The Verve

5 Days of Richard Ashcroft: These People

Day 5 - These People

Has a song been more needed in recent years more than ‘These People’? Rather than attack the Tory divide and conquer tactics with an angst ridden punk polemic, Ashcroft delivers s slide guitar lead ballad.

The message of survival and rising above stacked odds is that bit more inspiring when, one look around Brixton displays thousands of people arm in arm, together and few things are more powerful than that.

His new material, is largely a reawakening of deep seated desire Ashcroft carried to dizzy heights in the 90s. There is a clear ‘fuck you’ attitude to anyone with preconceptions of who he is. While sonically on ‘These People’, this not overt, the power and intensity he garners on the line ‘I know we can survive’ is remarkable.

As he wraps his glorious vocals around this line, it ceases to be about romantic survival and operates on a new plane. He elevates the people to another level where belief is everything. It’s not enough to just sit back and watch bands we love anymore, the standard has been reset again by Ashcroft and its default setting is real, humble and critically, it’s brilliant.

5 Days of Richard Ashcroft: Space and Time

Day 4 – Space and Time

An underrated classic from The Verve’s arsenal is met with a rapturous response at Brixton Academy. The beauty of the release 3 minutes in never diminishes. Neither does the life affirming end ‘keep on pushing cos I know it’s there’.

However, on any Verve track ensconced with trippy guitars, it’s tough to watch live without Nick McCabe and Simon Tong in tow. Yes, Urban Hymns was all but written by Ashcroft alone but, when the 3 combine, fewer things have been that special.

It’s highly unlikely to ever see The Verve together again, but, with hope on the rise politically, and psyche and rock n roll emerging from the shadows of the UK once more, we can dream.

5 Days of Richard Ashcroft: Fighting On Your Own

Day 3 - Hold On

If anyone at Brixton needed the new album sold to them still, 'Hold On' was going to do it. Despite everyone the wrong side of 30, Brixton is transformed from gig watchers to a rave in seconds of the killer strings and piano loop starting.

It’s such a big and hopeful sounding record and consequently, the only track that eclipses The Verve tracks played. It has the unique togetherness of Oasis’ ‘Live Forever’ (‘I feel like we are the only ones alive’) and the defiance of Nicky Wire with the line 'And the truth is on the march again / Wipe those tears away'.

Crucially though, Ashcroft is not so much performing ‘Hold On’ as he is battling it with the audience. He isn’t here to be cherished and will not settle for anyone, let alone adoring fans telling him what they expect of him. Ashcroft clearly see’s performing, especially new material, as a fight where he will be the only one left standing.

Despite the bullishness, his ability to romanticise, to be lost and longing for another to help remains at its best:

“Learning on your own / Can turn your heart to stone”

Oddly, us mortals attach ourselves to this more than his unique ability to lead but, without the two together, you’d be left with something far inferior.

5 Days of Richard Ashcroft: Into The Half Life

Day 2 - Velvet Morning

The Verve’s tale of being munted in the twilight hours and coming up with great ideas only to discover at 6am they are horseshit, is one we all familiar with. So, the moment the gorgeous slide guitar starts, its impossible not to reminisce about said douched nights.

Even after 20 years, the goosebumps still flourish when the big key change and Ashcroft’s incredible vocal hook chime. A feeling of triumph swirls around Brixton Academy as personal memories of the half-life come to the surface far outweigh the songs message of coming down in the second verse.

Despite all the fame and accolades, Ashcroft is still able to paint a picture of loneliness during ‘Velvet Morning’. Like a young William Blake, Ashcroft cuts a figure of the poet wandering the streets of Soho alone. Where Blake was intrigued and excited by it all, Ashcroft was chasing something that was never there.

Perhaps it’s the realisation that this was futile is where the real beauty of ‘Velvet Morning’ lies. Yet again, he shines a light on how to move forwards despite being inherently flawed.  

5 Days of Richard Ashcroft

Mad Rich is, as we all know, a bona fide legend. So, rather than just review he’s epic performance at Brixton Academy this past Saturday, we’re going to focus the next 5 days on 5 songs from his set.

We start with the 2016 comeback single ‘They Don’t Own Me’.

Having already played classics such as ‘Sonnet’ and ‘Space and Time’, there was a danger that anything new would be seen as a piss break for the audience. However, this is Richard Ashcroft we're talking about.

On record, it’s a good Verve circa Urban Hymns track, but live, it’s alternate beast. Many singers feed of the adoration of a crowd, for Ashcroft, he demands that you go with him. As the adrenaline runs through him, he drags people from awestruck onlookers to brothers in arms.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about ‘They Don’t Own Me’ is, it feels like Ashcroft was reluctant to write it. With all the love and defiance to power he has put out already, it must be odd to do it again.

Nevertheless, a lesson to all aspiring bands is on show here, if you’re going to do it, mean it! The anguish in his voice in the opening line is a testament to how much believes in the soul:

“Is it true what they say? / Nothing in life is free / Are you looking this way / Surely this can't be”

It's in the closing moments that Ashcroft unleashes all his frustration and emotion. With every repetition of 'they don’t own me' he becomes that feral behemoth of ‘Rolling People’ and ‘Come On’.

Despite all the success, Ashcroft, with songs like this, remains that unique blend of outsider and flag bearer of togetherness.