Ash at the Ulster Hall

Ash at the Ulster Hall

Looking back at some classic shows from the band’s history

Following the success of their 30th-anniversary show at Downpatrick Arts Centre last Sunday, Ash announced their first headline show at the Ulster Hall since their two-nightstand in 2001 during the Free All Angels tour.

Formed in 1992, Tim Wheeler (guitars), Rick McMurray (drums) and Mark Hamilton (bass) first performed at the Ulster Hall in 1995 when they supported Therapy? along with Portadown’s Joyrider.

This was the first time I had seen them live and they only had Trailer mini-album out at this stage.  1977 wouldn’t be released until the following year but they had already released Kung Fu, Girls from Mars and Angel Interceptor as singles giving us a taste of what was to come.  Those three songs would feature on their set list that evening.

Strangely enough, the 1977 tour took place in Belfast’s Maysfield Leisure Centre and not the Ulster Hall.  I was out of the country at the time so I missed this show but was really puzzled as to why their first headline show shouldn’t have been the Ulster Hall.

They did come back to Belfast in 1997 for a warm-up show at the Limelight ahead of their support slot for U2 at Belfast’s Botanic Gardens.

The band returned to the Ulster Hall to headline for the Nu-Clear Sounds tour in 1998 promoting what many called the difficult second album.  As Tim Wheeler recalled many bands that have a flop second album normally get dropped by their labels.

Many see it as a flop but I think it is really a very underrated album. This was the first time the band became a four piece with the introduction of Charlotte Heatherly as second guitarist.

Thankfully, this wasn’t the case as Ash returned with Free All Angels and it was a huge hit.  The traditional Christmas show was kept going at the Ulster Hall when they played two nights at the iconic venue on 17/12 and 19/12/01, so it is quite fitting they are returning to play on 16/12/22.

Those two gigs were a fitting end to a very successful 2001 comeback.

Apart from support and headline shows at the Ulster Hall, Ash has also taken part in a few other gigs that were held there.

The first one was for BBC Radio Ulster’s Across the Line when the station hosted Do You Remember the First Time?  which had local bands play on stage two songs, one being the song by a band that they saw there and one of their own songs.

The show took place on 09/03/09 and tickets went very quickly so I missed out on this one.

The second one Ash shared the same stage with The Divine Comedy and The Undertones on 03/11/11 which was a fundraising gig for Alzheimer’s Society.  I was at this gig but was really surprised when I was researching this that on Setlist.FM had this down as the 10th anniversary Free All Angels show.

I checked out with music journalist David Roy at The Irish News and he confirmed that this was a major mix-up by Setlist.FM.

We agreed that it wouldn’t have been possible for Ash to do two shows at the Ulster Hall within weeks of each other.  I was over in London for the Free All Angels show at the HMV Forum.

There was no mention of the Alzheimer’s gig, but I searched Divine Comedy and it came up for them. 

David told me that the band popped into the Ulster Hall for a cameo appearance on Arthur’s Day which is a Guinness-themed promotion on 22/09/11 before heading over to Lavery’s to do a show.  That was one of those you need to be in the know moments to find out something like that happening.

The Alzheimer’s gig was amazing. Tim was a passionate supporter of the charity as his father George was diagnosed with it at the time.  Tim’s father passed away in January 2011.

All three bands played their debut albums.  This was the first time I had heard them play 1977 in its entirety.  After The Undertones finished their set both Ash and Neil Hannon from Divine Comedy joined The Undertones on stage for another blast of Teenage Kicks (now a regular on most Ash shows).

Thirty years is a long time for a band being together and I have many great memories of seeing them play at festivals and other venues. But the Ulster Hall is a special place to see them. It definitely is where you remember seeing your favourite band for the first time and for me 30/12/95 forever has a place in my heart. Roll on 16/12/22. Hope Charlotte Heatherly can make an appearance too!

Tickets available via Waterfront and Ulster Hall.

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