Tim Wheeler and Bono with John Hume and David Trimble, May 1998
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Good Friday agreement 20 years on

Ash frontman Tim Wheeler has been speaking to BBC’s Sunday News programme about the Concert for Yes that took place 20 years ago, recalling the last-minute nature of the now iconic event.

The free Concert for Yes took place at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast on May 18th 1998, in front of around 2,000 school children as a a final push for a yes vote ahead of the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement. The concert is remembered for an image of Bono holding aloft the arms of SDLP leader John Hume and his Ulster Unionist counterpart David Trimble. Three days later, Northern Ireland overwhelmingly endorsed the Good Friday Agreement in a referendum.

“It was very 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 talks about performing some hastily-arranged covers with U2 as well as loaning equipment to one of the biggest bands on the planet for the gig.

“U2 just flew in before the whole thing and they didn’t bring any of their gear, they had to use all our gear. He [The Edge] was trying to figure out the controls. He was trying to get more of a louder kind of sound and he stepped on one of her pedals and it was too huge a jump - and he sort of jumped. It was pretty funny.”

It was decided that Ash would play their own 40 minute show, with U2 coming on at the end to do to play “One” and assist on covers of The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down”, Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance”.

Ash performing “Stand By Me” with U2 - May 18, 1998

According to Tim, Bono was “brilliant” although he did throw him for a loop by calling for a Ben E King classic.

“Towards the end, Bono just turned round and said ‘let’s do “Stand By Me”’. He just pulled that out of thin air, no warning whatsoever. It’s four very simple chords, we just started winging it and then he just looked at me and said: ‘You sing the next verse’. I was like, I have no idea what the lyrics are at all, so I said ‘you just do it’.”

Tim goes on to explain why the concert was so important to the band and why they agreed to play.

“Back then, coming to Belfast always felt very edgy. I do remember I was up in Belfast and saw a policeman had just been shot and was being covered in a body bag. The Army was everywhere, of course, and always bomb threats and incidents in our town. Being children you just get on with it and think it’s normal. And when we started travelling the world you realise it was a very different place to grow up.”

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