SPECIAL THREE-PART FEATURE by Music Editor, MIKE GEE
How bizarre it all really is. Here's a band that was for all intent dead
and buried just two fine and savvy albums into its career. A band that promised
so much yet seemed implacably determined to impale itself upon its own internal
To page 2/2 of URBAN TIES
You get that with characters, big strong, lean characters like singer/songwriter
Richard Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe. Men who - alone - would be the
focus on any other band. Leaders, strong-willed, creative and with definite
visions splendid of their d-chord in the thunder of rock. And that's not
to demean or underestimate in any way the place and impact of bassist Simon
Jones and drummer Peter Salisbury. Backline and backbone.
Their debut, A Storm In Heaven, was an ambient, spacey, psychedelic
gem: not bad for a first stab by a bunch of lads from Wigan. Lots of big
open atmospheres, lilting melodies that rushed and rolled rather like gentle
waves caressing the groin of the shore; then just as the seduction seemed
complete a brief, intense pounding would erupt on a squall of guitar and
rolling thunder, and a maelstrom of boiling energy would embrace the passivity
and render it helpless to the plunge and fury. The Sun, The Sea
and Slide Away spring readily to mind.
Yes, A Storm In Heaven was aptly titled and did very nicely. Its
successor and big brother, A NorthernSoul, was a much different
affair. The Verve upped the wattage; bluff, blustering fat rock songs that
shed the ethereal cloak and into the mystic of their predecessor and strode
down the footpath with a reality bites sharpness and structure imbedded
in the beat of their footfall and Ashcroft's pointed lyricism.
On Your Own, This Is Music and History were particular
splendours: mean, lithe, beasts of songs that whipped and whirled and stomped
... the future was as palpably intriguing as it was disgustingly full of
that old cliche 'potential'. Yes, The Verve were poised to be anything.
An intense, brooding, darkly qualitative inspector of the human rant and
rave to survival. They called Ashcroft, 'Mad Richard', but forgot that in
madness there is a clarity of thought, sight and vision that sometimes borders
In his case it did. Not that it looked like it in 1995 when The Verve, rent
asunder on the turmoil of Ashcroft and McCabe's personal bile, split seemingly
shattered for good. Emotion is a hard mistress and her cost is often high.
So there we all were, sitting around bemoaning the loss of yet another great
'could have been' and making up silly stories of 'what might have been'.
Time passes, Brit music does some weird limbo and splits itself in half:
dance music wriggles out of its techno coma and swallows Portishead's Bristol
sound whole; trip hop begins and ends over night and everybody invents
about a hundred new names for sounds that come and go almost weekly - but
the dark, gas light, icicle works of Geoff Burrows and Beth Gibbons' original
vision are enough to instil a new mood; at the other end of the spectrum
somebody trips over a bunch of old punk records, realises that the UK will
never get a punk and ska revival like the US is experiencing through the
almost comic caricatures of Green Day, Rancid and friends. What to do then?
Marry it to electronics, of course. The result at its worst extreme is something
painful and stupidly obvious like The Prodigy; at its best it's the whirling,
stomping all hands to the turntable Chemical Brothers who ended up sounding
remarkably like post-hippie space rockers, the oft-lambasted, but much loved,
Ozric Tentacles. The Chemicals get to sell the records, the Ozrics get to
wonder about fate.
Meanwhile, the other half is getting on with business. At its very earthiest,
down in the motherlode, Britain has always been a nation of songsmiths celebrating,
anguishing over, pointedly observing, wryly reporting and sardonically concluding
the very way of life from the pit to the palace. From that core and history
- that has its greatest vein in the '60s beat, pop and rock orgasm when
Britain swang like the pendulum do and its songwriters matched quills and
ink smears word for word, sentence for sentence, ditty for ditty with their
Transatlantic counterparts in the big revolution - fresh young men and women
began taking up the legacy and embarking on their own peculiar journey for
the Holy Grail - a decent song.
All of a sudden, Brit rock and pop that was a droopy dangle of a dying limb,
sprouted great bunches of sodding pulsating '90s bloomers and the land was
rich with song again. And competition breeds hardy varieties determined
to outlive and grow beyond its original limitations. For every Oasis press
release and front page story, another song was writ in determined belief
that the time was right and rock - albeit in its latest disguise - could
reclaim the throne the pallid, emotionless, techno pretenders had usurped.
But Wigan is a droll and grimy place; the kind of knee deep in mundanity
and depression fish and chip town that fosters not only the need to escape
- and there are many ways of escape - but a certain hardiness of spirit,
an ability to endure, a blunt realism that becomes a stoic philosophical
heroism. And that is the haemoglobin of The Verve.
They did endure; they overcame; they pulled back together the strings and
stretched nerves and came together on a ocean of Ashcroft's deepest confessions
and delivered Urban Hymns, not so much a record as a testimony to
life, to taking it, wearing it, going through it, and surviving it. Lyric
and music so rich and full of raw emotion that it threatened to swamp its
listener and add them to its burgeoning banquet of 'you and me' pictorials,
exquisitely rendered and heartachingly honest.
'Mad Richard' was mad no longer: The Verve, as he promised, had become the
greatest band in the world. Most of the critics agreed with him. Most paid
due homage. The Verve were no longer the question mark or the cliche. They
were the statement and the definition.
THE iZINE is particularly proud to present this interview with Richard Ashcroft
and Simon Jones in three parts: simply necessary because of its extreme
length. Unusually for us, it's run as question and answer format. You'll
understand why when you read it. This then is The Verve in their own words
in late '97.
RA = Richard Ashcroft SJ = Simon Jones
Let's pick up the story after History? (The last
official single culled from the A Northern Soul LP before
splitting in September 1995)
RA: Basically I've said it before in the press, there is no answer that
is going to explain it to anyone that we don't want it explained it to.
So, the band split up for the reasons that we can't go into but after
History what happened was we put the single out and every
member of the band was told what was gonna happen and we all went into a
period of mourning. I went offf on holiday and, as I said before, I heard
History on the radio two days after we split up the band.
When I heard it the first time on the radio I was looking at the ocean in
Cornwall and that was a moving experience. basically, from then on, we went
on and I gave them phone calls to write songs, "Let's get just ...
let's keep doing some things, just to fill the time, and it would be great
if ... there's no point in stopping dead, you know. That is an impossibility
actually, so .... the reason things happen is because they had to happen
this way. I had to write songs, we had to go in and recreate from ... make
music because we don't know how to do anything else. We are terrible at
doing anything else, basically.
SJ: We've never done anything else ...
Were there any over-riding lessons you learnt from that period?
RA: You've got to learn sympathy for other people, I think; to be in
a band you've gotta learn to ... basically have empathy with people. Basically,
I became older in that two-year-period and I became ... whatever a man is.
I definitely made the transition from late teens, early twenties, to 25,
being through a lot of shit, I think. I experienced a lot of things. It
gave me the mindset to look back and say that in this situation and that
I could have done this or that or whatever.
But the main thing for me was to have music, stage, shows, the whole feeling
when your band is working and doing it, and out there and music being out
there. How much I actually missed it and how much I needed to do that.
SJ: For me personally, no matter how traumatic it was, breaking up
and actually recording all the solo and touring after that, I wouldn't change
a thing. I definitely feel older through the experience and without that
experience we wouldn't have got back ... If we carried on we wouldn't have
got the feeling we've got now ... Everyone is totally into what we're doing.
we came to a point which wasn't 100 per cent and we weren't holding high
about what we were doing.
So without going through what we've been through we wouldn't have what we
have now, which is special. We lost something along the way; being older
now we can look back and think 'we won't let that happen again'.
RA: I think, the next time obviously the band splits up will be the
time the ban splits up. And you gotta be realistic about it and that
time ... But what's gonna happen now is we gonna use that time and ... We
are already thinking about the next records. I've gotta dictaphone with
me, I'm on the next phase - the higher side of creativity; as a band we
are just all thinking about our next steps and how to go into this business
and how to come out smelling good. And how to come out with your visions
and ideas being seen, not someone else's idea of what you should be.
It does entail releasing more records than the band has been doing over
the past few years and it does mean that record company's gotta keep up
with your creativity and your creative output, rather than the other way
round. It's giving the power back to the music makers, the artists, the
people who should have the fucking power. But, over the last 30 years, they've
abused that power and record companies have now taken them for what they
So all that period was a great period for thinking and now its kicked off
into this I've gotta lot better insight into what and how to get this band
the way it should be. Two years is a long time to think about things and
I've got a lot of good ideas in that period. How to deal with people and
how to get across that we are the ones in power, we are the ones making
this incredible music; no-one's got the right to tell me how many records
I should be making over x-amount of years.
Basically all they should do, like any great record company before, is that
if they believe in somebody and that somebody says, "On this night
I've gotta a song and I need to record it, get a studio", they need
to get a studio booked. There doesn't need to be blue tape and, like, bullshit,
you know what I mean.
Get back to that respect when John Lennon could ring up and go and record
Instant Karma in the night, Phil Spector and all that. People knew
something was going to happen, so he's gonna have the studio.
SJ: We're gonna do it on our own terms, we gotta do it on our own
terms like that or we're not gonna be happy. And we'll end up with the band
breaking up again if we can't do it the way we wanna because we're gonna
be frustrated any other way. We don't have to do eveything we are told to
do, we do it the way we wanna do it or people in this band ain't gonna be
happy. That's gonna be a problem.
RA: That's really exciting to get people to start re-thinking the
way they do things in every walk of this business. It's like rethink that
decision you just made because I don't agree with it and the reason I don't
agree with it is I'm the fucking source. You know what I mean, I'm the
band's biggest fan. I know what this band should be doing. I mean I'm seriously
contemplating not doing any interviews for a couple of years because there
are few bands and few musicians who are capable of doing that kind of thing
and actually meaning something.
I think I've got some things to say but I've noticed over the last few interviews
how this journalism is a very low ebb. I've not got Hunter S. Thompson or
whomever to interview us, or Stanly Bowin in his prime, or whatever, these
great writers who had insights into musicians and why they make music or
These people are long gone and I've not seen this generation's set of writers.
Maybe they don't write for music press, maybe they write books or whatever.
I don't where they are. So to me it would be a good time as well for us
to step out of print until there's somebody out there who's good enough
to fucking write about the band. I'm not interested in being involved in
some comic book tabloid journalism because it's just wasting my time. I
could be thinking about other things.
We are one of the few bands who could say "Right, no more interviews
for two years". And all our fans would understand because they know
they'd get more records, basically, and better records. It all seems so