On Thursday, 4 September 2008, I drove to Robert L. Standfield Airport in Halifax, Nova Scotia to travel across the Atlantic. Why, you may ask? To see the mighty ASH perform their classic 1977 LP in full at the Roundhouse and Astoria in London, UK.
I've been an ASH fan since I was 13 years old. That might not seem like such a big deal for most people, but given the fact that I somehow managed to get ahold of Trailer in rural Nova Scotia, Canada, before the advent of the internet is pretty remarkable (sidenote - my best friend's brother was at university and a door to door cd salesman would come by peddling his wares. The brother said Nirvana was his favorite band, and the guy recommended Trailer. I 'borrowed' the cd about 2 months later, and still have it to this day. Sorry, Kent and Adam). I was in the fanclub, had my own fansite devoted to them, traded tapes with people from all corners of the planet, and pretty much worshipped the ground they walked on....despite the fact that I'd never seen them live, seen their music videos, etc. I finally got to see the band live in 2003 at a tiny club in Boston, and saw them again a year later in Toronto and Montreal. These shows were pure magic, to be sure....however, I didn't feel like I'd have the full ASH experience until I'd seen them in the UK (and specifically the Astoria, for obvious nerd reasons). So when Tim and Mark spilled the beans in May that they were re-releasing 1977 and playing a special show, I started making arrangements. Mark told me I'd be on the guestlist (and I only emailed him about 30 times to confirm that I was on the guestlist for both shows...thanks for your patience!).
I arrived at the airport and made my way through all of the hoops and found myself with a bunch of time to kill. Starbucks was closed, so I was denied a chai latte with soy milk...rats. I tried reading a Murakami book with an ASH related title (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World), but I was far too excited to get much done. I recognized a girl from my high school who has since turned into a professional model and apparently hangs with Mick Jagger and other people. Needless to say that when we boarded the plane we were sitting in different classes.
Since the plane was due to take off at 11:35 pm and I was going to land in London at 9:35 am, I had hoped to catch some sleep whilst crossing the Atlantic. This was not going to happen. I was sat beside an extremely friendly lady who was afraid of flying and as such wanted to talk the entire flight. I watched her husband and 2 kids fall asleep and wished I could be in happy happy dreamland myself. No dice.
I landed in London and got through customs in no time. I was tired, but happy. The master Jedisteve had given me great directions to the hotel (more on that later), so I was on the tube and on my way into London in no time. After having navigated the subway in NYC when I visited the guys months before, I felt pretty confident. Of course, when I got off at the right stop, I walked in the direction opposite the hotel. It was drizzling and I had no coat. Awesome. I finally got myself turned around and found the Hoxton Urban Lounge. Looking like a drowned rat with sleepless eyes, I ordered a cup of tea and waited for my friends to arrive. My mobile was not working, and so I just enjoyed the quiet time. At some point I noticed a blonde pregnant woman walk into the Hoxton...wonder who that could be. Wull showed up before too long, and it was like meeting an old friend (despite the fact that I'd never met him before!). Mikeymoko showed up shortly, and it was like a mini Ash board family reunion. It was great to finally meet these guys after years of talking online, and we got on famously. Wull was dead tired himself, and we decided to get more coffee and tea. We talked shit for a while. Tav showed up and said hello, and then Tim bounded out of the elevator on the way to soundcheck. We decided we were up for some food and drink, and made our way out and about. We ended up at a place called the Drunken Monkey which was home to one of the most strangely dressed servers ever. Owens_Angel showed up at the pub and even more shit was talked, and the beginning of me being in stitches from Owens_Angel began. We got word that Mike, Laura, the Jedi and Ms. Jedi were back at the Hoxton and so we went back for them.
The Hoxton is not a hotel. It is an Urban Lounge. The rooms were pretty incredible - really hip design, great lighting, cool atmosphere. It was pretty steep, but it was well worth it. Amazing showers, as well.
How can you not like a place like this?
More happy times as I got to meet my email comrade jedisteve (there are days that we email each other 5-10 times...no joke) and his lovely Nik (Ms. Jedi). It was also great to meet old schoolers Mike and Laura who would be my sort-of tour guides the next day. There were also Jedi parents there, proving that ASH transcend the ages...great people.
Attractive men making attractive faces.
We caught the tube down to the Roundhouse (Owens_Angel, the only person who lives in London, got off at the wrong stop) and went in search of food. Jedisteve stopped off to pick up his AAA pass and we heard the lads practicing Darkside Lightside and Sneaker. Now for food...we ended up at Nando's, which I have heard is a favorite haunt of a certain Mark Hamilton. It was a terrific meal (veggie burgers and hot sauce! yes!), with comedy provided by Owens_Angel yet again...and the night was still young.
We went to the Barfly for a few drinks before moseying over to the Roundhouse. This is one of the most asthetically pleasing venues I'd ever seen. There was some pretty serious energy in the air. Will and I made a pact that we'd be up front for the entire show....Mike and Laura braved the barrier as well (Laura ended up with some SERIOUS bruises, ouch!). The opening band did a pretty good job considering the daunting task. I started seeing more boarders - Fireska, Rojo, Cosmic, Pinkhandbag, Punk Girl...this was cool. Excitement hit an all-time peak when Storm Troopers and Vader came out on the stage....this was going to get crazy.
The band came out to the Star Wars theme, and then the lights went down while the infamous tie fighter Lose Control intro played. The next little bit is a blur...lots of sweat, moshing, and more crowd surfing than I had ever seen before. The band were extremely tight, and in the hazy fury of the pit I realized just how strong the sequencing was on that record. Goldfinger went down particularly well, I remember. It was great to see the Silver Jet back in action, as well. The 1977 set seemed to go by very quickly...a little too quickly for my liking. Tim even made reference to this by saying "I can't believe it's all over...we should have made a longer album". At one point Tim gave me a nod in the crowd which made me feel like a million bucks. During Angel Interceptor Wull and I grabbed hands and sang our hearts out. It was a touching moment (and mildly cheesy, but who cares, right?). Darkside Lightside finished it off and the boys left the stage. This is where it was going to get interesting....
We all knew they were going to play b-sides, but what ones would they pull out? Much to Fireska's happiness, the opening riff of Sneaker came blaring through the PA and the band were off and running into set 2. My personal favorite b-side was the lovely ABBA cover Does Your Mother Know?. It went off without a hitch and sounded truly rocking. A one-two punch of Jack Names The Planets and A Life Less Ordinary finished off set two. But it wasn't over.
They appeared one last time for a greatest hits plus one newie set. Hearing Twilight of the Innocents live was pretty special - despite the fact that the gig was mostly to celebrate 1977, this new era song was just brilliant. Ichiban was great to hear after my initial encounter some months before. Burn Baby Burn closed out the show frantically and the house lights came on. Part one was almost over...
The aftershow party was held upstairs, and we went up for some celebratory beverages. It was a virtual who's who of the Ash board - the above mentioned boarders plus many more...Mash, Liam, T, Geraint, Chinny, Mirilace, etc....(sorry if I forgot any of you). I was really happy to meet Ian Laughton who had helped me all of those years ago with ash-gear.com (soon to be updated, for real!). He remembered me too so that was a plus.
Chad, Ian, and ?
Mark was the first member of the band to arrive and made his way through all of the boarders. Tim and Rick showed up next and hilarity ensued. A rather embarassing moment came when I cornered dmh and tried to have a heart to heart with him about how ASH are my favorite band and had been a big part of growing up, and said thanks...it hurts to even type it.
Embarassed as can be/The Meeting of Minds.
Have you ever been kissed by a Jedi?
There were lots of photo ops and laughs, including me skipping out on the taxi bill by saying "I only had a 50 pound note!" I even got away with it for a while...
The infamous 50 pound note.
Back at the Hoxton...the lounge seemed an appropriate place to hang out, and an appropriate place for Mikeymoko to steal a glass of champagne from an unattended bottle...only to be caught in the act.
You can't trust the Irish.
However, his charismatic ways talked him out of trouble and into a conversation with the very man he was swiping the booze from! Class act. I was sat with O_A and enjoyed some rice while Mark chatted it up with Wull, Steve, and Moko. Tim looked to be in a deep coversation with Tav which ended in some hugs. We all trod off to bed...Wull and I were exhausted beyond words and looking forward to a good night of sleep. This was not to be had as my roommate and I were awoken by the lovely staff at an ungodly hour. Wull yelled 'No thank you!', and they proceeded to come in the room as if they hadn't heard him...a slightly less friendly yell came from Wull and things were finally quiet again. I made my way out of the hotel at 1 pm and called the jedi from a payphone. A less than enthusiastic voice answered and I realized I was the early bird of Saturday. Luckily, Laura and Mike met up with me on the street and we were off to explore the city in the few hours we had...(and we found a Starbucks, so I was a happy man).
After much deliberation we ended up at the London Dungeon. This half camp/half scary place took us through the horrible parts of London's history (the Plague, Jack the Ripper) and scared the daylights out of us. I was glad to have done it, but really happy to see the sunshine after 90 minutes underground with the freaks. Laura and Mike had each other to hold when things got scary, but seeing as my girlfriend was back at University on the other side of the Atlantic, my nerves were put to the test. We zipped back to the hotel (erm...urban lounge) and met up with the crew. The Astoria show was supposed to start early as the venue turned into a club night at an early hour, so we quickly went to the venue and then looked for some curry as I was not going to be leaving London without a proper curry. 18 quid and 2 hours later we left some bad restaurant with subpar food (actually, it wasn't so bad...just a wee bit on the expensive side for how much we had and how long we waited!) and got in to the Astoria just as the final checks were happening before the lads came on. Out front I recognized a familiar face from the Candy DVD single...it was Tim's brother Pat! Sporting a rocking beard. Keeping the Wheeler tradition, he was super friendly (and he figures into the story later) and really cool.
The Astoria is important to the history of Ash as has been explained many times...needless to say being there felt like being at the end of a long soul searching journey. No Storm Troopers before the show this time, but the familiar intro music had us all excited as could be. Moko and jedisteve were smart and watched from the balcony...it was absolutely insane in the pit at this show. Mark added to the insanity by taunting the crowd over and over and sending them in to a frenzy. The band were spot on again. Innocent Smile was a highlight for me at this show (click to see my footage of the middle insanity...Mark said this was their My Bloody Valentine song which made me smile from ear to ear as I love MBV)....
The band came back on for the encore and treated us to different b-sides (these guys know how to treat their fans). T. Rex and I Only Want To Be With You were the surprises this night, and brought the house down in classic fashion. The pit was getting pretty violent and I wasn't enjoying myself much for the final encore set, but the epic Twilight sent us out on a high note. I bought a 1977 hoodie which would come in handy as my red hoodie (see avatar) was absolutely SOAKED in disgusting sweat. I was a bit embarassed to meet other ASH boarders including Jamoko after the show in such a sad state.
Red Hoodie + hardcore boarders.
We got booted out of the Astoria despite having aftershow passes and felt pretty glum walking around London, thinking the night was over. This was especially driven home when we saw Tim and company walking down the street away from the club...I had traveled a long distance and wasn't going to get to spend time with the band. We decided to call it a night and said our goodbyes to the other boarders (including Matt-o-mac who is an absolute legend...in the words of Jed Shepherd, 'Believe the hype'). We met Moko and Jedisteve at the tube station and landed back at the Hoxton mildly defeated.
Then, elation...Mark and Tim strolled in and we were in business. In a show of extreme hospitality, Ms. Jedi gave me her AAA pass which I am eternally greatful for...it was incredibly kind of her and I think the picture says it all really. Thanks Nik!
Tim came over and said hello, and we had a cool chat (he asked about my record label and band which made me pretty stoked). Mark said he'd come up to the hotel room where we gathered and play us some new songs...
Jedisteve, Nik, Wull, Mike, Laura, Moko and I went up to the room and had pretty serious fun which culminated in a stunning group rendition of Cantina Band (which I have amazing footage of...this'll be locked up tighter than Teenage Wildife). Mark didn't show up, so the jedi and I went down to find him. Most of the bar had cleared out, and it was just Tim, Mark, and some of their entourage. Here we talked about the A-Team and how I'd never seen it. Pat started making modelling poses with Tim's girlfriend while someone took pictures...and in a grand finale jedisteve and I ended up in one with the whole crew! (Tim...or Pat...if you have these, please send them to me!). Finally it was quitting time, so everyone said goodbye and hugs were had.
Back in Black.
Will and I had to pull an all-nighter to catch early flights out of London, so our crew started spamming the Gashed board...whoops. I complimented the staff on their smart Lee shirts and we did our best to stay awake (including making a transatlantic phone call to Liz....). At 7 am, Will and I made our way to the tube while everyone else slept soundly...we had a pasty at the tube station, some man swore at me for spilling his coffee, and we had our final goodbye. It had been an epic weekend, and I was glad to make such good friends.
I took the tube out to Heathrow, fell asleep, missed the stop, caught another train back, boarded the plane and was soon back in Canada in serious need of sleep.
Thanks to all of the great people I met, thanks to the band for playing such great shows and treating the fans so well, thanks to Nando's for the good meal, thanks thanks thanks thanks thanks........
Roll on 2009,
PS - Blue is the new red.