What makes a great frontman? An unforgettable voice? On-stage swagger? A right long face? Whatever it is, Richard Ashcroft has it. The former Verve man was clearly born to stand on a stage. Much in the same way that I was born to stand behind a bar and say ‘yes mate?’.
I’ve long defended the Dome as a venue and in Richard Ashcroft they have once again secured one of the UK’s biggest musical stars. The stage set up and the sound are impeccable throughout and only add to what is a stellar, show stopping performance from one of music’s great enigmas.
Ashcroft wanders on stage and looks so comfortable you would believe he had spent the afternoon casually using the Dome’s massive swimming pool. He does strike me as a man that would enjoy a good flume. Out Of My Body kicks things off and Ashcroft’s voice immediately transports me back to the ’90s. A decade of hot summers, Merlin’s premier league sticker albums and Britpop. In truth though, both the Verve and Ashcroft himself have transcended Britpop. His music has always been completely timeless. Sonnet follows and what a beautiful rendition it is, before Break The Night With Colour brings the house down.
I have always found Ashcroft’s solo work to be a little patchy but there is absolutely no doubting his sheer power as a live performer and in this greatest hits set, solo tracks such as Space and Time fit perfectly alongside Verve classics like Weeping Willow and Velvet Morning – a song that sounds utterly perfect here. Indeed, velvet is a fitting word to describe Ashcroft’s luxurious voice. Along with Paul Heaton, and me after seven pints, he is probably the most underrated singer of the ’90s.
Music is Power shudders through the Dome next with Ashcroft able to pull off the trite lyrics through sheer passion and force of will. He has never been one to shy away from speaking his mind and this is why doesn’t just get away with mawkish sentimentalism like Music is Power – he owns it. He turns it into something pure and beautiful.
A solo rendition of Lucky Man is not just the highlight of this set but the highlight of any set ever. As Ashcroft approaches the final chorus, they turn on the bright lights and the full band are revealed, kicking in to finish with an extended, bombastic and spine-tingling crescendo. This is a man who is at once genius and showman, professional and maverick. There really is only one Richard Ashcroft.
The encore consists of an acoustic rendering of The Drugs Don’t Work before a show-stopping finale of A Bittersweet Symphony. Ashcroft thanks those in attendance for spending their money on going to see him, a sentiment that, like everything else that comes out of his mouth, he clearly means from the bottom of his heart. And not for the first time at the Donny Dome, I leave feeling like I have witnessed something really special. One of rock music’s great survivors still at the top of his game. A bittersweet symphony indeed…