Sunday, November 16, 1997

San Francisco Chronicle - Verve Celebrates Spirit of Inclusion / British pop phenom pegged as likely successor to supergroup Oasis

Inside the sold-out Earls Court arena a tall, skinny man, eyes clenched shut, is onstage flailing his limbs and yelling at the audience. The fan response is instant, with 20,000 pairs of hands soaring skyward.

The Verve, fronted by limb-flailer Richard Ashcroft, is wrapping up its hourlong set as opening act for Oasis. Some critics have predicted the Verve will soon overtake that group to become Britain's latest megaband.

"I think people can relate to us because they know we're real people," says the coarsely good-looking and refreshingly genuine Ashcroft, speaking on a sunny patio at the Virgin Records offices two days after the show. "They know we go through the same sort of c-- they do, and come back better for it."

The Verve recently hit the No. 1 spot on the British singles charts with "The Drugs Don't Work"; its predecessor, "Bitter Sweet Symphony," reached No. 2. The group's third studio album, "Urban Hymns," with its sweetly crafted songwriting, cacophonous psychedelic breakouts and lush alternative sound, is the hottest musical news across the pond.

Although Ashcroft's face adorns the covers of a number of hip British publications, as recently as a year ago the Verve's survival was in question. The band -- Ashcroft, bassist Simon Jones, drummer Peter Salisbury, guitarist Nick McCabe and guitarist-keyboardist Simon Tong -- had reached a breaking point in the fall of 1995, five years after forming in the industrial town of Wigan, near Manchester. Instead of enjoying the release of its second album, the moving "A Northern Soul," the band broke up over tensions centering on Ashcroft and McCabe.

A LEARNING PROCESS

"At that point when we split up, it was because we were damaging what we had and abusing what we stood for," Ashcroft says. "We were all following our instincts into brick walls. . . . We have a magic, we've always said that, and sometimes you have to go through that c-- to recognize what you had. It's been a massive learning process for me."

After a year of playing and recording without McCabe, the Verve reunited. "A lot of the album was rerecorded once Nick came back in," Ashcroft says. "It was like putting the most beautiful icing on the greatest, biggest cake. He put the slide on 'The Drugs Don't Work,' and I don't want to sound like somebody in f-- Duran Duran here, but I really missed his vibe and soul. His spirit on these records has been so important, and to be jamming with him again was vital. And then we got to the song 'Come On' and it was, like, 'Aaahhh!' "

As for Ashcroft, he is known for his ability to express poetic, heartfelt sentiments alongside gritty life observations. It has worked like a charm back home.

"You go through the change from being a young lad to being a young man," he explains. "Different things are in your life, you have more than just 'been down to the pub and watched a game of football.' You're bringing in relationships, all your hang-ups. " 'A Northern Soul' was me taking away all that baggage and bulls--, the working-class Northerner having to go home and face the old crowd after having said something that was deep inside me. Now these 'mad-heads' (bad boys) back in Wigan see it, and some of them have been encouraged to express themselves a little differently, which I think is a great thing."

Ashcroft is pleased that his band's music cannot be pigeonholed.

"We've been shoe-gazers, new glam Brit-pop," he says. "It's a part of '90s tabloid culture that I despise, but we've burst out by saying we're bigger than that. I think we have a pretty eclectic audience. A lot of American bands say stuff like, 'We were the kids smoking dope in the corner, they were the guys playing nerd rock.'

"I don't agree with judging people. I come from a (public) school in Wigan, I have friends in all walks of life and I don't judge any of them. They're different people with different lives, but it doesn't mean I don't get anything from them. And as far as I'm concerned, this music's for everyone and anyone who wants it."

REFUSING TO CAPITULATE

The Verve, which is on a brief U.S. tour, is determined to continue its journey on its own terms, refusing to capitulate to the demands of standard industry hype machines such as MTV.

"We're always re-educating people that if they want us to survive then we cannot go into those situations," Ashcroft says. "When we come back to America, people will be aware that we are not part of that 'corporate beef burger here's-another-album' cycle. It's all on a very good level, and it's very exciting."
  •  Source: SFGate, written by Steffan Chirazi