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.