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Ash – Ulster Hall review

December 17, 2022

The confetti cannon fires up during ‘There’s a Star’. Father Christmas is on the stage, busting martial arts moves for ‘Kung Fu’. Ancient songs like ‘Petrol’ are set into the air with juvenile fizz. Hey, it’s the 30th birthday party for Ash at the Ulster Hall and all smiles are justified.

Three school pals from Downpatrick are still playing the tunes. So many of these are deep in the collective memory and more than a score of them are bona fide chart moments. Tim Wheeler keeps fetching them out like a stage magician, sustaining the wonder. The audience has aged in the interim and the band members are slightly smudged by time, but essentially, this is joyous, kids’ stuff.

Ash played an Xmas show at the Ulster Hall in 1995, supporting Therapy? They were awkward and in awe of the scale of the night, but the potential was sure. Tonight, Tim’s voice is stronger and he wears the authority of a well travelled player. Rick plays a drum solo. Mark bashes at his Gibson Explorer, three strings intact and he does the angular moves that must worry his medical insurers.

How beautiful is ‘A Life Less Ordinary’? And how does ‘Angel Interceptor’ maintain that lovely flight path? We might also make the case for recent Ash. ‘Darkest Hour’ of the Night’ is a talisman for hard times, sincerely done. Naturally, there’s a special value on ‘Shining Light’ and the mention of Royal David’s City. It’s a rock and roll nativity play, the presentation of gifts.

Nathan from Snow Patrol is onstage for ‘Orpheus’. There’s a throwback to junior Ash when they bring on the big boys from school, Barry Peak and Boyd Lowe from Backwater and they play the latter’s ‘Silver Surfer’. There’s another brilliant payback to Downpatrick when Ash afford the support slot to Charlie Hanlon, just turned 18 and already astute. ‘I Lost Myself’ grows from a hesitant busk into a big anthem, akin to Mic Christopher’s ‘Heyday’.

Damian O’Neill from the Undertones is ready for the encore and the amusing petulance of ‘Buzzkill’. We’re set for ‘Teenage Kicks’ but there’s bonus surprise as James Nesbitt takes the mic and shakes the hips. He’s making a punk rock dream come true and we’re not going to deny Jimmy the massive fun. Likewise, for ourselves. One of the best we ever had.

Stuart Bailie


Ash, Ulster Hall, 16.12.22












Chris W Ryan is wearing a baby pink jacket and sunglasses. He is every inch the charismatic conductor of the softly-spoken storm around him. Chris is Robocobra’s spokesperson, drummer and principal songwriter. Thibo and Tom play saxophone (soprano and tenor respectively). If Robocobra Quartet were a title-chasing football team, these two would play on the wings, providing crosses for their drummer to score. Their insight is polite, considered and often hilarious. Continue Reading…

Ferna Profile, NIMP Special

November 15, 2022

Hannah McPhillimy’s musical debut was accidental. “I started playing when I was doing my music degree. The first time my music got out there, somebody had recorded something, and then just put it online without my permission, which I don’t think is totally ethical! So, I hadn’t put a lot of thought into branding, or how I wanted to present myself as an artist.” However, the unconventional launch of her career didn’t hold back the north coast musician. Within a few short years, McPhillimy had released her first EP and sold out a string of shows across Ireland, sharing stages with SOAK, Foy Vance and The Gloaming. Continue Reading…

Rory Nellis on getting the public vote for Album of the Year at the NI Music Prize for Written & Underlined

“I must admit that it completely blew my mind, so thank you to everyone who took the time to vote. I can assure you that this is a very big deal for me and it’s much appreciated.

I worked so hard to get the album finished in some quite challenging circumstances; meeting the producer Phil d’Alton in car parks to make plans and recording with the band at a safe distance in Half Bap Studios in Belfast. I’ll remember that stuff fondly though. It’ll be the only time I’ll ever get to record like that, I hope. Continue Reading…

At the heart of the Northern Ireland Music Prize is community. A community that doesn’t get a chance to take a step back and enjoy all the love and dedication put into the music created. A community that is supportive and gracious, bands that pick up awards are cheered and congratulated. There’s a sense of pride that swells and travels across the room, it’s lovely as an organiser to see that. One of my favourite descriptions of the awards was from Paul Connolly of The Wood Burning Savages who said it was like a big staff night out for musicians. Continue Reading…

If you were exiled and homesick in the Eighties – part of that wash of Irish émigrés from a damaged island – then you may have taken recourse in a Paul Brady album, Hard Station. Alongside Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, it was a point of focus and a reassurance. We brought the record out when the drink was in and the self-possession was due for a crash. Continue Reading…

The first thing I noticed was Death, standing there nine feet tall, moving silently, scythe in one hand and bony fingers pointing out on the other.

Death wants to know just who caused the arson attack on Cathedral Buildings, formerly home to a row of small, independent businesses on the ground floor and a hive of studios, also formerly home to many incredible creatives across a range of disciplines. Illustrators, violin makers, graphic designers, textile artists, writers, photographers and so much more. Continue Reading…

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”.

Author Annie Dillard’s musings on our perceptions of life call for a closer examination of the minutiae of living, the routines that may seem mundane yet are slowly carving living, hopefully functioning, people out of us. Continue Reading…

Becky McNeice – Profile

August 26, 2022

If we had forever, I still don’t think it’d be enough” sings Becky McNeice on ‘Freeze’. It’s music made for a daydream, but if you stay long enough, you’ll get something to think about. The Belfast artist’s string of pop songs have a slow-burning effect with gentle production and intimate lyrics.

“My family told me to shut up whenever I was singing in the shower, they’d be knocking on the shower saying, shush! So I knew had to get a wee bit better before I put myself out there.” Continue Reading…

Eleanor Gilmore has been awarded the first Carol Clerk Bursary for music journalism. This project aims to support the skills and potential of a female or non-binary music journalist in Northern Ireland.

The bursary honours the trailblazing life of Carol Clerk (1954-2010), an award-winning music writer from Belfast who was News Editor of Melody Maker and also authored books on the likes of Madonna, The Pogues and The Damned. Continue Reading…