In the 20 years since Urban Hymns became an all-out defining album of the 90s, Richard Ashcroft has lost none of his egotistical swagger. Scrubbing off ‘Mad Richard’ comments, the former Verve frontman freed himself from his six year slumber to release a politically-charged and powerful message in the form of his latest album, ‘These People’, last year.
The Lucky Man himself took to the stage with new electro-pop groover ‘Out Of My Body’, equipped with a disco sequined bomber, the trademark shades and the signature gasmask swinging around his neck. “Legends in the house, let’s have it”, enthusiasm oozes out of his hyperactive dance moves from the first few seconds in. Verve classic ‘Sonnet’ follows before ‘Space and Time’ belts out a ballad singalong, reminiscent of Britpop days that strike a chord with the majority of the crowd.
It goes without saying that it’s a blokey, if not bullish, audience. In a midst of forty-something men, it requires a search before you find someone under the age of 25 or someone without a pint of Strongbow in their hand.
‘A Song for the Lovers’ gains devoted enthusiasm while ‘Music Is Power’ holds a special place in the set. The removal of his Ray-Bans provided an alternative plectrum to his Telecaster, with an elongated, perhaps repetitive, ending of Ashcroft echoes – “I wanna spend it with you”. ‘Lucky Man’ is nothing short of a miracle, with the seated audience naturally taking to their feet in response to the reflective side of the singer while staple track ‘C’mon People (We’re Making It Now)’ opens the encore.
A stripped-down ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ goes out “to the ones we lost along the way”, calling an arena-wide roar of emotion. New material touches upon an unmissable trace of the war in Syria and the Arab Spring protest and riots, with encore track ‘Hold On’ depicting striking footage behind Ashcroft, while he references pepper spray and water cannons.
Ashcroft’s euphoric presence prevented the night from being a pure nostalgic night with closing song, of course, 90s cornerstone Bittersweet Symphony made to sound fresh and exuberant, with its sampled string echoes and a crowd reverberations normally heard at an FA Cup final.
It’s not all perfect, a lack of confidence in Ashcroft’s new material is sadly but undeniably placed throughout certain patches of the night. ‘They Don’t Own Me’ gets a bit too bogged down in tedious acoustic slush, while Verve tracks or classic solo songs gaining more of a reaction than that of ‘Ain’t the Future So Bright’.
This doesn’t stop Ashcroft embodying everything that hones the perfect performer, polishing his ability to make every gig his own. For those that made it through the post-Urban Hymns years and through the turbulent times of the band’s first break up in 1999, Ashcroft’s solo career has come as a welcomed relief.
The enigma of a solo Richard Ashcroft, proving much bigger than that of Britpop nostalgia.
Words by Brianna Riley