On Saturday 9 October 2004, the sleepy little town of Esch-sur-Alzette on the Luxembourg/France border saw Downpatrick rock gods Ash deliver a blistering show. Researchers Reddyfreddy, LuckyStar and Pilot747 were there to witness the event - (see this photo album) and managed to get backstage afterwards for a quick chat with the band themselves. (Well since 2 of us are from Norn Irn1 anyway, they speak the same language dontcha you know).
The concert itself was held in the KulturFabrik - a smallish but very relaxed venue which suited the band's informal style. We bought T-shirts and a couple of beers, played hide and seek in the disappointingly empty hall, counted the number of attendees2 and tried to get our brain cells round the maths of whether this was better or worse, as a proportion of the population, than playing in front of 6,000 at Wembley3.
A local 'punk' band4 came on and played six songs. We discussed the raison d'etre of support bands and reasoned that they're there as a vital means of gaining a wider audience that they couldn't garner on their own. It's a bit like learner drivers, really: every band knows the ignominy of this position, but it's a part of the route to greatness.
After a bit of 'one, two...two'ing5 from the road crew, Ash took the stage and whacked out Meltdown, the title track of their latest album6. They then played on with a mixture of their greatest hits interspersed with most of the songs from Meltdown. The full setlist is at the end of this report.
Despite the low turnout, the crowd were certainly enthusiastic and, towards the end of the gig, the level of exuberance included crowd diving and surfing; one guy leapt onto the stage to kiss Tim7 during the encore! Given the level of excitement normally exhibited by Luxembourg audiences (polite clapping and cries of 'jolly well done!8') this was positively ecstatic!
Having rather cheekily asked for an interview9, Lucky managed to get us all backstage to meet the band. First up, she impressed frontman Tim Wheeler by 'phoning a friend' who was at the Ireland-France football match in Paris to find out the final score and so their conversation got off to a good start:
Tim gets LuckyStarcrossed
LuckyStar: 'This is date 2 of a 51-date tour and you've recently completed a massive tour earlier this year - do you enjoy touring?'
Tim Wheeler: 'It's more of an occupational hazard, really. It's hard work doing all that travelling, spending nights on the tour bus drinking and watching telly en route to the next gig.'
LS: 'Did you manage to see any of Luxembourg while you're here?'
TW: 'I saw a supermarket today! But I didn't get to buy anything.'
LS: 'What do you miss most about home when you're away?'
TW: 'Oh, the comforts of my own bed, my 2 cats, and my girlfriend.'
LS: (aside) 'They're so young!'
TW: (laughing) 'I'm 27 you know!'
LS: 'You've been together for, like, forever - do you ever imagine yourself doing anything else?'
TW: 'Oh yeah I could imagine myself doing loads of different things... working in a pub, maybe...'
LS: 'The new album's got a fantastic new sound - how did that come about?'
TW: 'From touring, particularly in the States. But it's great, it's a much heavier sound, which is bringing us a new audience as well as pleasing our existing fans.'
LS: 'What's your favourite song to perform?'
TW: 'Orpheus! That song really kicks ass!'
LS: 'Oooh, that's my favourite too, I love those tribal drums at the start! Now Charlotte's been doing some solo stuff - any of the rest of you thinking about solo work?'
TW: 'Nah, we all enjoy playing together too much!'
Charlotte Fondles Freddy
Meanwhile, the lovely Charlotte Hatherley was admiring the fake tattoo lil' J10 was sporting on her arm - the stylised ASH with the curvy leading edge on the A and closing leg of the H11.
'Oooh, that's cool!' she said 'Is it real?'
'No' laughed Lucky, 'I painted that earlier on. But you should really see the one that Freddy has on his arm.'
'Why, what's that then?' she asked.
'Well,' said Lucky, 'He knew that you were a big XTC fan - as is he - so he's got the Uffington Horse on his upper arm.'
'Ooh, oh let me see!' she demanded.
So Freddy was duly called over and had his biceps fondled admiringly by possibly the world's sexiest rock chick12 who pronounced:
'Oh I want one of those!'
'Well', said Lucky, 'I can do one for you next time you're here! In fact, when I was looking for suggestions of what to ask Ash, the most popular question was - can I have Charlotte's phone number!'
She laughed and joked, 'It's 8... 7...'
Pilot747 Returns to Bass
Pilot747, having recently acquired a bass guitar himself, was in heaven at the front of the stage watching the long legs of bass meister Mark Hamilton strut his stuff, giving the Evil Eye to Lil J, and generally being mean and moody on stage. He managed to catch up with him and ask:
Pilot747: 'That was a great show! Did you enjoy playing it?'
Mark Hamilton: 'Well, I'm just getting over a cold at the moment, plus we had a bit of a late night last night, but it was cool, yeah.'
P7: 'Who do you admire yourself, as a bassist?'
MH: 'Well I really like Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, but he has a more funky, slap style than me. I love the bass playing in Nirvana and The Pixies, which is more like my style.'
P7: 'You have this fantastic stance on stage - the guitar is somewhere round your knees!'
MH 'Well, I have these big long legs y'know? I just try to find somewhere to put them!'
P7: 'Do you like the smaller venues like tonight, or do you prefer the big arenas?'
MH: 'Actually, in the smaller places you're closer to the audience, you can see actual faces, which is really nice.'
Freddy Rabbits to Rick
Hanging around in the dressing room backstage was a lot of fun and the band were so chatty and friendly that we could have stayed there for ages. But they were anxious to sign autographs and pose for pictures with the fans who were standing in the freezing cold at the dressing room door. So before they disappeared, Reddyfreddy had a quick word with drummer Rick McMurray.
Reddyfreddy: 'Excellent drumming! You were thwackin' the hell out of them skins tonight, weren't you?'
Rick McMurray: 'Yeah well, you got to, y'know!'
RF: 'I guess you're really hyper after a gig...?'
RMcM: 'We're actually really knackered - we've just done 4 gigs in Norn Irn, and we didn't get to bed early after Paris last night.'
RF: 'Well all the best for the tour - we'll hopefully catch you in Trier in December!'
RMcM: 'Cheers mate!'
Post Match Analysis
Why aren't these guys better known? They play good guitar-based rocky pop, with catchy tunes, sweet harmonies and meaningful lyrics. They have an infectious energy, freshness and sense of humour. They work their socks off touring and recording. They've been around for over 10 years... but never had a number 1 hit. Ah well, here's hoping the future holds bigger and better things for them. More info can be found on the Ash-official website, or walking-barefoot.
Here's a photographic record of us before, during, and after the gig, in this photo album.
- Girl From Mars
- Cherry Bomb
- Evil Eye
- Shining Light
- Renegade Cavalcade
- Oh Yeah
- Kung Fu
- Jack Names The planets
- Vampire Love
- Walking Barefoot
- Life Less Ordinary
- The Boys Are Back In Town
- Burn Baby Burn