Elbow: Cast of thousands

By Andre Upston

After 20 years of skirting the fringes of mainstream in the UK, it finally seems that Elbow’s days of being treasured by a few and ignored by many are over. The Northern England five-piece will swap arenas for two intimate nights at The Powerstation in Auckland later this month.

'Lyrically I have to go away and twist my own arm into working. I draft and redraft and redraft.' - Guy Garvey. Photo / Supplied
'Lyrically I have to go away and twist my own arm into working. I draft and redraft and redraft.' - Guy Garvey. Photo / Supplied

It's my guess that those readers who are partial to cardiac-inducing hard house or moshpit-friendly death metal have already left the building. Through no one's fault, there are Ukrainian ukulele ensembles with more of a profile in New Zealand than Elbow.

"We always felt like the bridesmaid at a wedding," explains the charming and loquacious Guy Garvey from his hometown of Bury. "And we were happy there, we were making a living and we were making enough to raise children and make more records, and that was the endgame from day one. Then suddenly it was like, 'Wow, we can play much bigger venues and bigger festival slots and more people wanna know who we are'."

Shining bright as the sun in a shop full of candles, their breakthrough song 'One Day Like This' from the 2008 Mercury Award-winning album The Seldom Seen Kid arrived like a field goal in overtime, with its life-affirming chorus adding gravitas to television coverage of the European Championship, the FA Cup, and the Beijing and Winter Olympics among many others.

"It just started getting synched to lots of different television programmes, and it put us on the map where most of the people in the UK are concerned. It was a lovely thing and it was only at that point that we realised quite how loved we've been in our own country. I thought maybe we'd peaked but it doesn't feel like it all of a sudden."

Their rise in fortune means that by the time they set foot in The Powerstation, they will have performed 71 shows across the UK, Europe and the US in the last year.
Owning a comfortable space between the sweeping dynamics of Sigur Rós and the melodic chest-beating bravado of U2, Garvey believes Elbow's music "either ends up being dramatic or fun or melancholy and introspective or incredibly romantic - these are the kinds of music we all love. We're always looking, we're always moving and we're always trying to better ourselves.

"There's a fascination with finding new sounds and what can be done, and there's no greater feeling than if you've been frustrated and thwarted and not really done anything that knocks you out for a couple of weeks. Then a song comes along that all five of you love, and it just puts the world right again."

Feted as the "finest lyricist now at work in Britain" by Q magazine and "The People's Poet" by Word, Garvey regards the plaudits and acclaim heaped on him both hysterical and very flattering.

"It's lovely that people pay attention to that side of things, and it makes me very proud," he says. "Lyrically I have to go away and twist my own arm into working. I draft and redraft and redraft. They can morph from their original subject and become a completely different song, and if I had no time limits I would keep rewriting and rewriting. A lot of the great poets - not to compare myself at all - did several versions of their most famous work; you can always improve on an idea."

The story of Elbow is a bittersweet tale full of twists and turns. Disappointment, doubt and loss have been worn like a freshly-pressed uniform since the release of 2001's Mercury-nominated Asleep in the Back, but for Garvey it comes down to friendship.

"We're lucky that we found a pack that really enjoys each other's company. Musically we all still impress each other and it reminds me how lucky I am to be in the band. We met when we were 17 and we had an idea, and that idea's taken us all over the world and we've seen and done some amazing things and met people we'd never thought we'd meet. It's been a fairytale, it really has.

"So the most important thing to us is that our friendships remain as stable as they are, as good as they are. They are my brothers. It's somewhere between family, friends and having four wives."

ESSENTIAL ELBOW

Asleep in the Back (music video)
The greatest Elbow video for the title track of 2001's Asleep in the Back sees the band re-imagined as puppets in a turn-of -the-century vaudevillian soap opera.

The Birds (live at Reading Festival 2011)
The eight-minute Build a Rocket Boys! album opener. A prototype Elbow song. Generous dynamics: check. A groove the Kora boys would envy: check. An arms-aloft anthemic crescendo: checkmate.

Great Expectations (live acoustic)
Informed by the sweet melancholy of unrequited love, this poignant ballad is tucked away near the end of 2006 album Leaders of the Free World.

Grounds for Divorce (live with the BBC Orchestra)
"I've been working on a cocktail called grounds for divorce." Not the first Elbow song to mix drink metaphors, but the first to do so to such devastating effect. This powerhouse live version is pumped up courtesy of the BBC Concert Orchestra.

One Day like This (live at Glastonbury 2008)
Guy Garvey: "The atmosphere was just electrifying, the sun came out for us during that song and we had a 'Glastonbury moment'. The crowd was bananas, and it was by far the biggest crowd we'd ever seen."

What: Elbow
Where: The Powerstation, Auckland
When: March 28 & 29* Elbow plays The Powerstation in Auckland on Wednesday 28 March and Thursday 29 March.

Follow Volume on Twitter
Like Volume on Facebook
- Volume

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 20 Dec 2014 20:21:27 Processing Time: 268ms