With Richard Ashcrofts 2017 shows (get tickets) becoming ever so close, here’s a little light reading for you to get you in the mood…
Ashcroft was born on September 11, 1971, and grew up the eldest of three children in the Wigan suburb of Billinge, England.
While Ashcroft was attending Upholland Comprehensive School (along with future Verve members Simon Tong and Peter Salisbury), his father died of a blood clot to the brain when Richard was only 11 years old. His mother later remarried, but Ashcroft’s family grew up quite poor, and often struggled just to get by. Though young Ashcroft had an interest in music at an early age, his family could not afford to buy records; so he did what he could, and taped songs from the radio. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Ashcroft claimed, “I used to know when a song would be on the radio. I’d have the tape player lined up. It may not have been a song around at the moment. It might have been a song done five years earlier. But I seemed to have a knack to find it straightaway when it came on the radio.”
Ashcroft credits this ability—”visualization,” as he called it—to his stepfather. His stepfather had at one time been a member of the ancient secular order of Rosicrucians, and when Ashcroft was a teenager, he would frequently conduct “experiments with his mind” and “experiments in healing.” Former Verve member Simon Jones told Rolling Stone, “He used to talk about his stepfather and it blew people’s minds. I think the quote that did it was he said, ‘If I wanted to, if I put my mind to it, I believe people can fly.’ All he was basically saying was, you can do whatever you believe in.” It was this gusto that gave Ashcroft the inkling to supply a spiritual bent on everything he does, as it would later show up time and time again in his work with the Verve and as a solo artist. He told Rolling Stone, “People are afraid to use the word spiritual. I’m a firm believer in songs coming from an unlimited pool, and you have to be in a certain state of mind to get them. You don’t know why you’re in that state of mind. Sometimes it’s a dangerous state of mind. But I know where my influence comes from. It comes from the universal mind, mate.”
As Ashcroft grew up, he started to change that universal mind, and instead of dreaming of becoming a professional football player like so many other tall, athletic English lads, he concentrated more on becoming a free-spirited, independent musician. When his family moved from Wigan to live in Cotswolds, he decided to stay behind and room with friends, even though he was still in school. As Jones recalled to Rolling Stone, “He’s always been so sure of himself.”
As a teenager, Ashcroft began gobbling up any kind of music he could get his hands on, after being weaned on the likes of the Beatles, the Carpenters and the Rolling Stones as an adolescent. He described his teenage musical evolution to Mean Magazine in 2000, saying, “Our part of England, and England to me, felt ‘post-war’ until the early ’90s, in a strange way. Very strange. [A] bunch of people got together and whilst most of the people were discovering raves, we started this, we had this other thing goin’ on. We’d go to the beach and fires and music went hand in hand. We were [listening] to the Byrds, to Miles Davis’ On the Corner…. Nick [McCabe] came in with his own things he’d been discovering, because New Order and Joy Division had sparked off a lot of tributaries and places that he’d gone from there, I think. We were into Smiths, and from the Smiths, now you got to the Byrds. We had these huge speakers and we’d take turns to see who could blow each other’s mind. One moment it was Love and then there’d be a sort of West Coast psychedelic tape going round the band for three weeks and you’d just gorge yourself. The days of getting into the H.P. Lovecraft album—that’s an essential part of the whole story. Then the Electric Prunes came through. Then [David] Axelrod’s solo albums, which are extraordinary records, really. So we had a lot on tap, so it was a very quick process. If I hadn’t met these people, I don’t know what I would have found. I just know there’s some mad little twist of fate. So then we started making music. It was like, ‘We gotta make our own soundtrack. We’re gonna make the music we want to hear.'”
And so, along with McCabe on guitar, Simon Jones on bass, and Peter Salisbury on drums, Ashcroft did just that, and formed Verve in 1990. With Ashcroft on vocals and some guitar, the band cooked up a swirling and gigantic sound, with McCabe’s swooshing guitar lines crashing in over clouds of drugged-out psychedelic smoke. Ashcroft’s soulful vocals soared atop the massiveness, and his cocksure attitude gave the band a certain swagger other shoegazing bands (like Ride and Slowdive) simply could not pull off. After signing to Hut Records in 1991, the band released singles like “All in the Mind” and “She’s a Superstar” in 1992. After touring with the Black Crowes in 1993, playing their first shows in the United States—after massive adoration was thrust upon them by the British press—the band released their debut, A Storm in Heaven. In 1994, the band was added to Lollapalooza, though their time on the tour was riddled with illness (Ashcroft suffered exhaustion), jail visits, and other drug related problems. At the end of the year, the band was forced to add a “the” to their name, because of a possible suit by an upset jazz label.
UK Live Dates
Apr 17 O2 Academy Newcastle – get tickets
Apr 18 The SSE Hydro Glasgow – get tickets
Apr 20 Barclaycard Arena Birmingham – get tickets
Apr 22 First Direct Arena Leeds – get tickets
Jun 30 Castlefield Bowl Manchester – get tickets
Jul 01 O2 Academy Brixton London – get tickets
In November of that year, the band recorded A Northern Soul, an album that Ashcroft described 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 band split up after a performance at the T in the Park festival in Glasgow, but regrouped, with keyboardist Tong in tow, for another album in 1997. The record, titled Urban Hymns, sported two top ten singles (“Bittersweet Symphony” and “The Drugs Don’t Work”) and made the Verve instant stars on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The band, however, wouldn’t make it past 1999, as a suit was issued by ABKCO Music, suing the band for illegal usage of a loop created from a symphonic version of the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time” on “Bittersweet Symphony.” After the company was awarded 100 percent of the profits from the song, tension between Ashcroft and McCabe boiled, and in April 1999, after almost ten years as a group, the Verve disbanded indefinitely.
By the time the Verve announced their split, however, Ashcroft was busy in the studio writing and recording his solo debut. In April of 2000, Ashcroft emerged as a solo artist with the single “A Song for Lovers” off of his album Alone With Everybody. Debuting at number one on the British charts that July, Alone With Everybody showed Ashcroft picking up right where he left off on Urban Hymns, but this time with an even more contemplative and spiritual soul, without the drugs and settled down with wife Kate Radley. The NME said, “At a time when music is still struggling to extricate itself from a rut, and visionaries remain conspicuous by their absence, Alone With Everybody remains a beacon of light. Ashcroft’s newly discovered stability has done nothing to blunt his powers of communication or reduce his belief in the apocalyptic potential of music.” Inkblotmagazine.com said, “Cynics will call Alone With Everybody too trad to be considered great, but Ashcroft’s constructs are too visceral not be considered wondrous and winning. The album doesn’t stray too far from Urban Hymns territory, yet considering how wonderful that record is, why would anyone want it to? It’s the stirring debut we expected, with a cherry on top.”
Following some touring in support of Alone, Ashcroft also worked with James Lavelle and DJ Shadow on their U.N.K.L.E. project, and collaborated with the Chemical Brothers on a song called “The Test” for their Come With Us album in 2002. In October of 2002, however, Ashcroft stepped away from his dabbling in electronics, and released his second album, Human Conditions for Virgin Records. Featuring 10 Ashcroft-penned songs, the album featured collaborations with the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson (who sang harmonies on the song “Nature is the Law”), keyboardist Chuck Leavell, former Verve drummer Pete Salisbury, and Talvin Singh. Popmatters.com said Human Conditions is made up of “the best of what Ashcroft does best: thoughtful incantations teeming with emotion, clarity, and vision.”