The Verve – 20 years since Urban Hymns – memories of the band when they started
Before the Verve broke out they were a brilliant yet unknown young band from Wigan. John Robb from LTW and the Membranes and Brian Cannon – the legendary Oasis and Verve sleeve designer were going to do their fanzine…
It’s 1992 and already the Stone Roses seem to be slipping into the mists of memory.
A few months is a long time in rock n roll and even then no-one had any inkling of how long the kings would abdicate their throne for.
The heady years when Manchester had ruled the world seemed to be ending and the A and R clutching their Manchester map books had left the city after stripping the flesh away from its music scene. Everyone had their payday and the hangover was kicking in.
Few expected any other bands from the scene but Brian Cannon was getting pretty manic about this band he knew back in his home town of Wigan.
At the time Brian was a young art guy who had just left university and had done the great design for the Ruthless Rap Assassins striking artwork and was hovering around Manchester in New Mount Street in Rap Assassins producer Greg Wilson’s office in New Mount Street – the then hub of all things Mancunia.
We would often be in there deep into the night hovering around the small studios recording scraps of music or hanging out with Noel Gallagher who was looking after/hanging out/being a bit of a dude with the Inspiral Carpets.
Brian was another of that clutch of people in that space – one of the ‘Manchester 50’ as Noel would affectionately remember years later – the sort of faces you saw at every gig and were at the heart of the music world.
I had known Brian since he had sent me a self published book he had created at University where he wrote about the genius of the artwork for the Pistols Never Mind The Bollocks – I had shocked him by giving his impressive time a great review in Sounds music paper and got to know him since then. A wild and creative hurricane Brian would turn up all over the place with wild eyed enthusiasms for the Roses and the whole breaking scene so it was no surprise to hear him begging up this young band from Wigan called Verve.
Intrigued I had a listen and liked the way they were almost post Manchester and a superior version of the so called shoegaze scene the music press were attempting to create in the south. With an added northern nous and a deeper immersion in the music than you would expect from a young band, you could feel they really had something.
There was a whiff of the Stooges drone magnificence, a scent of the Roses mystical melodic magic and ambition and mastery of that northern psychedelia pioneered by the evergreen genius of Echo and the Bunnymen.
Brian said he wanted to build something round the band and was so sure of their greatness and their eventual world domination that he wanted to create a fanzine around them. He asked me to write it and he would do the artwork.
It seemed a cool idea.
The band had that something and even in the minefield of rock n roll it mattered little whether they would ‘make it’ or not – the idea was intriguing enough so a week later I got the train to Wigan to visit the band and discuss the idea of the zine and interview them.
We met in a flat above a shop – I’m guessing it was where Richard Ashcroft lived at the time – and I remember him being there – a barefoot Jesus and like a very youthful Mick Jagger and a mixture of sure footed confidence and shyness whilst the rest of the band filled the room. We talked about the Roses who I had been covering since the start and the future. There was an interview where they talked of ambition and hope as Brian chipped in creating a mythology.
Outside the window it was pitch black and silent but Verve were building up a painting of the future defying their current world. I rushed home feeling there was defiantly something here. Another bunch of northern hopefuls. The fanzine was written but never published. Somewhere it lurks in Brian’s archive as we both typically got distracted by other pop culture thrills.
I saw many of the band’s early gigs and was captivated by their intensity and their northern Stooges vibe. Ashcroft was a great frontman full of belief and poetic wisdom rare for his age. The band sounded fantastic with a true of power and tripped out dynamics and with that Roses style sense of possibility.
I remember seeing them play the tiny Roadhouse in Manchester and fill it with quicksilver magic and I remember other small gigs where they defied the narrative that the north will never rise again with their own innate brilliance. I remember hanging out with them when they supported Curve at Brixton Academy and their dressing room was filled with a ghetto blaster pumping out great music and Brian, who was now creating their brilliant sleeve art holding court, I remember bumping into Richard Ashcroft when he lived in West Didsbury and interviewing him there recording his mystic worldview and his quiet intelligence and bumping into Liam Gallagher and spending the day with the paint of them… and I remember when they finally went supernova filling the void with their imagination and dreams after adding a ‘the’ to their name and a classic sheen to their songwriting for their third album Urban Hymns – one of those albums where the culmination of dreams occurs and the band somehow retained their precious own but married it to absolute classic heartfelt songwriting that seemed to reach back through the decades and into the future all at once and caught their genius perfectly.