My United: Richard Ashcroft
Even musicians can draw inspiration from footballers, according to the legendary singer-songwriter Richard Ashcroft.
The former Verve frontman is a huge Manchester United supporter and claims there are similarities with performing in front of thousands of fans, whether it be as a sportsperson, or as an artist.
In December 2018, Ashcroft spoke to Inside United magazine as part of our ‘My United’ series, in which famous Reds enthusiasts tell us all about their love for the club. Read on to discover how Richard became a Red, hear his fond memories of Ron Atkinson and delve into his adoration for George Best...
First of all Richard, why United?
“That’s a really good question. I come from such a hybrid area. Skelmersdale, built near to where I was brought up, was a new town for Liverpool. So there was a real mixture of football supporters at school. There were United fans, and Liverpool and Everton fans whose families had moved from Liverpool to Skelmersdale. But essentially it was an old friend of mine. There was a family who lived across the road who used to go to watch United. They took me to my first match when I was about 10 or 11.”
What do you remember of that first match?
“It is that cliche moment of seeing the stadium and the green of the pitch for the first time. When I first started going to Old Trafford it was when Ron Atkinson was the manager, and we would always be ‘nearly there’ in the league, but with amazing crowds. Everyone packed into the Stretford End – those were the days! When The Verve kicked off I missed a lot of matches during the ‘glory years’, but I was there for the barren years. But as most fans who were there at that time will say, those were great days. Old Trafford used to be amazingly loud. You know what I felt when I used to go and watch matches there when I was much younger? You just felt that lineage – that everyone from the past was there, even the past players, that they were still in that stadium with you. But what I liked the most was that back in the day when people paid their hard-earned money, if they saw a bit of artistry and magic out on that field that day, I think it made them feel like it was money well spent. And I want to say hello to anyone on the left-hand side of the Stretford End who used to throw a pie on my head!”
Your all-time United hero is George Best – why?
“George Best brought an artistry to football. Football, music and art have always combined. Muhammad Ali brought it to boxing and George took it to another level. Not only that, I think he suffered the type of pressure that no other footballer had ever been put under. And he suffered from the demons that many a person suffers from. I think when you put that combination together with the god-given genius that he had, it transcends the sport. I think that George Best embodied the spirit of Sir Matt Busby and Manchester United, the emergence and rebirth after Munich. His youth, his audacity.”
Is performing on the pitch as an artist, like Best, similar to performing on stage as a musician?
“I can see everything in George in me when I perform. I don’t like to be aware that I’m doing a concert; that is when it’s at its best, when I’m in the music. Like when George was at his best on the pitch, he was in the moment – he was in another dimension at that point to the other players. There is that famous moment against Chelsea in the League Cup at Old Trafford in 1970 in the mud, when everyone has a go at chopping him down, but his balance, his movement, his ‘bendability’ – he is like a slalom skier – and his genius carries him though to score before the Stretford End. And he drops to his knees before the crowd in joy. You’re looking for that in music, too, you want to feel that in your music – how George felt at that moment. I think my music is real. The Stone Roses’ music is the same. And George’s story is real. It was painful – and we can all relate to that kind of pain. He was the first superstar of football. But at that time it was difficult to get him any protection for his genius.”
Your recent album Natural Rebel was promoted in Belfast with a large billboard featuring a picture you outside George Best’s home. How important to you was that visit?
“The cultural circle was complete when I last played in Belfast in the summer. I went to visit George’s street and house where he was born and brought up. It was interesting to think that he had kicked a ball against that very same kerb that I now stood before – I like stuff like that! When The Verve won at the Brits we didn’t turn up at the ceremony. We got them to beam us live at some other venue and we got George Best to present us with our award. I don’t think there was another United fan in the band – but I wrote those tunes so I was calling the shots! It goes deep. When I play places like Belfast it’s one of those places where you can leave everything at the door – and that brings us together. My music is for me, my fans and my family – I don’t push any agenda when I play live.”
The musician was the lead singer for alternative rock band the Verve during the 1990s and then again between 2007-2009, but he has also been a part of RPA & The United Nations of Sound.
As well as being in a band, Ashcroft has had an incredibly successful career as a solo artist and has released four albums.
This article first appeared in the December 2018 edition of the Inside United magazine. You can subscribe here.
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