Ash spark trapped in the rock schoolyard


Things haven't gone quite according to masterplan for the Downpatrick rockers. Following their exuberant debut album, 1977, Ash seemed to lose their pop sparkle; their second effort, Nu-Clear Sounds, was a muddle of metal riffs, distinctly lacking in pure pop brilliance. With lost ground to regain, the band have embarked on a short tour to reacquaint themselves with their hardcore fans, and perhaps win back the rock-'n'-roll high ground.

You can't remain a teenager forever, and part of Ash's problem is that they never broke out of the rock'n'-roll schoolyard. To their fans, Ash are eternally doing their A-levels and falling in love with girls from Mars; to their detractors, they're a band who just won't grow up and evolve. Watching them run through their best-known tunes at the Music Centre, you wonder if leader Tim Wheeler has it in him to graduate to A-list rock god status.

While songs like Goldfinger, Angel Interceptor and Girl From Mars still shone, there was a feeling of faded glory about them. If anything can restore Ash's brilliant sheen, it's the upcoming new single, Shining Light. The song shows that Wheeler can still pen a fine pop tune in the vein of Oh Yeah. The band's new album is due out next spring, so that'll be the time to judge if Ash can pass their latest musical exams.

For the sweating fans at the Music Centre, however, it was old-school Ash tunes like Petrol and Jack Names The Planets which really got them moshing and crowd-surfing. Class dismissed - for now.

Plays until Saturday September(booking at 01-6082461) prior to tour

A Snail In My Prime

Hugh Lane Gallery

By Douglas Sealy

The various instruments assembled by composer Michael Holohan to accompany Paul Durcan's poem, A Snail In My Prime, included Bronze Age horns, didgeridoos, conches, uilleann pipes and bodhran as well as the more conventional flute, cello and marimba.

Their use was "to evoke a special atmosphere" associated with Newgrange, the scene of the poem; although since about 1,000 years elapsed between the building of the tomb and the first Bronze Age instruments, the cello was hardly more anachronistic than the horns, and the special atmosphere was more conceptual than authentic.

Durcan's poem, delivered with the author's own caressing portentousness which lingers lovingly on most words, is about himself, with Newgrange seen as a breeding ground for snails. "Slug love/Older than the Pyramids/Christ Jesus/I am a snail in my prime" is how it begins (and ends), and Durcan's histrionic talent, even though clumsily amplified, doesn't need musical assistance. The singing of some of the lines in a rather poppy style by Melanie O'Reilly emphasised the eclectic nature of the proceedings which, like a loosely organised session, had recitation and song, ceili band and pop group jumbled together.

Durcan's characteristic style, which dances on a tightrope between the solemn and the absurd, was best seen in an extract (unaccompanied) from Christmas Day, in which he is revealed to the world as that rara avis: "A herbal tea-drinking male of the species."

The performers on the bronze horns were so skilful that they could rival the tone of more modern brass, but the most exotic sound was that of the conch shells - they could have been heralding the fall of Jericho or the restoration of Bru na Boinne. The large audience loved the whole mixture, but it was more ornamental than nourishing.