U2 (pictured) and ASH joined forces to give a free peace concert, attended by 2,000 Protestant and Catholic school children, at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast last night (Tuesday, May 19).
Ash played for 45 minutes and they were accompanied by U2 in a double encore of The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’s ‘Give Peace A Chance’.
The special concert was organised to endorse a ‘Yes’ vote for the Belfast Peace Agreement which goes to the referendum ballot box this Friday (May 22). The bands brought onstage David Trimble of the Ulster Unionist Party and John Hume of the nationalist SDLP, leaders of Northern Ireland’s two main opposing political parties.
Hume and Trimble came onstage from opposite sides, met in the middle and shook hands before Bono grabbed their arms and raised them in a gesture echoing the famous 1978 Bob Marley ‘One Love’ concert in Kingston when Marley brought together the rival Jamaican party leaders Michael Manley and Edward Seaga.
“I wasn’t thinking about that when it was happening,” Bono told NME after the show. “But I do know that we live in a very visual age. That was the kind of image that was going to be noticed. It’s a great time to be in Belfast, to be with these men who have put aside so much to make this thing happen. We’re here to try to convince those who have real fears to vote Yes. To vote No is to play into the hands of extremists. Their day is over.”
A statement from Ash explained their participation: “We were born during the troubles and don’t want to see outworn attitudes holding our country in the past. The people want a better future and are going to vote Yes. It’s time everyone on all sides accepted this, because some will be doing their best to make sure the Referendum doesn’t go through, that’s why it’s so important all the people come out and vote on Friday. We want our country to move together into the future. Let’s get it together.”
The evening was criticised by maverick UK Unionist politician Robert McCartney, who called the gig “patronising, condescending and to a degree, insulting”. Bono countered by defending the way young people were targeted for the event. “Bob McCartney called all these people silly and superficial. Well, they’re not silly or superficial. They are, in fact, the future.”
Ash previewed five new songs In their set, with the working titles ‘Pickefoo’, ‘Where’s Our Love Gone’, ”50s Song’, ‘Velvets’ and ‘Numbskull’. The performance was marked by a minute of silence, during which the audience was asked to remember the people killed in Northern Ireland over the past 30 years’ unrest. U2 ended the concert with a rendition of Ben E King’s ‘Stand By Me’, which followed an impassioned reading of ‘One’. After the show, U2 met families who had been bereaved by the violence.