Richard Ashcroft: Bitter Sweet Symphony dispute was the catalyst for Acoustic Hymns album

8 September 2021, 09:46 | Updated: 12 April 2022, 14:31

By Jenny Mensah

The Verve legend is releasing an acoustic version of the band's Urban Hymns album and told Chris Moyles how it came about.

Richard Ashcroft called into The Chris Moyles Show to talk about his upcoming release Acoustic Hymns Vol. 1, which sees him rework The Verve's classic Urban Hymns album.

The seminal 1997 record spawned singles such The Drugs Don't Work, Sonnet and Lucky Man, but Ashcroft says it was the iconic Bitter Sweet Symphony and its infamous rights dispute which acted as a catalyst for the whole album getting the acoustic treatment.

Ashcroft revealed: "What stimulated it was when when The [Rolling] Stones and other people owned the publishing to the song and sometimes early days when I would play it live, I'd go 'OK I'm going to strip it right back now with the acoustic just on my own and show people that there is a real heart to this song.'"

He continued: "So what we did was we got in touch with The Stones' people and said, 'If Rich does this other version and there's no sample in it, can we have a discussion?'

"The great thing was that, that just seemed to accelerate from there into Mick [Jagger] and Keith [Richards] signing over the whole lot for all of it. So the catalyst for this album [was] the song and then that opened up the door. This other version of it is bizarrely more Stones-y than the original. Very Stones-y and that's the irony."

READ MORE: How The Drugs Don't Work captured the mood of the nation in 1997

The former Verve frontman also admitted that he made his album with the purpose of touring it "around the world," but has accepted it will no longer happen due to the pandemic.

"I've always dreamed of being able to take the full sound around the world," he explained. "So you know, wherever you are you've got the strings with you and you've got the amazing arrangements behind songs like Drugs Don't Work and Lucky Man etcetera, but obviously that's not going to happen. That's had a sort of kibosh put on it."

He added: "I think In the midst of everything I think just recording it - it's a bit of a cliche when they say it was cathartic or whatever, but it really was."

When Chris Moyles asked how much he allowed himself to play with the original tracks, he said: "I will not mess with people's heads on this album. I'm not gonna suddenly start Sonnet then go [gestures].

Though the Wigan bard doesn't plan to mess around with the original songs, he does believe they get better and even more meaningful through as they age.

He explained: "Sometimes 'cause you've let yourself go when you wrote [a song], doesn't matter how old you were. You've tapped into something that's timeless and it's about the human condition and the more experiences and the more triumphs and traumas you experience in life, potentially the deeper that lyric cuts.

"So with that you hope, if your voice isn't shot and you've gained a little more maturity, maybe you could bring a bit more depth out of that line and I noticed that singing Drugs Don't Work over the years. It's just getting more and more powerful and heavy."

Quizzed if he thinks the new acoustic album will introduce him to a whole new generation of fans who won't have heard Urban Hymns the first time around, Ashcroft replied: "Yeah totally. I think you can see it when Liam [Gallagher] plays a festival or something like that. When I played Finsbury Park with him a few years ago, I’d say the majority of the audience was under 30 and it's great to see that.

"It's a bit like when I was lucky enough to play with The Stones a couple of years ago. It was really mind blowing for me to see that cross-generational fan base.

"Whole families. you know, Grandad, son, grandson, granddaughter. All in one group together. That's the power of music and songs and tunes and melodies and performers that are on that level."

Richard Ashcroft's Acoustic Hymns Vol. 1 album is set for release on 29 October 2021.

See its artwork here:

Richard Ashcroft Acoustic Hymns Vol.
Richard Ashcroft Acoustic Hymns Vol. Picture: Press

READ MORE: Richard Ashcroft regains rights to Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve

Acoustic Hymns Vol. 1 tracklist:

1. Bittersweet Symphony
2. A Song For The Lovers
3. Sonnet
4. C’mon People (We’re Making It Now)
5. Weeping Willow
6. Lucky Man
7. This Thing Called Life
8. Space & Time
9. Velvet Morning
10. Break The Night With Colour
11. One Day
12. The Drugs Don’t Work