The Verve in Wigan 20 years on: On top of the world

Nick McCabe
Nick McCabe

How could The Verve’s all-conquering Haigh Hall outing be anything but bittersweet for guitarist Nick McCabe?

Just a year before, the Haydock musician insists, his band “couldn’t get arrested” in Wigan.

Thirty-three thousand music fans bellowing out your latest hits, in the shadow of the town’s most famous address, is something of a turnaround then.

Within the year the four-piece would be in tatters though, McCabe suffering from exhaustion and his fractious bond with Richard Ashcroft severed once more.

But McCabe recalls the backstage atmosphere being “brotherly, celebratory”, even if, front-of-house, he still bridles at the raucous crowd’s treatment of the late singer-songwriter John Martyn, a personal hero, as he manfully struggled through his set, to scant recognition.

In the lead-up to the gathering, the brainchild of their manager Jazz Summer, every opportunity was taken to savour the experience, he says.

He remembers “partying with my brother and various friends three days solid, the payback after a year of sleeping on floors and being hundreds of miles away; random punters giving me grief in pubs; zooming round Haigh Hall in golf buggies, like an idiot – 24 years old and having fun generally.”

Like all bands, combining fiercely independent talents, the definition of ‘hometown’ gig is sometimes a loose association though.

McCabe told the Post: “I think it was a big deal for the actual Wigan lad, Richard (he’s from Appley Bridge).

“The most significant aspect of it for myself and no doubt other guys in The Verve, was the celebratory aspect for those that were with us from Day One.

“(It was) very weird to see this massive new contingent though; we couldn’t get arrested in Wigan a mere year previously.”

One of the standout moments for the guitarist, on a night where the chart-chomping Urban Hymns was nearly played in full, was one of the album’s deeper cuts.

“I think playing Catching the Butterfly, a particularly psychedelic piece of music, somehow being accepted by 30,000 plus people and blasting the whole of Wigan struck me as surreal right there in the moment,” he added.

“Scraping up ruined friends and family at the end of the night was also ‘memorable’.”

He acknowledges that while there was a sense of satisfaction, at the culmination of Haigh Hall, this was concurrently set against feelings of “exhaustion and confusion”, referencing his own parlous physical state, at the end of a momentous year for The Verve.

For those nostalgic to revisit the euphoria of Haigh Hall, it’s perhaps not surprising that a Stone Roses-esque resurrection in 2018, in the wake of the band’s third split, in 2009, isn’t on the cards.

McCabe added: “Richard has slammed the doors shut to The Verve reunions. The three of us are on good terms however. Maybe we can do a double bill – Richard Ashcroft plus session guys, The Verve plus some of the talented individuals we know. A twofer.”

Until then, he’s philosophical regarding Haigh Hall’s ultimate place in The Verve’s backstory.

“We were an erratic band, some nights we amazed even ourselves, some nights we were dreadful,” he said.

“This was our pro-phase; the extremes were less dramatic by then. On the other hand, for Wigan, I guess a good 95 per cent of the crowd had never seen us before.

“Maybe that has a large part to play in peoples’ recollections.

“I understand from many accounts it was some sort of ‘big deal’ for Wigan. I have to defer to the greater narrative when it comes to the significance of the gig versus the history of the band.”