07 March 1992

Melody Maker: Higher than the Scum

Already hailed as one of the best bands in eons, VERVE release their debut E.P. this week. STEVE SUTHERLAND meets a group on the up and determined to stay special.  


Richard Ashcroft is rolling back the years. "Sign of the cross. Y'know, all that. . ."

Any good?

"Fucking magic. I was 14, just a kid, playing for a pub team and I really did think I was gonna be centre forward for Man United. All the way through the season I was playing for Upholland FC but scoring goals for Man United. Amazing goals. The Stretford End went wild".

What went wrong.

"Oh, the manager hung up me boats."


Sheepish grin. Did you get sent off a lot?

"Yeah, all that."

Lippy little bastard were you?

"Yeah, I was. And I wasn't reaching it. D'you know what I mean? I wasn't getting there. But with Verve I can. With Verve I can reach it. With Verve I know I will"

WAKE UP! It's time to make those dreams come true. I don't know why but it feels like you've been sleepwalking for years. All those faceless bands with nothing to say hiding behind their fringes, living vicariously through their record collections, going nowhere, achieving nothing. It' s as if you've been cloning complacency, cosy inside your own cool cliches. There's been no drive, no ambition, no striving for the impossible. You've been living in apathetic limbo, feedback hell.

I was living there too. And enjoying it until I saw Verve. Suddenly staring at my shoes and catching the odd phrase about trees or waves or clouds through a focusless guitar wash seemed dumb. No, numb. This skinny, scarecrow guy was sort of praying to his microphone and hanging from the ceiling and falling to his bony knees and muttering to himself and confronting us with saucer eyes and insisting that it's all out there - everything - and it's ours for the taking if we really want it and:.. well, yeah, I felt reborn.

Verve aren't like the others. Verve are about the exceptional. Verve are going to be stars because up there, on stage, with an adoring audience hanging on their every word, their every crystalline note, they've created their own world within which they can, do and will be who and what they want. Verve take you there.

Honest exhibitionism, the urge to improvise, an addiction to tension, an obsession with detail, an instinct to seduce and a stinging frustration with what is as opposed to what could be, what ought to be - all these things are already hurtling Verve so high and far beyond what we've grown used to its scary.

Why are Verve so great? Because they feel it's their duty as musicians, as emerging pop stars, as human beings, not to settle for anything less than greatness. How to get there? It's no great secret. In fact, it's so ludicrously simple you'll kick yourself and whoever it was who suggested you listen to The Frank & Walters or The Catherine Wheel or any of the other bands who trade in the bleeding obvious, filling shirts and wasting precious time when there's things to be done, important things like falling in love or pointing that picture or running that race or scoring that goal or discovering Verve. You see, getting into Verve isn't a passive thing, it's a positive act. You don't stand and stare, you gawk and grin and roam around your imagination locating possibilities. You want to be in this band like you've never wanted to be in any band before. But you know you can't. Oh, it would have been piss easy to strap on a guitar and go out shoegazing - fuck, if Revolver did it, any fool can. But Verve are such an overdose of personality, it's their band, not yours. You want this heaven? Go find your own way. As their first E.P. says: "It's all in the mind".

SOMEDAY soon, if there's any justice at all left in the cosmos, Verve will pull up outside Madison Square Gordens in a white stretch limo, see their name in lights and give thanks for Valentine's Day 1992. . They'll recall with a laugh how the van got clamped in the afternoon, how they turned up at the Astoria to be refused a soundcheck, how another band on the bill was snotty to them, presumably jealous of Verve' s good press. They'll remember how bad they felt when they shuffled onstage at 7.30, far earlier than they'd originally been told, to discover the doors had only just opened and their friends, who were travelling down the M1 from Wigan and the M40 from Oxford, were still stuck in traffic miles away. Richard will smile when he recalls smashing the bottle of vodka on stage and he may still feel the anger well up inside when he pictures the stage manager signalling the band to cut yet another number from the end of their already amputated set. Maybe he'll shiver as he relives his defiance and his tearful rage when the plugs were pulled midsong.

This was the night when Verve decided enough was enough and got back on course.

"When we were stood in the pouring rain with our equipment being herded out of the Astoria, I realised that I wasn't enjoying it and that this wasn't what it was supposed to be about. It was a turning point," explains Richard over lunchtime vodkas. (He's a brandy man, a spirits man, to excess - so much more style than the lager' n' spliff brigade). 'We were gonna go out supporting The Catherine Wheel but we immediately cancelled it. Why should we put up with all that crap? We're always telling people that we're a special band so why should people have to see us in those circumstances? Y'know, we're not an, 'Oh, they were all right but they were just the support' - type of bond. We're fucking special and we had to do something to keep it special.

"It can't be half-hearted. Every gig has to be different, every gig has to be special and you can't go on and do that not feeling right about the whole event. I mean, we could so easily fall into the trap of not being extraordinary but there's things you can do to change it, you can always turn that other corner.

"I'm not looking at it in a purely selfish way. When people go to see a bond they want to know they're gonna see a good show, and that there's gonna be a good atmosphere created . We want that as much as the others who've tried to create it - y'know, Stone Roses and Primal Scream. That's the way it should be, not being herded on and herded off. What's so special about that?

"If more bands had the attitude that they were giving people something superb and more than their money' s worth, it could all take off. But there's too many bonds who ... well, y'know, they just go along with the way it is."

So, while others still won't say boo to a goose, Verve are going out on their own and only doing supports with bonds they respect. I've just been told they'll be playing some dates with Ride. Maybe I've died and gone to heaven.

MOST nights I can't remember faces from the audience. If I met someone afterwards, I couldn't tell you if they were stood down in front of me. It's not a sight thing, it's just a feeling in the room, that feeling of people expecting something and knowing it's gonna be good, not shuffling around thinking, 'Oh why bother, there'll be another band along in a minute'."

Richard's talking about the Verve experience, about the drama they create on stage. Most of the time, he's gone, somewhere exotic or ecstatic in his own head. Then there's Nick McCabe, the guitarist, concentrating on getting it right and taking it further, statuesque and disdainful. And there's Simon Jones, the bassist who looks like a young Richard Beckinsale, and drummer Peter Salisbury, going with the Row, feeling their way through music that Richard describes as a series of climaxes or "rises and falls".

On record, they've found this gorgeous fluidity difficult to capture. Produced by Stone Roses associate Paul Schroeder, the mythologically Doorsy "All in The Mind" touches the essence but the rippling "One Way To Go" and especially "Man Called Sun", which is as elegantly relaxed as a cat stretching, come closer to indicating where Verve have already gone. Buy the E.P. Play it all. You won't regret it and who knows, it may just change your life.

After all, it seems we're subconsciously feeling a lack and looking for something. Why else would we devote anytime or energy to the amusing rantings of the Manics who just can't walk it like they talk it? Some girl from the NME actually thought Verve were gonna be all Manic mouth and no trousers but she hadn't seen them live and they sent her away with a Rea in her ear. Silly question really but is this a good time for Verve to be emerging?

"I think it is, yeah. From a personal point of view, I don't see any lead singers or performers any more. I can't name a really, really good one for years. The last one was Morrissey in his heyday. He was the last one that I'd say was really performing, really doing something extrovert. I didn't like the cloning though, it wasn't individual. I'm not into that. He seemed to create this feeling of despair in his fans. They took everything he was saying too literally and he exploited them by going along with it. It shouldn't be like that.

"It's up to the bands, the people who haven't got a deal yet, the people who are writing the music. It' s there for the taking. There's room for anyone now, no matter what sort of music they're doing, as long as they do it in a special manner. There's no main style anymore. That was proved by Public Enemy playing with Anthrax...I mean, how far extreme can you get? There's no boundaries now. We're in the 1990's for God's sake. Boundaries were broken 20 odd years ago.

"I don't understand these groups who impose boundaries upon what they do. How can you love your music if you don't want other people to hear it? So many bands grow up listening to indie music and that's the way they wanna be. We're not into that. We listen to all types of music so no other band ever interferes when we're writing. Verve are 1992 - we're not picking back through the years or looking for a scene.

"Hopefully that middle-Eighties indie ethic is gonna die a death. The whole thing about keeping yourself down and introverted is not what music should be about. Music should be ambitious. Why shouldn't someone in Australia be putting on your record? Thinking of some one in America listening to our record and thinking it's amazing while I'm in England blows my mind."

Pop music is there to be reclaimed and Verve are setting about it with exuberant determination. They say death to The Wedding Present and all the other sulky revellers in underachievement. They say it's high time bands became important again.

"I don't want people picking us out of the gig guide just because we're on that night. I want it to be the ONLY gig that people would dream of going to, the one they've been waiting for and thinking about," says Richard. "I mean, come on, it's got to be special or what's the point? Can't you just smell the complacency? If we , re really into a song that we've written and other people appreciate that, it's the greatest thing . To share something that you really like is a brilliant feeling. Why hide it? Music's about transforming yourself, elevating yourself. I mean, six months ago we were absolutely skint and yet when we went on stage, we could be anything we wanted to be in the world and when people are watching you and listening, they're not thinking about their worries and what's going on outside. They're just getting lost in it and that's how I feel.

"If we write a great song, I feel fantastic inside knowing that I'm doing something constructive with my life rather than banging my head against the wall doing something I hate. I'm not interested in the money side of it all. Money just burns a hole in my pocket. I spend it straightaway. I'm not interested in getting some big foundation in my life, I'm just interested in seeing places I've never seen and having a fucking good time."

VERVE talk excitedly about their next E.P. and the album they'll be recording in the summer - an album that, they assure me, will be this year's very finest. They are perpetually frustrated that they can't achieve the music they hear in their heads and yet they realize that's the way it should be. They know their vision is unique and they hope to fuck they can inspire in you some unique visions of your own.

"It's like, when I was a kid, I went to a Bobby Charlton Soccer School," says Richard. "And the first thing they told us was that George Best was a prick. Well, I wasn't having that. I mean, come on! He had two blondes before the Chelsea game and still scored!"

"All in The Mind" is out on Hut. Verve are on tour right now. They play the Powerhaus on March 13 then they're going out with Ride. 
  • Melody Maker, March 7, 1992, interview by Steve Sutherland, pictures by Phil Nicholls
  • Kudos: Jeff Birgbauer