You know tonight is going to be good just by glancing at the merchandise stall. Ash have T-shirts stamped with the slogan "Domination, Teenage, Bi-Sexuel", a sign they spotted on tour in Bangkok. At least one of those words is the truth and not just showing off. As their early singles proclaimed, the Belfast threesome are "Guaranteed Real Teenagers".
Amanda from Bis is at the till, selling her home-made fanzine and badges. The 60ft Dolls T-shirt is a take on the "Happy Shopper" logo. It's not just a depressing suburban supermarket chain but also the name of their upcoming single (which is about a transvestite from their hometown of Newport, not cheapo groceries). Whether Ash have issued an ultimatum that their support acts must be Celtic trios is unknown, but they have put together an unusually appealing line-up.
Bis (three of them, Scottish) are obscenely young and charmingly screechy. Manda Rin, John Disco and Sci-Fi Steve are the first unsigned band ever to appear on Top of the Pops. Their influence is primarily the ill-fated riot grrrl movement (wear pink hairslides and yell), but they've not got it quite right. Bis have tunes.
60ft Dolls (three of them, Welsh) have filled the music press with stomach- churning tales of piss-fights, which is strange because, musically, they are such an ungimmicky band. They play unadulterated rock 'n' roll and their influences are the best. They have their Beach Boys breaks ("Stay"), and punky moments ("Happy Shopper"), but otherwise it's The Jam all the way. If Bis provide the hairclips and Ash are the pop stars then 60ft Dolls are the committed guitar soul of the tour.
Ash are basically a metal band who happen to have had four hit singles in the year Britpop went supernova. They have far more in common with the searing, heavy rock of Therapy? than Blur or Oasis. Morris's influence is apparent in the current hit, "Goldfinger", a desperate ballad that sounds like it's being dragged to the lip of Niagara Falls. Their breakthrough single, "Girl From Mars", is the most representative, lite but chewy and peppered with "uh-uh oh yeahs".
"Angel Interceptor" is, on record, rather weedy, but cuts it live, as Tim Wheeler's voice is more confident now, and bassist, Mark Hamilton, is a whirling, pouty dervish. Like Paul Simenon, he represents the tragedy of the bass player who looks like he should be a frontman. Although Rick McMurray will later reveal a fondness for doing impressions of Ren and Stimpy, his talent is as a drummer, quick and unshowy. The encore, "Kung- Fu", is pure Undertones, a daft hook-laden joy. How can you not admire a band of "Guaranteed Real Teenagers" who finish with the line "I haven't been the same since my teenage lobotomy"?
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