British photographer and filmmaker Chris Floyd’s memoirs with one of the UK’s most influential alternative rock groups The Verve is one of the most inspiring and eye-opening accounts in modern rock history.
After touring with the band in late 1996 and 1997, Floyd documented a one-of-a-kind recording, exploring the tour and promotions of the album in the UK, Ireland and the USA.
Two decades have now passed since the immense success of The Verve’s era-defining Urban Hymns, however, it still remains one of the biggest selling British albums of all time. Providing an insight into The Verve’s daily lives at that time, Floyd discusses all there is to know about a band which shaped Britain’s musical revolution to the new wave Britpop scene.
We spoke to Chris about his new book, The Verve: Photography by Chris Floyd.
Whenever you recall those days, touring with the band, what memory stands out the most?
“The long hours of just hanging around, either on a tour bus or in a dressing room or a hotel room, waiting for showtime and then the weird in-jokes that develop because of that dead time. The day of the show is the show. In those situations, the touring group (the band and the others on the bus with them) form themselves into a bubble and that bubble becomes virtually impenetrable to outsiders.
“It can become quite a strange environment, one without oxygen sometimes. But I also felt privileged to have been allowed into that world, a very tight group of friends who had known each other since their mid teens. It’s the ultimate legitimised gang experience, with music, travel and perks on top.”
Why did they welcome you into the fold?
“I think I was lucky enough to come along at a moment when they had been inside the recording bubble for about a year already and they seemed to have barely spoken to anybody. They were coming up to the point where they were going to start needing some things for publicity and press so it was handy to have me in the studio to shoot some pictures that they could use when the time came. Richard was quite canny about things like that.
“They knew me from the week I spent with them on Lollapalooza in 1994, almost three years earlier, and I had taken some great pictures of them then. So when I went down to visit them and they played me ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ for the first time I literally had my head blown off by it and all I had to do was ask if I could come back with my camera next week, to which they said yes.
“After that, I would just come and go on a whim and they never seemed to mind. I loved it. Being a photographer is quite a lonely thing. You never really meet the same people twice. You get to learn a superficial amount about a lot of things so I am a really good person to have on a pub quiz team. The downside of that is that you never belong anywhere, you’re not a part of a group or an organisation and sometimes I really wish I was.
“So for a year, I got to be a kind of proxy associate of this group, this organisation, and it felt comforting and reassuring in a strange way. In the end, though, I was able to provide a service that was useful.”
Can you share your favourite picture from the series, and explain why it’s special?
“That’s a Desert Island Discs question. It changes on a daily basis. Today, though, it would actually be the book’s cover image of Richard which was shot for the ‘Lucky Man’ single sleeve in SoHo, New York on October 1997. I just love the time and place element of it. The light, the buildings, the ‘New Yorkness’ of it.
“For years I couldn’t remember the actual cross street junction it was taken at but a couple of weeks ago I had the brainwave idea of using Google Streetview to locate it, which then turned out to be a lesson in how your memory can totally deceive you as the years go by. I wandered around the grid of SoHo streets, convinced that we shot it on Spring Street, looking for the possible cross street. All those streets are one-way streets so it was possible to narrow down the possibilities because of the direction the traffic was going on both of the streets in the picture.
“But in the end, it turned out that the street Richard is walking on was way further south than I had remembered and it turned out to have been on Grand Street, not Spring Street at all. I could also see from Streetview that the building on the left side of the picture nearest to the camera has now been demolished and had become an empty building site. Time, place, change, life moves on. The mish mash of manhole and utilities drain covers in front of him are all still exactly the same though. That was the clue that really clinched it.”
The Verve: Photographs by Chris Floyd is published by Reel Art Press. For further information and full list of stockists visit www.reelartpress.com.