Richard Ashcroft is a wally. That’s not a criticism, not really, as “being a bit of a wally” is an essential personality trait among those who aspire towards shamanistic rock God status. Just look at Jim Morrison and Mick Jagger: great rock stars but they both look like clowns when scrutinised in the cold light of day. Ashcroft is the same. No, he doesn’t deserve to be elevated alongside such prestigious company but he’s an undoubtedly charismatic, borderline endearing fool who sincerely believes in his mystical ability to commune with the music of the spheres.
Richard Ashcroft, Barrowland, Glasgow ****
The fact that most of his pseudo-cosmic solo canon consists of bland, boring MOR dirges just adds to his bathetic appeal. He’s a self-conscious rock star who lacks self-awareness, a middle-aged man reaching for the stars but never getting further than the living room ceiling. I like him.
More showman than shaman, the former Verve lynchpin knows how to fool a crowd into believing that they’re witnessing something special. Dressed in de rigueur shades and a sparkling sequined jacket (still whip-thin, he looked like a punctured mirror ball), the seemingly ageless Ashcroft gave his – you guessed it – mad-for- it crowd exactly what they wanted during this uneven yet generally quite entertaining performance.
He did his silly praying mantis dance, outstretched his skinny arms in messianic rapture and delivered his best tunes. What more could you ask for? When inspiration struck, Ashcroft once wrote songs that lived up to his lofty self-image.
Bittersweet Symphony, the inevitable set-closer, is a bona fide classic. Verve-era hits such as The Drugs Don’t Work, Sonnet, History and baroque pop solo single A Song for the Lovers don’t lag far behind. He can sing too: that elasticated baritone hasn’t faltered with age.
There were, however, moments when neither his voice nor stage presence could alleviate the tedium of mid-paced chuggers such as Born to be Strangers. Taken from his new album Natural Rebel (if you say so, mate), it was, like so many songs during this set, dragged out far beyond its natural length. Born to be Strangers is Ashcroft in a nutshell, really. He thinks it sounds like Miss You by the Stones but it actually sounds more like Cliff’s Devil Woman.
The warlock wally of Wigan won’t realise that, of course, which makes me like him just a little bit more. - Paul Whitelaw