It be­gan with adrenalin in Sh­effield, and ended with Rob­bie Wil­liams in a cas­tle in County Meath.

Aged 11, I moved from Bolton to a strange new town called Skelmers­dale. On my first morn­ing at school I sat in an English class. Some­one be­hind started throw­ing rub­bers at me and whis­per­ing “Is your name Si­mon, ha ha, are you Si­mon Le Bon? ” Over a decade later I was do­ing my very first gig with The Verve, and the same rub­ber thrower, Richard Ashcroft, was The Verve’s front­man. Me, Richard and Si­mon [Jones, bass] and Pete [Sal­is­bury, drums] had all kind of learnt mu­sic to­gether, piss­ing around as teenagers in dif­fer­ent bands. They started the Verve with Nick [McCabe, gui­tar] af­ter sixth form, but we al­ways kept in touch. They’d kind of split up, as they had done many times, af­ter A North­ern Soul in 1995. I was at col­lege in Leeds, and Richard came over for a cou­ple of nights and banged out th­ese songs – Son­net, The Drugs Don’t Work – on an acous­tic gui­tar. You could tell they were great songs, just from that. Orig­i­nally he was go­ing to do a solo al­bum, so I was brought in and we worked with Pete and Si­mon. I think they missed Nick’s ear and his mu­si­cal­ity, and his sonic-ness, and when he came back in they de­cided to carry on as The Verve. My first gig was a packed Sh­effield Lead­mill. I was the sec­ond gui­tar/ key­board player, ab­so­lutely shit­ting my­self. The last gig of any kind I’d done was years be­fore play­ing to about 10 peo­ple in Wi­gan. The Verve were about to go mas­sive, Bit­ter Sweet Sym­phony had been get­ting played all over the ra­dio and was go­ing to be the cli­max of the set. In the days be­fore lap­tops and stress-free sync­ing, I had the nerver­ack­ing job of man­u­ally trig­ger­ing the ‘liti­gious’ Andrew Loog Old­ham/Bit­ter Sweet Sym­phony sam­ple. I just had a sam­pler with the loop on, and I just re­mem­ber look­ing down at my fin­ger shak­ing un­con­trol­lably above the key­board, think­ing, “Je­sus, please just get it vaguely in time.” Richard’s re­la­tion­ship with Nick had bro­ken down again, and Nick had left the band [dur­ing a Euro­pean tour in June 1998]. But we’d com­mit­ted to some fes­ti­val dates and a US tour. We got BJ Cole in on lap steel, and there were some re­ally good shows, but me and BJ couldn’t fill that huge sonic gap – Nick’s so much the sound of The Verve. Slane Cas­tle in Ire­land was the last show of the Ur­ban Hymns tour. We were head­lin­ing with peo­ple like the Man­ics and Rob­bie Wil­liams. It was a great show – there were 100,000 peo­ple stretch­ing off into the dis­tance singing ev­ery word, and Mo Mowlam danc­ing at the side of the stage. Af­ter­wards, we ended up back at the ho­tel. I think John Squire was there. We were all do­ing th­ese hor­ri­ble cham­pagne and te­quila slam­mers, the most re­volt­ing thing. I don’t think it had ac­tu­ally been de­cided def­i­nitely, “this is fin­ished”, but there was a sense of, “I can’t re­ally see this go­ing on.” I think they re­alised that they couldn’t do The Verve with­out Nick. It was sad. A few years ago I met a cou­ple of Ir­ish peo­ple who’d been at the fes­ti­val, and they said, “It was amaz­ing, but you do re­alise that most of the peo­ple were there to see Rob­bie Wil­liams?” That slightly ru­ined my mem­ory of it, and brought home the fact that you can spend years mak­ing what you see as the most beau­ti­ful, se­ri­ous, mov­ing pop mu­sic, mirac­u­lously man­age to get it on prime time ra­dio, and still the pub­lic turn round and say, “Great! But we re­ally just wanted Rob­bie Wil­liams.” Of course, the band got back to­gether years later, but for what­ever rea­sons, they didn’t want me back. I’d say I was dis­ap­pointed, ’cos I’d have loved to have been play­ing a lot of those songs again. Luck­ily I’d been do­ing a lot of other work. If I hadn’t, I might’ve been more pissed off.

The Mag­netic North’s Prospect Of Skelmers­dale is out now on Full Time Hobby. The band play at the Golden Dome of En­light­en­ment in Skelmers­dale in May.


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