Richard Ashcroft must be puzzled that, having made one of the most critically admired albums of the 1990s (‘Urban Hymns’, for anyone who spent that decade in a coma) he has since tended to be dismissed by the media as dad-rock, trad-rock or just plain old brit-pop. Ashcroft’s world-beating manifesto seemed less appealing compared with the younger, prettier world beating manifesto of Coldplay/Starsailor/Strokes/Stripes/Libertines/Franz/Blocs/Arctics
etc etc.

Having been "invited" back into the fray by the young pretender turned new-Bono, Chris Martin, Richard Ashcroft seems to have regained his will. His self belief never wavered. ‘Keys To The World’, his third album, might not have sold as many as ‘Urban Hymns’ but it reached a respectable number two in the album charts.

Ashcroft stalks onto the stage, with a commanding presence that only the greatest rock stars have, and breaks straight into ‘Sonnet’, one of the most beautiful moments from the Verve’s masterpiece. From there on, the crowd are thoroughly engaged, and are treated to the other singles from that album, 'Lucky Man' and the chart-topping majesty of 'The Drugs Don’t Work'. Other than that, though, it is solo material all the way.

You think that’s a bad thing? Let me tell you, Ashcroft has some stunning moments on his new record, be they the uplifting breezy pop-soul of ‘Music Is Power’ or the heartfelt, ‘Words Just Get In The Way’. He is also on fine form between songs, attacking his host’s decision to close down its Chemistry and Music departments last year, and quoting Bill Hick’s advice to potential advertising agents. He makes an appealing impression. I entered the gig half
expecting him to be washed up, but he actually puts on a real show.

Every song is given careful treatment. Like most people, I ignored the 'Human Conditions' album of 2002 as it was panned in the press. I was sceptical when he announced, “this song is from an album that nobody bought cos some fuckers in London decided it wasn’t any good. But if Brian Wilson agrees to sing on your song, I think you can be proud of yourself”. He then played a lovely version of that song, and, yes, he can be very proud of it.

There are few more exciting sights than a talented pop star with something to prove. Not content with having made a thoroughly enjoyable, and surprising soulful, album earlier in the year, Richard Ashcroft is intent on proving his critics wrong with a formidable live show. No one fact summed up his success at this than the contrasting receptions to the encores. ‘Bittersweet Symphony’was cheered, even if no-one really felt it could live up to its almost mythical status. ‘Break The Night With Colour’, however, a recent single, was given the rapturous applause of the strictly devoted, as if we‘d known it for decades (give us a few decades, and no doubt we will). A fantastic gig. If you ever doubted it, Richard Ashcroft isn’t finished yet.


The photographs that accompany this article originally appeared on www.virtual-festivals.com











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