Ash “Free All Angels” 21st Anniversary Tour – The Ritz, Manchester, UK, 15th September 2022

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Ash Live Sep 22 7

Ash “Free All Angels” 21st Anniversary Tour

The Ritz, Manchester, UK - 15th September 2022

Where do you start with Northern Ireland’s Ash, well how about the beginning, first coming to my attention back in ’95 with their fourth single, Kung Fu, a song that endeared them to me from off with just over two minutes of punk pop joy, it also helped that it featured the infamous Eric Cantona kung fu kick on the cover. By the time they released Girl From Mars I was hooked and caught them on an early tour with China Drum at what is now Manchester’s Academy complex. Now in their 30th year with seven albums under the belt, tonight they are celebrating the 21st anniversary of the third album, Free All Angels, on this three date mini tour. A tour which also sees the welcome return of guitarist Charlotte Hatherley to their line up, sadly only for this tour though.

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Ash have always managed to hit that sweet spot that balances punk energy, rock heaviness and indie cool, not an easy trick to pull off, you can end up with something that’s too abrasive for the indie kids and too slick for the punks and rockers, but Ash seem manage this effortlessly. If you doubt their punk pedigree then this is a band who wear their influences on their collective sleeves, previous covers of the melodic side of punk have dotted their history, Buzzcocks, The Undertones, Weezer, Helen Love and even Mudhoney have been ably handled by them. But the meat and bones has always been their self penned studio albums with the cover versions strictly, and quite rightly, limited to deluxe editions, b-sides and soundtracks. But onto tonight that sees me reunited with Ash for the first time since that early tour in Manchester back in the mid 90’s.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, opening the Free All Angels mini tour are The Gulps, all indie swagger and hyperactive bounce but with the chops to back it up. They possess an electric approach to fashion and possess a sound that lies somewhere between The Strokes, but without the undeserved air of superiority, and a more together TV Coma. They don’t take themselves too seriously, always a positive in my book, and they warm up the steadily swelling crowd nicely ahead of Ash’s eagerly awaited opening set on this unique mini tour.

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Anyone surprised by tonight’s opener being Walking Barefoot hasn’t being paying attention, Ash are playing Free All Angels In full so the dedicated know what’s coming, at least for for the first thirteen tracks. The first two tracks are warmly received but The Ritz truly bursts into life for a triumphant Burn Baby Burn. The faithful run through of their third full length continues unabated, all the while veering between rock, indie and punk as temperatures spiral towards levels not encountered since my recent break in the sun, ok that was only last week but you get the idea. 

it’s clear that tonight’s trip back in time has brought out their die hard fans out in droves as a brutal Shark ups the ante again and Ash appear to be having a ball, with the enthusiastic crowd lapping up the chance to hear Free All Angels in full. The relatively gentle indie vibe of Sometimes gives way to a driven Nicole before the anthemic There’s A Star and frantic World Domination (the bonus tracks aren’t included in the set) round out the time warp that has taken us back over two decades.

That is of course not the end of the story, Ash return for a set of fan favourites culled from their back catalogue that kicks off with a menacing Numbskull, which includes a screaming competition with the crowd. The first song Ash recorded with Charlotte Hatherley, A Life Less Ordinary, makes a logical addition as we head through Warmer Than Fire, Clones, Orpheus and the superb Wild Surf, before we go back to where it all started for me with Kung Fu.

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The final encore features a grinding Projects and culminates in Girl From Mars and the years have peeled away. It’s like I’ve never been away, only I’m nowhere near as drunk (or stupid) as I was almost three decades ago, although opinions may differ on that, there’s no denying Ash still have everything that drew me to them in the first place.

Tonight was a welcome step back in time from a band who can’t be pigeonholed and still have much more ahead of them. The Free All Angels mini tour is celebrating the past for a short but sweet few days, that you could term as a reunion tour if you were so inclined, but hopefully there’s a lot more to come from Ash before nostalgia comes beckoning once more. 

Ash have just released the newly remastered splatter vinyl of the Free All Angels album, the release follows the reissue of their debut album, 1977, earlier this year. If you want to catch them on this tour the Free All Angels 21st anniversary tour hits Birmingham’s Institute today, September 17th, and London’s Kentish Town Forum on the 18th September.

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