For the second year running Ash have managed to put on a show at Belfast’s historic Ulster Hall with the aim of promoting local Northern Ireland talent on the run-up to the holidays. This time the festive show coincided with a string of dates promoting their latest album Race the Night.
First of this year’s local bands, Belfast five-piece Wynona Bleach, who bring a heady blend of of alternative rock and catchy hooks to a growing audience. The dual vocals of Melyssa Shannon and Jonny Woods work really well, they were lively, fun and ready to party. They played a good mixture of tunes from their recent catalogue. They finished off their set with the 2018 single Eyes Burning which left the chorus line ‘This is what kids do’ ringing in this reviewers head well after the band had left the stage.
Next up, Brand New Friend, hailing from the north coast town Castlerock, their brand of alternative pop-rock is introspective and heartfelt. They are clearly comfortable performing for large crowds, with brother and sister, Taylor and Lauren Johnson taking turns on lead vocals, their songs seem to draw on influences from Paramore, Snow Patrol and Jimmy Eat World. Understandably they were taking the opportunity to promote their latest album Grandstand, and a large part of their set was taken from the 2023 release. Highlights included Talk it Out and Zero.
Keeping with the 80’s neon/DeLorean theme of Ash’s latest album cover vocalist and guitarist Tim Wheeler, is soon rocking the stage sporting large aviator sunglasses and a white sports jacket, complete with rolled up sleeves and shoulder pads a-la Miami Vice. His ensemble is completed with a matching white Flying V which worked perfectly both visually and sonically to rip in to the open riff of Like a God. As expected the opening was tight and heavy, and of course Ash are known for writing catchy hooks and memorable singalong choruses, that hasn’t changed with new album title track Race The Night which quickly got the crowd singing and dancing. That crowd were clearly there to party having filed in from the various local bars and eateries, they didn’t have to wait long for Ash to dip into their back catalogue of songs. With hits spanning over 30 years, they revel in playing Angel Interceptor, A Life Less Ordinary, and Goldfinger in quick succession. As the energetic set continues there is a good balance of tunes from the back catalogue and new songs from Race the Night, all of which have plenty of grit and attitude.
Older anthems such as Shining Light and Oh Yeah sit perfectly well alongside the new anthem Crashed Out Wasted, other highlights from the evening included Orpheus and Confessions in the Pool which showcases just what a great rhythm section Ash has in drummer Rick McMurray and Mark Hamilton.
As the Main set closes with Girl from Mars, the crowd are in full festive party mood as they raise the obligatory call-back to the stage by singing Ole, Ole, Ole. After a brief mic set up, Ash does return to the stage, this time in matching Santa hats, along with Taylor and Lauren from New Found Friend and Wynona Bleach’s Melyssa and Jonny for a lively rendition of Last Christmas (Wham!).
As the venue curfew approaches the encore is closed out with Uncle Pat from their 1994 debut release Trailer, and crowd favourite Burn Baby Burn.
There is no denying Ash’s ability to write a catchy tune, and tonight was a great opportunity to engage with their strong stage presence and get nostalgic with those tunes many of us heard on the radio back in the 90s and 00s. Perhaps the best takeaway from the night though, is the healthy, talented batch of new bands coming through ready to to take up the challenge and write the next batch of teenage anthems.