The Verve guitarist Nick McCabe has spoken to NME about 20 years of ‘Urban Hymns’, competing with Oasis, working with Liam Gallagher, the state of guitar music, and whether the band could ever reunite. Read our full Q&A with McCabe below.
This week sees the band celebrate the release of the 20th anniversary edition of their seminal album ‘Urban Hymns‘, and McCabe is full of fond memories of the band at their peak.
“I’d come out of a relationship a year before,” McCabe told NME, looking back at 1997. “After I got sacked from The Verve, a couple months later my ex ditched me as well. So I thought I’d better get on with having a good time and I made a point of doing that. So 1997 was probably the start of my bad behaviour and I did have a lot of fun on it.”
He continued: “I think anyone who follows us knows that we’re inconsistent. When we were good we were on fire. Even when we were bad, there was still a spark of negative energy to it. Somehow everything just floated together perfectly and that’s one of those times – there’s so many of those.”
What do you think about the state of guitar music in 2017?
“I don’t think it’s dead – I think it’s being fetishised and given too much respect. These days it’s a paradox. One of my many soap boxes is city bankers buying Gibson guitars and putting them on the wall. I think that sort of symbolizes what has happened to music in general. It has sort of lost its original essence and it is seen as a class now – you can go online and watch Youtube videos on how to become adept in whatever you play. While that is a healthy thing and spawns a lot of great music, the feeling isn’t the same. The feeling has gone from the ’60s notion of rebel music to all the confused stages that it’s been on the way from there to here. The ’90s was still part of a broader culture. It wasn’t given the [same] respect. Even though we were all about the music, it was kind of a culture for us and our friends. I think that has manifested in the music. Whereas these days, music is seen as some kind of alter to worship at. And I don’t think it should be treated so hygienically.”
Do you think there’s the possibility to spark more protest songs because of political mess we find ourselves in?
“That’s the thing about shitty times – they generally make great music. It is sort of happening. Kate Tempest for example, that’s amazing – almost too amazing. It’s like she owns that protest thing at the moment. It would be nicer to have the issues sorted out rather than the music but if we get some good music out of it, so be it.”
You spoke about competition between bands – Liam Gallagher actually sang on the record with you guys. What was he like to work with?
“It wasn’t like working with anybody really – he just turned up at the studio and the next thing we’re playing and he’s in a booth next to us singing. One of the things that is often forgotten about Oasis, particularly in those days, is that it was really in their blood. My other half is a tour manager and worked around them for years and years and said wherever they were they had a guitar in their hand – any time of day. I think that was one of the things, apart from going out and getting wrecked, that we were both on a similar trajectory for, in that we were dead serious about music. I can’t vouch for them in later days because our paths have obviously diverged. It’s weird to talk about it now but it was one of those situations that was like, ‘Oh! Nice! Liam’s singing on this’.”
Do you think you could relate having gone through a similar heightened success point in the late 90s?
“It was weird watching them because they were our support band. I picked their tape out of the three I was given to pick from. The thing I heard on that tape was an early version of ‘Columbia’ and I just thought it was amazing. It was the music initially. The Beatles thing didn’t really come in until much later on with Oasis. They were a mix of lots of different influences and you couldn’t really put your finger on any of them at this point. I used to go and watch their sound check every night and I remember the first night they were stood on stage looking at me like, ‘What the fuck are you doing at our sound check?’ I was familiar with the attitude because I think we were like that. We were on a defensive back foot all the time.
“Later on they relaxed about that – once they knew that we were well disposed and we probably had a bad attitude for not mixing with bands. One of the things Richard instigated was mostly keeping separate from mingling with other people whereas my nature was to be a bit friendlier. They were one of the few bands that we allowed into the circle just because they were of similar backgrounds and the mindset was there. One of the things people loved about us was that we’d taken isolationism into a belligerent form of arrogance. And I think Richard is still guilty of that to this day to be honest. People don’t really know how to handle that because it’s generally not the way you conduct yourself in day-to-day life. I think there was a tacit understanding between the two bands and once we got over that front of hostility, we just got on with being friends.”
Do you think they would ever reunite?
“I think it’s a matter of time. They’d be stupid not to. I get the feeling sometimes that they’re just playing. It’s like mischief. They know that it is on the cards eventually and they’re having a bit of fun with it. But you know I’m wrong about most things.”
Do you chat to Richard much these days?
“No, not at all. I tried to call him last year about whether we should do anything to celebrate the 20th anniversary [of ‘Urban Hymns’] and at that point Jazz Summers was still with us so there was talk about it all .I spoke to his wife for a couple of hours and that was all civil, quite a nice chat but didn’t hear back from him. That’s kind of where we’re all at now.”
So you were up for something but it just didn’t happen?
“At the time of ‘Forth’, when that all went to pot at the end, Jazz was still asking us to… we had dates planned in Australia and New Zealand and he told me to say, ‘Do you want to do it?’ and I said of course but only if everybody else wants to do it. What I got back from Richard via Jazz was that he said, ‘I can’t think of anything I’d rather not do’. That’s where it got left really. I wasn’t in a great place with my lifestyle back then so for me to be so optimistic back then was a minor miracle in itself. These days I’ve got this stoic, ‘Anything could be made to work’. And I felt that back in 2007/2008 but I’m a lot more together these days. I think in my mind that was a genuine offer of ‘come on, don’t worry about it, we can make it happen’, but obviously I’m the only one who feels like that.”
“I think it’s just whoever’s angry about what, that’s destructive in and of itself. It takes a lot of effort to be angry and Si and Richard – they’ve got grievances that they’ll never sort out. I feel like I made peace at some point with Richard and a lot of this stuff could be easily sorted out with conversation but such things don’t work out. I look at 2008 as the year I managed to re-frame things quite effectively. Like Dav, for example, he played with The Verve on stage on those last few festival dates – he always looks back on it and says why couldn’t we make it work – it was brilliant. He feels a sort of confusion that he can’t really resolve. I think I’ve just let go of it. If I can do anything that will be materially hopeful to making things work I will but I’m not going to lose sleep over it and he shouldn’t either. I’ve [let stuff go] already. I’ve been through bitterness and all the rest of it. The great thing about Forth is coming out of the other end of that because in a lot of respects I think we tied it up in the best possible way that we could at the time… I’d never say no – that’s the fact of it, really.”
The 20th anniversary edition of ‘Urban Hymns’ is out now
Straight from the NME