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Richard Ashcroft

As the frontman for Britain's the Verve, Richard Ashcroft proved himself the spiritual descendant of rock & roll icons like Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison: he was riveting, charismatic, menacing, serpentine, and possessed of an almost shamanic intensity, and he embraced and articulated the anthemic fervor of rock music with a power and eloquence unparalleled by many of his contemporaries. Urban Hymns -- the Verve's 1997 multi-platinum-selling third album -- was the peak of the Wigan quartet's international success and led to Ashcroft being named Songwriter of the Year at the 1998 Ivor Novello Awards. They disbanded in 1999, allowing Ashcroft to kick-start a solo career with three U.K. Top Three albums in a six-year period: Alone with Everybody, Human Conditions, and Keys to the World. Following a brief 2007 Verve re-formation, he again cracked the U.K. Top Five with 2016's These People, 2018's Natural Rebel, and 2021's retrospective Acoustic Hymns, Vol. 1, the latter of which found Ashcroft reinterpreting many of his favorite Verve and solo songs. Ashcroft was born September 11, 1971, in the Wigan suburb of Billinge, attending Upholland Comprehensive School alongside future Verve mates Simon Jones, Simon Tong, and Peter Salisbury. After losing his father at age 11, he fell under the influence of his stepfather, a member of the ancient secular order of the Rosicrucians, who regularly performed experiments in mind expansion and the healing arts. While a student at Winstanley College in 1989, Ashcroft co-founded Verve with bassist Jones, drummer Salisbury, and guitarist Nick McCabe. Signing to Virgin's Hut imprint to issue their 1992 debut single, "All in the Mind," Verve earned widespread praise for their majestic, oceanic guitar pop, with the eminently quotable Ashcroft earning the dismissive nickname "Mad Richard" from the U.K. press. Despite their critical acclaim, Verve often seemed at the mercy of forces outside their control -- while touring with the Lollapalooza festival in support of their 1993 debut LP, A Storm in Heaven, Ashcroft was hospitalized after suffering from severe dehydration, and within months the band also entered into a protracted legal battle with the American jazz label Verve, which resulted in an official name change to the Verve. Recorded under the influence of a massive intake of ecstasy, 1995's brilliant A Northern Soul effectively split the band apart, although Ashcroft re-formed the lineup a few weeks later. The new Verve achieved international success with 1997's celebrated Urban Hymns, scoring a series of hits including "Bitter Sweet Symphony," "The Drugs Don't Work," and "Lucky Man"; however, legal hassles awarded 100-percent of "Bitter Sweet Symphony"'s publishing rights to ABKCO Music -- the song was built on a Rolling Stones sample -- and as friction between Ashcroft and McCabe resurfaced, the guitarist quit the group. Following a final tour, the Verve again disbanded, this time for good. Ashcroft's solo debut, Alone with Everybody -- co-produced with Chris Potter -- followed in mid-2000. Later that fall, Ashcroft celebrated his solo success with a ten-date sold-out American tour. Two days prior to kickoff in Chicago, the entire tour was postponed due to Ashcroft's illness, and the dates were rescheduled for January 2001. The following year, Ashcroft released his soul-searching, spiritual second album, Human Conditions. Subsequently, he returned to living a quiet life with his family. He also inked a recording contract with Parlophone -- after his longtime label home, Hut, went bankrupt in mid-2004 -- on which Ashcroft's long-awaited third album, Keys to the World, was issued in March 2006. In 2007, the Verve reunited, playing a brief tour at the end of the year and then setting to work on a new album. Punningly titled Forth, the record appeared in mid-2008 and was a reasonable success, yet the bandmembers didn't weather their reunion well, splitting once more in mid-2009. Ashcroft then formed the solo project RPA & the United Nations of Sound, whose debut appeared in the summer of 2010 in every territory but the U.S., where it was released in early 2011. He followed this up six years later with a fifth studio album, These People. The release was recorded in Ashcroft's home studio in London and featured orchestration from erstwhile collaborator Wil Malone. Lyrically focused on conflict and bereavement, and composed of lush strings and delicate textures, the record was preceded by the single "This Is How It Feels." Ashcroft quickly followed These People with 2018's Natural Rebel, his first album to be produced by Jon Kelly and Emre Ramazanoglu. In 2019, he received another Ivor Novello Award, this time recognized for his Outstanding Contribution to British Music. The event coincided with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards relinquishing their publishing stake in "Bitter Sweet Symphony" and signing over all future royalties from the song to Ashcroft. With Potter back at the production helm, Ashcroft returned to the studio in 2021 to re-record key tracks from his canon, issuing the results as Acoustic Hymns, Vol. 1. Liam Gallagher was featured on a fresh take on "C'mon People (We're Making It Now)," a song that had originally appeared on Ashcroft's debut solo record. The set reached number two on the U.K. albums chart.
© Jason Ankeny /TiVo
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Discography

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