Ash @ Somerset House, The Strand, London, 7th August 2003

It’s been a while since the British public was last exposed to punk pop bliss that Ash deliver, so tonight’s performance in the courtyard of government building Somerset House is certainly a salubrious occasion, a reminder to everyone of their seemingly unending back catalogue of insanely catchy numbers.

The crowd get short sets from newcomers Fi Lo Radio and The Electric Soft Parade, before Tim Wheeler and co. storm onstage and burst into the guitar frenzy that is ‘Lose Control’. It’s an in your face set opener, which is followed by the glorious ‘Angel Interceptor’. Ash are back, folks – fasten your seatbelts. It’s their first show in the country for a while, barring a few support slots for someone called Gary Barlow, Tim Wheeler informs us, but they sound as crisp, loud and as in form as ever.

The old school songs like the legendary ‘Girl From Mars’ and ‘Goldfinger’ still sound fantastic, whilst ‘Oh Yeah’, the archetypal summer soundtrack, sees the first mass sing along of the evening. The more recent efforts such as ‘Walking Barefoot’ and the breezy ‘Sometimes’ display that 2001’s ‘Free All Angels’ is without doubt up there with the finest albums of the new century.

But all this comes as no surprise - Anyone who bought their greatest hits package, ‘Intergalactic Sonic 7”s’ will know that Tim Wheeler doesn’t write anything but timeless gems. We get renditions of these summer synonymous anthems year in, year out at festivals from here to Reykjavik, and although nobody’s complaining, the big question is what have Ash been up to for the last couple of years? We know they’ve been on the road in the States, but it’s reached that time when the fans have heard about Yuri Gagarin going to the sun enough to wonder where the new material is. Not to worry, we learn that a new LP is scheduled for early in the New Year, and are offered several tasters from it. The first, ‘Renegade Cavalcade’ is unmistakably Ash, with it’s quiet verse and loud, catchy chorus, whilst ‘Orpheus’ is unmistakably Wheeler, with a chorus that talks of 'sunshine in the morning'. Last year’s solitary single ‘Envy’ must have whetted the appetites of fans expecting bigger and better things, and after hearing the new offerings, it looks like they won’t be disappointed.

One thing that is notable is the heavier edge of these songs. Gone are the days of the rather forgettable ‘Candy’, it seems Ash have shifted permanently into top gear and this means nothing but exciting times ahead. They’re most comfortable making a melodic racket, as they do in tonight’s encore, which consists of debut single ‘Jack Names The Planets’ and ‘Burn Baby Burn’, both effectively displaying just why exactly they’ve come to be regarded as a national treasure.

Jeremy Lloyd