Richard Ashcroft led the shoegaze quartet, The Verve, to commercial prominence throughout the 1990s. They formed in 1990 and released their debut, A Storm in Heaven, in 1993. The Verve’s early sound was shoegaze, containing some elements of psychedelic music. It was mostly driven by instrumental orchestrations. Guitar player, Nick McCabe, created full seemingly-sounding symphonies with just his one instrument. The rhythm section of drummer Peter Salisbury and bass player Simon Jones built a solid foundation for McCabe’s beautiful guitar playing and Ashcroft’s unique but vintage crooning.
By 1997, The Verve released Urban Hymns which, to this day, is around the 15th biggest selling record in the United Kingdom. Their biggest hit, ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, still remains a significant and relevant anthem, pulling on the heartstrings of millions. By the time 1999 came around, The Verve had already endured a long period fraught with inner turmoil. According to Billboard magazine, “The group’s rise was the culmination of a long, arduous journey that began at the dawn of the decade and went on to encompass a major breakup, multiple lawsuits, and an extensive diet of narcotics.”
Following the release of Northern Soul in 1995, the band couldn’t take the pressures of touring and life on the road and would subsequently go on a hiatus. The band would attempt to regather the broken shards and get them back together and they reformed with all the members except for the original guitar player, Nick McCabe. The band had tried out Suede’s original guitar player, Bernard Butler, but it wouldn’t pan out. McCabe would eventually return upon Ashcroft’s request and their ‘97 masterpiece, Urban Hymns, would ensue. This was the commercial breakthrough the band needed, pushing them through to the upper echelon.
Considered one of the best musicians and singers to come from the Britpop movement of the ’90s, Richard Ashcroft had always emanated an air of individualism in the sense that he cared more about what he was doing as a performer. In many ways, it seemed that Ashcroft had outgrown The Verve. In 2000, Ashcroft with the help of some members of The Verve, made his debut as a solo artist with Alone with Everybody, which went straight up to number one in the UK charts. While many have expressed disappointment that The Verve never fully achieved what seemed like their destiny of truly becoming the best band in the world; Urban Hymns is when things starting falling apart for the band on an ideological level; besides Ashcroft, the rest of the members of the band were not too keen on where the band’s sound was headed. In his only interview, Nick McCabe stated: “By the time I got my parts in there it’s not really a music fan’s record. It just sits nicely next to the Oasis record.” While the record does have some songs reminiscent of The Verve’s earlier days, Urban Hymns mostly contains songs that seemed to have been moulded within the greater context of the Britpop movement: such as ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’, ‘Lucky Man’, and ‘Sonnet’.
To this day, as a solo artist, Richard Ashcroft still plays these songs, as if playing in the shadow of the kind of artist he once was, and simply doing so to please the audiences. In 2016 during a show in Buenos Aires, Richard Ashcroft, accompanied by backing musicians, performed at Personal Fest. During the show, Ashcroft seemed a little on edge; his voice seemed as if it was on the verge of cracking. He performed for over an hour, and while the concert was impressive as it usually is for a singer like Ashcroft, his ego, in the typical tradition of an ‘Oasis attitude’, got the better of him.
Ironically, after finishing a rendition of ‘Lucky Man’, a Verve song from the seminal Urban Hymns, he began the open chord sequence on his acoustic guitar for ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’, which was a number one song for The Verve. About 10 seconds into the song, Richard Ashcroft stops, and looks up at the top left and said, “Next time you ask me to come to a gig, don’t ever provide me this piece of shit,” referring to the speaker monitors in front of him. “I’m going to find you later on and I’m going to talk to you. Never fly me over to here, and present me with this. I’m one of the greatest singers in the f*cking world, alright?” Afterwhich the crowd cheers and seems to support his show of ego.
He continues on with, “You provide me with this tin, flack shit, in front of here.” Satisfied to know that the organizers of the show now know that Ashcroft is less than pleased, he starts the song over. “This one is called ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’, pardon my language.” Needless to say, Ashcroft was having a rough day.
Watch Richard Ashcroft’s performance at Personal Fest in Buenos Aires in 2016, below.