Richard Ashcroft - Preston Guildhall - 22.1.06

If your career is in the doldrums and your album sales are flagging who do you call? Coldplay of course. When Embrace had been dropped by their record label and two thirds of the band were working day jobs to make ends meet, Coldplay's Chris Martin donated his song "Gravity" and now Embrace are major players, selling out stadiums and having number one albums. The same midas touch was applied to rakish ex Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft. Gone, but certainly not forgotten from public view Martin invited Ashcroft to sing "Bittersweet Symphony" to an audience of millions for the Live 8 concert and proclaimed him "the worlds greatest singer". This patronage of the Wigan wonder surely prompted fans to sell out his low key January tour in record time. With his new album "Keys To The World" receiving mixed reviews it's up to Richard to remind us that his Live 8 comeback was no fluke and like a prize fighter coming out of retirement Ashcroft is here to remind us that the champ is back and he's here to stay.

As the gorgeous John Barry theme from Midnight Cowboy is played, the lights dim and swaggering across the stage with cocksure abandon is the princely presence of Sir Richard of Ashcroft. Wasting no time in unveiling new material Richard plays the title track of his latest album. Some might say, a typical Ashcroft style mid tempo ballad, full of high drama and emotion which includes the most 80s of instruments, the saxophone. The crowd cheer triumphantly during the melancholy of the Verve single "Sonnet" as Richard lays bare his soul. "Music Is Power" is an anthem complete with guitar solo while the orchestral flourishes are instantly recognizable from the debut solo single "Song For The Lovers".

The seminal song from "A Northern Soul", "History" is the undisputed highlight. The crowds mobile phones are up and backlit as they point them in the direction of Ashcroft as his rich, textured voice soothes and comforts the crowd.

The only disappointment of the gig is the sentimental, weary dirge that is "Sweet Brother Malcolm", a track which shouldn't  really have been included on the new album. All is forgiven though when it's followed by "The Drugs Don't Work" which still sounds fresh and invigorating all these years on. "Words Just Get In The Way" is a piano led Springsteenesque song with a nice line in country guitar.

Returning on his own just minutes after a run through "Lucky Man", Richard unexpectedly tackles his contribution to the UNKLE track "Lonely Souls". A brave step to take singing solo over the beats and lush orchestration, but he pulls it off with ease. The band join him on-stage for the new single "Break The Night With Colour", a song that grows on you each and every time you hear it and live it's even edgier.

Richard Ashcroft knows how to finish a gig like no other. The opening is undeniable, the crowd cheer in recognition as the first few notes are played of "Bittersweet Symphony". Peering through his shades, raising a hand in the air, he announces with plucky determination "Thankyou for letting me be myself". This cold January night was certainly one to remember!

Words: Nicholas Paul Godkin
Photos: Barrie Thomspon -

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