Ash, The Parlotones
Abbas Ali 28/04/2010
As I wrestle my way through crowds of people to the Main Debating Hall of Manchester Uni's student union, I wonder ; Like some American style high school reunion movie, I have to ask myself whatever happened to the class of '95? Well, let's see. The mid-nineties was a golden period of British music that produced a host of bands, but it does seem that most of them have given up the ghost.
The recent Blur reunion and accompanying documentary 'No Distance Left To Run', while touching and moving for audiences, cemented the idea that Blur were a band of the past. Oasis, after countless changes in their lineup, gave up the ghost quite publically and acrimoniously, of course. And lesser bands, such as Supergrass and Idlewild have recently announced they are to hang up their guitars due to a lack of interest and changes in the music scene. It looks like there are no nineties bands left to speak of in town.
Then again, somehow, surviving wave after wave of changes in trend in the fickle world of music, we have Northern Irish band Ash. Coming to prominence in 95 as teenagers with the slacker punk anthems 'Kung Fu' and, probably their most famous hit, 'Girl From Mars', the trio led by guitarist/singer Tim Wheeler did not sit neatly with the Britpop scene of the time, but their youthful, bracing power pop won people over. But where does it fit, a decade and a half later?
Well, on tonight's evidence, it still doesn't. Most of the audience this evening in Manchester are over 25, some over 45, and mostly male, though there are a few young faces around. It's a fine line with bands of a certain age. They are to some extent, encouraged to become a tribute act to themselves, the message from the public is loud and clear: “Play your hits and fuck off”.
Flying in the face of this, Ash are band fighting to still be relevant, to write, record and play new material. Of course, they wheel out the hits, of which there are so many, it's shocking. Whether it's glorious anthems like 'Burn Baby Burn', 'Orpheus' or 'Shining Light', they play one hit after another. But, they bravely mix in newer songs, from the current, innovative run of 26 singles they are releasing every fortnight, the 'A-Z Series'. They're joined for this tour by new blood in the form of Bloc Party's Russell Lissack, who is every inch the skinny, floppy-haired epitome of indie they would attract if they were 10 years younger.
And therein lies the rub. Ash are a band that deserve to be packing out larger venues, given the quality of their hits, and the style of music, which will undoubtedly be revived by some other band at some point in the next few years. New songs like 'Dionysian Urge' and 'Neon' are as vital as anything they've ever done, or anything a band 10 years younger might do. Sadly for them, the current singles collection has gone largely untouched by the mainstream music media. Unless things change drastically for them, It seems Ash are a band onto diminishing returns, and commercially, on a downward arc. Let's hope their luck changes.