The Verve - reformed and on tour
The reformation of The Verve has thrilled many of those who witnessed their glorious noise. David Pollock wonders if the band can recapture old highs
Of all the seminal bands to have announced their reformation this year, The Verve are perhaps both the most and least in need of a revival. Although each of the group’s four founder members would no doubt welcome the wage packet – even Richard Ashcroft’s solo career, while ticking along nicely, no doubt affords him a pittance compared to those old Verve royalties – can we bear to see one of British rock’s finer recent legacies being tampered with unnecessarily?
While it was the last third of their original career – the period when Urban Hymns catapulted the band from underground appeal to massive mainstream recognition – for which they are best remembered, those who didn’t come late to the Verve story might be of the opinion that Ashcroft and co enjoyed the perfect rock lifespan. The concise three-act tale they created was a brilliantly-soundtracked story of struggle, triumph and hallucinogens, an epic so perfectly-pitched that it may as well have been written using Final Draft.
Coming together at a Wigan sixth form college in 1989, singer Ashcroft, guitarist Nick McCabe, bassist Simon Jones and drummer Pete Salisbury adapted perfectly to the growing shoegazer movement with 1993’s debut album A Storm in Heaven. By now a strong relationship had already been established between McCabe’s druggy, dramatic guitar squall and Ashcroft’s hopeful, almost evangelical, vocal style. It was around this period that the music press entered a short phase of referring to the latter as ‘Mad Richard’, yet the album was a still-undiscovered classic of psychedelic positivity.
The follow-up, 1995’s A Northern Soul, was even better, an ecstasy-fuelled riot of fierce self-confidence and fearsome self-analysis from the band, yet the gestation of this modern classic was marked by drug paranoia and increasing tensions between Ashcroft and McCabe. Even the sponsorship of Oasis, who The Verve most notably supported many times during this period, couldn’t stop the group from imploding when they walked offstage at T in the Park in 1996.
What happened next is rock history, with the band reconvening in ‘97 to record Urban Hymns. The album was a huge success and, although many impartial observers criticise it for its feeling of string-laden cosiness (which inspired Coldplay), it was the sound of a group who had come through a long night and reawakened fresh and invigorated.
So when The Verve split again for the same old reasons in 1999, it seemed like the story’s logical end, particularly given Ashcroft’s (now a clean-living husband and father) increasingly lukewarm attempts to rewrite Urban Hymns throughout his solo career.
Nostalgics may disagree, then, but it’s hard not to be wary of the news that the original quartet have patched it up again, and are preparing a new album for next summer. Of course, these shows will be essential, particularly as they sold out in minutes. Yet, The Verve’s most skyscraping moments – of which all three albums contain many – were the work of debauched and troubled young men with heads full of musical ambition, and it’s hard to see how the contentment of later years will inspire anything as vital. I’d love to be proved wrong, though.
Carling Academy, Glasgow, Fri 2 and Sat 3 Nov; SECC, Glasgow, Sat 15 Dec.