Guitarist Nick McCabe talks us through drugs, the '90s that legendary tour
The Verve have shared classic live footage of them performing ‘Catching The Butterfly’ live from Haigh Hall in Wigan. Catch it first on NME below, and read our Q&A with guitarist Nick McCabe discussing the tour.
The show is taken from the DVD of the band’s 20th anniversary reissue of seminal album ‘The Urban Hymns’, and captures the band at the peak of their powers during their momentous homecoming show in 1998.
What do you remember about the writing process for ‘Catching The Butterfly’?
Nick McCabe: “It’s funny because I remember everything pretty well. It feels like yesterday. I’d just been up in Bolton on some kind of family thing and I came back [on the Monday] and it was one of those lovely moments with The Verve when everybody was glad to be back together. I think we indulged that night and it sort of came together really quickly.
“It was one of those tunes that wrote itself, really. In the early days it was quite an open-ended, skeletal, almost kraut-rock kind of thing. Eventually we added tunes to it and it stacked up like a lasagna into this thing that is like a ’60s thing now but it wasn’t like that at all initially. It was quite an abstract piece and it was one of those things that happened really quickly – it took two sessions to get it into the shape that it was. But then learning how to play it live was less easy than that. With these things that come out of open-ended improvisation, [later] you have to go learn the things.”
- Read more: The Verve’s Nick McCabe discusses the state of guitar music, ‘Urban Hymns’, Richard Ashcroft and Oasis
“That method has informed everything I’ve done ever since then. We were formulating that idea around about ‘A Storm in Heaven’. ‘A Northern Soul’ is where we reined it in a little bit. We probably started to master it about then. A friend of mine put this idea really well: play it like a child, edit like a scientist’. I think we really got a handle on it by the time we wrote ‘Urban Hymns’ and then coming into ‘Forth’. We sort of skipped a few albums before we got to ‘Forth’ because we never really got to follow up on all of the ideas that had been kicking around, which is a shame because of the split. I think we were just coming into our element about then.”
What do you remember from Haigh Hall? What was it like to play such a huge gig?
“If you discount my sacking from 95-97, we’d been around for seven years at that point and we couldn’t get arrested in Wigan. I mean it’s only really Richard’s hometown but going back and finding that there was some love for the band and this massive 30,000 people audience – it was classic cognitive dissonance. The team that we had around us had done a cracking job that year but it was like a pure invention.
“We’d gone from being completely ignored in our hometowns to being given this heroes’ welcome. On that level I treated it as a family thing. I chose not to get too carried away by this bogus adulation. I just made a point of hanging out with my brother most of the time. One of the most fun aspects was just having a laugh with friends and family. I probably missed out on enjoying the moment in that respect because I ended up looking after people who were pissed. It was just another day and another party for me at the time. I was 25, I’d been relieved of my duties of being a father and I was enjoying my lost weekend. Musically it was a bit weird because I had personally requested that Martin would do an acoustic set but he just got the most hideous reception.
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“That neck of the woods is somewhere I used to go paddling when I was a toddler and that’s where I would have spent my childhood with my mum and dad. So, to be playing in that place and to kind of own the place for a day – quite surreal. I couldn’t really take it in I don’t think. For Si and Pete and maybe even Richard, it probably felt like vindication because they’d been to school for most of their lives in Wigan. It didn’t really have the resonance for me that it probably did for them. I can only really imagine what it felt like for them.”
Do you think gigs were different in the late ’90s compared to now?
“In the ’90s, it was quite a thing to be involved in. I think the proliferation of drugs back then meant that it was pretty intense. The whole thing was pretty intense: the social aspects of it, the feeling of being on a mission. Going back to the Wigan thing –the fact that we were small town kids on a mission. I think given the situation back then, if you were in a band and you were touring, there was something in the make up that made you go out on a limb to that in the first place. So when you did meet people of a kindred spirit, you bonded quite tightly with them. I think because we’d been amongst the Camden set and were made to feel like we were small town oinks and cavemen – Richard still talks about feeling like a caveman to this day. I think we got a little bit of isolationism in our camp. Initially we formed a self-protection and then I think that developed into a general gang mentality. So when we did go out and play it wasn’t just an act of playing music – it was more like a statement of defiance. By all odds we couldn’t [last that long] well, we didn’t – we imploded and carried on imploding. There was almost a feeling that we were carrying on to spite people.
“I see a healthier change these days. I think there’s a lot more camaraderie. People are more mutually supportive whereas there was more competitive spirit back then. There’s a negative side to that – music’s quite friendly these days. It’s generalizing massively but I think being of the time we were, it formed the attitude of the music. You can hear it. I don’t think in this era we would have been motivated in the same way to make that kind of music. Having said that – ‘Urban Hymns’ is obviously unique in the talent of band because that’s when Richard decided to sharpen his craft as a songwriter whereas we were on a mission to bring kraut-rock into the ’90s.”
The 20th anniversary edition of ‘Urban Hymns’ is out now