It had been some 13 years since going to see Ash play their own show, apart from a couple of festival experiences focusing on the hits. But after hearing their new album Race The Night (their first in six years) I jumped at the chance to see the Ulster trio rip it up in London; especially exciting to hear that The Subways were co-headlining.
The Subways bounded onto the stage, now sporting a new lineup with Camille Phillips on drums. They are still as energetic as when I first witnessed them back in the mid-noughties. Frontman Billy Lunn was beaming from ear to ear and let us know how happy he was to be on the same stage as his childhood heroes.
They played all their hits including ‘Girls and Boys’ and ‘With You’, alongside new tracks, ‘Black Wax’ and ‘Influencer Killed the Rocks Star’ – about a music industry colleague who swapped his guitar to be a YouTube star.
The main surprise was that Billy hadn’t retired from his acrobatic stage diving and ran up to the nearest balcony and leaped off the stairs into a sea of brave middle-aged audience members, who would have a special tale to tell their co-workers in the morning. Well, maybe after leaving casualty.
After a short turnaround the headline act and the third band of the evening (absolute value for money), Ash hit the stage to Queen’s ‘Flash’, or was it ‘Ash’? Singer Tim Wheeler just about pulled off the Miami Vice shades and white suit jacket look, bassist Mark Hamilton stuck to the tried and tested t-shirt and jeans combo. However, drummer Rick McMurray had made the biggest change sporting a trucker cap and beard.
Ash confidently went into ‘Like a God’ and ‘Race the Night’ before engaging with the audience, thus proving that they are still a tour de force. They played a mixture of old and new by releasing a super- charged version of their 1996 single ‘Goldfinger’. Throughout the number and for most of the gig, Hamilton would wrestle his bass to the ground and then pull off some yoga style movements whilst keeping in time perfectly. The hits continued with ‘Angel Interceptor’ from their debut album 1977, and possibly their finest moment ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ – the greatest thing to come out of the Danny Boyle film.
“It’s the final night of the tour, so we are going to go for it!” cried Tim, and that they did. It’s one of life’s mysteries as to why Ash are still playing these small sized venues when some of their contemporaries are headlining festivals. They have such a fine back catalogue of songs and have yet to come out with extreme opinions to create a backlash. They must just lack the luck of their fellow Irishmen.
But, back to the music. The band played several tracks off the latest album as well as all of the hits, though they ignored their albums from 2007-2018, a shame for the hardcore fans. ‘Orpheus’ still rocks the venue, and ‘Kung Fu’ will always create havoc down the front. However.
I was more interested to hear their latest material such as ‘Usual Places’ and ‘Oslo’ (featuring guest singer Démira, who flew in from Netherlands) being highlights. The statuesque Démira would rejoin the band wearing a tour t-shirt to sing, possibly the band’s finest tune in over a decade, ‘Crashed Out Wasted’ with a killer Wheeler guitar solo that ended their set.
The night was not over, though. Ash and The Subways would both run back onto the stage to play an encore which would include both bands playing the ‘Oh Yeah’ hit. Ash would perform it first followed by The Subways, the second time that night.
It was a magical moment to see all six members on stage including dual drummers. The o2 Kentish Forum lapped up the occasion with phones hanging from limbs to share with their envious friends later. As the dust settled, Ash were left on stage to end the night with their last remaining hit, 2001’s ‘Burn Baby Burn’ – a perfect song for a perfect gig.