01 November 1997

Record Collector - This is Music: A Verve History


Aged between 18 and 20, Verve form at college in Upholland in Wigan, Lancashire, drummer Peter Salisbury, bass player Simon Jones, guitarist Nick McCabe and the strongly featured Richard Ashcroft (singer and lyricist), who's "been in bands since he was 17."

15th August: The Honeysuckle pub, Wigan, plays host to Verve's first gig, at a friend's birthday party. Wayne Griggs (alias Music Of The Spheres) DJs - and spins records at every Verve gig since.


3rd February: An eight-song gig at Manchester's famous Boardwalk prompts an enthusiastic review in The Wigan Reporter: "By the second number, they were cooking on gas, singer Richard had the crowd of over 200 eating out of the palm of his hand." Further dates at the venue follow.

9th March: Verve play the decidedly unglamorous Bolton Institute Students' Union.

18th March: "Dole lads on the brink of success", runs the local headline as Verve attract a "packed house" at the Citadel in St. Helens. A demo cassette lures A&R men from WEA offshoot East West: "We're on the dole so we had to save up for a while before we could afford the £200," says Richard. Verve's aim, it seems, is to concentrate on moving the body rather than the mind. "We don't want to be too heavy. We just want people to enjoy our music," says Richard, who modestly predicts Verve will be the biggest band ever. The band return to the Citadel on several occasions.

23rd March: "Wigan's not big enough for the both of us." say Verve as local rivalry prompts more regional publicity over a double-bill with Wigan band, the Tansads, at the town's Mill At The Pier. Verve are adamant they aren't so much supporting as playing the gig "to show Wigan who is boss". In an article under the banner "Band War Breaks Out", Verve state their influences as Funkadelic and, somewhat bizarrely, Aphrodite's Child.

19th April: "They all love Verve", fanfares a press report for another Borderline gig, which lists a string of parties interested in the band (A&M, London, WEA, CBS, Island).

17th May: The band wave goodbye to hometown gigs after an appearance at the Upholland Working Man's Club in Wigan.

3rd July: Verve's very first performance in the capital (at the Fulham King's Head) prompts a recording contract with Virgin Records' offshoot, Hut, then home to the Smashing Pumpkins.

25th November: A show at London's perennial showcase arena, the Camden Falcon, attracts an enthusiastic NME review: "Verve are gigantic, an accident in a chemical factory. Their mushroom cloud of sound impacts into the swaying mass, like Cod falling down an escalator."


22nd January: Melody Maker are equally ecstatic after a gig at the Tufnell Park Dome: "They entertain people away from their immediate memories. Richard, prince of thieves, steals our attention from right under the noses of jaded cynicism."

30th January: Richard's intense, theatrical behaviour at London's Borderline is caught by Select: "During a particularly cathartic instrumental break, the singer hangs off the ceiling by one arm and punches the air with the other, screaming into nothing as his mike's on the floor. He's desperately passionate, ripping at his hair, his shirt, in time with the crises presented in his lyrics."

14th February: A prestigious support slot with the Smashing Pumpkins (and the Catherine Wheel) at London's Astoria is blighted by problems. Verve claim they have to play a curtailed, soundcheckless set after the venue has barely opened. Ashcroft responds by throwing the mike around and smashing a vodka bottle before the promoter pulls the plug and the band storm off stage defiantly: "They might have turned us off but we've turned you on."

28th February: Having sworn never to play second fiddle again (and scrapped plans for dates with the Catherine Wheel), Verve promptly cancel an announced headline tour in order to support shoe gazing kings Ride, beginning in Ride's home town, Oxford. Verve attract descriptions like "searing soundscapes" and "heavy-duty psychedelics".

7th March: Garlanded with heady hyperbole, Verve's first front cover in the music press (Melody Maker) pitches them as "the next big thing". "I want us to be the only gig that people would dream of going to," says Richard, stressing an empathy with the Stone Roses and Primal Scream.

7th March: That same night, the band record a John Peel radio session, featuring "Slide Away", "Superstar", "Already There" and a fourth untitled song. "Already There" is later issued on a Strange Fruit compilation.

9th March: "All In The Mind", Verve's impressive debut single, adds a Doors swagger, the dissonant funk of Can and touches of U2 and Echo & the Bunnymen to the prevalent, multi-layered guitars of their indie contemporaries. It also begins a long-term relationship with sleeve designer Brian Cannon (Microdot), whose often tinted, often surreal, often al fresco collages later adorn Oasis's covers.

Late March/early May: Verve play second fiddle to Spiritualized on tour.

24th April: A date at Islington's Powerhaus finally goes ahead, having been cancelled due to Richard's throat infection. "Nick's guitar sound is by turns sperm, saliva, lava, snow, a sound you can almost touch. Even the bass is like a trampoline beneath your feet," suggests Melody Maker.

22nd June: Verve's second single, "She's A Superstar", is backed by the similarly swirling epic, "Feel", all gentle-but-scary ambience and trippy guitar effects. Two tracks, eighteen minutes; is this the new prog?

July: A full-blown tour includes a show at the Clapham Grand, which yields live recordings of "Man Called Sun" and "Gravity Grave". Melody Maker describe Verve as "satanic majesty incarnate, a glorious spectacle".

5th October: The video for the "Gravity Grave" EP features the band's 70s Dodge Charger, though the car later disappears under mysterious circumstances. "Atmospheric and soporific, it almost floats off the turntable, another perilous flirtation with dissolution," says one reviewer - of the record, that is.

9th October: The 'Gravity Grave' tour begins with a homecoming gig at Wigan's Mill At The Pier, prompting more hyperbole: 'Verve soar and that guitar roars by like a jet plane driven by stewed drum motors. On the brink of a yawning crevice of druggy self-indulgence, Verve haul ass." The Camden Town Hall gig is filmed but remains in the can.

28th October: Verve's induction into the U.S. begins on the back of a flatbed truck in Times Square, NYC, as part of the CMJ Music Marathon. The event is filmed.
Late November: Verve accept an unlikely role supporting American blues rockers the Black Crowes on tour.

7th December: The CD-only 'Verve EP" acts as a stop-gap retrospective, aimed at American audiences and described by the NME as "no easy ride but a hell of an adventure, a risk well worth taking".


1st March: Like the Charlatans before them, Verve consent to an official bootleg album. Recorded live in New York and London in 1992, 'Voyager 1" is a collector's dream: it's released on blue vinyl and limited to 1,000 copies, though 300 are ruined in transit between the U.K. and U.S.

10th May: Equal parts wistful and strung out and decorated with accordion, Verve's next single, "Blue", is their first with Stone Roses producer John Leckie. Two videos are made: an English version in Islington and an American variant filmed in Dublin.

Late May/early June: "Blue" is promoted by the Verve road show. Critics notice shades of progressive rock: 'Verve exude a sense of occasion, albeit a more temperate one than their seventies forbears." Richard: "I don't want to be like Peter Gabriel in his Genesis period. I just believe it can have elements of theatre, purely as an escapist form." The tour includes a night at Glasgow King Tut's Wah Wah Hut. "Ashcroft leaps, sways and shudders, one moment clapping and flailing wildly, the next mouthing silently to himself."

1st June: "Star Sail" is chosen for the soundtrack to Sliver, a dreadful Hollywood movie starring Sharon Stone.

20th June: Verve play the NME stage at Glastonbury with hired equipment, after thieves stole four guitars from their van in Clapham on the 16th. The show spawns a live flexidisc, "Make It 'till Monday", which is given out on their next British tour (and is available elsewhere free with a magazine).

21st June: Verve's debut album, "A Storm In Heaven", is finally unveiled, with evocative titles like "Beautiful Mind", "Virtual World", "Butterfly" - and "Slide Away", a title later shared by Oasis. "Eight of the songs were jams when we went into the studio but time was taken to make it special," explains Ashcroft. Recorded in Cornwall, the LB's dense wall of guitars is pleasantly diluted on two tracks by brass trio the Kick Horns.

July: The Verve take a brief hop aboard America's touring rock shebang; Lollapalooza.

August/September: The gigs continue around Europe with the Addams Family of grunge, the Smashing Pumpkins. "Verve's amorphous flotation rock has transformed into a huge, powerful, horizon-stretching and genuinely liberating polyphony," raves the NME. "We've never played Europe before," says Richard. "Just waking up each morning in a different city is mind-blowing."

20th September: "Slide Away" is chosen as a single - "all celestial guitar twinkles and reach-for-the-sky vocals", according to The Cumberland News. One song, "6 O'Clock", is only available on the pink vinyl 7.

28th September: The band play a one-off London concert at the LA 2 with Swervedriver, the Wonder Stuff and James.

Late October/early November: Numerous American dates, supported by Acetone. New York Newsday describe Verve's singer as "a gaunt, Jaggeresque figure with a strong, menacing voice, the charismatic pop star with presence ... other blurring effects stretch and contract the music into the liquid surrealism of a Salvador Dali painting."

1st December: Verve's "Endless Life" is compiled on "Ambient 2: A Brief History Of Imaginary Landscapes".

December: On a short British jaunt, Verve are joined by up-and-coming Manchester band, Oasis. The PA cuts out one night, as bassist Simon Jones remembers: "Bonehead from Oasis came on and played spoons as we sang 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain' to keep the crowd going." Rock'n'roll, eh?


February: Verve brave their first, albeit brief, headlining tour of Europe. Their Frankfurt concert on 25th is recorded for German TV three months later, including two unreleased songs, "Black & Blue" and "Mover

17th May: "No Come Down" is a CD-only collection of B-sides and out-takes aimed at the U.S. market. It features beguiling acoustic variations on "Make It 'ml Monday" and "Butterfly". "Oceanic, rolling layers of sound pull you in," writes one fan. "The acoustic 'Butterfly' is played with a jug band's sense of rhythm and an orchestra's capacity for grandeur. Hazy, phased psychedelic rock at its finest." It's also The Verve - after threats from the American jazz label Verve.

28th June: During a gig at L.A.'s Roxy Theater, Ashcroft barks "We're the best fookin' band in the world" between songs. Their set includes the superbly-penned "Cold Chicken (Let The Damage Begin)". It's a warm-up for a lengthy Lollapalooza stretch through July and August, though Verve play many dates outside the main stadium - but still "steal the shows"

11th July: Lollapalooza is not without incident. After the Sandstone Amphitheatre show, Bonner Springs, Pete Salisbury is arrested following the trashing of a room in the West Inn Crown Centre Hotel, Kansas City- allegedly causing $450 worth of damage. Richard, meanwhile, has a funny turn. "All I can remember is lying in the ambulance with a drip sticking in my arm, thinking, 'Shit, I'm in an episode of 911!'," reveals the injured party. "It was every day of the past six years catching up with me. Still, time of our lives this." He'd collapsed from dehydration after a mammoth bout of drinking. "Did you see Verve? You better go see them quick, before they all die," jokes the Breeders' Kim Deal.

12th August: Verve return to home turf at London's Clapham Grand. "The fluid, free falling guitar and tender bass produce vast, open-air soundscapes that could accompany a parachutist or hand glider," reckon Melody Maker.

13th August: After playing the Hultsfred Festival in Sweden, Verve and Oasis get into trouble with the law after wrecking a hotel bar, to the tune of £1,000, and both make the Swedish national press front pages. "Everyone was really drunk," admits a Verve spokesperson. "When they got back to the hotel, the bar was open. Unfortunately, the management tried to close it and an argument ensued. Some bottles were purloined..."

26th August: Melody Maker liken Richard Ashcroft's performance at Reading Festival to a preying mantis high on Anadin. Which is nice.


17th April: The Verve support Oasis during their famous show at Southend's Cliffs Pavilion (Oasis's performance later appears on video), with a revamped set which trades their former ethereal elegance for riffling rock'n'roll arrogance - less Suicide, more Stooges.

20th April: The two bands share a bill again, this time in France. "Rock'n'roll is alive in Paris!", screams Ashcroft. Two hours later, bad karma strikes when guitarist Nick McCabe is punched downstairs by a security official and breaks a precious finger, scuppering a British tour, which is postponed and rearranged.

1st May: The band break the Top 40 with a shout-it-from-the-rooftops anthem, "This Is Music". Critics are unanimous: the Verve are going to be massive.

June: "This is how rock should look and sound five years from the end of the century; distorted, clean, obscene, beautiful." Patently, the NME are impressed by their next U.K. tour.

12th June: "On Your Own" makes the Top 30, though it's "a mellow, meandering song," according to a disappointed NME.

25th June: Another slot at the Glastonbury Festival's NME Stage may be "enticing, compelling, arrogant and wonderful, a rock'n'roll groove machine fronted by one of rock's great eccentrics", but Nick's amp blows up and Richard has to improvise on tambourine.

3rd July: The title of their second album, "A Northern Soul", pays homage both to their roots and to that cult of rare 60s soul. Recorded in Wales, the LP is produced by Owen Morris, who has also worked with Oasis. It reaches No.13. "With music that can drift from puffy clouds and cool breezes to thunderclaps and stirring gusts, 'Soul' only falls one breath short of aural ecstasy," enthuses one critic, "a swirling, tortured cloud of Doors-ish psychedelia".

14th July: The Verve support Oasis at Irvine Beach.

15th July: The Phoenix Festival, Stratford Upon-Avon, finds the band second-on-the-bill to Spiritualized on the second stage.

18th July: The lengthy 'Conquering America' tour is launched in San Francisco. "Dramatic, swirling chords pulsate as Ashcroft prowls the stage, insolent and indolent," exclaims The Observer. Their set includes, at times, their future hit, "The Drugs Don't Work". American audiences are smitten, the album's selling steadily. And then...

5th August: Nothing. The Verve's performance at Glasgow's T In The Park Festival is their last for two years.

September: Richard Ashcroft announces the Verve are no more ("It no longer felt right", was his only explanation).

18th September: The Verve bow out with the poignantly titled "History", and are rewarded with the biggest hit of their career to date. " 'History' is a startling finale, all dashed hopes and kaleidoscopes," maligns the NME, choosing the song as a 'Single Of The Week'. It's recorded at Abbey Road's famous Studio 2 (home to all the Beatles' recordings), with strings co-arranged by 60s pop-psych veteran Wil Malone (ex-Orange Bicycle).

Late 1995: The band minus McCabe regroup with the idea of working under a new name, with the help of new guitarist, old school friend Simon Tong. Demos are made of several new songs (many which are later re-recorded for the next Verve LP).

  • This is Music - A Verve Histor
  • Record Collector - November 1997 (No. 219)