FORMED: 1989, Wigan, Lancashire, EnglandDISBANDED: April 28, 1999
The Verve, from Wigan in Lancashire, were formed in 1990. The band's line-up was originally Richard Ashcroft (vocals, guitar), Nick McCabe (guitar), Simon Jones (bass) and Peter Salisbury (drums). In 1995, after the band broke up for the first time, Simon Tong (guitar, keyboards) joined Richard Ashcroft's group. In fact, orignally, Tong taught Jones and Ashcroft how to play guitar. Richard, Simon and Pete knew each other from Upholland High School and recruited Nick from Winstanley College. Whatever went through their minds and into their mouths in the months that followed can only be guessed at, but whatever it was, it worked. Nurtured by great music and Social Security and with eyes fixed firmly on the horizon they started making a sound that reached far higher than it had a right to. Early gigs led writers to describe them as "Gigantic" and "Already immortal" before they had released a record. Those that saw them saw something potentially disconcerting, something inspiring. In a music scene that was waiting for anything to happen, down came Verve. Like beggars in a Bentley these boys were reaching for the stars, doing something that belied their age and roots. And people began to respond.
The band, who signed to Hut Recordings in September 1991, were described as: "the liquid essence of rock 'n' roll", and easily met everyone's initial expectations when their first three singles in 1992 - All In The Mind, She's A Superstar, and Gravity Grave - all reached the top of the Independent Charts. The songs, the sleeves and even the B-sides were something to behold. Together they demonstrated a vision that was absent from many of their peers. But it was a vision that wouldn't bend for anyone. Live shows saw them literally unplugged by Philistines and, occasionally, simply stopping if they felt that things weren't right. Capricious arrogance perhaps, but if you're sure you're right, where's the sense in going wrong?
They went on to support The Black Crowes, play their first dates in the U.S.A. and release another single, Blue, in May '93. Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes was the one who inspired Richard to preform on stage with no shoes or socks. In June of the same year, the band's stylish debut album, A Storm In Heaven was released. It was a truly ambitious LP, perhaps even a nineties' psychedelic classic, that fulfilled the claims that both the band and the media had been making. Most of the songs were generated in the studio (Sawmills in Cornwall) with John Leckie and it proved a risk worth taking. For all Verve's charisma, however, they proved too elusive and, quite rightly, engrossed in their own ideals to be caught up in the music business fame machine. As Richard said at the time: "I don't think we're ever going to achieve what we want to achieve. It would be impossible, but that's the point, to aim further."
America was next. By September the single Slide Away was starting to make headway across the Atlantic and this set up the band for a gruelling round of appearances on 1994's Lollapalooza spectacle. Touring on such a scale can do things to a band. You improve but people crack, furniture goes out of windows and arrests are made (it was a bad year legally, not only did Pete find himself in a Kansas jail but the band formally known as Verve found themselves forced to adopt the The at the behest of the irate jazz label's lawyers). But you live and learn and they headed out to Europe in August for more festival hi-jinx and hotel illness.
In November the stage was set for the second album. What followed was, to quote Richard, "Four intense, mad months. Really insane. In great ways and terrible ways. In ways that only good music and bad drugs and mixed emotions can make." The record was produced at Loco studios in Wales - with final touches and an orchestra at Abbey Road - by Owen Morris. "We needed a producer who would be extreme", said Richard, "Owen brought his personality to the record. He's the only person I know who can smash a thirty foot window in the studio and then do his job. He admitted he nearly had a nervous breakdown, and I think that's a commendable performance."
The album, A Northern Soul, powerfully demonstrated how accomplished The Verve had become, something which has become even more evident as time has passed. A Northern Soul has enduring qualities - at once robust and fragile, dense, juicy, melodic, abrasive and freeform - which make it certain to be remembered as one of the defining moments of nineties music. Richard described the album as "one character going through twelve different experiences of pain, elation, sex, loss, romance....all the emotions piled into one album. This is to the point, to the heart and from the soul".
The singles, This Is Music and On Your Own entered the UK top 40 in the summer of '95 and History reached hitherto uncharted (no pun intended) territory at Number 24 in September. These were to be the last releases from The Verve for almost two years as the band split after their performance at the T In The Park festival in Glasgow. Richard, Simon and Pete later decided to continue working together, with new recruit Simon Tong, and early in '97 Nick returned to the fold.
In the time they were away, the extraordinary ambition of A Northern Soul was properly assimilated, with due recognition accorded to The Verve's towering achievement. The band grew in stature, becoming a substantial influence and consequently being used as a reference point by journalists and other bands.
And in 1997, from the band who have always known how good they could be, has come the music that would only have been released once they were happy it matched their formidable collective imagination. After months of work in Metropolis and Olympic studios in London, The Verve created a groundbreaking LP, Urban Hymns, which has not only been hailed as the best of the year, but one which will set the standard for the rest of the nineties. Produced and mixed by the band and Chris Potter, with initial help from Youth, this is the record that will see The Verve achieve the success which has always been within their reach.
The first single (released on 16th June), was the string laden epic Bitter Sweet Symphony which became the defining song of Summer 1997. It entered the charts at Number 2 (in the UK charts) and stayed around for three months. A sell out tour to coincide with the release was postponed due to illness and rescheduled for August. The shows were unforgettable - a true release of energy and passion which ended in a magnificent headlining appearance at the Reading festival.
The Verve's first Number 1 single (in the UK charts) The Drugs Don't Work was released on September 1st 1997. It paved the way for Urban Hymns, one of the fastest selling British albums of all time. A third single, Lucky Man was released in November (reaching No. 7) following a sold out US tour.
In 1998, things went sour for The Verve. Nick McCabe decided to quit touring, and the band had to bring in pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole to fill his spot. Of course, nobody could replace Nick, so the reviews of the tour turned out very unfavourably.
In 1999, after much speculation, The Verve announced once again that they had split. Richard Ashcroft decided that he would embark on a solo career, and Pete Salisbury joined Richard on drums. Simon Jones announced that he would join John Squire's (ex-Stone Roses) new band. Plans for the rest of the band are unknown, but I'm sure they'll surface somewhere or another.
Tuesday, 1 April 2008
FORMED: 1989, Wigan, Lancashire, EnglandDISBANDED: April 28, 1999