Limelight Belfast

A lot has changed since 1996, when a fresh-faced ASH barnstormed the UK music scene with their debut studio album 1977. However, as they appear on the sticky black stage of The Limelight – Belfast, on a cold Decembers eve 2021, a warm familiarity floods the eagerly anticipating audience. Like your family’s ‘good tea set’, taken out to be carefully admired and revered, the crowd behold the ‘Godfathers’ of the Northern Irish music scene with an inexplicable wonderment and awe. A few extra wrinkles cannot dull the warmth of frontman Tim Wheeler’s ‘boy-next-door’ smile as he greets the throngs. He adorns his golden Gibson Les Paul and as if by magic, teleports the audience through two decades’ worth of pop-rock hits.


Set opener, sludgy foot stomper ‘Goldfinger’ gets the crowds’ hips oscillating, and minds drifting back to the simpler times of 90’s adolescence. Bassist Mark Hamilton wanders the stage with a bemused intensity until he settles, legs akimbo to rumble out his cavernous bass hooks. It isn’t long until the set list withdraws the ‘big guns’ and ‘super hits’ from its proverbial holster. Track three, ‘Shining Light’ penetrated the U.K top 10 singles chart in the early noughties, and is, by any stretch of the imagination, a bubble gum punk anthem to truly behold. The crowds’ mood ascends at the choral pinnacles and an emotional joy wave of nostalgia births itself, and never subsides.


Surprisingly, the wistful classic ‘Oh Yeah’ rears its head much earlier in the set than I had previously imagined, and perhaps even wagered on. Arguably, the band’s most recognisable song, a 90’s classic – a heartfelt ode to teenage love and summer itself. The chorus sweeps through the room in its thundercloud simplicity and the crowd succumbs to the enchanting couplet…
“Oh yeah she was taking me over, and Oh yeah it was the start of the summer.”  

Drummer Rick Mc Murray in bedraggled, Grizzly Adams-chic (beard, baseball cap and check shirt) looks like he has spent the last 25 years living in a remote cabin in the woods somewhere. However, his hypothetical hermitage has not hampered the percussionist’s metronomic reliability. Mc Murray rattles around the kit effortlessly, simultaneously adding lush backing vocals intermittently, proving himself to be the solid heartbeat of the Downpatrick three-piece.

It's well-established knowledge that ASH love a cover version. Illustrious and varied takes on Buzzocks, Helen Love, Little Hell, Pixies and ABBA have wowed previous audiences. So, when the crowd hear the opening chords of ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ from 70s rock group The Only Ones, they can’t believe their luck. The crowd bop and sway to a punk pop classic, that (in an alternate universe) ASH could have perhaps written themselves.

It was somewhat serendipitous that this gig, rescheduled four times, landed randomly in the festive period, giving the band the opportunity to perform in Belfast during the Christmas season – a tradition they are much fond of. What was even more fitting was their second cover of the night, ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, which gives the crowd a near lethal injection of Christmas spirit – like a syringe filled with cranberry sauce and mistletoe. Delicious but deadly.

Then we blink and the set-list is drawing to a close. ‘Burn Baby Burn’ the finale, is ushered in by Wheeler’s shrieking guitar and they are joined onstage by local support act ‘Wood Burning Savages’ for a raucous, energy driven take on the noughties superhit. As I watch the chaos ensue, I wonder where the night has gone? Where have the last 25 year gone? The questions are purely rhetorical and dissipate quickly in the fuzzing guitar anthem. Then ASH vacate the stage – like the ‘good tea set’, back into the rockn’roll cupboard to be excavated and awed upon once more.

Words By Declan McKay and pix by Sarah McPanic.


Ash - the most interviewed band by R*E*P*E*A*T, some of which maybe here:
1996 - issue 6, 2001 issue 17, 2008 here, 2010 here 2016 here plus solo interviews and loads of reviews, pix and more

Many more Ash pix and reviews all over the R*E*P*E*A*T website, use the search thingy!