I still remember the first time I saw the music video for Ash‘s ‘The Girl From Mars’. It was the summer of 1995. I had just got home from the beach with my sister and my cousin. As was standard, our first action was to turn on MTV and there it was. Transitioning between black and white scenes to neon colour, I was mesmerised. However, what really blew my mind was that these lads weren’t American, or even English, they were from Downpatrick. I knew Downpatrick, I had been there, we used to go swimming there. Three boys from Northern Ireland were on MTV. That was such a staggering realisation, especially in a period when the Troubles weren’t yet history and Northern Ireland didn’t generally make headlines for positive reasons.
I was immediately hooked and I snapped up the singles, and when I bought the album 1977 in 1996, it was on my cassette player non stop; I was on a mission to learn each song word perfectly. It wasn’t until I went to university in Belfast that I got the opportunity to see them play live. I got there early to make sure I was at the front of the crowd who had packed the Ulster Hall to the rafters. For the next couple of hours I was in heaven, all my practising meant I could sing my heart out along with the band. With a hoarse voice and tired feet, I could not have been happier. This still remains one of my favourite gigs of all time.
I have tried to catch Ash play live everytime they do a homecoming gig, from the time they rocked Botanic Gardens as part of Tennents Vital to last year’s performance in Limelight 1 to promote their latest album Kablammo. One thing that is consistent about every Ash gig, they never disappoint and so I was more than excited to see they were heading to Mandela Hall to mark the 20th anniversary of 1977.
This was not a standard concert however. Before Ash took to the stage, we were treated to music from three acts shortlisted for the NI Music Prize before the overall winner was announced. First up was Ports, an exciting band that excelled at combining fabulous tunes with heartfelt lyrics. Next up was the uber talented Jealous of the Birds, an utterly compelling band with a lead singer, Naomi Hamilton, who oozes so much confidence and is so effortlessly cool that Bronagh, my gig buddy, had a good chuckle when I declared that although I’m probably old enough to be Naomi’s mum, I totally want to be like her when I grow up. The final band to take to the stage before the winner was announced was Girls Names. This band had an intensity and individuality that reminded me of Joy Division – I loved them.
Next up, the face and supporter of local music, Rigsy, welcomed Charlotte Dryden, CEO of Oh Yeah and a representative of NI Music Prize sponsor Blue Moon, to announce the winner of the award, which has previously been won by Soak and Foy Vance. After a healthy build up of tension it was announced this year’s winner was the excellent singer-songwriter Ciaran Lavery.
If that wasn’t cause enough for celebration, it was time for Ash to also be honoured with the Oh Yeah Legend Award (supported by Blue Moon and PRS). It was clear that Tim, Rick and Mark were delighted with this accolade, as were the crowd, who gave the local boys a rapturous round of applause. The only place to go from here, was for Ash to treat us to a performance of 1977 in full.
When they took control of the stage, Ash totally transported me back to my teenage years. The angst of ‘Oh Yeah’, one of my all time favourite songs, still makes my heart skip a beat, the pure perfection of ‘Goldfinger’ had me singing loud and proud and ‘Kung Fu’ had me bopping about like a lunatic. Once each and every song from 1977 was played and savoured, the fun did not stop there as Ash treated the crowd to their hits ‘Shining Light’, ‘Burn Baby Burn’ and ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ as well as brilliant covers of ‘Teenage Kicks’ and ‘Screamager’.
As the night came to a close, I can honestly say I had a brilliant time. Like all those years ago, I managed to score a spot in the front row. I sang til I could sing no more, I danced my feet off and I cheered til my throat hurt. I haven’t enjoyed a concert so much since… well, since Ash, that first time I saw them, all those years ago in the Ulster Hall. I already can’t wait until these literal legends return to home turf with their new album! I will be there, front row, bopping about like it’s 1977.