The Verve

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From left: Peter Salisbury, Simon Jones, Richard Ashcroft, Nick McCabe, Simon Tong

The Verve were a British rock and roll band of the 1990s, originally formed in Wigan, England in 1989 by vocalist Richard Ashcroft, guitarist Nick McCabe, bassist Simon Jones and drummer Peter Salisbury.

Although they enjoyed their greatest success while the Britpop movement was at its height, they aren't considered such an act at all and their rise to success did not happen overnight - the band released LPs that were critically acclaimed and highly regarded, yet worldwide commercial success eluded them for most of their career.

Despite having to endure major breakups, health problems, drug abuse, and various lawsuits, the Verve released four successful albums and cemented a reputation as one of the most innovative and influential British rock acts of the last decade. At the height of their fame in 1997, the Verve were considered one of the finest bands from the UK and were one of the most popular groups worldwide before they abruptly called it quits in 1999.

In terms of influence and in the way they achieved fame, they are often compared to fellow alternative rockers Radiohead, but unlike them they suffered lack of commercial success and unfortunate struggles between the chief artists Nick McCabe and Richard Ashcroft, which caused their final demise, interestingly at the same very end of the Britpop movement.


Formation and early Years (1989-1992)

The Verve (originally called Verve) were formed in the town of Wigan in Lancashire in 1989. Led by Richard Ashcroft, an enigmatic lead singer who was rivalled by very few in the British rock scene for his stage presence and vocal abilities, the band caused a buzz in early 1991 for their ability to captivate audiences with their musical textures and sonic aptitude. With Ashcroft's song-writing skills and McCabe's unique and impressive guitar work, the Verve released their first studio release on Hut Records - 1992's ethereal Verve EP. The Verve EP was positively received and established the Verve as cult favourites with epic songs like "Gravity Grave" and "A Man Called Sun".

File:Verve earlyyears.jpg
The early years from left: Nick McCabe, Richard Ashcroft, Peter Salisbury, Simon Jones

First album (1993-1994)

1993's A Storm in Heaven, the band's full-length debut, produced by famous Britpop producer John Leckie, was a critical hit (both in the UK and the US), but failed to attract a broader audience. The whirling psychedelic sound of the album wasn't radio friendly in the eyes of the music industry and the general pop audience. However, critics and the indie rock community hailed the LP for its expansive sound, particularly regarding Nick McCabe's unique and mind-blowing guitar work.

The single "Slide Away" topped indie rock charts and made enough of a splash across the Atlantic to score the Verve a spot in the successful 90s alternative rock festival, Lollapalooza, in 1994. The tour was disastrous for the group as Ashcroft was hospitalised for dehydration, because of overdosing with Ecstasy. Salisbury was arrested for destroying a hotel room in Kansas. After the tour, the Jazz label Verve sued the band for copyright infringements and forced the group to officially change their name to The Verve.

Turbulent Recordings and a Breakup (1995-1996)

The turmoil continued well into the recording sessions of the follow-up album, 1995's A Northern Soul. The massive intake of Ecstasy (which McCabe described jokingly as the "happiest days in his life") and the strained relationship between Ashcroft and McCabe during the sessions took its toll on the band. Richard Ashcroft later described the recording experience as "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".

When A Northern Soul was released, it received very strong reviews. The band broke new ground by departing from the neo-psychedelic sounds of A Storm in Heaven and instead recorded a powerful British alternative rock album. The singles "This Is Music", "On Your Own", and "History" all reached the UK Top 40. The latter two singles were particularly new for the Verve as they dabbled with soulful ballads, a formula that would make their final album such a success.

Despite the critical praise the album received, the band once again experienced a lack of commercial success. The rise of Britpop had captivated the UK in the mid-90s and the media had their attention on the Oasis vs. Blur rivalry instead of focusing on the Verve's album. The disappointing album sales and his strained relationship with Nick McCabe resulted in Richard Ashcroft breaking up the band.

The Height of Fame (1997-1998)

Although Ashcroft reunited the group just a few weeks after the breakup, McCabe refused to rejoin the line-up. As a replacement, the band chose old Wigan schoolmate Simon Tong to fill in the lead guitar duties for the remainder of the tour.

Ashcroft, Jones, Salisbury, and Tong went ahead and started writing songs for the upcoming album. In 1997, Nick McCabe returned to the fold (a crucial moment for the band). With the band back together, the group went through a "spiritual" recording process to finish the epic Britpop classic, Urban Hymns. For the first time in their careers, the Verve not only received very strong critical reviews, but they also experienced major commercial success. Not only was the album a hit in the UK, but the band also "broke" into the US and much of the rest of the world. The first single from Urban Hymns, "Bitter Sweet Symphony", was an instant hit. It entered the UK charts at #2 and remained on the charts for 3 months. The single was also very popular in the US, topping the charts at #12 (their highest position ever in the Billboards). The song borrows a reversed looped sample of a symphonic recording of the Rolling Stones' "The Last Time".

Urban Hymns propelled the Verve from merely critical darlings to one of the UK's most popular bands. The timing of the release couldn't have been better. The state of Britpop was in question. Once the kings of the rock world, Oasis had mixed reviews for their album Be Here Now, while their rivals Blur decided to progress away from Britpop and focused their attention on the American Indie Rock scene. The releases of Urban Hymns and Radiohead's OK Computer were considered by many as classics that kept the wave of Britpop rolling for at least a few more years.

Despite their success, turmoil was still a constant reality for the band. ABKCO Music, which runs the Rolling Stones' back catalogue, and which had warned The Verve against using the Rolling Stones sample in "Bitter Sweet Symphony," successfully sued the Verve for 100% of the royalties for "Bitter Sweet Symphony"; further, as a result of the lawsuit, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were given songwriting credits and full publishing rights to the song, which later appeared in a Nike commercial against The Verve's will. Then, as the band was on a very successful tour to promote the album, bassist Simon Jones collapsed on stage. Things got worse when Nick McCabe suddenly pulled from the tour and decided he couldn't tolerate the constant life on the road any longer (some speculate that the incident with Jones and McCabe's relationship with Ashcroft were the reasons).

The band continued with established session guitarist B.J. Cole replacing McCabe but the spark of their return seemed to be deserting them. After two headline performances at the V98 festivals and one at Dublin's Slane Castle everything went quiet. Rumours began circulating that the band had called it quits for good. Finally, in April 1999 it was announced that The Verve had split up.

Post-Breakup (1999-present)

After the band's final collapse, Simon Jones and Simon Tong formed a new group called The Shining as well as working with former Stone Roses guitarist John Squire on a group that never properly formed. Tong has also appeared as a live replacement for ex-guitarist Graham Coxon in Blur. Nick McCabe has mostly remained quiet after the breakup, although he has recently worked with a few artists, notably John Martin and Leeds based band, The Music. Beside working with Ashcroft, Salisbury also filled in as the drummer for a UK tour in 2004 for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, when their original drummer briefly left. Salisbury also owns a drum shop in Stockport, England.

By the time the band finally split, Richard Ashcroft had already been working on solo material accompanied by, among others, the band's ex-drummer Peter Salisbury and B.J. Cole. In April 2000, his first solo single, "A Song For The Lovers", was released and hit Number 3. He debuted with Alone With Everybody (June 2000) and followed it by Human Conditions (October 2002). However, like his former band, Ashcroft isn't enjoying high commercial success. Recently, backed up by Coldplay, Ashcroft performed "Bitter Sweet Symphony" at the Live 8 concerts on 2 July 2005 at Hyde Park, London. He is readying his third solo album aimed for a Spring 2006 release.


The Core Foursome

Replacement guitarists




100px No Come Down (B-sides) (1994)

100px This is Music: The Singles 92-98 (November 1, 2004) UK #15


External links

de:The Verve fr:The Verve fi:The Verve nl:The Verve pl:The Verve sv:The Verve