Belfast Telegraph

Ash still burning brightly 20 years after landmark gig

By Allan Preston

Two decades after sharing the stage with Bono and U2 to champion the Good Friday Agreement, rockers Ash are back in Belfast for BBC Six Music's Biggest Weekend.

Speaking before today's gig, the Downpatrick power trio recalled the buzz of playing at the momentous peace concert in 1998, their anger that Brexit could ruin it all, and "ripping off" The Undertones for their new album Islands.

After 26 years together, frontman Tim Wheeler, bassist Mark Hamilton and drummer Rick McMurray have had no problem slipping back into their teenage camaraderie.

The former Down High School pupils promised a surprise guest appearance alongside their hits for the afternoon set on the Titanic slipway.

Wheeler and Hamilton are both based in New York, with McMurray settled in Edinburgh.

This time around the band have enlisted the help of punk legends The Undertones, with members Mickey Bradley and Damian O'Neill providing backing vocals on the album.

"I did an Alzheimer's benefit gig last November up in Bushmills," said Wheeler, who has campaigned for those with the condition since his father George's death in 2011.

"I had just written the track Buzzkill, but I was watching The Undertones and thought: 'I've really ripped off their style'.

"So I thought if I asked them to do back-up vocals it'll make up for it, and they were well up for it."

The band still treasure their part in the momentous concert at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast in May 1998, days before the Good Friday Agreement vote.

"I was relieved at getting through it, but we went back upstairs and politicians like John Hume were there," said McMurray.

"I remember him saying: 'This is the thing that's going to make the difference'. That was just incredible to hear.

"You might think we weren't into politics, but the time our 1977 album came out in 1996 we played Maysfield Leisure Centre in Belfast and we thought: 'This is something the politicians of our country are unable to do. We've just got a room full of Protestants and Catholics, unionists and nationalists, all having a great time'."

Hamilton is angry that Brexit could derail the Agreement.

"They didn't think about the rest of the country. It had nothing to do with what people really wanted. If the Good Friday Agreement falters because of that, it's just sickening," he said.

Wheeler added: "I'm just glad that, looking back, we've had 20 mostly peaceful years. Maybe I'll call Bono and do another gig."

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