THERE is a game Guy Garvey likes to play with his Elbow bandmates just before the release of a new record.
“It’s called Getting Chuffed,” the singer laughs.
“It’s when your family are in bed and you crack open a beer and listen to your own album. It’s just before it’s released and you listen to it properly through good headphones.
“And as you get more drunk, you fire each other little texts, like, ‘Pete, this is your finest work’ or, ‘Craig, this production is outstanding’.
“It’s just appreciating each other, as there is so much more pride in doing it because we’ve been doing it so long.
“Giants Of All Sizes is a good one to Get Chuffed to. It is really special.”
Garvey is talking about Elbow’s new album — which happens to be their best since 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid.
However, the tone is far from celebratory.
‘ I DON’T WANT TO LISTEN TO HAPPY MUSIC’
“It’s certainly not an uplifting album,” Garvey admits. “It’s very bleak. We wanted to make a record that reflected how we felt and was made in the times that it was made.
“I can’t find any joy in these times. Elbow are making work we are proud of despite what is going on.
“Everyone is f****d so it’s a dark record. And we are a band not known for that. We are known for the opposite, but I don’t want to listen to happy music when I am sad. You want something to connect to. Giants Of All Sizes is a record of the times.”
We sit in Garvey’s studio, not far from Brixton Tube station. The singer is enjoying a coffee in the South London sunshine.
Garvey is showing off photos of the son — two-year-old Jack — he has with actress wife Rachael Stirling.
“He’s just the joy in the world,” beams Garvey proudly. “Having a kid makes you sensitive to what is wrong in the world — but also, everything is new to Jack.
There’s this horrible division down the country with everybody thinking they are right
“Everything is fresh and hilarious. The love I have for Rach already is intensified by watching our little lad grow.”
The new record, which began in Hamburg at the Clouds Hill studio, reflects the changing moods of Garvey, bassist Pete Turner, guitarist Mark Potter and keyboardist/producer Craig Potter.
Garvey says: “We’d never done a city retreat for writing before. We’d always gone to the countryside. (This time) we went to this really well-equipped studio in an industrial estate outside Hamburg with guards and barking dogs and this unknockdownable World War Two bunker.
“We had this dark, unsettled industrial rock mood before we started so we decided to let it off the chain and played and played.”
Death, darkness and doom are recurring themes, with Garvey’s lyrics informed by his experience of finding solace in music and his love for family and friends.
He says: “The album is underpinned by four great big rock numbers. It also reflects the dark and unsettled nature of the country being divided by Brexit.
“That’s the backdrop of the record. Personally, I’m really not looking forward to not being a part of Europe.
“There’s this horrible division down the country with everybody thinking they are right.”
As well as representing a departure musically, Giants Of All Sizes features some of Elbow’s most direct lyrics.
“It’s definitely wearing it all on its sleeve,” says Garvey. “Some of the lyrics were so personal and political, there was some debate as to whether we should go there. But I can’t help these feelings.
Garvey recites a line from the song White Noise White Heat: “But who am I? Some blarney Mantovani with a lullaby when the sky’s falling in. I believe I’m giving in.”
‘PEOPLE DIED BECAUSE THEY WERE POOR’
He adds: “I don’t know if you remember Mantovani — he did really cheesy string arrangements of popular hits in the Seventies.
“That song came from the feelings of uselessness that I and any privileged person had concerning Grenfell.
“People were dying because they were poor.
“The slow erosion of civil liberties has led to health and safety checks not being carried out and poor people not being looked after and burning to death on account of people cutting corners.
“And no one will go to jail for that. Then the Manchester Arena bomb was such a hideous, evil thing, done by a son of Manchester.
“How are we that disconnected? How the f*** does one of your kids get that lost and indoctrinated by this evil s**t and kill children?
“Homegrown terrorism is a direct result of the war Tony Blair took us into. Of course the lyric made me nervous — I wouldn’t in a million years dare to speak for the survivors or victims of either of those two things. But I’m allowed to have an opinion.”
Garvey says his disillusionment with politics means he doesn’t know who he will vote for in the next General Election.
“These Tory governments, one after another, have let us down,” he fumes.
“The whole point of government is to debate — gentlemanly, civil debate, not this f***ing baying dogs thing.
“The Left is as bad as the Right. If the opposition — I mean ALL the opposition — could get themselves together and elect a popular leader who covered all the basics, we might see a way out of this.
“The Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party need to get together and they need to do it now. They need to form one party and elect a leader between them. But none of them will stand aside because they are all putting their own political careers before the good of the country.”
‘SWITCHING OFF OUR FEELINGS’
The Delayed 3:15 is a cinematic song written on a train from Manchester to London that was halted when a man took his own life on the tracks.
Garvey says: “Again, it was unexpected death, which is a theme running though the record. The shock of somebody dying.
“The lad was under the train wheels while the people in the carriage with me were using it as an excuse to get to know one another.
“They were using it as a f***ing flirting tool. Another illustration of switching off our feelings for one another.”
Garvey wrote Doldrums during a three-month stay in Vancouver while Rachael was filming her ITV drama The Bletchley Circle.
He says: “Vancouver is an amazing city but has a hideous drug problem. When there’s a film being made, they sweep the street of drug addicts.
Giants Of All Sizes track listing
- Dexter & Sinister
- Seven Veils
- The Delayed 3:15
- White Noise White Heat
- My Trouble
- On Deronda Road
“I saw an 80-year-old woman in a wheelchair, addicted to (opioid) fentanyl, being moved along just for a film. I wanted to say, ‘Come on, Canada — we expect more of you’.”
On that trip, Garvey learned his father had died of lung cancer. The album’s beautiful closer Weightless is about him.
“My dad had a good, long life,” Garvey says. “He was a great bloke and while the line ‘weightless in my arms’ conjures up an image of illness, he wasn’t weightless.
“He was so loved. I often had a complicated relationship with him and he’d said in his last two weeks of his life that he never felt so loved. ‘Love’ is not easy language for a man of his generation.
“Having Jack really helped me through Dad’s death. It made Dad’s passing part of something rather than the end of something.”
Garvey also lost two friends while making the record — Manchester music-scene stalwarts Jan Oldenburg and Scott Alexander. The latter was just 43.
‘MANCHESTER IS STILL MY CITY’
Garvey says: “I had to deliver two eulogies within eight days.
“Manchester lost two great people that week. The song Dexter & Sinister represents two sides of a shield. I imagined Manchester’s coat of arms without its lion and antelope.”
Though he lives in London, Garvey often returns to Manchester to see family and his bandmates.
“I was there yesterday,” he says. “So I never feel like I’ve really left — though taxi drivers do give me s**t about it. But Manchester is still my city.
“It’s still my home and the place I love most. It’s just that the two beating hearts I need to be closest to are down South.”
That sentiment is echoed in On Deronda Road, about a bus journey he shared with his son near his London house, and the song My Trouble.
Friendship will always be the core of Elbow, even when the world is in such a mess
He says: “My Trouble is about making sure you spend time with your loved one. It’s saying, ‘I miss you, my trouble’. It was just a feeling I had one night.
“I’ve been lucky finding Rachael and having Jack. Talk about a collaborative project! Jack makes us so happy.”
He is in a good place with the band too.
“We signed 4,000 albums the other day,” he says. “It took us six hours and, as we were listening to 6Music, our song Empires came on.
“It was a special moment, we all looked at each other to say, ‘Nice one!’
“We are so proud of this album. We still drive each other mad but for the most part we have a right laugh — mainly everyone picking on Pete!
“We are good friends and when we play Manchester, all our kids will come down to soundcheck and get up on stage. It’s really sweet.
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“Friendship will always be the core of Elbow, even when the world is in such a mess.
“It’s what gets us through.”
- Giants Of All Sizes is out next Friday
Elbow’s top albums
SATURDAY sees the return of National Album Day which this year encourages us to listen to albums in their entirety. Ambassadors include Elbow, who reveal their all-time favourites.
- Spiritualized: Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. From the original blister-pack packaging to using every second you could fit on a CD, a study in sonic meditation and a cry from a broken heart.
- Public Enemy: Fear Of A Black Planet. Pete and Guy first bonded over this record when they met. It might not be obvious how influential this record is to us.
- Beastie Boys: Check Your Head. We still have the same massive group of friends in our hometown of Bury and this is what we partied to. Every second sounds like fun to make.
- Talk Talk: Laughing Stock. One of Guy’s favourite records ever made. Talk Talk famously used all their success to make an album sound as natural as possible.
- David Bowie: Hunky Dory. Guy: At 12, I found my sister’s copy of Hunky Dory and fell in love with the record musically. As an adult, it is family to me.
- Joni Mitchell: For The Roses. Guy: Joni is undoubtedly the biggest influence on my writing and one of the greatest lyricists, if not THE greatest, of the 20th century. Perfect heartbreak album.
- Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here. This is a huge record for Mark in particular. We all agreed it’s more of an influence on us than The Dark Side Of The Moon.
- Sly And The Family Stone: There’s A Riot Goin’ On. We smoked an awful lot of weed when we got together and listened to this album on loop for what felt like two years.
- Kate Bush: Hounds Of Love. Guy: This is pure femininity and powerful womanly soul. She produced the whole thing herself at the foot of her garden.
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