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Members include Richard Ashcroft (born c. 1972, in England), vocals; Simon Jones (born c. early 1970s, in England; married; wife's name, Myra), bass; Nick McCabe (born c. early 1970s, in England), guitar; and Peter Salisbury (born c. early 1970s, in England), drums.
English alternative act the Verve traveled a long road during their mere half-decade of existence, a path that might be defined by the fact that fellow northern England musicians Oasis once opened for their live shows. A few years later, the Verve were scheduled as Oasis's opening act. Oasis singer Liam Gallagher even admitted in print to liking them--a high honor, given his disdain of most popular music except that of his own band. The Verve's career path was also marked by two well-received albums, debauched nights during the 1994 Lollapalooza tour, the narrow avoidance of a potentially costly lawsuit, and interviews with the press in which they unabashedly proclaimed their talent and high moral standards in the face of relentless pressure to sell out. Despite the misfortunes, the band's spiraling, guitar-driven melodies and complex arrangements won them vociferous critical praise as well as comparisons to the Doors, early U2, and even Pink Floyd. Musician writer Aidin Vaziri described their sound as "a wondrous concoction of molten guitars, psychedelic rhythms, and halcyon choruses."
The Verve formed as simply "Verve" around 1990 in the English town of Wigan, near Manchester's famed music scene. Founding members Richard Ashcroft, Simon Jones, Nick McCabe, and Peter Salisbury attended college together, and Ashcroft had long entertained dreams of escaping Wigan's dreary atmosphere, at one time considering a career on the soccer field. His father's death when Ashcroft was just eleven impacted his ambitions: "He'd worked nine to five all his life, and he suffered and got nowhere," the singer told Melody Maker's David Stubbs. "I immediately realised that this wasn't the life for me. Immediately I found out how quickly someone can die and just be wiped out." In high school, he asserted during a career-guidance session that he wanted to be a musician. "I got the classic wry smile that said, 'You're going to be working in a factory in two years, son,'" he recalled in another interview with Andrew Smith for the same publication. "After that, I fluffed my exams and then I really started thinking about doing it."
After the Verve played their first London show and completed a demo tape that cost a mere $90 to record, they were signed to England's Hut label and were playing regular shows around London by 1991. They released three singles in England, but refused to cut their typically eight-to-ten-minute tracks down to a more radio-friendly format. Their music was lauded by critics, but the singles failed to chart--though Ashcroft's resemblance to Mick Jagger did make good press.
The Verve's refusal to become acquiescent performers for their label also seemed a hindrance to greater success. Once, they walked offstage after only two songs (albeit, one lasted 25 minutes) because of poor turnout. Hut released a five-track EP entitled The Verve EP in 1992, comprised of their earlier singles and their B- sides; it was also released in the United States on the Caroline label. Sharon O'Connell reviewed it for Melody Maker and described the band and their music as "all weightlessness and detachment, their tunes barely-delineated, freeform drifts which refuse definition.... They have a petulant, ragged glamour and there's Ashcroft at their centre, a dark star with a stripling ego who seduces/goads/guides the others toward their transcendental launch pad."
In 1993 the Verve were picked as the first band on the Vernon Yard label, a newly-created American affiliate of British giant Virgin Records. Their full-length debut, recorded in Cornwall, was A Storm in Heaven, released that same year on Hut in England and Vernon Yard in the United States. "Slide Away" appeared as the single, and did nominally well, receiving some airplay on American alternative stations. Yet the band remained pegged in the "indie" slot, although having received almost unstinting praise from jaded rock journalists in both countries. Writing about A Storm in Heaven for Melody Maker, Smith avowed "it shimmers and drifts, going nowhere beautifully." David Stubbs reviewed it for the same paper and termed it "music to make your head melt." That first single, Stubbs asserted, moves "effortlessly from glittering, turquoise beauty to tempestuous noise." He concluded by enthusing: "Verve have already achieved transcendence--their music sounds like it's been around for centuries waiting to be brought into being and will linger for centuries to come."
American reviewers were equally laudatory, with Rolling Stone pegging the band as an up-and-coming alternative act of 1993. The magazine called their first full-length release "an engrossing, atmospheric debut that jams an epic-song spine plus zero-to-ninety- and-back-again dynamics into the hellbent guitar storms of Britain's psychedelic dreamers." The summer of 1993, however, was also the start of numerous troubles for the band. The venerable jazz label "Verve," part of the Deutsche Grammophone company, initiated a lawsuit to order them to stop using the name lest music-buyers become confused. In the initial suit, the label demanded that sales of A Storm in Heaven be halted, and in the event of infringement, that all profits be seized. Vernon Yard president Keith Wood issued a statement quoted in Billboard that read, in part, "I cannot imagine a record buyer mistakenly coming home with the new Verve album when they've set out to buy a Charlie Parker box set." A compromise was reached which resulted in the band's name change to "The" Verve.
Being launched into the world of American alternative rock had other drawbacks. Tales of unabashed substance abuse and destroyed hotel rooms abounded; Ashcroft earned the nickname "mad Richard" for his misbehavior both off and onstage. "At the start, it was an adventure, but America nearly killed us," the singer told Melody Maker writer Dave Simpson in 1995. "My problem, basically, is that I think too much. Sticking someone who thinks too much on a chrome bus and sending him around America isn't a very good...experiment." Returning to their hometown of Wigan was also difficult. "That's supposed to be your life, but you don't know who you are," bassist Simon Jones explained to Simpson. The group set out to record a follow-up album, but the aforementioned escapades made recording difficult. Additionally, Ashcroft was devastated by the breakup with his girlfriend of six years, and a sense of isolation and despair worked its way onto the recording. Other personal problems surfaced. At one point Ashcroft left the studio, manned at the time by producer Owen Morris, who had also helped craft Oasis's phenomenally successful Definitely Maybe.
Despite the hindrances to its creation and completion, A Northern Soul was released in mid-1995. Again, it was well received by critics--but this time by fans as well; in just two months after A Northern Soul's summer release it sold more copies than A Storm in Heaven had in two years. "Listen to A Northern Soul...and the recurrent images are of terror, horror, dread, and morbidity," Melody Maker's Simpson wrote. One cut, "History," he called "an epic, windswept symphony of strings, flailing vocals and staggeringly bitter sentiments." Melody Maker colleague Victoria Segal contended the record "has a mirror-smashing intensity."
Unfortunately, such intensity ultimately seemed to portend the end of the band. A series of concert dates in the United States, and the attendant round of press interviews that went with it, further exhausted Ashcroft. He quit, and the Verve then officially disbanded in August of 1995. They had been scheduled to play more tour dates, including opening for Oasis, for the coming year, which probably would have launched them into mainstream commercial success--but Ashcroft had long asserted that he despised the "business" side of the music industry. "As far as I'm concerned, if by the second or third single, Verve are getting pressure off men in suits, Verve will fold and we'll just go off and do our own thing," Ashcroft avowed in the 1992 Melody Maker interview with Stubbs. His colleague, guitarist Nick McCabe, put it more succinctly: "This band is totally selfish, self-centred and self- indulgent and that's exactly the way it should be."
by Carol Brennan
Verve, The's Career
Group formed, c. 1990, in Wigan, England; signed with Hut Records, 1991; released three singles in England and later an EP, The Verve EP, on Hut; same EP also released on Caroline Records in the United States; disbanded, 1995.
- Selective Works
- The Verve (EP), Caroline, 1992.
- A Storm in Heaven, Vernon Yard/Virgin, 1993.
- No Come Down (EP), Vernon Yard/Virgin, 1994.
- A Northern Soul, Vernon Yard/Virgin, 1995.
- Billboard, May 8, 1993, pp. 1, 79; July 3, 1993, pp. 10, 76.
- Guitar Player, October 1995, p. 19.
- Melody Maker, June 12, 1992, pp. 28-29; December 5, 1992, p. 29; May 15, 1993, p. 43; June 19, 1993, p. 33; May 15, 1994, p. 5; May 28, 1994, p. 34; May 13, 1995, pp. 10-11; July 1, 1995, p. 38; July 15, 1995, pp. 30-32; September 9, 1995, p. 5.
- Rolling Stone, July 8, 1993, p. 95; October 5, 1995, p. 32.
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