Richard Ashcroft, Big Top, Ingliston ****
At the age of 50, there remains a fearsome power to Richard Ashcroft. It’s been 14 years since he released an album with the Verve, the band that was arguably the most magical expression of what he does as a singer, alongside the taut, emotional guitar playing of Nick McCabe as accompaniment.
Yet his solo career has been long and successful, and the music he’s made since 2000 shares most in common with the Verve’s hugely popular breakthrough third album Urban Hymns. Last year’s Acoustic Hymns Vol.1, a hit containing acoustic versions of songs from throughout his career, demonstrated this throughline, as did his set here.
Under a huge backdrop of the photo from the album’s sleeve, a tender moment between him and his wife, musician Kate Radley, Ashcroft played a set of the kind that saw him feted as a songwriter by Noel Gallagher and invited to guest with Coldplay at Live 8 in 2005 by a starstruck, admiring Chris Martin. His lyrics and melodies speak of tender, careworn masculinity, beaten down but not out, or in recovery from the fight.
Everything from Urban Hymns was greeted by the audience as if it were a long-lost friend, from the polished psych-folk balladry of Space and Time, Weeping Willow and Velvet Morning to the ever-redemptive main set closer Lucky Man, a spiritual companion to his own Break the Night with Colour and an acoustic C’Mon People (We’re Making It Now).
Yet there was tension, too. Ashcroft ended the gentle The Drugs Don’t Work with a shamanic dance, punching his mic from its holder. His own They Don’t Own Me was preceded by the declaration “every step of the way it's a f***ing battle – other people were born with the WD40, we've gotta smash that door down!” The closing Bittersweet Symphony, even played just by his band before the signature strings kicked in, felt ripe and timeless in its plea for fortitude. Intensity like this doesn’t seem to age.