Ashcroft, Richard : London Astoria

The lads want the spirit of '97, not just the songs

The laddish crowd at the Astoria would gladly march through London like a Britrock Countryside Alliance to preserve great English traditions like 'Lucky Man'. And, tonight, Dicky is sprinkling us with old Verve magic - but on his terms. Which means his cosmic Elvis croon is bolstered with a possibly unnecessary nine-piece backing band (including bongos, flutes and saxophones).

Wearing shades and a sports jacket more suited to the Med than chilly old London, when he strums 'Sonnet', it's magic. But, like an off-form footballer, the fans let him know when they're unhappy. The sonic expanses of 'Nature Is The Law' - from forthcoming album 'Human Conditions' - receive merely encouraging applause, while fancy new tricks 'Lord I've Been Trying' and 'Paradise' just don't impress.

Ashcroft tries to bring them round, pulling on a vintage 'Northern Soul' T-shirt thrown on stage for a stunning acoustic rendition of 'The Drugs Don't Work'. That familiar, aching vocal melody even makes up for the sax solos. It's a brave gambit, but Ashcroft may have to embrace the wilderness if he wants to tinker with sacred old Verve tunes. The lads want the spirit of '97, not just the songs.

Andre Paine

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