Singer recalls backing Good Friday Agreement

Singer recalls backing Good Friday Agreement

11 April 2018

TAKING to the stage with U2 to persuade Northern Ireland to back the Good Friday Agreement  was a “surreal experience” for Downpatrick band Ash.

Tim Wheeler was just 21 in 1998 when he and his bandmates were asked if they would get involved in a concert campaigning for a Yes vote.

Working in London as Ash revelled in the huge popularity of their debut album 1977, he said they agreed to travel home to Belfast to take part in the free concert for young people, which was designed to encourage voters to vote Yes in the Agreement referendum.

Looking back on the experience now, he recalls how strange it felt to take part in a press conference with the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble before the concert to talk about their experiences growing up in Northern Ireland and how important it was for things to change.

The former Down High pupil said it was “was surreal to be invited to talk about politics” before being asked to join the world’s most famous band and leading politicians to rally the crowd.

Despite being one of Downpatrick’s most famous exports, Tim said it felt “really big to be sharing the stage with John Hume and David Trimble”.

“It felt like there was a big opportunity for change, like a big chance,” he said.

“It had taken a long time to get to that point and lots of compromises had been made.

“It was important for us to be involved. I think U2 felt they needed a Northern Ireland band to make the concert really work — it was great.”

Tim said the concert was a success, despite the fact that little preparation was put in on any of their parts.

After performing for 40 minutes on their own, he said they were joined by U2 who “did not have their gear with them so they borrowed ours”.

“I think we were put on a phone with Bono the night before, trying to figure out what songs we’d do together and how the show would go,” he said.

Having decided to play The Beatles Don’t Let me Down and John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance, he said he was literally lost for words when Bono 

suddenly suggested on stage to play Stand by Me.

“He just pulled that out of thin air, no warning whatsoever,” he said. “We just started winging it and then he just looked at me and said to sing the next  verse, but I had no idea of what the lyrics were so I had to say, ‘You just do it’.”

Despite the current stalemate at Stormont, Tim said he was hopeful about Northern Ireland’s future.

“I live in New York, but come back to Downpatrick six or eight times a year, and although it is far from perfect, it is much better than it was,” he said.

“It is a shame there is no fully functioning government, particularly with the questions around Brexit, but there has, at least, been a time of lasting peace.”

Ash’s new album, Islands, will be released in May and they will perform a gig in Belfast on May 25 as part of the BBC Music’s the Biggest Weekend.