Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Chris Floyd's best photograph: the Verve meet Dorothy, the Tin Man and Scarecrow

‘I was following the band round Vegas for a week and we ended up in this tacky casino with a Land of Oz in its foyer. Richard’s not afraid to ham things up’ 

It was July 1994 and I had flown into Las Vegas with a journalist to trail the Verve for a week while they played the Lollapalooza festival. I was naive and gung-ho, excited to be in America and going on a road trip.

We checked in to our hotel, met up with the band and went for dinner. I was in my mid-20s and starting to just about earn a living from photography, but none of the cheques had come through yet. So I barely had enough money for food. We walked around the Strip and ended up in the casino of the MGM Grand hotel, a tacky, gilded palace with a massive reproduction of the Land of Oz in the foyer.

Richard Ashcroft, the Verve frontman, is looking quite camp in this image. The thing about him, I realised later, is that he has two sides: the public Richard is serious, intense, extremely self-confident; and the private Richard is very funny and a brilliant mimic. When he tells a story, he’ll do all the voices. I always thought he’d make a good actor. He’s not afraid to ham things up.

I’m from the south, the home counties, and it was the first time I’d really been around northerners. I was fascinated by the band’s sense of style: cords, loads of brown, but still modern. Old-man clothes with a twist. And great haircuts. They introduced me to lots of good music too: Funkadelic, Parliament, 1970s American soul, the Stooges.

The next day, the Verve were playing the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl, not on the main stage but the second one, in the car park outside the stadium. Las Vegas in July is incredibly hot and they were on at 3pm. The crowd was sparse, only about 100 people, and when they came on, there was silence, save for that buzzing sound when bands first plug in their instruments. This kid standing near me – dreadlocks, no shirt, tattoos, long skater shorts – said: “Man, I can’t believe those guys are wearing cords.”

They looked so alien. But then they started playing – one of their early songs, Gravity Grave. It starts with just a bassline, a lolloping groove that perfectly suited the landscape and the weather. I was blown away. Whenever I hear that song now, it makes me think of the heat that day.

Since that summer, I’ve gone on the road with a wide variety of people. I spent five days following John Kerry in 2004 when he was running [for US president] against George W Bush. When you go inside the secret service bubble, you have to stay inside, from conference room to hotel to wherever, day in, day out. You have to learn when to back off, how to be a welcome presence, how to read the room. The greatest compliment you can get is if someone in a position of power says to other people in the room: “He’s OK.”

In those sort of situations, I’m looking for the relationship dynamics: how the people interact, how their body language might convey all this in a single image. And I’m also looking for anything funny or interesting that can can lift an image out of the ordinary. That’s what happened that day with the Verve. I managed to keep the mundane away.

Chris Floyd’s CV

Born: Welwyn Garden City, 1968.

Training: “I learned from photographers I assisted but apart from that I’m self-taught.”

Influences: Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Tina Barney, Larry Sultan, Lee Friedlander, Saul Leiter, Robert Freeman.

High point: “My 2003 portrait of Paul McCartney being published by the New Yorker, alongside David Bailey’s 1965 portrait of him.”

Low point: “The feeling that comes after every shoot – that you’ve fallen short and produced mediocre work.”

Top tip: “Wisdom is just a very large collection of mistakes.”

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Exclusive - The Verve’s lost tracks in review


Urban Hymns and What Might Have Been
The Verve’s lost tracks in review
By J. Adams

For fans of late, great rock & roll icons The Verve, the big news since the band’s last breakup hasn’t been frontman Richard Ashcroft’s solo albums but the surprise recent leak of unheard recordings from the sessions of their 1997 breakthrough Urban Hymns. Compiled for the album’s 20th anniversary super deluxe edition, the tracks were vetoed by Ashcroft for reasons undisclosed but understandable: collectively, they’re a startling glimpse into the classic record Urban Hymns almost was and could readily have been, fatally undercutting the notion that it was basically a solo effort with a few psychedelic jams tacked on.

Previously unheard demos and outtakes were highlights of prior reissues of A Storm In Heaven and A Northern Soul, which—a few quibbles and omissions aside—were excellently-curated collections. Devotees were disappointed, then, when it was announced that the mammoth Urban Hymns box would not include any unreleased studio material, not even any of the demos already circulating via bootleg, but instead lard the bonus discs with live cuts hardcore fans already had. So horrendous was the missed opportunity that many vowed to boycott the release. Happily, a mysterious benefactor saw fit to leak the suppressed songs, thrilling cultists and allowing students of pop history to better understand the genesis of one of the 90s’ biggest albums.

Urban Hymns, it has long been clear, was at least two different records—and two different bands—uneasily melded into something greater than the sum of its parts. Its most recognizable hits, including “Bitter Sweet Symphony” and “The Drugs Don’t Work,” began as Richard Ashcroft compositions around the time of The Verve’s first breakup in late 1995. Soon after, Ashcroft reassembled the band with bassist Simon Jones and drummer Pete Salisbury but without aural auteur Nick McCabe, whose shimmering liquid guitars had always been central to the distinctive Verve sound. Tentative sessions with guitarist Bernard Butler of Suede quickly collapsed, and the trio recruited tasteful journeyman player Simon Tong, a longtime friend, to help them attempt to record Ashcroft’s new batch of songs.

It was from these months that the Sympathy for the Demos bootleg eventually emerged (and a promo video now online), essential listening for fans of The Verve and solo Ashcroft. Though raw, unfinished, and available only in mediocre sound quality, it’s a delicate set of sun-kissed pastoral pop brimming with potential and marking the explosive arrival of Ashcroft the pop songwriter in glistening versions of familiar songs later rerecorded as well as several impressive outtakes. But for all its promise the nascent Urban Hymns was undeniably missing something, and in a fateful decision Ashcroft eventually swallowed his pride and invited McCabe back into the fold.

Like the missing piece of a puzzle, McCabe summoned all of the danger and intrigue the recordings had lacked. Through overdubs on some songs, reimaginings of others, and a number of epic psychedelic expeditions he transformed what might have made for a handful of Britpop sleeper hits into the stuff of global megastardom. In the process, perhaps, he sealed the band’s fate, giving Ashcroft the confidence and notoriety he needed to launch a solo career.

Between Urban Hymns’ largely superb b-sides, many of which outshine blander album tracks, and the tepidity of much of Ashcroft’s solo catalog, McCabe’s essential contributions to The Verve have not gone unrecognized. What the leaked songs reveal, however, is how much more remarkable material the reunited band recorded than ever saw release, and how many of the duller songs on Urban Hymns and its singles took the place of material with all the expansive genius of their prior work.

Two of the leaked tracks predate McCabe’s return: a solo demo of “Sonnet” and a version of “Oh Sister,” an unreleased song included in an earlier version on Sympathy for the Demos. “Sonnet” is a lovely little gem and interesting curio, if not nearly as good as the Sympathy version or the soaring album take. Less charming is the somewhat generic “Oh Sister,” which lacks the sweetness of the demo and foregrounds the diminished band’s struggle to forge a sound without their founding guitarist.

Of the far more interesting tracks produced with McCabe, a few are curiosities: “Neon Wilderness (Idea)” is a brief instrumental of what became the last song recorded for Urban Hymns, while “Original Insanity” is a dystopian noisescape featuring the same baby’s cry as in “Deep Freeze,” the album’s hidden track. The “BeatNick Mix” of “This Time” is a quirky instrumental chockful of spacey little bits mined for the album take, particularly interesting in light of extended versions of the song that were highlights of the ’98 tour after McCabe had left. While not essential listening, these cuts demonstrate that The Verve were no less sonically progressive than other state of the art rock bands who released landmark albums in 1997, including Radiohead and Spiritualized.

The other six leaked songs together form the holy grail of Verve fandom, essentially a lost EP that is both the missing link between A Northern Soul and Urban Hymns and a tantalizing glimpse of what might have followed had Ashcroft not departed—a revelatory bridge between the scruffy druggies Noel Gallagher had called “a bunch of space cadets led by Captain Rock” and a group more mature, domesticated, and universal. In short, what the underrated reunion effort Forth promised but couldn’t quite deliver.

“Sweet & Sour” is a hazy late-night confessional of doubt and longing built on the familiar drum track from “Bitter Sweet Symphony” and b-side “MSG” with heartbreakingly expressive singing from Ashcroft and gorgeously moody colors from McCabe and Jones. “Tina Turner” is similarly nocturnal, a wistful rumination that begins like a tribute to the band’s early labelmates Acetone and ambles to a gentle refashioning of the outro to “One Way to Go.”

“Wednesday Madness” conjures a memorable mindfuck with spacey textures and a magisterial groove, while “Jalfrezi” refracts the jangly indie-pop of “Oh Sister” into something vastly more emotive and resonant. “King Riff 2” is vintage Verve—the first “King Riff” became “This Is Music”—with undeniable space funk that leaves lesser album tracks like “Space and Time” and “One Day” in the dust.

If “All Ways Are Maybes,” reportedly a favorite of The Verve’s late manager Jazz Summers, is not quite the lost classic it was reputed to be, it is still a solid outtake, perhaps the most completed composition of all the leaked songs. Surprisingly reminiscent of some of Ashcroft’s solo b-sides, it might have anchored a proper fourth album while the creative and commercial momentum were still there, and certainly warranted release before either of the middling bonus tracks on The Verve’s 2004 greatest hits, both of which lacked contributions from McCabe.

In an infamous interview a year after the band’s second breakup, the guitarist likened “The Drugs Don’t Work”—and by extension Urban Hymns—to a Bon Jovi record. Conventional wisdom has tended to affirm McCabe’s assessment; for all the units it sold, even cracking the elusive U.S. market, Urban Hymns has retained little of the precious cred lavished on critical darlings like OK Computer and Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. The newly leaked outtakes help excavate the buried legacy of The Verve, the brilliantly intuitive players beneath the arena anthems, and could generate fresh interest in the band—if the songs were widely heard.

But these tracks won’t be on Spotify or legal streaming services, let alone CD or vinyl, and even if they aren’t scrubbed from the internet they will seldom be heard beyond the hardest of hardcore fans. It’s unfortunate, but probably inevitable: in the wake of an underwhelming solo career, the canonical Urban Hymns that sold millions of copies is central to Ashcroft’s marketability and rep. Critics already dog his every move, emphasizing how little of his solo work measures up to the band, and he can ill afford to feed more unflattering reassessments.

Despite all of his missteps, the truth remains that Richard Ashcroft was always the prime mover behind The Verve, a singular singer-songwriter whose pop sensibilities and wild ambition pushed the band beyond jamming to making a real go of it. There would be no Urban Hymns without his determination and catchy songs, and his best material already made the album and b-sides, taken for granted after two decades. Ashcroft’s better unreleased tracks were long since rerecorded for his solo albums, and releasing Verve versions of “A Song For The Lovers,” “C’mon People (We’re Making It Now),” and “New York” could only undermine his claim to those songs as a solo artist.

For whatever personal reasons, Ashcroft seems incapable as a middle-aged family man of collaborating with his former bandmates, and one can’t entirely blame him for placing his legend and livelihood ahead of embarrassingly great recordings that underline the tragedy of what might have been. It is ironic, though, after a world tour in which Ashcroft repeatedly invoked Julian Assange and Wikileaks, that it took an anonymous leaker to expose his inconvenient truths to the judgment of history.

Grade: A

J. Adams is a writer and avid poster on the Northern Souls forum. His previous reviews include: The Captain Returns: Richard Ashcroft’s These People In Review (2016), Black Submarine Selections from the Java Heat Soundtrack (2013) and A Critique of RPA & The United Nations of Sound (2010).

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Review: The Verve's 'Urban Hymns' (Super Deluxe Edition) - Virgin/UMe

In 1997, there were three monumental British albums that caught the imagination of fans on both sides of the Atlantic.

While Radiohead (on their way to becoming one of the world's biggest bands) released the career-making OK Computer and Spiritualized put out the groundbreaking Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, The Verve took angsty lyrics, their own much improved songwriting from Richard Ashcroft, and Funkadelic/CAN-like fuzz and repetition to the top of the U.K. charts and made a significant dent in the American charts as well on the back of songs like Bitter Sweet Symphony.

The song, with its prominent (and unfortunately for them, notoriously costly) string sample from an orchestral version of The Rolling Stones' "The Last Time," remains both a U.K. standard and a touchstone for those of us here in America looking to the U.K. for music better than the dull post-grunge being pushed by so-called "alternative" radio.

But what of the rest of Urban Hymns? The Drugs Don't Work is arguably even better and songs like The Rolling People, Weeping Willow, and Velvet Morning mix Britpop, psychedelia, dreampop, and anthemic, U2-like stadium rock to dizzyingly great effect. This Time is a moment of self-affirmation while Catching the Butterfly and Neon Wilderness retained the band's more experimental tendencies from their earlier work (such as 1993's debut album A Storm in Heaven). Twenty years on, Urban Hymns is still a classic.

It is presented here on disc one, while disc two contains the album's B-sides (previously released on singles and EPs) and several remixes. Disc three consists mostly of a six-song BBC Evening Session recorded near the album's release date, though only The Drugs Don't Work is played from the album. Still, like the live material found on discs four and five (from Haigh Hall, the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., Brixton Academy, and Manchester Academy), it shows not only their prowess as a live band, but their renewed confidence as well. Buoyed by their then-recent success, Ashcroft introduces Bitter Sweet Symphony (the last song of the main set at Haigh Hall) as a "song of the people" while defiantly claiming that it was "stolen, but not by us."

Urban Hymns box set track list

Material from older albums, like the 9:30 Club version of title track on their sophomore album A Northern Soul, is also revisited here as well. As if that wasn't enough, there's also a DVD consisting of an appearance on iconic British late night music show Later... with Jools Holland, the full Haigh Hall performance (including encore), and the promotional videos, several of which received quite a bit of airplay on MTV when they were originally released.

As with most such box sets, this is an exhaustive, comprehensive, and occasionally exhausting listen given its sheer scope and volume. Furthermore, it could be argued that most fans would just be satisfied with the original version, especially as there are no truly previously unreleased bonus tracks on here (diehard fans likely already own the B-sides and remixes). However, for those who dig deep and want it all, one can't really argue with the quality of most of the music here. This is The Verve at their very finest and while the album would go on to influence mostly inferior versions of this combination of styles, it was never done better than it was here.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Updated edition of 'The Verve: Star Sail' out now

Sean Egan's 'The Verve: Star Sail' was first published in 1998 by Omnibus Press and is generally considered the best of the spate of Verve biographies that appeared around that time. It has now been reissued by Askill Publishing. An update section takes in events in the band's story since.


They had songs, soul and a sky-scraping confidence. At their heart, Richard Ashcroft, a rake-thin singer in the Morrison/Jagger mould who held the stage like a man on a mission, while his colleague Nick McCabe coaxed ethereal flights of wonder from his guitar. But The Verve could never stop crashing and burning.

They always claimed they would be massive, but the road from hometown Wigan was far from easy. Cancelled gigs, physical breakdowns, name changes – The Verve survived them all with a wilful
sense of their own destiny. Then, having released the classic single "History" and poised on the brink of greatness, they split up.

It couldn't end like that. Their reformation a year later produced the anthemic singles "Bitter Sweet Symphony" and "The Drugs Don't Work," and one of the biggest-selling UK albums of all time, Urban Hymns.

Yet they then self-destructed again: the volatile internal chemistry that had made The Verve genuine rock'n'roll mavericks was the very thing that rendered them unable to work together. They tried one last time a decade later. Their new album topped the UK chart and they wowed Glastonbury and Coachella. It seemed, though, that everybody was happy they were back except them. With internecine warfare once more raging, The Verve finally called it quits.

First published in 1998, Star Sail has been updated to encompass The Verve's full twisting, turning, tumultuous story.

About the author
Sean Egan has contributed to, among others, Billboard, Book Collector, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Tennis World, Total Film, Uncut and His books include works on The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Coronation Street, Manchester United, James Bond and William Goldman.

PUBLISHED October 27, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-9545750-8-3
FORMAT: Paperback 6" x 9"/204 pages
Price: £14.99 (UK) $19.99 (USA)
Available through Bertrams, Gardners, Ingram, Amazon
  • Source: Askill Publishing, Media release at this link 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

'Ellis Island' album features Nick McCabe

Nick McCabe has featured on the debut album Ellis Island, a project from Natalie Kocab and Michaela Polakova, released April 2016.

Nick McCabe: "Some time before Xmas 2015 I completed work on "Ellis Island," Natalie Kocab and Michaela Polakova's incredible project.

Both supreme talents in their own rights, the album they have created together is a timeless, dark masterpiece. I contributed some of my best ever playing to seven tracks. It was hard to stop playing once I started, the madness of last year eventually drew me back out of it, but I would have happily rebuilt home inside this music.

A beautiful and shocking record. I can't wait for you to hear it. Thank you Michaela and Natalie for allowing me to be a part of it."

Below is the press release sent from Quite Great Communications.

The Dark, Sinuous Worlds of Michaela Polakova and Natalie Kocab Attract Heavyweight Talent

Artist: Michaela Polakova/Natalie Kocab
Title: Ellis Island
Release: Out Now - available digitally here:
Lead Tracks: Underwater; Social Affair; These Years
F.F.O: Patti Smith; The Verve; Nick Cave

Collaborative albums are often fraught affairs: posturing for lead billing; misunderstandings and, that legendary line – “musical differences” lurk around every corner. Not so here. Composer Michaela Polakova and singer/lyricist Natalie Kocab have united as a formidable musical force, transcending genres and cultural differences to construct a genuinely breath-taking album, one, which though shrouded in shadow, is staggeringly beautiful and affecting.

"Underwater" feat. Nick McCabe

Ellis Island’s creeping, lustrous sound is based on Michaela’s intricately-weaved piano and string quartet compositions, with Natalie’s Patti Smith-esque vocals adding even deeper pools of intrigue and tension. The sound they create is reminiscent to Nick Cave’s explorations of the mind and the human spirit: dark and emotionally involving certainly, but also inspiring and defiant. Though based on classical foundations, Ellis Island is very much a contemporary experience, drawing on the art of cerebral storytelling through song of the 1970s and 1980s and the fusion of orchestra and guitar music which saw its resurgence in the 1990s.

The project is the brainchild of Michaela Polakova and Natalie Kocab, both hailing from the Czech Republic, though Michaela now lives in England. Michaela was classically trained at Prague’s conservatoire, also studying composition at King’s College, London. Natalie, a renowned writer of both books and plays in her homeland, and Michaela first met during the making of the album, Hummingbirds in Iceland, which received rave reviews in Europe. This led to them collaborating Ellis Island, demonstrating their eve-maturing sound and leading to other notable artists contributing, namely The Verve’s guitarist, Nick McCabe and long-time Lou Reed bassist, Fernando Saunders.

In need of a guitarist to add to their textures of sound, they drew up a list of potential artists, little expecting that the top name of their list would be so enamoured with what they were creating that an expected brief guest appearance quickly led to him taking the project to his heart, contributing to seven of the album’s tracks.

Similarly, Fernando’s significant experience working with some of music’s great storytellers, from Lou Reed to Marianne Faithful and Tori Amos, says much about how highly he regards Michaela and Natalie’s work. The album was mixed by John Catlin at Flood and Alan Moulder’s Assault and Battery Studios. “Ellis Island” is a perfect listening experience for lovers of 1990s indie music; orchestral rock; Nick Cave; Tom Waits, and Lou Reed.

Natalie Kocab discusses the new album, Ellis Island, with the story behind Nick McCabe's involvement from 1:26 onwards.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Airwaves Are Clean: The Triumph And Tragedy Of The Verve's 'Urban Hymns'

Nick McCabe on one of British music's most iconic moments... 
The Verve scorched a trail across British music for a decade. A meteor, a flash of light across a guitar music pantheon imbued with more than its reasonable fair share of stars, the band’s story still makes for gripping re-telling.

Industrial origins. Astonishing live shows. Breathtaking ambition. An enthralling debut album. Prodigious self-medication. A second album collapse. The patronage of the biggest artists in the land. And a final, astonishing glimpse of fame, one of the decade’s most remarkable crossover stories.

Guitarist Nick McCabe, though, couldn’t think about any of this for a long, long time. The memories were burned too deep, the regret scorched too clearly; put simply, he gave himself better things to do.

“I try not to, really,” he says, his Northern brogue seeming to render that blunt statement all the more blunter. “I just don’t see the point, to be honest. And normally the reaction is to be critical of your older works, especially if it’s recent. Once you’ve just done something you’re on to the next thing, really, and you can’t help but be hyper critical of that thing that just came out.”

But time is a great healer, and Urban Hymns certainly deserves to be celebrated. Re-packaged and re-issued, it’s winning fans all over again, more than 20 years on from its initial release. “It feels like somebody else’s work, really, so I can actually enjoy it as a third party, almost. And it’s funny, coming back to all three of those albums, really, because the first two in particular, I couldn’t listen to them for ages because it was juvenilia to me. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised going back to this album.”

Listening back to Urban Hymns is a strange experience. It’s strong, for sure – released in a year of titanic albums, it’s the sound of a generation defining band operating at their very best. But it’s also entirely enmeshed with the period, with the changing of the Britpop zeitgeist, with those iconic videos and those sensational, epic live shows.

The guitarist himself clearly feels the same way. “It’s one of those records that for a long time I’ve had to disassociate myself from it, because it’s taken on a meaning external to my perception of it,” he says. “It means a lot to a lot of different people. Lyrically, the content of that is very close to people’s hearts, so I’ve always had this separation from my perception of the record to what other people have had. I find there’s not actually that much difference these days, I appreciate it as an outsider, almost. I think that’s a nice position to be in because you can then appreciate your own work. And that’s a novelty!”

But really, Urban Hymns never should have happened. The Verve split after the release of second album A Northern Soul, only to reform with long-time friend Simon Tong replacing Nick McCabe on guitar. In a feat of pride-swallowing, though, the mercurial axe-slinger was welcomed back into the fold, returning that element of magic to the band’s sound.

Friday, September 29, 2017

20 Years Ago: The Verve Stumble Toward Elegance on ‘Urban Hymns’

The history of rock ’n’ roll bands is littered with infighting and egos, backstage dust-ups and public backbiting. Creative forces can take ugly trajectories. But the big moment – the artistic or commercial breakthrough of a musical group – still offers an opportunity, even a fleeting one, for the band to revel together in collective triumph.

Despite releasing an album that was both an artistic and commercial breakthrough, the Verve never seemed to enjoy their “big moment.” As 1997’s Urban Hymns became a blockbuster record, the British band’s singer – and prime creative force – Richard Ashcroft began to regret how the album was made and presented. To put too fine a point on it, he wished he’d made a solo record.

“Imagine being the guy that’s written an album on his own, bottles it near the end, feels like there’s unfinished business, rings Nick McCabe up who adds some guitars, puts it out as the Verve and the same problems arise again,” Ashcroft told The Big Issue in 2002. “Imagine being that mug. I’ve now got to rewrite history. Everyone thinks those songs are somehow associated with another bunch of people that I’m not with now.”

The man who Ashcroft names, Nick McCabe, is/was the Verve’s guitarist, with whom the singer had become estranged when the band broke up in 1995 after six years and two albums. Although Ashcroft quickly reconvened with other members Simon Jones (bass) and Peter Salisbury (drums) while also adding pal Simon Tong (keyboards/guitar) to the fold, he and McCabe didn’t speak for a couple years after the Verve disbanded.

In the meantime, Ashcroft went forward with writing and eventually recording new material, working with producer Youth (Martin Glover) on songs including “The Drugs Won’t Work,” “Lucky Man,” “Sonnet” and “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” The singer’s deeply felt lyrics and supple performances meshed with Youth’s lush production of strings and samples, crafting a newly elegant form of Britpop.

The recordings, which began in the fall of 1996, might have been a big step forward for Ashcroft, but – for better or worse – he didn’t feel they were quite worthy of the Verve, which he determined couldn’t be the same band without McCabe on guitar. The frontman threatened to leave music completely if McCabe didn’t rejoin the band, and the guitarist complied.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Youth told Select in 1998. “Richard was always going on about what a great player Nick was. Nick rejoining could have meant re-recording the album, but Richard had to do something radical. He put himself aside and did what was best for the songs.”

And so, McCabe added guitar parts to the existing Youth-produced songs. The reunited Verve (plus Tong) then did sessions with producer Chris Potter to record some looser, more jam-based material, attempting to strike a balance between the old Verve and the new. The resulting Urban Hymns, released on Sept. 29, 1997, would feature seven recordings produced by Potter and seven by Youth.

One of those seven Youth tracks was determined to be the record’s lead single, “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” It was a catchy, circular epic partially constructed around a string sample that was taken from a 1966 symphonic recording of the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time.” The Verve had received permission to use a six-note sample, but when the Stones’ former manager Allen Klein (who held the rights to the band’s early recordings) heard how heavily “Bitter Sweet Symphony” featured the repeated string motif, he sued the Verve, who settled out of court.

As the song turned into a monster single over the summer, debuting at No. 2 in the U.K., Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were given co-writing credit (with Ashcroft) and all of the song’s royalties went to Klein’s ABKCO Records. The band’s big moment proved fruitless – at least financially – and was undercut in the press by the controversy. Ashcroft could only sneer.

“This is the best song Jagger and Richards have written in 20 years,” he told Rolling Stone, pointing out that “Bitter Sweet Symphony” had outpaced any U.K. Stones single since “Brown Sugar.”

Still, the single, along with its MTV-approved video of Ashcroft insouciantly strutting down the street, turned into a smash all over the world, bringing the Verve to the attention of American music fans, who made Urban Hymns a platinum record in the States. In the band’s native Britain, the album was even bigger, producing three Top 10 singles (including the No. 1 “The Drugs Won’t Work”) and eventually selling more than 3 million copies. Critics were nearly as effusive in their praise, with the album landing on best-of lists on both sides of the Atlantic.

But the Verve didn’t appear to bask in the glow of their success for long. While on tour, Ashcroft and McCabe’s relationship became fractious again, resulting in a scuffle and the guitarist’s departure. Live performances were panned and the Verve once again fell apart, with Ashcroft disbanding the group in 1999.

In the years that followed the split, Ashcroft desired more credit for Urban Hymns, something that his former (and future) bandmates seemed all but too pleased to give him. Bassist Jones later complained that the Verve was becoming all about “strings and ballads.” McCabe expressed displeasure with the final record.

“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,” the guitarist said. Urban Hymns “was just a safe bet for people.”

Much of the public and rock press would respectfully disagree. Urban Hymns remains in the conversation of best British albums of all time among U.K. rock writers, while “Bitter Sweet Symphony” has established itself as a Britpop classic. In 2017, a 20th anniversary deluxe edition of the album was put out by Virgin, to mostly glowing retrospective reviews. Decades after its release, maybe the guys who made the album  - who have since reunited and broken up again – can even enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Liam Gallagher would love to form a supergroup with Stone Roses and Richard Ashcroft

The ultimate Manchester band

Liam Gallagher has said that he would much rather be in a band than go solo – and that his dream supergroup would feature The Stone Roses and Richard Ashcroft.

The former Oasis frontman is gearing up to release his debut solo album ‘As You Were’ on October 6, but in a new interview with Consequence Of Sound, he discussed the fellow Mancunian indie veterans that he’d love to collaborate with.

“Anyone that would be in a supergroup or that would have anything to do with a supergroup are all solo,” said Gallagher. “There’s far too many solo stars out there for my liking and not enough bands. I’m doing this cause I have to. I’d much prefer to be in a band.

Liam added: “The ideal ones would be the guys out of The Stone Roses. I think they just split up, so that would be good. [Richard] Ashcroft would be good. There’s a lot of people out there, but the majority of them are all doing their own thing. But, if they want to do one, give us a shout. I’ll do it.”
  • Source: NME, Andrew Trendell