On the 29th October, Richard Ashcroft, formerly of Britpop band The Verve, brought his Natural Rebel tour to a sold-out Rock City. He’s hit the headlines recently while promoting his newest album, ‘Natural Rebel’, not for the album itself, which received mixed reviews, but for his controversial TV appearances on Soccer AM and BBC Breakfast. I got the sense going into this gig that it would be one extreme or the other, a manic but passionate performance, or a complete crash and burn.
You’d be forgiven for expecting a crash and burn during the build up in the wait for Ashcroft to take the stage. The warm up act, DJ Wayne Griggs, can only be described as a warm up act in name. His ‘set’ consisted of the same background music you’d get in between acts, just with the added bonus of a guy standing around, occasionally rummaging through his rucksack to find the next record to play. Ashcroft being late meant Griggs kept playing records to a crowd which had lost their patience for him a long time ago, each new song during the extra half an hour wait met with growing boos from the crowd, growing ever more impatient and angsty by the minute.
As Ashcroft finally took to the stage, setting the tone for the evening instantly as he opened with “Hold On”, one of the more anthemic tracks from his solo work, winning the crowd back on side instantly. Ashcroft is known for his incredible live vocals, touted “the best singer in the world” by Chris Martin, and this show was no exception, which is why it was to everyone’s surprise after the opener when he revealed he had been ordered by doctors not to perform due to a throat problem, which would see him cancel the rest of his tour dates a couple of days after.
As with most solo artists from a successful band, the atmosphere becomes electric when the band’s classics are played, and “Sonnet” achieved exactly that, with Ashcroft occasionally pausing to let a crowd which knew every word take over to incredible effect. Another Verve classic followed in “Weeping Willow”, though only really memorable for the pause halfway through where Ashcroft ranted at the photographers “Stop blocking the fans’ view, it only takes a millisecond to take a photo of someone as iconic as me.”
“Surprised by the Joy” kicked off a series of intense and passionate performances, captivating everyone with a powerful rendition of a song focussing heavily on dealing with his depression. Similarly, “Music Is Power” deals with how Ashcroft uses music to deal with his depression, and ends with a rant about the X Factor, and how such shows are killing creativity, a message the crowd heavily responded to.
The main set closed with another anthemic singalong to another Verve hit, “Lucky Man”, and left Ashcroft leaving the stage to rapturous applause, before an encore which would be worth the entry fee alone.
An emotional rendition of “The Drugs Don’t Work” provided one of those special moments where the crowd as one watched on in awe. As the song finishes, he takes the opportunity to have a cigarette on stage unquestioned, adding to the legendary aura he emits throughout the show. Closing with The Verve’s biggest hit “Bittersweet Symphony”, Ashcroft uses the iconic instrumental intro for an expletive filled speech directed at the lawyers in the infamous royalty case surrounding the song, proclaiming “This is not my song. This is our song.”
What followed next was 6 minutes of sheer brilliance and the most fitting ending to what was a thoroughly enjoyable gig. If he makes good on his promise to come back to Nottingham soon, he’ll no doubt be worth every penny of the entry fee yet again.