MUSIC is power.

That is what Richard Ashcroft wrote in his 2006 top 20 single – and it was not just a snappy song title.

From a school ‘idiot’ to an Ivor Novello-winning artist, music has transformed the former Verve frontman’s life.

And he is reminded of music’s power every time he steps on stage and feels a connection with thousands of people.

Speaking exclusively to Weekend before his headline set at Neighbourhood Weekender, Richard also said he understands how much the festival means to Warrington – a town often in the shadow of Manchester and Liverpool in terms of live music.

He said: “In a way this gig is almost like the end of the tour I’ve just done which is a similar thing in the sense of playing the alternatives to the standard places.

“I think that’s important because gigs are so expensive now with all the travel and everything and when you’ve usually got to go 20-odd miles for a show, it’s really nice when it’s on your doorstep. It’s a good feeling.”

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That was the inspiration behind The Verve’s gig at Haigh Hall in Richard’s hometown of Wigan.

And when the 47-year-old graces the stage at Neighbourhood it will mark exactly 21 years since that date.

He added: “When The Verve played Haigh Hall you got a sense of how much it meant to Wigan. I appreciate that.”

Richard also knows former Woolston High student Simon Moran – the founder of SJM Records and Neighbourhood Weekender – which was another motivation for playing the festival.

He said: “He’s a Warrington lad and he told me the reaction to the gigs they’ve done there so far has been really positive. That’s a good reason to be doing it.

“It’s up north for me too and that’s definitely a motivation when you’re playing so close to where you’re from.”

Richard is no stranger to Warrington either. In fact, a visit to the town informed his whole music career.

He added: “A big moment for me was seeing the Stone Roses at Legends in Warrington. I travelled from Wigan to see that gig that night. It was pivotal.

“Everyone has that gig that influenced them and that for me was the night that changed it all. They were playing an album that is now 30 years old and is seen as a classic. It’s so amazing that I just so happened to be around at that time. This thing that moved me wasn’t a flash in the pan, it wasn’t just me being overawed by a live experience – I was seeing history.

“That was inspiring and so when we had our turn it was amazing.”

Richard is hoping history will be in the making again on Sunday night in Warrington.

He said: “Sometimes playing festivals can be difficult for artists. It depends what sort of energy you are putting across and what you’ve got in your set.

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“Have you got stuff that people care about or know? In my case I’m lucky enough that I’ve got tunes that are embedded in people’s minds and they want to sing them with me.

“It’s a completely different experience so I’m looking forward to having that moment again with 20,000 people doing The Drugs Don’t Work, A Song For The Lovers and all my biggest songs and celebrating that.

“The greatest honour for me is the fact that some of my songs have gone that deep into people’s lives and when you get to sing it together it’s powerful stuff because you’re dealing with people’s memories and emotions.

“When you get that and times it by thousands it’s a really powerful thing. It’s going to be exciting and it sounds like it’s going to be a good weekend in general.”

From the Stone Roses to The Verve and the enduring appeal of Oasis, there is no doubt that the north west music scene of the late 80s and early 90s lives on and Richard has been thinking a lot about that recently.

He added: “What I noticed when I did a couple of shows with Liam Gallagher at Finsbury Park and Old Trafford Cricket Ground is that there was this amazing mix of ages.

“It’s not often now with music that you get that eclectic mix of ages. Usually it’s quite tribal – ‘they go to this, we do that’ – and I think it’s interesting that part of culture has been passed on and it’s being appreciated by a new set of people.

“Just like we appreciate things that were made before we were born. The cool thing about the north west is we’ve got a great tradition of things that are cast iron classic. It’s a phenomenal thing that a region should create so much good music.”

Richard wants that music tradition to continue with the next generation and reckons the key is for young people not to feel like they are being held back or have to conform.

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He said: “I was banned from music at school. I couldn’t take my GCSE and probably rightfully so. I was being an idiot. But ultimately not in a million years would you have said that I’d go on win an Ivor Novello award. Never at that age.

“And that is the constant nagging thing in my head. There are probably thousands of people out there who think they can’t do something.

“But they probably can. It just takes the breaking of that initial wall down that they or other people have constructed.

“Once you bring that down and have the confidence to make that initial step the rest can follow.”

Richard went from being that kid at Up Holland High School who struggled to fit in to writing Urban Hymns, one of the best selling albums in UK chart history.

He added: “I’ve gone from dreaming at a Roses gig to writing something that’s sold more copies than Bat Out Of Hell.

“But before that I was in a school where nobody expected me to achieve much. Music has been my way to say: ‘I’m going to do things my own way’.

“Within this industry unfortunately there are many other people sending a different message to the youth which is: ‘You do it our way’ and ‘We’ll tell you if it’s good enough’. Whereas my education came from bands that were very individual and eccentric in a way and did it their own way. When you play live near your hometown, you’re saying to the younger ones check this out – it is possible, it’s not all just on TV.”

Richard is also hoping fans keep their phones in their pockets during the Neighbourhood gig.

He said: “We’re right on that precipice where technology is beginning to take over so it’s strange when you hear thousands of people singing your song because it means so much. It’s a very human feeling when a lot of experiences are now screen-based.

“That’s why the Warrington gig will be good because when we do all join together it just reminds us that we’re so connected. It makes music bigger than politics. If you make any kind of life out of playing music of any kind you’re blessed and it should be celebrated. It is a great thing and we’ve all got the potential to do it.”

Richard Ashcroft headlines Neighbourhood Weekender at Victoria Park this Sunday. Tickets are still available and be bought online, at the Parr Hall box office without booking fees or at the festival gate