A Storm In Hammersmith - The Verve, Hammersmith Palais, 14th August 1997
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
A little trip down memory lane....*
1997 was a big year for me, I had got promoted in my first job back in London, I bought my first flat in July, I was best man from my lovely friends Nick and Heather. Life was good.
But music was even better - Blur had dropped the cheeky cockney bit and gone lo-fi with their eponymous fifth album. Radiohead had gone full on space-prog-rock with OK Computer. Daft Punk emerged from nowhere with Homework and redesigned dance music. It was great. Except Be Here Now, Oasis’ third album, which was overblown nonsense and proof cocaine is not a good thing...
But the thing I was most looking forward to was the return of The Verve, who had imploded prematurely after their marvellous second album, A Northern Soul. But they were back...Back...BACK! My friend Lozzer and I had tickets to see their return gig at Hammersmith Palais in June and were looking forward to hearing their new material. But we were gutted - “Mad” Richard (as the NME referred to him) had lost his voice, so the gig was postponed to August.
The Verve were known on the indie scene, not major stars, so getting tickets for a relatively small venue was not hard. But three days before the original gig, that all changed. Bittersweet Symphony was released and was MASSIVE. This was a bonafide hit and it was everywhere. It marked a huge change for them - A Northern Soul had reached 13 in the album charts in the UK. Urban Hymns which came out just after the rescheduled gig sold over 3 million copies just in the UK, and 10 million world-wide.
So when our rescheduled gig came round in August 1997, demand was through the roof. As Loz and I walked down the road to the venue, we heard the familiar call of the touts “buy or sell”. Curiosity got the better of us and we asked how much touts were selling tickets for. We were stunned to hear our £8.50 tickets were going for £150 - f***!!!
Loz and I stepped to one side....£150 each was a lot of money, especially as I had just bought a new home and was haemorrhaging money in IKEA. Should we sell?? But we loved A Northern Soul, so we steeled ourselves to resist the lure of the touts and headed in.
As soon as we stepped inside we knew we had made the right choice. The Palais was packed, hot and sweaty on a summer’s night and cliche as it may be, the atmosphere was electric.
We grabbed a beer, found our place on the floor (always go to the left, no idea why!). We surveyed the crowd, britpop and indie hipsters everywhere. Stood immediately to our left was Paul Gallagher, Liam and Noel’s brother. Famous by default rather than anything he had done, but it was still curious to see him on the floor. However, to our immediate right was Jarvis Cocker. Now, that WAS exciting. But we held our cool. No one wants to be bothered at a gig, so our interactions were kept to a surreptitious glance every now and then. Good to see him out with the common people.
Instead, we focused on the stage. The Verve emerged to a huge roar, launching into A New Decade, the opener from A Northern Soul. By the third song, This Is Music I was tunelessly bellowing along - “I stand accused, just like you or being born without a silver spoon”. Poor Jarvis must have regretted his chosen place to stand; more likely, he was too mesmerised by Ashcroft to notice me.
The set focused on that album, with just four new songs from Urban Hymns, which would be released a few weeks later. But of the four songs, The Drugs Don’t Work was the standout. Beautiful, gentle, moving and clearly an absolute monster hit waiting to happen.
B-side A Man Called Sun was a highlight - “Everybody seems to know when he's around, He lifts me up and fades without a sound, Mr. Sun won't you shine?”. Doesn’t sound that impressive but when 2,500 sweaty Londoners are singing, it was amazing. On Your Own was just the lovely.
Closing with Bittersweet Symphony (which nearly took the ceiling off), History and Come Down, we headed to the tube, sweaty and elated. We had just seen a truly brilliant gig, one we would always remember. We also knew we would probably never see them up so close again.
If we'd sold the tickets, I doubt I could have told you what I would have spent the £150 on...I'm a lucky man indeed...
*Ticket image courtesy of Ron, aka eBay seller london_new-york_paris - thanks!