First Night: Richard Ashcroft, SECC, Glasgow

No sign of Nineties man losing any of his old verve
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The Independent Culture

One can only speculate as to how big the Verve might have been had they not decided to call it a day just as they were approaching their prime. Twice, as it happens, over the course of the Nineties, proving that some things just aren't meant to be.

Nevertheless, they were one of the most exciting - if never the most original - bands of their era. Formed amid the quasi-pyschedelic era of the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays, they didn't truly reach their peak of fame until Brit Pop and the Cool Britannia shebang had blown over. For anyone who followed them, not just from 1997's adored Urban Hymns album on, but through their earlier records "A Storm In Heaven" and "A Northern Soul", it was a gust of fresh air to witness the way they went about their career with rabble-rousing, steely-eyed conviction.

But would a band so self-possessed and cocky have regularly filled arenas like this without some sort of condescension to the mainstream? Possibly - Urban Hymns is recognised as a partially watered-down version of their earlier output - but we'll never know now. Shorn in particular of Nick McCabe's squalling guitar, the band's former singer Richard Ashcroft has soldiered on in the guise of a council estate troubadour.

While there's little doubt that being master of his own musical destiny, as well as becoming a husband and father almost concurrently, has mellowed his style considerably, Ashcroft still writes and performs with passion and sincerity.

To watch him here is to see a masterclass in audience identification. He continually raises his fists to the crowd in triumphant, empowered fashion, just as they return the gesture in kind. The wiry, sharp-eyed singer (as rakish in build as ever, but with a glow of good health he never had in the Verve years) dances on the spot and kisses his guitar with joy, and it's plain to see he gets such a kick out of doing this.

Bar the obvious songwriting ability and a voice so clear and sharp it shouldn't belong to a man so gruff-looking, the fans surely gaze on him and see one of their own. "This is for everyone who has to go to a shit job tomorrow," he remarks before a valiant "Bittersweet Symphony", and you can tell he's been there himself.

The set-closing highlights might have been from the era of the Verve - glowing solo versions of "Lonely Soul" and the anthemic "Lucky Man" - but they merely crown a set born of individuality and warmth. That his own "Break The Night With Colour" closes the set to an overjoyed ovation is testament to the fact that Ashcroft hasn't lost it, he just demonstrates "it" in a different way these days.

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