16 April 2023

Richard Ashcroft feels pride and anger at his 'Mad Richard' tag

The Verve were one of the greatest bands of the 1990s. From the psyche-infused shoegaze of the Verve EP and their debut album A Storm In Heaven right to the anthems of Urban Hymns, the stage presence and lyricism of Richard Ashcroft and the glorious guitar tones of Nick McCabe made the Verve the essential British rock band of the late 21st century.

As for Ashcroft himself, in the early days, he was cruelly tagged with the nickname ‘Mad Richard’. He was known to say some outlandish things in interviews – for instance (via NME), “I believe you can fly, and I believe in astral travel” – dance around on stage in skimpy clothing and bare feet and write at length about his deepest dreams and fears in his songs.

In hindsight, especially considering the strides that have been made in mental health in the music industry, it was a truly unnecessary and lazy thing to call one of the greatest vocalists, lyricists and frontmen of his generation.

In 2018, Ashcroft fired back at those early journalists who called him such a name. “That image of Richard Ashcroft keeping his shit together, marrying someone and having a family and not fucking up, funnily enough, wasn’t the image that people wanted projecting,” he told Radio X’s John Kennedy, “which I think says a lot of where we are now.”

It’s true that Ashcroft got it in the neck when he was just trying to make a living as a musician. “It was all about death, negativity and nihilism – that was the engine of this industry,” he added. “That’s why Kurt Cobain’s estate earns so much now. Death sells in this industry, nihilism… They want that to be projected at all times.”

The Verve frontman went on to highlight the fact that he was writing about his mental struggles, and the press still seemed to go after him without concern for how it may affect his mood. “So when you’re suddenly saying, hang on a minute, I was in this crazy band, and I was this lunatic. Check me out now. So not only were you calling me ‘Mad Richard’ when I was a kid… So now we’re all so right on about mental illness now, though, aren’t we?”

“But I was ‘Mad Richard’ then a few years later I was picking up an Ivor Novello Award for ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’,” he forcefully added. “So, who’s the mad one? Who’s the mad one?” That Urban Hymns classic single alone ought to prove that Ashcroft was doing his bit for mental health long before anyone cared about it as they do today.

Ashcroft then went on to note how people take the wild claims of Kanye West with a pinch of salt, given his mental disorders, but none of the press in the 1990s gave Ashcroft a second consideration. “So you’ve got Kanye saying people are exploiting him for being bipolar,” he said. “Did Kanye have, for the first X amount of years of his career, did he have the prefix ‘mad’ before his name? No, he didn’t.”

Further highlighting the hypocritical nature of journalists, Ashcroft continued, “And would any of these oh-so PC journalists now do the same thing to anyone else? Oh no, they wouldn’t.” And the Britpop icon now wears that title with pride. “So I’m proud of that tag,” he added. “You can call me mad. Call me mad. Ban me from music at school, don’t let me take it as a GCSE, ban me from art, call me the cancer of the class because it’s all food for me. It’s motivation.” Fair play to you, Richard.

11 January 2023

Liam Gallagher explains the brilliance of Richard Ashcroft and The Verve

During the 1990s, northwest England was famously fertile ground for music, with Oasis at the centre-point of the notoriety. Down the road in Warrington, The Verve were also creating magic, and Liam Gallagher was one of the biggest fans from the early days.

The Gallagher brothers built up a friendship with The Verve and grew particularly close with their frontman, Richard Ashcroft. On their second album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, Noel Gallagher wrote the track ‘Cast No Shadow’ for Ashcroft. During an interview with Select magazine, Noel explained: “He always seemed to me to not be very happy about what was going on around him, almost trying too hard. That’s why it goes, ‘He was bound with the weight of all the words he tried to say.’ I always felt he was born at the wrong time and in the wrong place, and he was always trying to say the right things, but they came out wrong.”

Noel continued: “I played him the song, and he nearly started crying. I was like, ‘Come on, hold yourself together, son! Easy now. In a way, it’s about all my friends who were in groups. We are bound with the weight of all the words we have to say. We’re always looking for more.”

Ashcroft later described ‘Cast No Shadow’ as “a great honour” while in conversation with Q. To this day, the former Verve frontman still associates with Liam, most notably delighting fans as a special guest at Finsbury Park in 2018. The Britpop duo also collaborated in 2022 as part of Ashcroft’s single, ‘C’mon People (We’re Making It Now)’. The friendship has lasted the test of time and seems to have grown stronger with age. The Verve left an impression on Liam when he first saw them play an intimate show in Manchester, and the group went on to support Oasis at a series of concerts, including at London’s Earls Court in 1997.

Speaking to NME Gold (via Oasis Mania) in 2017, Liam recalled: “The first time I saw The Verve was in Manchester, at the Hop & Grape or somewhere like that. They were fucking heavy in the early days. I loved touring with them with Oasis. Whereas we were a bit more punky, they were out there: more a jam thing. I just remember Ashcroft having his socks and shoes off and all that. I saw Richard recently, we were both doing a gig in Finland: he was on fire. His voice has got really gnarly, and he was on his hands and knees, good energy about him.”

Liam proceeded to praise how The Verve changed their sound on Urban Hymns, which some believe was a result of Oasis’ success and a capitalisation on changing trends. Gallagher also dished out the ultimate compliment by claiming “they don’t make” bands like The Verve anymore. He added: “A lot of people, proper Verve heads, didn’t like Urban Hymns, but I think there’s some amazing songs on that. Before, they didn’t have that. ‘Blue’ is an amazing song, but all the songs on Urban Hymns are great. I remember when it was kicking off for them, we were in America and hearing about it. It was like. ‘What’s going on with this? better get back to England and sort this shit out.’ But I loved them, I really did. They don’t make them like that anymore.”

06 December 2022

Watch neo-psychedelic visionary Nick McCabe demonstrate his Lucem Paradox guitar


The Verve and Black Submarine guitarist is a master of dreamy soundscapes.

The Verve’s 1993 debut album, A Storm in Heaven, owed more than a small debt to the work of the Stone Roses.

That influence was apparent in the vocal approach of each band, the mood of their songs and their unashamed plundering of the best of the 1960s' experimental psych-pop sounds.

Interestingly, guitarist Nick McCabe, like the Stone Roses’ John Squire, has also maintained a very low profile since his time with the Verve.

McCabe often spoke of wanting to make his guitar sound like a synthesizer. Certainly, he was unafraid to create soundscapes that suggested anything but a guitar in his playing.

He had a fondness for using the instrument as an aural paintbrush to spray unconventional colors across songs that were otherwise fairly traditional in structure and ambition.

Utilizing a heavily processed sound, he would often have banks of reverb and delays bouncing against each other to develop a polyrhythmic bed.

As such, McCabe’s always captivating playing elevated the band’s songs to something much more substantial than the sum of their parts.

His go-to guitar was a 1979 Fender Stratocaster that he ran through a Mesa/Boogie Mark III tube amp combo or a Roland JC-120 transistor amp combo.

A panoply of delay units combined for the uniquely expansive sound that McCabe achieved, particularly a vintage Watkins Copycat, Roland Space Echo and an Ibanez flanger.

These days, McCabe also likes to use high-tech digital modelling amps and custom guitars. And in this video, he demonstrates his awesome Lucem Paradox.

Featuring cool retro styling and versatile electronics, this offset boutique beauty was originally developed in collaboration with the guitarist as the limited-edition Old Nick model.

Lucem currently offers Custom and Deluxe versions of this unique axe.

“In many ways, this guitar reminds us of the long-lost era of guitar design when different was best,” wrote Guitarist magazine in their review of the Lucem Paradox Custom.

“It’s hard to imagine any mainstream company creating something quite as out there as this – unless, of course, it was an obscure design from the '60s.

“Yet along with an extremely good build, it’s not only hugely individual, it’s a fine guitar with musical, organic sounds, plus the endorsement of one of the most visionary guitar players we’ve ever heard.” 

27 June 2022

Nick McCabe and Pete Salisbury release "Home Is Where the Heart Is"


Liner Notes:

"This is a product of COVID, but, more appealing than that sounds, it's a collaboration between friends. Myself, Nick McCabe and Pete Salisbury longtime of, and founders of the Verve, plus a last minute collaboration with friend and solo artist (and Black Submarine/Litter and Leaves member) Amelia Tucker.

COVID's interruption of an ongoing project including Simon Jones, also of the Verve, forced our hand back to working independently.  Independent work is a mixed blessing, "natural flow" allows honesty, forces abundance, but with that, output can become sidelined and misappraised, unappreciated.

Collaboration provides a route out of that kind of neglect, you're forced into appraisal, but for me also breaks the personal deadlock of whether to release or not.

I'm very happy to finally allow this out.  Positive, occasionally feel-good, occasionally reflective bunch of tunes.  What is it...? the music is yet more natural outcome of a decades long diet of psychedelic soul, mixed with typically British flavours: 4ad, 60s 70s British folk rock, landing somewhere I hope in the healthier area that exists between prog and post punk.

Of note, the final track Omega is the first track Pete and I collaborated on for the soundtrack to Dan Carter: A Perfect 10, the experience was so positive and fluid we just carried on where setups and schedules permitted.  Here I've restored to its original ecstatic angle.  Working title was Budd/'Gelis, I guess it's only right that I dedicate the piece in part to both men who passed not long ago." 

Released June 27, 2022

Nick McCabe - keys, guitars, production, mastering
Pete Salisbury - drums and percussion
Amelia Tucker - all vocals and lyrics on "The Eleventh Hour"

22 February 2022

Verve 'Voyager 1' Limited Print and release history

Despite being made to appear as a bootleg, Verve's Voyager 1 (released in 1993) was actually an official release with a Microdot sleeve.  Brian Cannon, who photographed iconic album covers and sleeves for The Verve in the 1990s, has issued a limited run of artwork prints on the Microdot Boutique website.

A link to the limited edition print for sale can be found here.

In addition, the history behind Voyager 1 and the sleeve artwork can be read here, as told by Brian Cannon.

14 January 2022

Richard Ashcroft releases "C'mon People (We're Making It Now)" new mix & lyric video


"Richard Ashcroft has today released the Don’t Stop Now mix of ‘C’Mon People (We’re Making It Now).’ The duet with Liam Gallagher featured on ‘Acoustic Hymns Vol. 1’ and is now supported by an exuberant, full band wall-of-sound. Richard Ashcroft and Liam Gallagher deliver their performances in a typically iconic and charismatic style, clearly relishing the opportunity to collaborate on a song that they both cite as a personal favourite."

26 November 2021

"Sankey Brook Rat Lab, N​.​O​.​S" released by Nick McCabe

12 November 2021

Exclusive - Acoustic Hymns, Vol. 1 review

Lacking Verve
Richard Ashcroft’s acoustic hits underwhelm
By J. Adams

Ever since The Verve’s breakup after the multiplatinum Urban Hymns in the late ’90s, frontman Richard Ashcroft’s career has been strewn with puzzling decisions. Even as one of the finest singer-songwriters of his generation, without the band he’s struggled with production and arrangement, squandering many potentially great songs.

The area where Ashcroft has most consistently excelled is live solo acoustic performance, eschewing hired hands to highlight his craft in purest form. So the announcement of an acoustic collection promised a major addition to his catalog—revisiting tracks that hadn’t been fully realized while revitalizing familiar classics.

Instead, the new Acoustic Hymns, Vol. 1 is a strangely extraneous rehash of mostly Urban Hymns-era material closely approximating the originals. It isn’t bad—lavishly produced with Ashcroft singing at his usual high standard—so much as a redundant missed opportunity.

Plenty of artists have revisited their hits for artistic or contractual reasons, uncovering new shadings or taking the songs in different directions, but with few exceptions this set faithfully imitates the originals to lesser effect. And while these recordings may utilize acoustic instruments, the production is as mannered, overdubbed and string-laden as on any of Ashcroft’s previous albums.

Take “Sonnet” and “Lucky Man,” for instance, singles from Urban Hymns. They’re beautiful songs, and Ashcroft sings these new versions beautifully. But they’re so close to the originals that they emphasize the absence of The Verve without developing their own groove. In live solo performance they can take on a shamanic quality at least as compelling as on the iconic recordings, but little of that comes through here. If playing in the background, few would notice that these are even different versions, if less viscerally satisfying.

Some of the tracks are more obviously different, and not for the better. “Bitter Sweet Symphony” abandons the big drums and infamous sample, losing much of its momentum. “A Song for the Lovers” adds a somewhat intriguing 30 seconds of romantic atmosphere before settling into a less captivating recreation of the original, while “Break The Night With Colour” lurches to a noisy conclusion.

On a few songs it works: “Weeping Willow” is successfully recontextualized among Ashcroft’s array of late-night confessionals, and “One Day” unassumingly comes from an older and wiser perspective. “Velvet Morning” gains a striking new outro. But almost everyone will still prefer the originals.

What’s frustrating is that Ashcroft is often at his best performing acoustic, dating back to early Verve radio sessions, routinely putting his studio recordings to shame. Simply turning on a microphone would have yielded far better results, but we’re left with a decent enough pseudo-greatest hits missing several key songs, even as his neglected back catalog deserves much more attention.

If there is to be a Vol. 2, it deserves a more adventuresome approach, with deeper cuts more thoroughly reimagined. How ironic that an album of so many of Ashcroft’s greatest songs could turn out easily the weakest of his career.

Grade: C

Track by Track:

Bitter Sweet Symphony – A solid retread of Ashcroft’s biggest hit, but just a touch too slow. There’s some nice vocal multitracking and percussion throughout.

A Song For The Lovers – Slightly too on-the-nose Mediterranean intrigue introduces a performance exceedingly close to the original, but a little less lush.

Sonnet – A good performance of an Urban Hymns-era classic too close to the original to benefit from the comparison. Ashcroft sounds great, even better than in 1997, but the song doesn’t quite soar without The Verve’s contributions.

C’mon People (We’re Making It Now) – A major missed opportunity given how much better solo performances have been compared to the middling single, as this new take sticks closely with the old arrangement. Having Liam Gallagher guest star is an interesting novelty, but he and Ashcroft lack much in the way of chemistry or interplay.

Weeping Willow – One of the few tracks on the record distinctly different from the original, replacing Nick McCabe’s churning guitars with moody strings. A definite highlight, and a damn shame more of the album didn’t take this approach.

Lucky Man – Another solid performance so similar to the original so as to magnify the missing Verve magic. Richard Ashcroft can make stadiums of grown men cry by playing this alone on an acoustic, and yet opted for a lesser soundalike.

This Thing Called Life – The most surprising inclusion, an obscure entry off the United Nations of Sound LP from years after anything else on the collection. It’s a strange selection, a dynamite chorus stapled to somewhat awkward verses and overly similar to the original, but the album’s one reboot that betters its predecessor.

Space & Time – Another missed opportunity that too closely approximates the original, except for some oddly out of place horns. The song builds to a slightly country-flavored new outro that would make more sense live than in the studio.

Velvet Morning – To its credit, one of the few songs much different than twenty-some years ago, building to a lovely new outro. The band does a good job conjuring a countryish atmosphere and Ashcroft delivers a tremendous vocal performance not through a megaphone as in the original. The problem is that the megaphone distortion and Verve guitars were key to the song’s defining wooziness. Still, easily an album highlight.

Break The Night With Colour – Another somewhat surprising inclusion, one of only two songs on the album not dating from the Urban Hymns era, and also way too similar to the original—at least until it shifts to the noisy outro that Ashcroft typically performs in concert, far less elegant than the original fade-out.

One Day – Now this is more like it! Genuinely stripped down, distinctly different from the original, and sung with the wisdom of years. The entire album should have been along these lines.

The Drugs Don’t Work – Not an improvement on the original but a rawer take perhaps more attuned to 21st century sensibilities (and media placements). More interesting than most of the record and a decent conclusion to a disappointing LP.

Regarding a Vol. 2

Amid promotion Ashcroft mentioned maybe releasing further acoustic volumes, but over the years has teased other projects—most notably a b-sides compilation—that never came to fruition. Hopefully he will record another, to do greater justice to his remarkable catalog.

Frankly, the impetus for Vol. 1 was likely more economic than artistic: streaming royalties. The bulk of Ashcroft’s come from four singles on Urban Hymns that he largely wrote but must share with estranged bandmates, plus the Stones until recently, and then to a lesser extent other Verve-performed tracks. To the extent that digital and physical sales still matter, the only package previously offering his biggest songs (besides Urban Hymns itself) was The Verve’s This Is Music singles compilation, which emphasizes Ashcroft but lacks any solo material.

So glossy studio versions of his big tracks with The Verve, but now officially by Richard Ashcroft, are presumably a lucrative prospect, and probably explain the strange soundalike redundancy of many of the rerecorded songs from Urban Hymns. Perhaps they will become the standards offered by algorithms, even if less compelling than the originals. If Ashcroft does record another acoustic collection, it will be more for pride than revenue.

Here are 22 songs for a prospective Vol. 2, several of which really should have made Vol. 1, that could readily make up a new classic:

See You In The Next One (Have A Good Time) – The composition that more or less marked Ashcroft’s initial emergence as a singer-songwriter back in 1993, it received a number of solid solo acoustic performances during the ’98 tour.

On Your Own – Anticipating Urban Hymns, but with more angst, the A Northern Soul single that heralded Ashcroft the troubadour replacing Mad Richard the psychedelic frontman. A piano-driven acoustic version was released by The Verve as a b-side.

History – The Verve’s final single and biggest hit at the time of their first breakup, a searing lament Ashcroft has routinely nailed over the years.

Misty Morning June – A lovely unreleased gem from the early Urban Hymns sessions, would fit perfectly with Ashcroft’s more pastoral solo material.

Never Wanna See You Cry – A promising but underrealized Urban Hymns b-side that could benefit from Ashcroft’s deeper, craggier vocals a quarter-century later.

You On My Mind In My Sleep – One of the highlights from Ashcroft’s solo debut, but at least as overproduced as the rest of the album. An acoustic radio version released on a promo points the way to a new arrangement combining the best of both.

Money To Burn – A fun Vegas-era Elvis pastiche that got inflated into a dubious imitation of Spiritualized, resulting in a mediocre single, but ripe for rawer reinterpretation.

Check The Meaning – One of Ashcroft’s all-time greats, but a poor choice for his solo magnum opus Human Conditions’ lead single. Always a highlight of his acoustic sets and a song that deserves more recognition.

Buy It in Bottles – An almost-great single from the underrated Human Conditions that would be child’s play to upgrade, one of Ashcroft’s near-classics that most demands revision.

Science of Silence – Arguably Ashcroft’s greatest solo composition, another almost-classic single suffering from bloodless production. It should have been a massive hit, regardless, and warrants more exposure.

Nature Is The Law – A profound spiritual meditation that concluded Ashcroft’s second—and best—solo album, but that suffered from cloying overdubs courtesy of Brian Wilson. An ideal choice to revive.

Music Is Power – One of Ashcroft’s better-known anthems, originally built off a Curtis Mayfield sample, and consistently a highlight of his acoustic sets.

Words Just Get In The Way – An underrated single from Ashcroft’s third solo album, Keys To The World, that would benefit from grittier, more countrified production.

Keys To The World – The title track of Ashcroft’s third solo LP suffered from an instantly-dated electronica arrangement that ruined an otherwise excellent song. Rare acoustic performances were almost shockingly better.

Rather Be – Perhaps the best of the Ashcroft-centric songs on The Verve’s reunion album Forth, and its second single. One of Ashcroft’s stronger compositions, but one he’s never performed solo.

Mona Lisa – At one point a contender for Forth, the band just couldn’t quite make it work, at least on the bootleg recording in circulation. But the bones of a better song are there.

Are You Ready? – The lead single from the United Nations of Sound project, the original was a somewhat generic Britpop jock jam, but occasional acoustic performances revealed a more compelling composition.

She Brings Me The Music – A promising but seemingly unfinished devotional from the frustrating United Nations of Sound album that was undermined by an incongruous outro and Ashcroft’s pneumonia during recording.

Glory – An underrated tune from United Nations of Sound that suffered severely from inexplicable overdubs, and wouldn’t take much to vastly improve.

They Don’t Own Me – One of the highlights of Ashcroft’s excellent comeback album These People that’s become more and more relevant in ensuing years. The song is too subtle to work in live performance, but ideal to revisit in a studio setting.

Hold On – The electronic arrangement of These People’s second single arguably overshadowed one of the best anthems Ashcroft had written in years, which could easily fit other sonic contexts.

Surprised By The Joy – One of Ashcroft’s finest singles, and the highlight of his last album Natural Rebel, that held up well in acoustic performance.

04 November 2021

Those of us who had IT originally have still got it, says singer-songwriter Richard Ashcroft

It’s two days after Richard Ashcroft headlined London’s Royal Albert Hall and the former Verve frontman is still celebrating one of his most incredible solo shows.

It had been a momentous night for fans and the singer.

“It was just such a release of emotion that the next morning I woke up with a headache, but I didn’t mind,” he says as we chat from his Herefordshire home.

“It was a really special one and worth the headache. After what people have been through over the past 18 months, it was such a release, and I was happy to be a conduit for that.

“My own gigs were my first gigs back, too — it had been a long time since I’d been to a gig.”

And if Monday’s roof-raising salute to the Wigan songwriter’s music wasn’t enough, his album Acoustic Hymns Vol 1 is at No2 in the midweeks behind Ed Sheeran.

“I don’t think my label expected the record to be where it is right now in the charts, so I think you might see a few adverts for it in the next few weeks,” he says, with a laugh, down the phone.

“I wanted the album and gigs to be an escape from the pandemic. I know it’s the worst time ever to put an album out. And I don’t think my record company have even been in the office for 18 months, but I think it’s great that these tunes are back in the frame right now.

“It means we are cracking on. It’s been a crazy year. It’s been a mad one but getting music back helps each other. Music has power and people feel very vulnerable right now.”

Ashcroft, who is married to former Spiritualized keyboard player Kate Radley and father to sons Sonny, 20, and Cassius, 17, says making the album has allowed him to reconnect with his fans.

He says: “I’ve got the ability to close my garden gate and go, ‘Right, see you world’. But I didn’t want to do that.

“Music connects family and fans and realising that has fired me up. Having Sonny play guitar on Bitter Sweet Symphony at the Albert Hall made me proud. I want to keep going.”

The songwriter adds: “I needed to play music again after this crazy time and that’s why I put out the John Lennon song — a cover of Lennon’s 1973 protest song Bring On The Lucie (Freda Peeple) — in February.”

Ashcroft says he came up with the idea to re-record some of his classic songs about five years ago.

These included The Drugs Don’t Work, Lucky Man, Weeping Willow and Sonnet from The Verve’s masterpiece third album Urban Hymns, plus brilliant solo hits like A Song For The Lovers and Break The Night With Colour.

He tells me: “The concept was to re-record these songs with (string arranger) Wil Malone.

Then he and a band would take Acoustic Hymns to cities like Milan and New York and venues like the Sydney Opera House.

“But then I put out (2018 studio album) Natural Rebel before it.

Then a conversation started with the Rolling Stones about recording Bitter Sweet Symphony acoustically with no sample in it and could we start renegotiating that song?”

The 1997 Verve anthem originally featured a sample from the Andrew Loog Oldham orchestral cover of the Rolling Stones’ The Last Time.

Stones manager Allen Klein argued The Verve had used a larger sample than was agreed. A lawsuit then followed and Ashcroft was forced to give up the song’s royalties.

But in 2019 Mick Jagger and Keith Richards gave up their rights to the song.

That May, a delighted Ashcroft revealed the news when he won an Ivor Novello for Outstanding Contribution to British Music.

“Mick and Keith signed over all of their part,” recalls Ashcroft. “And the dominoes fell my way. I wasn’t expecting that, especially before I’d even recorded this new version.

“But when I won the Ivor Novello I announced the news that Bitter Sweet Symphony was coming home.”

The song, which reached No2 and remained in the charts for three months, closes Ashcroft’s live set

He says: “It was a shame that all happened as the song is enormous. It’s a monster. I’ve played it around the world and seen its effect on people.

“I once got lost in Mexico on my way to a festival. The driver took us down a side street and there was a huge Bitter Sweet Symphony mural. If he hadn’t taken the wrong turning, we never would have seen it.”

Acoustic Hymns includes a new version of C’mon People (We’re Making It Now) which Ashcroft recorded with his good friend Liam Gallagher. And the former Oasis singer’s comeback is something Ashcroft is proud of.

“It’s great that Liam is selling out Knebworth. The ones who had IT originally have still got it, you know what I mean?” he says.

“When I played Finsbury Park with him (in 2018) I was like, ‘Liam, we are BACK!’ It was amazing.

"Kids were coming up to us saying it was the first time they’d seen us live. Yet critics will say, ‘A 21-year-old has no interest in a gig by a 50-year-old guy in his crazy Swarovski crystal jacket’.

“This idea that once you’re over 30 you lose your relevancy and won’t be played on the radio is absurd — that includes some of the best musicians and songwriters out there. We might be reaching our peak, for all they know.

“Kids are obsessed with music and are open-minded. I’ve seen that the audience was changing at my gigs.

“Me and Liam have got a second wind –– the sails are full and the ship is flying and I’m fired up to play more shows and keep this sailing.

“The problem is that we don’t celebrate when people are doing well in music.

Look at Ed Sheeran, I’m buzzing at how huge he is here and in America. We can be too cynical about people who are doing all right. Let’s stop knocking him. He’s British and I know how hard it is to be huge in America.”

Ashcroft is a firm believer that technology has taken over music and takes away the real sound of a singer.

“The problem with singers today is autotune,” he says. “We don’t hear real voices any more, especially in American music.

“There’s hardly any song released with someone physically singing down the microphone without a load of stuff added on it.

“No one knows what you actually sound like if you don’t establish your authentic voice from the start.”

Ashcroft says he has always had to deal with critics and haters — and despite success, he will always feel an outsider.

“Over the years I’ve always felt a resistance,” he tells me.

“People didn’t want to acknowledge me. I was the guy who had his cake and ate it. I’d been in a big band and then success as a solo artist so they’d stick the knife into me.

“But I was playing in Tokyo and Argentina where crowds were bouncing at every show. It’s time to be celebrated. I can sing live, I’m a good performer — look at the Royal Albert Hall. But I’ve dealt with it before.

“They used to call me ‘Mad Richard’. They’d take the p**s out of my accent and make my words colloquial. But I’m used to it.

“One time I was looking into the window of a sunglasses shop and Kate was in a charity shop next door. This woman ran in and said to lock the doors because of the man. Kate realised they were talking about me!

“I’ve had it in New York too. I was stopped by a hotel bouncer, yet they’d let the people I was with in. I was being stopped even though I was paying the bill.

“I’m the skinny kid from Wigan. Maybe it’s the Northern accent but I’ve had to prove myself all the time.”

Ashcroft has been open in the past about suffering from depression. Today he acknowledges that many people have suffered with their mental health in lockdown and we need to talk about having a coping ­strategy.

“We are living in this new reality and we need to be able to deal with it,” he says.

“Years ago, Liam said, ‘If you’re not mad in this world, then you are not living’. And I get that.

“We’ve just got to be careful that real-life feelings and emotions that are very painful don’t get confused with illness. People will hurt your heart and that’s life.

“I look at Tyson Fury and what he’s been through and how he came back with a focus. Now he’s on top of the world from the bottom of the pit. He didn’t just tell the world about how low he’s got, he showed there’s hope too. That’s inspiring.”

The video for This Thing Called Life includes a stream of personal family photos.

Ashcroft refers to the promo as “my story” and adds: “A lot of this is like a mental struggle, connected to our physical health. It’s been a crazy year but as individuals we can help each other. I have my wife Kate and my two sons. I’m lucky.”

Ashcroft turned 50 in September and says his milestone birthday made him reflect. He says: “You know how much potential you’ve got ahead, what you want to do, who you want to be around and who don’t you want to be around.”

He adds: “I’ve been inspired by music and what I want to do next. I started this other project which was more sample-based — the complete opposite to what I’ve done before.

"But having made this album and felt the vibe at my recent gigs, it’s pushed me to want to go into a room and write ten absolute monster tunes.

“The gigs have sent me off the edge. They’ve made me think, ‘Rich, you do this really, really well. Why don’t you try and do what you do but even better?’

“I also want to stretch out of genres. I don’t like being put in a genre.

“I don’t want to be just known as somebody creating acoustic music, as I like electronic things too. Hopefully whatever I do next will be eclectic but still me.

“All I know is that playing these shows has meant taking this massive deep breath because each show means going on this huge emotional rollercoaster with everyone in the room. Each song has its own universe.

“And I’ve missed that.”

27 October 2021

Richard Ashcroft: 'You can feel the lineage from Urban Hymns'

The former Verve vocalist is revisiting some of his old songs for Acoustic Hymns Vol 1, an album recorded at Abbey Road that includes a guest appearance by Liam Gallagher 

Richard Ashcroft explains that his throat is hoarse on the back of two recent sold-out performances at the London Palladium, his first shows since a plan to take his songs around the world with various orchestras were shelved.

Not one to be stopped by a global pandemic, the swaggering front-man has mustered his forces and reworked the back catalogue for the new long-player Acoustic Hymns Vol 1, recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London.

“It was pretty full-on; like a science-fiction B-movie. I never want to see that again; 22 string-players in masks. Abbey Road was open, I thought if everyone is up for it let’s do it and credit to everyone they went in and got on with it,” says the singer who hit the headlines during the summer for refusing to play gigs that were enforcing Covid restrictions. 

The album includes eight songs from Urban Hymns, his international blockbuster with The Verve which celebrates its 25th anniversary next year.

“It would be really difficult if I was steaming in with a new album right now,” says the singer who celebrated his 50th birthday last month. “This time was meant to be about going to Australia and Italy and working with those orchestras. It’s the worst time ever to put out an album but I know my fans wanted some content, it’s a bit of nourishment and light; there’s a lot of love in these songs and it’s as simple as that.

“You can feel the lineage from Urban Hymns,” says Ashcroft nodding to his songwriting breakthrough. “Songs like Velvet Morning, Space and Time and Weeping Willow were never singles. On the album [Urban Hymns] I sing Velvet Morning through a loudhailer and I love that version, but I thought it would be nice to sing it properly with where my voice is at now.” 

Urban Hymns captured The Verve at their zenith, amid the spaced-out ambience of Neon Wilderness and full-throttle psychedelic rock of Rolling People saw Ashcroft push rock'n’roll towards hip-hop beats, sampling, strings and loops to create a compelling sonic stew. It felt like a violation when The Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein claimed 100% royalties from the album’s lead single Bitter Sweet Symphony.

“You can’t have everything your own way,” says Ashcroft philosophically. “In terms of real ownership that song had already left the building, it had already become a people’s song and opened up the world to me. There’s a deep connection between us all and that sentiment just resonates from Bitter Sweet Symphony whether you are in the toughest city in Mexico or the Glasgow Barrowland. I started to do different versions taking out the loop and changing the rhythm.”

When a discussion between both sides’ management began about a reworked version of Bitter Sweet Symphony (without the Stones orchestral sample of The Last Time) it led to Ashcroft being granted publishing rights, and provided momentum for this new collection.

The conversation turns to an encounter with the band's late drummer when Ashcroft supported the Stones in 2018 for shows in Edinburgh and Manchester. “That was special and with the passing of Charlie Watts even more so. Everyone does a photo with them, it’s all a bit of a blur but what was strange; as they left the room Charlie turned around and looked at me. I said to everyone afterwards, ‘Charlie sent me this kind of telepathic message’; it was like: ‘This is mad isn’t it? Imagine what it’s been like for me all these years!’. There was no way he was going to leave that room without acknowledging that to me.”

While Urban Hymns was perceived as a game-changer by the time Ashcroft released his United Nations of Sound album in 2010 he was on the receiving end of a critical onslaught by the London-centric music press. A new stripped back version of This Thing Called Life from the album features on Acoustic Hymns.

“I wanted to launch that record in America and build it there, essentially they got it more, it was rock'n’roll meets hip-hop, soul and R&B, I got more of an understanding there than with the British media. Is it something in our psyche that if you don’t like something you take a stab at it? How about you pause for a minute as an industry and then promote something you do like instead …which is more like the American mentality. Someone like Van Morrison has given us Astral Weeks, if he was American it would be award season for the rest of his life; why do artists need to be taken down as a sport?”

Ashcroft points to Liam Gallagher’s two-sell out shows at Knebworth and the former Oasis singer's remarkable comeback. “Something is happening when they are like ‘what’s going on; I thought we buried him?’…with those gigs Liam’s put on, the horse has bolted. Instead of being trampled on, rolling over and being carted out for the chicken-in-a-basket tour, like those '80s [nostalgia] tours, this is different in the way that the Stones are different, some things are different.”  

Since The Verve began playing gigs with Oasis as far back as 1993, Ashcroft and Liam Gallagher have stayed in contact for nearly 30 years. He suggests it’s a relationship that “goes beyond” friendship, perhaps alluding to the fact that while Gallagher’s brother Noel is absent, Ashcroft fills something of that void. Touring together as unknowns, then as rock stars, and providing succour for each other during feast and famine has created a significant alliance.

“There’s a huge connection and we acknowledge that. Obviously, it goes back a long way, we have a kinship because we are both the dude at the front, which we take on and enjoy but it comes with a lot of sacrifices. He got it way beyond a level where I had it and what I had was enough for me so I can empathise. Also just as people, words don’t have to come into it, there’s something else going on. There is a support where you might not see and speak to each other for a certain amount of time but we just pop up at the right time.” 

Ashcroft invited Gallagher, who also appeared on Urban Hymns, to record C’mon People (We’re Making It Now) for the new release. It was the song he first jammed with Gallagher as far back as 1998.

“People need to appreciate the soul in Liam’s voice. For me, I could appreciate my song again, like any creative person, we are always on to the next thing and we all have insecurities but that was so fantastic to hear. It’s this brilliant, natural thing and he knows that. There are special reasons and musical reasons that it sounds the way it does, he brought his musicality and added something so it works on multiple levels. Hopefully one day in the future we can create something brand new, that was about creating something [during the lockdown] that was good for us all, it was about saying life is not grinding to a halt.” 

A cinematic nod to James Barry 

Acoustic Hymns features a nod to John Barry (Born Free, James Bond soundtracks, etc) on Ashcroft’s tune, A Song for the Lovers. Originally demoed for Urban Hymns and released as a solo single in 2000, the new version evokes the haunting 1965 soundtrack of The Ipcress File starring Michael Caine. 

“I always liked the sound of the dulcimer,” says Ashcroft. “I’m a big fan of those John Barry scores. With the original version, I was trying to make future music, on this, I wanted to draw it back. What I wanted was to paint a picture of driving on the Grande Corniche in the south of France or Italy somewhere. I wanted to put the lovers there cinematically and into that situation from the intro. It’s romantic and exotic, this idea of driving to meet the lover, it puts you in that space straight away. We brought in [Rolling Stones pianist and touring member] Chuck Leavell, it was just great to see all these people being creative during that time."

24 September 2021

Richard Ashcroft releases "Thing Thing Called Life"

There has been a huge public interest in the return of Richard Ashcroft with his upcoming acoustic shows. All three London dates have sold-out long in advance, while his arena show in Liverpool will be one of the biggest solo shows of his career. Anticipation for the shows was further fuelled with the announcement that Ashcroft will release Acoustic Hymns Vol. 1 on October 29th. An album featuring new stripped-back versions of some of his classic songs, Acoustic Hymns Vol. 1 was launched with interviews on Radio X and 6 Music.

Now Richard Ashcroft builds momentum ahead of the album’s release by sharing the new acoustic version of "This Thing Called Life." After starting the album campaign with the iconic "Bittersweet Symphony," this new single puts a fresh perspective on one of the most underrated songs from his back catalogue.

"This Thing Called Life" is a totally reworked version of a song that was originally recorded with No I.D. for the RPA & The United Nations Of Sound project in 2010. By stripping away the punchy, hip-hop flavoured beats and funk guitar embellishments in the flavour of an organic, full-band sound, "This Thing Called Life" now feels like a classic addition to his songbook. Between the sweeping gospel-tinged backing harmonies and the richer, more mature timbre of his voice, "This Thing Called Life" is ripe for rediscovery. Lyrically it’s perfectly primed for 2021, a plea for living in the moment and embracing whatever challenges life throws at you.

The nostalgic element of the song is further explored in its accompanying official video. It shows Richard returning to Olympic Studios, a location that’s particularly poignant for him as so many key songs from his back catalogue were recorded there before its studio facilities closed in 2009. The cinema screen shows a montage of footage from Richard’s personal archive, covering his career and his family life, dating the way back to childhood. Those clips are interspersed with a typically charismatic performance of the song, which was recently filmed at Richmond Theatre.

Other highlights on Acoustic Hymns Vol. 1 include "Bittersweet Symphony," which is significant as the acoustic version was the catalyst that led to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards returning the songwriting credit to Richard, and "C’Mon People (We’re Making It Now)" which features Liam Gallagher. The song has been a favourite of both artists since Richard first played it to Liam on piano in Majorca in 1998.

Produced by Richard with Chris Potter, Acoustic Hymns Vol. 1 features his regular live band boosted by some special collaborators. Wil Malone provides the string arrangements, which were recorded at Abbey Road Studios. In addition, Chuck Leavell performs piano, Roddy Bloomfield leads the brass section, and Steve Wyreman contributes further acoustic guitar and backing vocal arrangements.

11 March 2021

Nick McCabe "Lucem, Paradox. Silver Series" one take improvisation

"An improvised piece showcasing Lucem's more affordable take on the Paradox guitar. 

About the guitar:

This guitar is hand finished by Lucem, and comes with a simplified configuration of Kent Armstrong pickups following a suggestion I made of single coil Strat neck tone, and PAF bridge. The ethos of the "Old Nick" edition Paradox is present in its core: thick but biting bridge for the Quicksilver Messenger Service/Television-ish thing I love so much, round, slightly plummy neck pick up for, well, everything else. 

Construction differs from "Old Nick" the neck there is 'through', Silver Series is bolt on, again, bringing out a familiar Fender-ish flavour to the note envelope without over emphasising the initial transient.

About the music:

The piece is a one take improvisation. This is the kind of stuff I probably do too much of, but since "We Are Are We" was so well received (head on over to my Bandcamp if you enjoy this?) this video also serves to reveal the process. "We Are Are We" was created in a similar manner, except with a long delay and control over the feedback and routing, this piece is using the more convenient tool for the job, the Gibson EDP. Feedback is controlled from a MIDI pedal (Moog MP201 - someone nudge Moog - we need more of these), meaning improvised snatches can be faded out as new ideas develop. Terry Riley pioneered this technique, best heard on "Poppy No Good and the Phantom Band". Obviously I've also listened to way too much Fripp and Eno. Back when Lexicon's JamMan flopped so conveniently I could afford one in the "have we sacked him haven't we" phase circa 1995, I grabbed a piece of that action and continued to apply it liberally to Urban Hymns and surrounding in the brief "we haven't" moment 1997-98. It's a branch of what I do I now call dirty ambient. Less a bath, more a mire.

Contrary to what the visuals may be telling you, I'm really enjoying myself in this video. Concentration, middle age, resting bitch face, whatareyagonnado huh.... And all the sales chat you hear... well that's what I do best. Dr Cheese." - Nick McCabe

  • Source: Nick McCabe Music on YouTube