The Palladium, London
17th October 2021
Richard Ashcroft played the second of two stunning shows at London’s Palladium last night, Naomi Dryden-Smith went along to review and take photos.
Emerging from its successful role as the prime “test-bed” for measures to safely get London’s theatres back on track after covid, The Palladium is currently hosting an endless stream of concerts. Tonight, it’s the second night for Richard Ashcroft and the marble steps of London’s most famous theatre are flooded with loyal Ashcroft fans and their many pints of lager.
Stepping onto the stage with a wry smile, with the all-familiar pout and swagger still in evidence, some in the audience might already know that what’s about to happen is actually a legendary performance. With his NME-burning, fuck-it-all arrogance 20 years behind him, still cocky in his sparkly jacket with his trade mark cheekbones and challenging gaze, he’s no longer hiding his sensitive nature and reaches out to his audience: “This show is dedicated to the collateral damage, the suicides, the deaths…we are more than collateral damage, we are the people.” Ashcroft has made no secret of his views in recent times, but whilst we might not all share those views he still creates a huge feeling of solidarity in the room which lasts for the entire show.
Half the songs tonight are The Verve songs, and first up is Sonnet. The venue is all-seated but the aisles immediately fill and there’s a rush for the front, and I have to put down my camera and console a sobbing, overwhelmed woman who almost throws herself at the stage, trying to get her to breathe. Pretty apt, given the name “Beatlemania” was forged in this theatre 58 years ago almost to the day, on 13th October 1963, for the same emotional reaction.
Two inescapable thoughts throughout the night – one is how intense, observant and poignant his lyrics are, able to touch just about anyone. And the other is what a truly amazing album Urban Hymns was, .
One Day seems especially relevant tonight, after what we’ve all been through: “Tie yourself to the mast my friend and the storm will end” – and we believe him as he hugs his guitar and nods at us reassuringly. There’s a palpable bond with the crowd who react to him as a friend in the pub: “Richard! Richard!”.
“It’s a miracle we’re all here in this clown world”, he says, “we all look so damn fucking healthy, what’s going on?” as The Drugs Don’t Work starts up. There will be few amongst this audience who can’t relate to this song on some level, whether pre or post covid. With the addition of some strings (three violins and two cellos), goosepimples break out, tears threaten and this is only the start, knowing what’s to come later. There’s nothing like strings to bring out the emotions.
“The next one’s going out to people in Australia, Paris and Italy, anyone who gives a shit about what’s going on…this one’s called Hold On”, and it’s another call to arms, “Love my freedom, hold on to my mother fucking freedom…”.
As he says, songs from the past seem to resonate more. And as he declares “You’re the people I think about, other than my family, couldn’t wait till we got back in a room again”, Lucky Man kicks in and the whole place again bursts into song, arms outstretched, full of passion. Again those strings, and again those incredible emotions.
For the encore, Ashcroft emerges in familiar Burberry, this time a matching shirt and hat – he’s just about cool enough to carry this off. Just. He’s alone, just him and his guitar, for They Don’t Own Me, and we’re reminded just how powerful his voice is, these days grittier and Weller-esque, passionate and intense.
The finale arrives as does the mini orchestra – obviously it’s Bittersweet Symphony, an extended version, and Ashcroft introduces his eldest son on guitar, his first time on stage. And what a moment for him. The strings are sublime, a powerful performance full of emotion and hope, building to a roof-raising crescendo, it couldn’t be more perfect.
When it’s over, everyone’s smiling, overcome, no one wants to leave, strangers are hugging. Then they’re all singing, spilling out into Oxford Street, down into the tube tunnels, the tiles ringing with “I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down”.
This show has firmly established Richard Ashcroft as a legend of our times. I hope the woman at the front made it through in one piece because it was pretty tough going for the rest of us.
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