My excellent friend Barbara Neill is a huge fan of Richard Ashcroft, so much so that she named her third son Richard and her cat Ashcroft. Now that’s dedication. Perhaps fortuitously, Richard Neill (now 17) grew up with the same passion for Richard Ashcroft as his mother.
A few months ago, Barbara booked three tickets to go and see Richard Ashcroft in concert; her son was obviously the second member, but the third sadly had to withdraw. In a moment of obvious madness, she invited me along in their place, and I didn’t hesitate in saying yes. I’d heard so much about Richard Ashcroft that I was really eager to see more of his music; I really only knew about him from the Verve, and he’s released four solo albums since then, so I had a lot of catching up to do (especially when I listened to Barbara and Richard talk, with their encyclopedic knowledge). I deliberately didn’t do much homework about him; I wanted to see what I thought as a genuine newbie.
The 02 Academy in Glasgow was an excellent venue; with a capacity of 2,500, it was bijou without being overwhelming. I did have a moment of claustrophobia when I sat in the front row of the balcony, but that was my issue rather than then venue’s – so despite Richard’s efforts in sprinting up the stairs and getting us brilliant front row seats, I ended up on the second row with Barbara and a lot nearer the aisle. Still, that was 99% the same, and it meant I could focus on the gig.
I have to admit that I don’t know who the warm-up DJ was – no-one had informed the friendly staff outside the venue – but he was good, with a variety of tracks from yesteryear and the present. The venue filled up gradually over the next couple of hours – we got in at seven, to have our pick of the seats – and then Mr Ashcroft himself came onto the stage with his band.
Well, he’s a show man – but then, if indeed you’re reading this as a fan, I don’t need to tell you that. He performed to the crowd, giving them what they wanted; a blend of new and old. There were a few tracks from his latest album, These People, and a lot of his classic material as well. I won’t go through his entire set-list, because I always think it’s nice to be surprised, but I will say that “Out of My Body” was – to put to simply – sublime. When pieces of music carry you away to new levels of joy and pleasure, then that musician is clearly onto a good thing, and Ashcroft certainly is.
Any successful gig is, in my view, indicated by two things; how hardcore fans enjoy it, and how anyone new coming along engages with the singer. On Friday night in Glasgow, Richard Ashcroft absolutely nailed it on both fronts; the 2,500 people in the Academy seemed to love every single second of it. Most were on their feet, and even those who were still seated had huge smiles on their face, and many were singing along.
And me? Well, as I say, I’m a newbie to Richard Ashcroft, so I’ve never felt the depth of loyalty and passion towards RA that many – my friends included – have felt, but I can certainly appreciate it now. Ashcroft’s command of the stage, his voice, the band, the music, the lyrics, the volume … all were boundless and energised, and he carried the audience along with him all the way. I was thoroughly blown away by his talent and his stage charisma, and so was everyone else was as well – a lot have since taken to Twitter and Facebook to say how phenomenal they found it, and for hard-core fans to continue that level of admiration after a life-time of following someone is quite an achievement.
Richard Ashcroft completely sold out at the Academy on Friday night, which doesn’t surprise me, and he’s doing a couple of dates in December – one at the Liverpool Academy and one at the 02 Arena in London. Both are far, far bigger, and both will sell out in minutes, I’m absolutely sure of it … and I’m also convinced it’s absolutely worth it.