Belfast rock legends reform for a comeback show, bringing back power-rock and fond memories. Listen to a classic track, 'September Experience'


Rock nostalgia is big business these days, with everyone from The Police to Spandau Ballet getting in on the act. Even the Libertines couldn't turn down a massive pay cheque for a handful of festival gigs, and who could blame them?

But for a band closer to home, it's not about the money. After a break of 13 years, Belfast legends Ashanti have announced a comeback show at Spring and Airbrake on April 10, with the promise that it will be no cosy stroll down memory lane.

'As far as looking at bands I was really hoping would reform, I couldn't imagine anyone higher up there, to be honest', says Phil McCarroll, frontman of rockers Pay*ola who are supporting on the night and a true Ashanti fan from the good ole, bad ole days of Belfast's rock music scene.

'Rock was very popular then,’ McCarroll recalls. ‘People would talk about this ‘vibrant rock scene’ going on, but when we were going out to bars it wasn't vibrant at all, it was a bunch of bands playing cheesy covers of Bon Jovi or Poison.’

With hair-metal being the most popular music in the world during the late 1980s, Northern Ireland was awash with cover bands getting in on the craze. Although fans of the original acts, McCarroll and his mates found it boring watching bands in Belfast merely replicating their heroes.

The melodic hard rock of Ashanti, however, was delivered with a punk-like power and unique lyrical empathy, making up tunes that inspired a few such as McCarroll to pick up a guitar and form a band.

'Back then it seemed much harder for bands to go out there and do their own thing and we chanced upon Ashanti who were doing 100 percent their own material,' says McCarroll.

'Kicking With Both Feet', 'Real World', 'Childhood Revisited' and 'September Experience' are Ashanti songs hard-wired into the psyches of a generation of gig-goers in Northern Ireland.

In their time, Ashanti released just three singles, but the band's live shows were the real story. Throughout the country, the boys built a reputation as a fearsomely powerful live attraction, with their gigs in Belfast's Limelight or Rosetta Bar (the latter being arguably where the initial Ashanti spark became a bonfire) the stuff of NI rock legend.

'It was the fact that the songs were so different from what was around at that time, they were intelligent, well-structured, powerful and emotional with a lot of depth to them. They put on a really pumping live show as well, so it was the best of both worlds', McCarroll comments.

With an uncompromising collection of powerful and hook-laden songs, coupled with an intense live act, Ashanti were seemingly on the cusp of major success.

However, despite consistently selling out shows and having a fanatical fan base, fate being a fickle thing, the band never got their shot at the big time.

Not that Ashanti's line-up ever stopped keeping it real, with Glenn Kingsmore still searching for the truth with Take The Fifth, six-string wizard Stevie Boyd the guitar power behind Flash Harry, and Gary Murdoch still banging four to the floor with Doghouse.

The group's comeback show came out of the blue, according to songwriter Glenn Kingsmore: 'We were at a party a few weeks back and somebody stuck on some old demos. Gary said to me "fancy having a wee jam again?" and I said certainly, so we did, and had a laugh. I phoned up Stevie and we had a run through the songs again and decided to do this gig.'

'It's definitely not going to be a one-off, there'll be more gigs and hopefully we're looking to do an album that we never did with all the old material and then move on to write some new stuff. I'm looking forward to doing it again, this time with more of an open mind.'

And what's the gig that Ashanti have to top as far as Kingsmore is concerned?

'St Patrick's Night at Brixton Academy as far as I'm concerned was Ashanti's best gig. Nobody knew us at all. It holds about eight or nine thousand people and they went mental, absolutely loved the band right from the start. We had no CDs with us, nobody to represent us, we were so unorganised, and there were people outside the changing room saying, "who is this band?"'

That's a question a certain generation of Belfast music lovers don't need to ask.

'We've done a lot of gigs with big bands like Audioslave and Status Quo who were a major band for me growing up, as well as Thin Lizzie and Bad Company, all big touring outfits, ' Phil McCarroll concludes. 'But this is as big a deal because of what Ashanti means to me personally and the fact that they asked Pay*ola to support is a real privilege. I would've been there with bells on anyway, down the front. Can't wait!'

Eddie Mullan

Ashanti play the Spring and Airbrake on April 10, with special guests Pay*ola. Doors at 9pm, tickets priced £11.25 from Check out Ashanti's MySpace and Pay*ola's MySpace.