RICHARD ASHCROFT. THE HUGE-LIPPED NORTHERN SOUL with the limbs made out of clothes poles, the mystical mouth behind the redemption-rock of The Verve, always wanted to make music for Everyman. It was thus from the beginning, back in the early 905, as an unknown shoeless minstrel-of-mayhem making psychedelic skew-rock for the pharmaceutically un-hinged.

In 1997 - seven years after The Verve began he finally achieved what he always said he would, with the songs '1’ he Drugs Don‘t Work', ‘Sonnet‘, ‘Lucky Man‘ and, especially, ‘Bittersweet Symphony‘ with its video that ‘changed my life', the one where he walked down the

street like some crumpled-up indie-rock version of The Fonz. Richard didn't just hope this was true, like he'd always done, he knew it was true, because Everyman told him to his face.

‘I was ‘at an England game at Wembley in 1998,‘ he's saying in his deep Wigan brogue, astounding blue eyes all crystalline light-beams, ‘and there were all these lads, .tatts all over their arms, classic, pent-up football testosterone maniacs, and they‘d have a quiet aside, “T hose tunes have affected me". These guys aren't gonna come running up to me, some skinny little shit from Wigan, and tell him how great the tunes are unless they are. They'd much rather say “pff, tosser, look at ‘im", they'd get more of a buzz calling me a wanker. But they don‘t. I've never had one bad bit of feedback yet.’

Richard Ashcroft is an intensely private person who‘s created the serious musician‘s dream; everyone knows his name through his songs alone, specifically the singles from The Verve‘s beguiling, space-pop-country-rock classic third LP Urban Hymns. Fairly soon, however, it‘ll be as ubiquitous as Robbie Williams. ‘50% of people outside London don‘t even know The Verve split up,’ he‘s musing, correctly, on the unfathomable scenario of his group imploding forever on 28 April 1999, after Urban Hymns sold seven million copies worldwide. It was their second ‘split‘, the first coming mid-95 when The Verve were on a roll-with-it to match the seismic achievements of their good pals Oasis, fraying asunder in an acrimonious quagmire of personality crises, exhaustion, drug stupefaction and pan-dimensional plot misplacement.

It was Richard wot did‘it, in the field, with the spanner - directly after their ‘Iast‘ performance at T in the Park - and fled to Cornwall, did a Reggie Perrin, for the umpteenth time that year alone in a young life spent living out the personal ethos: ‘You can‘t go wrong with a well-placed “fuck it".‘ The second split came for precisely the same reasons as the first, with the added, almighty addition of fame, colossal success and wealth.

‘A lot of it was the staple drug madness shit that you do earlier on,‘ he's saying. 'It has an effect later on.‘ Each member of The Verve was emotionally extreme anyway, and thus each member ‘went through varying degrees of psychosis, some of us weren‘t well before we even started.‘ All of them, at some point, became 'depressed‘, the force of Richard‘s blazing belief in‘ the group the only thing keeping them together. He'd ‘cajoled them from the start‘, had to ‘persuade‘ them it was possible they could even be in a band. A profound personal insecurity which comes, says Richard, from where they were brought up: ‘Nowhere. London was light years away.‘ By the time his face had become The Verve, Richard was exhausted.

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‘You suddenly think, “Christ, l‘m laying my whole life on the line for this group here“,‘ he says, frowning down into his infamous nose, while he speaks, evidently, to the band itself. ‘l‘ve given everything to you guys, and if we're not all for the same cause, then what the fuck am I doing, d‘youknowhatlmean? If you don‘t believe in it, if you don‘t believe in what we‘re doing, you don‘t enjoy what we're doing, you don‘t get any positive feelings from being in a group, why am I giving my life away to it, d‘youknowhatlmean? To this name, The Verve.‘

The Verve‘s trademark ‘archangel‘ guitar sound had been created, and added to Ashcroft‘s songs, by the

legendarin sensitive Nick McCabe, who had always confessed to having mental problems. Richard stresses their precarious relationship was not the root cause of this, however. ‘I had more in common, mind-wise, with Nick, than any other member,‘ he says. In July 1998, a fortnight before the band was due to hit the States, Nick announced he would not be touring with The Verve for the rest of that year. He blamed ‘the increasing stresses of touring‘. Richard had always said the band couldn‘t exist without Nick, so impressed was he with his musicianship, though post-split, he‘s convinced that on his own, he‘s making music just as ‘intelligent, soulful and beautiful' as before.

In 2000, Richard Ashcroft is a lot less intense, insular and preoccupied with fiber-earnest eulogies on the ‘importance' of'the impassioned songsmith than he was back in the day. He is, he says, ‘more centred‘ than he‘s ever felt in his life and it shows in his debut solo single, ‘A Song For The Lovers’, the most flightsome summertime pop-tune-for-namby-big-girls he‘s ever written (with it‘s accompanying, fabulous, chest-akimbo concept video).

‘I didn’t wanna be pigeonholed, to start with the Ashcroft canon of tunes that has gone before, “He deals with these issues",‘ he's saying, referring to the Big Subjects he‘s always dealt with; the soul-skewing confusions within life, death, love, vulnerability. ‘A Song For The Lovers‘ is an arms-aloft celebration of the first days of his relationship with his wife, musician Kate Radley, although he sees it as having ‘dark undertones, that leap into the unknown, a bit “Play Misty For Me".‘

The forthcoming songs sound nothing like it. From the ones we‘ve heard ‘Brave New World‘, ‘Everyone‘, ‘You On My Mind In My Sleep' they're emotionally epic, country ‘n' western paeans to the core of the human soul; the soul-skewing confusions of life, death, love, vulnerability. . . They're a bit Glen Campbell. And they‘re fantastic.

And around about right now, Richard is becoming a first-time father. Does he think it's weird that him, Liam, Noel and Damon-out-of-Blur are becoming fathers within months of each other? ‘Iust the way it's happened,‘ he grins. ‘They could all be in the same band. I-leheh! Damon‘s is on drums!‘


'A Song For The Lovers' is released by Hut Records on Mon 3 Apr. An announcement about live dates in Scotland is expected soon.