Richard Ashcroft
@ M.E.N. Arena, Manchester

Thanks to an ever loyal fan base, Richard Ashcroft took on the Manchester Evening News Arena in December with glorious results. Though I am a huge Ashcroft fan I still find it surprising that he has the pulling power to fill venues with such a huge capacity, as he is not at the forefront of public attention at this time. Richard Ashcroft albums seem to come with relatively little media hype or attention, though they are fantastic lessons in song writing, and tend to be preceded by one mainstream friendly single. It is due to this lack of publicity that I was surprised when Richard Ashcroft announced gigs at the Lancashire County Cricket ground and the M.E.N. arena in the summer and winter of 2006 respectively, which are large capacity venues usually showcasing the biggest artists and bands of the moment. Having said all this, the crowd that flock to his gigs tend to be the hardcore, committed Ashcroft following that ensure a rapturous welcome when the soul man makes his entrance.

Sticking largely with his solo material, Dickie runs through the highlights from his three solo outings, delighting the crowd with older songs such as ‘Song for the lovers,’ ‘Check the meaning,’ and newer offerings such as ‘Paint the night with colour,’ ‘Music is power,’ and ‘Keys to the world.’ One of the highlights of the show for myself was a song from his second album ‘Human Conditions,’ which is called ‘Science of Silence.’ The song is a perfect showcase for Mr Ashcroft’s soulful, almost ad-lib sounding vocal, where he sings about living on planet earth with a hippie-esque take on the perspective of living on a spinning rock in space. The huge screen behind him during this song shows various images and culminates with a view of the earth from space and gradually zooms in until we are looking at a very close view of the venue we are watching from. This was a particularly memorable touch for this song, which I am sure he adapts to whatever city and venue he is playing in.

Not one to disappoint his public Dicke also pulled out a few of the old Verve classics such as ‘Sonnet,’ ‘Lucky man,’ and ‘The Drugs Don’t Work,’ finishing in the encore with the ultimate Ashcroft moment, ‘Bittersweet Symphony.’ All in all this was a thoroughly entertaining event, with everything you would expect and hope for from a Richard Ashcroft gig. Part soul man, part indie hero, all genius.

Piers Edwards