I’ve just returned from the Latitude Festival where a personal highlight was seeing Richard Ashcroft playing a solo set. Just one man and a guitar making a massive sound, captivating the audience with an intense, brilliant performance.
As my students well know, Richard Ashcroft was one of the students at Winstanley College in Wigan when I taught there in the late 80s. I have followed his career closely ever since and get a great thrill out seeing him live or listening to new material. All members of The Verve attended Winstanley which was packed with budding musicians. Nick McCabe was the stand-out guitarist and Richard had the attitude and conviction. The early material wasn’t as accessible as the massive ‘Urban Hymns’ but is certainly worth listening to. For me, ‘Slide Away’ is a wonderful song.
Here is a clip from an obscure German TV show of the Verve playing ‘Slide Away’ from 1994 .
This is very similar to what they were like in 1995, the last time I saw them play before they became HUGE!
Richard was not in one of my A level classes (and by all accounts, including his own, he wasn’t easy to teach) but I spent time with him and his friends when they were starting out in bands, mainly to help them make videos. We had an optional class called ‘Video Production’ that I taught and they made a hilarious video charting the rise of a fictitious band through the ages. This consisted of creating mock-ups of legendary music videos: The Beatles’ Help (which we filmed in the snow) and All You Need is Love- lots of people crammed into a room sitting on the floor; songs by The Sex Pistols and The Happy Mondays also featured. Somewhere, there is a tape in someone’s attic…
I also spent time collecting recordings of students’ original music, and making a few recordings of them myself in the college studio. One of the songs I recorded was ‘Documentary’ by Richard’s band ‘Rain Garden’ a forerunner to the Verve that also included Nick McCabe. Today, I converted the cassette tape recording into an mp3, so here it is, via my soundcloud site. It is really well worth a listen.
“That was quite excellent lads”.
Interestingly, there was another student there called Phil Latham. He was in Rain Garden but also did some solo material. I thought he was gifted. Listen:
If you’d asked me then, who would be the most successful, I’d have said Phil. But he was going to university and I’ve not heard of him since….
Meanwhile, Richard Ashcroft only had one thing in mind. He was going to be a big Rock Star making real music, right from the start. In truth, aged 17, he was like lots of boys in bands with a swagger of self-belief. But he saw it through, along with Nick, Simon and Pete. I bumped into them in the street in around 1992 and they told me they’d been signed to Virgin. I don’t think I really believed it meant much….I was worried that it would be another story of dashed hopes. However, five years later, they were everywhere and it all seemed destined. Evidently it hasn’t always been an easy path but Richard is still going and sounding fantastic.
I feel lucky to have been around at the time when The Verve was taking shape. I’m chuffed to bits with my small audio memento. The Winstanley College compilation from 1990 had all these songs.. here is the cover:
Having played it today for the first time in about 20 years, I’m delighted that my own offering – under the guise T and J – sung with a student called Jane Parker, is better than I remember. Jane – where are you now?