Before The Verve took off, Nick McCabe got by working as a trainee quantity surveyor, a milkman and a farm labourer. It could have all been so different…
After Richard’s father died when Richard was 11, his mother married a man involved in the Rosicrucian cult. This was how Richard was introduced to concepts such as astral projection, which eventually gained him the nickname ‘Mad Richard’.
The Verve’s formation began in a cloakroom hangout in their Wigan sixth form college. When Ashcroft arrived at the school he was a “charismatic” presence, according to McCabe. “I think he always had it in mind he was going to be a pop star, which was a bit ridiculous but just by the power of his charisma he managed to avoid ridicule somehow.”
The Verve’s first ever gig was at a friend’s birthday party in The Honeysuckle pub in Wigan in 1990. They were signed to Hut Records within a year.
Contrary to their acid-drenched aesthetic, in the early days The Verve were a “speed band”, playing many gigs rushing on amphetamines. “I used to feel like the music was coming out of the pit of my stomach,” says Nick.
Richard has a fear of rats, which caused problems during the writing sessions for ‘A Storm In Heaven’ in a house in Wales, owned by a musician called Dr Phibes – the house was riddled with the furry little bastards. Richard lasted only a few days before fleeing; the rest of the band stayed and wrote for a month.
After recording their debut single ‘All In The Mind’ the band decided to listen to it on acid, hated it, scrapped the whole session and re-recorded the song in two days.
When touring ‘A Storm In Heaven’, The Verve played several gigs with a formative Oasis as support. Ashcroft and the Gallaghers became close friends, Noel eventually writing ‘Cast No Shadow’ about the Verve frontman.
On the Lollapalooza tour of 1994, drummer Pete Salisbury was arrested for smashing up his hotel room in Kansas and Ashcroft wound up in hospital for “dehydration”. “America nearly killed us,” Ashcroft claimed.
One cause of such mania was the lack of decent speed the band could find in the US. Instead, they’d take copious ephedrine pills which, according to Nick, “if you took to many of them you turned green”.
McCabe was so uncomfortable with acclaim that, when approached by the singer from early-‘90s band Curve after a celebratory gig at the Clapham Grand to say how great the gig was, Nick ran away and hid in the toilets.
When playing at the Bataclan in Paris in 1995, Nick was attacked and kicked down a flight of stairs by a security guard, suffering a broken finger.
Recordings for The Verve’s second album ‘A Northern Soul’ began with a two-week Ecstasy party which McCabe has described as “the best weeks of my life”.
The ‘A Northern Soul’ sessions soon descended into paranoia and dislocation, however, as relations within the band broke down and producer Owen Morris was so wracked with frustration at the band that, following a particularly fraught recording of ‘History’, he smashed a window in the studio.
After Ashcroft manoeuvred McCabe out of the band in 1995, splitting the band then reforming it without him, Suede’s Bernard Butler joined The Verve in his place. Butler only lasted a few days in the band though, himself soon replaced by Simon Tong.
Ashcroft claims he wrote the entire Verve album ‘Urban Hymns’ on his own and planned to release it under his own name before “bottling it at the end”.
The Verve’s third album ‘Urban Hymns’ is the 17th best selling album in UK history, shifting 10million copies. A lucrative result that no doubt made up for the nightmare of having to give all of their royalties for ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for using too much of an agreed sample from an orchestral version of The Stones’ ‘The Last Time’.
After The Verve’s 1998 European tour ended amid violence between Nick and Richard, the pair didn’t speak for many years. This led to confusion when rumours circulated that Nick was due to make a surprise appearance at the Camden Monarch with a band called Lylo – Nick knew nothing about this but the venue allegedly turned away Richard and his wife Kate Radley that night, fearing a fist fight.
Replaced for touring commitments by BJ Cole, on the day The Verve’s split was finally made public Nick McCabe was spotted in a pub in Haydock, St Helens, playing dominoes.
During the 2007/2008 reunion shows, Ashcroft rarely hung out with the rest of the band, preferring to be whisked away immediately after every gig. “The first time that happened in Glasgow,” says Nick, “I thought ‘Did that just happen?’”