LIVE: Ash / The Gulps - Birmingham O2 Institute, 17/09/2022 2

LIVE: Ash / The Gulps – Birmingham O2 Institute, 17/09/2022

Twenty one years after it stormed to Number 1 in the charts, Ash are in town to celebrate their classic 3rd record Free All Angels with a ’playing the album in full’ show at the Institute.

Along for the ride are The Gulps, an energetic band who wear their influences on their collective sleeves, (and those influences largely seem to be The Clash and the Sex Pistols). They feed off the audience reaction, (the venue is already about 80% full even when they begin their set), and deliver a set of anthemic pop-punk that is well received by the Ash crowd. Current single ’King Of The Disco’ is a lot of fun, matching (as you may expect) a thumping disco beat to the band’s punky sound.

The Saturday night audience now nicely warmed up, Ash take to the stage complete with the returning guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, (she was in the band for their 2nd, 3rd and 4th albums, the middle one being Free All Angels, before going on to make some excellent records under her own name), and begin ’Walking Barefoot’ gently, extending the start of the song slightly before it bursts into life like its recorded version and then makes way for perhaps the best-known Ash moment, ’Shining Light’ (a Top 10 hit in 2001), which prompts a mass sing-a-long and is a sign that the band is delivering the album in its original order, instead of saving the hits till last as some artists do in these kind of shows.

The hits keep coming, (there were five of them on Free All Angels), with fan favourite ‘Burn Baby Burn’ taking off the metaphorical roof, the band sounding immense, bass hero Mark Hamilton throwing some Peter Hook shapes as the song motors along and drummer Rick McMurray gleefully providing the beats. ’Candy’ (another smash!) was a big departure for the band at the time, with it’s Walker Brothers sample, and will be the only song where singer Tim Wheeler sheds his guitar to deliver the vocals. It’s still a one-off in the Ash catalogue, despite the considerable musical variation later employed on their A-Z singles series (the band released a single every two weeks in 2010, which gave them licence to experiment with different sounds without the constraints of album sequencing and led to some fantastic work).

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The band plough through the album, only pausing for Wheeler to briefly address the crowd for the first time after a buoyant ’Cherry Bomb’, where he notes that he’d ”Better have a chat or the album will be done in no time, it’s flying by!” and asking if anyone in the audience is younger than the album, (about 50% are from the replies, fewer from appearances alone!), before picking up to deliver the rest of the record in its faithful order. ’Sometimes’ sees the versatile Hatherley adding keyboards and vocals, it’s a sweet moment; there are plenty of lighter moments on Free All Angels – the brilliant ’There’s A Star’ also employs Hatherley’s keyboard skills and even sounds a little like Mercury Rev’s ‘The Dark Is Rising’ at the beginning of this version. It always sounded like an album’s final track but Ash played a trick on us by placing the incendiary ’World Domination’ at the end in a counter-intuitive piece of sequencing.

With the album finished, the band are now into bonus territory, and they don’t disappoint. They understandably concentrate on the Charlotte-era material, kicking off the second section of the show with the brilliant ’Numbskull’, the trademark screams delivered in turn by the members of the band and the audience getting a go too, an ”Ash versus Birmingham screaming contest”, as Wheeler puts it. Non-album 1997 single ’A Life Less Ordinary’, (recorded for the film of the same name), comes next and still sounds like one of the best Ash moments of all, it was their first single as a newly-formed four piece at the time and the way it’s approached, it’s clear that the band still have a lot of affection for the song.

There are a couple of covers along the way (Little Hell’s ’Warmer Than Fire’ and later, Weezer’s ‘Only In Dreams’ – both featured on Ash B-sides) and a couple from 2004’s heavier Meltdown album, (the single ’Orpheus’ and video game classic ’Clones’), and then the band perform the evening’s earliest track, the irresistible single ’Kung Fu’, which, though it wasn’t Ash’s first single, was the one that sent them into the big league.

It’s hard to imagine an Ash show without ’Girl From Mars’ and it’s a celebratory version of the song that ends proceedings for the night. It’s been a fun journey through the Ash of yesteryear, the band full of heart, humour and sounding as vital as ever. Next time out it will hopefully be for the next album – 2018’s Islands was right up their with their best work and these ‘looking back’ shows have shown that their live appeal is as strong as ever.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.