Gloucester, Guildhall Arts Centre
6th June 2012
With all the headline-grabbing anniversaries lately (35 years of that Sex Pistols single, Liz's thousand-year reign) it's easy to overlook another significant anniversary: 2 decades of some of the most exciting, tuneful and just plain cool Punk / rock ever to come out of Northern Ireland. Yes, hard as it is to believe, those Ash boys have been firing out Flying V-powered sonic bombshells for 20 years. And a mere 8 months since their Free All Angels / Greatest Hits tour they're back to show us how it's done...
Expectations are high in a sold-out, blisteringly hot Guildhall as Tim, Mark and Rick hit the stage... and we're not disappointed. From the singalong powerpop crunch of Girl From Mars and Shining Light, to the big-ballad Someday, to the perfect Summer love song that is Walking Barefoot, Ash prove themselves to be masters of the anthemic and the life-affirming. The enthusiasm and sheer joy in their playing is infectious as they blast through their mixture of razor-sharp riffs, unforgettable melodies and emotion-laden lyrics. There's not a trace of cynicism or going-through-the-motions as they revisit such classics as the gorgeous Burn Baby Burn, or a brutal Kung Fu, or more recent epics as Return Of White Rabbit - just the sight of three friends who have had their ups and downs in the long road since forming the band while still at school, but are still here and still loving it. And still rocking!
Gloucester audiences can sometimes seem reserved (and definitely were the last time Ash played here in 2009) but tonight they go absolutely nuts, the capacity crowd surging and collapsing and surging again like some giant Rock amoeba, hell-bent on having a good time. The heat threatens to melt the ornate plasterwork of the former ballroom and the sprung floor feels inches away from cracking and dropping us all into the bowels of the Guildhall, but still the battered crowd keep on slamming and body-surfing. My mate turns to me and says "I'll never stop doing this!"
Tim Wheeler, a huge grin on his face, thanks us all for supporting the band throughout the years and talks a little of their first band rehearsals, twenty years ago, and then Ash launch into one of the first songs they ever wrote, Jack Names The Planets, still as fresh and vital as ever. Before we know it they've pummelled us with two encores of Punk-pop perfection and they leave the stage, waving and still grinning, mission accomplished.
Ash: a force, a constant source, a shining light...
All words by Simon Barton. Simon blogs from The Glass Walking Stick which can be found here.