On 15 August 1990, an unnamed band played its first gig at the Honeysuckle pub in Poolstock, Wigan. It would be six months before they would play again – by which time they were called The Verve.
From the beginning, Richard Ashcroft (pictured) was the focal point of the group. A brooding, gangling vocalist whose stage antics and self-aggrandising interview quotes earned him the music press epithet “Mad Richard”, Ashcroft’s musical foil was the mellifluous but psychologically troubled guitarist Nick McCabe.
The group issued their debut single All In The Mind in 1992. Well-reviewed album A Storm In Heaven (1993) followed.
Their momentum was increased by their follow-up album A Northern Soul (1995), but by the time the group achieved their highest-charting single yet with 1995’s ornate History, the band were precisely that, having splintered due to the problems caused by the increasingly unreliable McCabe.
Distraught bassist Simon Jones literally cried at the irony.
When Ashcroft began recording with both Jones and Verve drummer Peter Salisbury, as well as new guitarist Simon Tong, it seemed a pointed snub to McCabe, but it was Ashcroft who decided to almost beg McCabe to return to the fold.
The result was Urban Hymns (1997), an album that amazingly transformed the decidedly uncommercial Verve into a blockbuster act. It yielded the onomatopoeic Bittersweet Symphony, a UK #2, and the tortured The Drugs Don’t Work, which on 13 September 1997 made UK #1. Ashcroft even won an Ivor Novello award.
Bitter Sweet Symphony reached #12 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1998 and received a Grammy nomination in 1999.
Legal challenges ensued, as the courts ruled the song over-sampled the Andrew Oldham Orchestra recording of the Rolling Stones’ 1965 song The Last Time. Ultimately, The Verve’s original songwriting was credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as well as Verve vocalist Richard Ashcroft, and the band received no royalties for sales of the single.
The group splintered again in April 1999, just when breaking America had seemed on the cards.