28 April 1999

The Verve's bitter sweet career

The Verve were once described by Oasis songwriter Noel Gallagher as "one of the most important bands in history".

In the early 1990s they were also one of the most important acts on the Indie scene, but in 1995 they split up and had no intention of reforming.

Of course, The Verve did get back together, but now they have split up again and this time around it could be a more permanent affair.

The band originally got together in 1990 in Wigan, Lancashire. The line-up was Richard Ashcroft (vocals, guitar), Nick McCabe (guitar), Simon Jones (bass) and Peter Salisbury (drums).

In September 1991, then called just Verve, they signed to Hut Records, and within a year had three number one singles on the UK's independent chart. In June 1993 they released their first album A Storm in Heaven.

It was then they got a visit from an American jazz label also called Verve, which insisted they change their name, and so the band became The Verve.

In autumn 1994 they released A Northern Soul - from which they released three more singles - This Is Music, On Your Own and, in September 1995, History.

'All farewells should be sudden'

Then, just as they were gaining commercial and critical recognition, they split up. The cover of History was apt: an old cinema with the words "All farewells should be sudden" over the doors.

Richard Ashcroft put the split down to his falling out with guitarist Nick McCabe. While they were apart he started writing new songs and contacted the other members of the band. He added guitarist and keyboard player Simon Tong to the line-up, finally got in touch with McCabe - and The Verve reformed.

Ashcroft said at the time: "There's such a great atmosphere now amongst the band - I was in the studio at three in the morning the other night and we were all rocking 'cause we were creating great music and that's all we've ever wanted."

Their first single after reforming, Bitter Sweet Symphony, entered the UK chart at number two and stayed in the chart for three months. It became one of the anthems of the year, and became almost inescapable after it was used in a car commercial on TV.

Its video - featuring Richard Ashcroft knocking into people as he walked down a street - caught the imagination, and was parodied by novelty act Fat Les.

Return of Northern bands

However, they did not cash in on its success as much as they would have liked. The song is based around a sample from Andrew Loog Oldham's 1963 orchestral version of the Rolling Stones song The Last Time. Most of the royalties went to the Rolling Stones' former manager Allen Klein.

Their first number one single, The Drugs Don't Work, paved the way for the album Urban Hymns, which won Best Album at the 1998 Brit Awards. They also won prizes at music weekly NME's awards in the same year.

Ashcroft said that despite their slow climb to the top, he always knew The Verve would become one of the biggest bands of the 1990s.

He said: "Northern bands were almost killed off after the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses. Finally it's like, here's another set of lads making music and who are passionate about it, and believing we can make it to the top."

Oasis and The Verve have a strong bond of friendship and respect.

The bands first met about five years ago when Noel Gallagher went to see The Verve playing. He gave Ashcroft a demo tape with Live Forever on it - and he was hooked. Shortly afterwards, they asked Oasis to open for them on their UK tour.

Three years later, the favour was returned when the Gallaghers asked The Verve to support them at their Earl's Court gigs.

Downturn in fortunes

In May 1998 The Verve played to 33,000 people at Haigh Hall, Wigan, for a 'homecoming' show. But the band's fortunes took a downturn afterwards.

US concerts were cancelled as Ashcroft and Simon Jones fell ill. In July Nick McCabe pulled out of the band's summer festival appearances, citing stress and exhaustion. Veteran guitarist BJ Cole took his place.

McCabe's departure was meant to be a temporary measure, but he never returned.

Now Ashcroft and Pete Salisbury are working on an album together, while the rest of the band are working on their own projects.

Although the volatile relationship between Richard Ashcroft and Nick McCabe made the band's music unforgettable for millions, it also seems it has been responsible for the group's second demise.

However, dedicated fans of the group have been through all this before - and many will be holding out hope they will one day surprise the rock world with another reformation.