Bittersweet no more: Rolling Stones pass Verve royalties to Richard Ashcroft




 

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones have ended one of the most acrimonious copyright disputes in British pop history, by granting Richard Ashcroft all future royalties from his 1997 song Bitter Sweet Symphony, performed by the Verve.

Ashcroft announced the news on the same day he won an Ivor Novello award for outstanding contribution to British music. In a statement he said:

Bitter Sweet Symphony reached No 2 in the UK and No 12 in the US, where it was also nominated for a Grammy for best rock song. It was the lead track from the album Urban Hymns, which reached No 1 in the UK and went 10-times platinum, eventually selling more than 10m copies worldwide. It remains the 19th highest-selling album of all time in the UK, ahead of the likes of Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water, Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell, and Ed Sheeran's x.

Bitter Sweet Symphony is one of the definitive British singles of the 1990s: a moody, existential anthem driven forward by a distinctive string motif. Those four seconds of strings were sampled from an orchestral recording of the Rolling Stones song The Last Time, but the rights were not fully cleared before the song was released.

Publishing company ABKCO, owned by Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein, argued that the Verve had used a larger portion of the sample than was agreed, and, following a lawsuit that was settled out of court, forced Ashcroft to relinquish the song's royalties and create a new songwriting credit: Jagger/Richards/Ashcroft. Following the decision, Ashcroft quipped: "This is the best song Jagger and Richards have written in 20 years."

But following an overture to Jagger and Richards from Ashcroft's management company, the pair "immediately, unhesitatingly and unconditionally agreed" to hand over the royalties. Ashcroft gave thanks to everyone involved in the deal: "My management Steve Kutner and John Kennedy, the Stones manager Joyce Smyth and Jody Klein (for actually taking the call), lastly a huge unreserved heartfelt thanks and respect to Mick and Keith. Music is power."

The Verve broke up in 1999, though they reformed in 2007 and released one further album, Forth. As well as one album with his band RPA & the United Nations of Sound, Ashcroft has also released five solo albums, the most recent, Natural Rebel, in 2018.


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