The Verve have given us three fantastic albums – including Urban Hymns, the fifth fastest selling British album ever on release, reaching platinum status in the States, and one of the landmark releases of the Nineties. They play “music of the spheres,” which strives to break out of the stratosphere and yet is laced with a brutally down-to-earth, gritty realism that understands the hopes and fears of their world-wide audience but challenges them to accompany the band on a quest for something greater. When the words of Bitter Sweet Symphony power out across a venue, the words “It’s a bitter sweet symphony, this life, you’re a slave for money, then you die” are transformed from what should be a depressing statement into an uplifting cry of celebration and of seizing the moment, something the Verve can never be accused of failing to do themselves. As the cover of 1995 single History spelled out, the Verve’s manifesto is “Life is not a rehearsal.” Individually and collectively, they challenge themselves and their enormous audience to get the most out of it we can, and live for the instant.
Something happens when the Verve are together that none of them experience when they are apart. Individually, the Verve are all highly-accomplished players. Singer Richard Ashcroft has been called “the greatest singer in the world” by no less a peer than Coldplay’s Chris Martin. Liverpool-born Simon Jones’s dub-informed bass takes the Verve’s music far beyond rock and into space and dub; Peter Salisbury plays drums more like a jazz great than a conventional rock drummer and when the tag “guitarist of his generation” is thrown about it often lands at the feet of the hugely adventurous, psychedelic, exploratory Nick McCabe. However, when they are together a chemistry takes hold that transcends the four people onstage to blast the Verve somewhere else entirely and this chemistry and spontaneity has survived an absence of almost a decade. Already, since their typically unpredictable 2007 reunion, live shows have been running the gauntlet of everything from material so new that Ashcroft has been singing the words from scraps of paper to long-lost, hazy B-sides like Let The Damage Begin and A Man Called Sun, amid all manner of musical fireworks. When they take the stage, literally anything can happen.
After an absence of almost a decade, these songs are again being played, as they should be – by the Verve themselves. The individual members have not been slouches. Richard Ashcroft has enjoyed a successful and prolific solo career. Simon Jones formed a band, the Shining, who were not altogether dissimilar to the Verve, and has played with Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz. Nick McCabe has been remixing and playing with everyone from the Beta Band to John Martyn while Peter Salisbury has been playing with Ashcroft, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and has further diverted his musical obsessions into running a Stockport drum shop. However, all seem to have realized what their enormous fanbase has been telling them all along. That today, as much if not more than ever, music really needs the Verve.
However, a band like the Verve would never settle for easy nostalgia. Even before they’d set out on their initial comeback gigs last year, which sold out within an astonishing 20 minutes, they made public (via the NME website) the results of their very first jam session as a reformed band. The Thaw Sessions comprised 14 wondrous minutes of music, which signified their ability to spark off one another remained undimmed. Soon afterwards, the band debuted new song Sit And Wonder – a tune trimmed from a 25-minute jam, just as they would in the early days, a taste of things to come. Those comeback dates proved so successful and were so enthusiastically received that the band immediately embarked on a full-scale tour of arenas in December of 2007, playing bigger gigs in many cases than the first time around. In 2008, they look set to up the ante even further, by appearing at many of the major festivals and, in a turnaround that would have seemed unthinkable even a year ago, releasing their enormously-anticipated fourth album. The results will certainly be worth the wait. – Dave Simpson.