this was unexpected. Wheeler addresses the audience and thanks us for coming out to celebrate with them.
“Here’s an old one I think you might know!” he declares before the band rip into the classic ‘Girl From Mars’. This final track signifies intense moshing from the front rows as the now middle-aged Britpoppers have their moment bouncing along with pure elation and glee. As the track comes to a rousing conclusion signaling the end of the show, the band come together and
take a moment to breathe in the adoration in the room. Fists in the air and smiles all round, the band say their goodbyes and vacate the stage.
Ash always were one of the most exciting bands from that era, and despite releasing a string of stunning albums since, it was a blast to have them back celebrating this classic album in full, reminding fans both old and new that they still have the magic and still are an exciting live act.