Richard Ashcroft 2022 - photographer Melanie Smith

Richard Ashcroft 2022 - photographer Melanie SmithRichard Ashcroft | Jamie Webster
AO Arena, Manchester
14th October 2022

Wigan’s own Richard Ashcroft returned to his roots and played to an enthusiastic crowd at Manchester’s AO Arena. The two-time Ivor Novello award-winning musical genius Richard Ashcroft has played a few select concerts this year as he promotes his latest album, Acoustic Hymns Volume 1 – which features 12 stripped-back reworked songs from his career. This was his penultimate gig and the biggest of this tour. A show full of nostalgic classic Verve hits, sprinkled with solo favourites, with a career-spanning three decades, there was plenty to choose from. Superfan Natalie Royale reviews and Melanie Smith takes photographs.

Liverpool-born singer Jamie Webster was in charge of warming up the crowd before the main event. The musician, referred to as the people’s poet, gave his all during a lively, energetic performance. Playing his hit songs Living For Yesterday, Weekend In Paradise and This Place, he really had the crowd bouncing. Jamie’s lyrics concerned modern-day issues such as the recent Covid pandemic and how that was dealt with by those in charge, making his music very relatable, and resulting in repeated chants of “F@*k the Tories” from the crowd.

Jamie Webster 2022 - photographer Melanie Smith From the minute the 51-year-old former Verve frontman swaggered onto the stage, looking effortlessly cool in his trademark bucket hat and shades, he had everyone’s attention. He kicked off the show with Surprised By The Joy, a song from his 2018 album Natural Rebel – which focuses on his well-documented battle with and recovery from mental health problems. Iconic tracks such as Sonnet and Break The Night With Colour were followed by a more melancholic, Elvis-esque rendition of Velvet Morning.

With an amazing performance of his 2006 hit Music Is Power and 21,000 enchanted fans all singing his lyrics back to him, the power was definitely in Ashcroft’s hands. Despite the size of the venue, the gig felt just as intimate as the smaller venues I attended on this tour. Ashcroft roared “I feel like we are the only ones alive” during Hold On, and you really believed that to be the case – there was a palpable connection not only to Ashcroft and the band but to each and every other audience member singing along beside you.

Richard Ashcroft 2022 - photographer Melanie Smith It was a joy to see lead guitarist Steve Wyreman back on stage with Richard, as he has been Stateside for the previous shows of this tour; his presence definitely gave the gig a rockier feel, as his intricate riffs wove in between Ashcroft’s gravelly vocals, which really lifted the songs to another level.

The often outspoken Ashcroft said few words in between songs, instead letting his music do the talking. The only time he did speak was to seemingly acknowledge his long standing fans, thanking “those who have stuck by me” before playing Verve classic Life’s An Ocean from their 1995 album A Northern Soul, which went down really well with the crowd.

Richard Ashcroft - 14th Oct - AEO Arena Manchester © Melanie Smith The encore started with C’Mon People We’re Making It Now, which Richard performed solo, just him and his guitar under a spotlight (and with 21,000 backing singers) until the rest of the band joined him back on stage for a rousing ending, which included Ashcroft shadow boxing his mic stand. He then did an amazing rendition of Money (That’s What I Want), ending with the all-time classic Bittersweet Symphony, which had every single audience member on their feet, singing along, arms in the air.

Knowing that the tour is coming to an end, this moment really was bittersweet and Richard never fails to put on an amazing show full of passion and energy – please don’t leave it too long until Volume 2 Richard.

Richard Ashcroft 2022 - photographer Melanie Smith

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You can follow Richard Ashcroft on his website | Facebook | Instagram

Jamie Webster can be found at his website | Facebook | Twitter

All words by guest reviewer Natalie Royale, this is Natalie’s first review on Louder Than War.

All photos by Melanie Smith – Louder Than War | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Portfolio

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