As THE VERVE US tour opens tonight, new guitarist - veteran pedal-steel player BJ COLE - gives us a view inside the band...

THE VERVE are set to unveil a radically different sound at tonight’s opening date of their US tour.

Central to the new sound is BJ Cole, the veteran pedal-steel guitar player the band have drafted in to replace guitarist Nick McCabe after he absented himself from all Verve live dates.

Just before leaving London for Chicago with the rest of The Verve, BJ Cole told NME that the versions of ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ and ‘Sonnet’ he’s rehearsed with the band bear little relation to the original studio versions recorded with McCabe.

“When I went into the rehearsal I had no idea that I was replacing somebody,” Cole said. “So I just did what I do. Now that I know I’m replacing Nick, I’ve listened to the record more intensely in terms of his parts but I hope it won’t change my original ideas.”

Cole put his induction into the touring band down to “a hunch on Richard Ashcroft’s part”. “It’s not the most obvious way of replacing Nick but they seemed to like it. I was communicating primarily with Richard and Simon (Tong) during the rehearsals. They were very communicative and enthusiastic about what I was bringing to the band.”

Cole rehearsed for two days with the band in London and in Chicago last weekend prior to The Verve opening their US tour at the Aragon Ballroom tonight (Tuesday, July 28). Cole has previously played on albums by Spiritualized, Elton John and Beck and is currently recording an album with Luke Vibert.

He said he actually had no idea that McCabe had pulled out of the band’s live dates when he received a call from The Verve’s management asking him to rehearse with them.

“I went into the rehearsal without any general knowledge of what had gone on in the band. But I didn’t get a feeling that they are gonna pack up after this tour. In fact, they wrote a song while we were rehearsing. I don’t think it has a title, but it’s quite heavy, it’s quite hard.”

Cole said that he will be playing on about three-quarters of the band’s set. He says together they’ve rehearsed versions of ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, ‘Space And Time’, ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’, ‘Sonnet’, ‘Lucky Man’, ‘One Day’ and ‘Velvet Morning’. “Obviously, they’re all anthemic and they all really suit the steel guitar,” he said. “I know it’s a lateral approach but when you think about it it does make sense.”

Cole said Richard Ashcroft didn’t discuss McCabe’s situation with him. “Now I know why. He just doesn’t know. My feeling is if I can contribute something that gives them new hope in the sound without Nick then obviously they’re going to have an ongoing view about the band. It seems to all stem from Richard saying the band doesn’t exist without Nick. Now it’s one of those things where somebody says something apocryphal like that then all of a sudden it becomes a reality. I don’t know if he’s actually analysed whether that is true. Their mood was very positive.”