The Verve: Glasgow Barrowlands

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The Independent Culture
When the sound of the strings on The Verve's comeback single, "Bitter Sweet Symphony", filled the hall, Richard Ashcroft, one hand on the microphone stand, mouth agape, stared into the audience with a look that said, "This is the greatest single of the year and you are lucky to hear it."

It is. And we were. Because six months ago The Verve didn't exist.

The intense atmosphere of perfectionism, unhinged emotions and petty squabbles that surrounded the recording of their last album, A Northern Soul, left vocalist Richard Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe feeling bitter and drained. They split, leaving their greatest song, "History", as their premature epitaph.

Ashcroft reassembled the band without McCabe and tried to mine their unique seam of epic guitar soul with a variety of new guitarists, including the extraordinary talent of Bernard Butler, responsible for Suede's finest moments. All to no avail. None of it worked.

Ashcroft realised that if he was going to make the heaven-touching sounds in his head a reformation was just as inevitable as the split was 18 months previously. McCabe was invited back.

The Verve's chief problem is also their chief strength: they treat music with a seriousness and a religious fervour that many find hard to swallow and easy to deride. Yet on Sunday night, Ashcroft's messiah-like figure tapped into an almost mystical wellspring of music to produce songs like "On Your Own" that left hundreds of grown men, literally, in tears.

Again and again, this hollow-cheeked stick insect held his arms aloft, crucifix-like, and urged the audience to come with him as the band rollercoastered through the majority of the last album.

But it was the new songs, unveiled for the first time on Sunday, that were the most telling. They confirmed that The Verve's comeback single wasn't a glorious aberration but a taster of what's to come. The impending "Drugs Don't Work" is a thing of heartbreaking beauty that confidently challenges Scott Walker in its naked emotionality.

As the country finally catches up with the sound of The Verve, they stand on the brink of becoming one of the biggest bands in Britain, a situation that certainly owes a little to their endorsement by Noel Gallagher. Considering the The Verve's fragile history, after what is almost certain to be another top five single and their Oasis support slots at Earls Court, will they be able to handle being catapulted into the superleague of fame?

Anthony Thornton