Guy Garvey of Elbow talks lockdown albums and Lytham Festival: ‘Let us old romantics stir you into song as you have a bit of a cry’
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“Hi, I’m just over the street,” he says breathlessly. “I’m on the main road actually, so I’ll come to you.” Guy, I say, I think there’s been some confusion, I’m working from home. A pause. “I’m completely confused…” he says. Then he guffaws warmly. “I’m just getting an Uber and I thought you were him calling me! One sec.”
A car door slams shut. “Hello, sir,” Guy says to the driver. “Basil, yeah? I’m just on the phone, Basil, sorry.” His voice turns to me, rising with that infamous Bury inflection. “How are you?” I’m fine, I reply, a little unbalanced by the whole thing. I quickly ask Guy Garvey how he is. “Yeah, good, really good. That’s a confusing start to the interview!” And how.
I introduce myself. “Nice to meet you, Jack,” replies the unmistakable voice. Having mentally dropped my notes, my flustered brain decides that telling Guy Garvey I’m a big fan is the most pertinent thing to do. Not really the most journalistically proper thing to reveal, but never mind. “Oh, cheers!” he replies, sounding genuinely surprised for some reason.
After all, most people are. Garvey is the lead singer of Elbow, one of the UK’s most successful bands - a band which has just released their ninth album in their third decade together. A band which has won a BRIT Award, an NME Award, a Mojo Award, numerous Ivor Novello Awards, and which has multiple UK Number One albums. Play the opening notes to One Day Like This and people in the vicinity will sing along.
The conversation settles into something resembling a more steady rhythm. Somewhat more composed, I feel like I’m back in the driving seat. Well, Basil’s in the driving seat, but still. On we go. Wait, no: first, Garvey wants to know how my chat with Duran Duran drummer Roger Taylor went. “He’s a nice man,” says Garvey, with both bands set to play Lytham Festival later this month
I agree, telling him how Taylor had taken his drumkit down into his wine cellar so he could practise during lockdown. That laugh, warm as an old jumper, returns. “Haha, I wonder what that sounded like!” says Garvey, an unmistakable smile audible down the phone. “So cool.”
Having met at Bury College in 1990, Elbow’s four members are defined by bonds forged in mutual respect and admiration across a shared history of more than 30 years. Famed for its honesty and creativity, their music has forever lured hearts to be captured as well as encouraged toes to tap. With that in mind, I ask Garvey what it was like being apart during lockdown.
“Lockdown was tricky,” he says immediately. “My mother-in-law was at our house and dying, so it was really heavy, but my wife was a superhero. The only way I knew what was going on with my bandmates was by the music they were making and sending me, so I was inspired by that and I tailored the lyrics for them more than usual.
“We ended up with a really beautiful, gentle, and personal record, which is all about missing each other, our hometown, and childhood, because we were all hanging out with our own kids,” he adds. “It reflects the uniqueness of the time - it’s not about Covid, but it’s conciliatory and…” Garvey pauses, as if reminiscing. “Yeah, it’s a hug of a record.
“Ultimately, when we’ve mourned our dead, punished our government, and moved on, an awful lot of great things came of this time: a great kindness. Which is why war is so dismaying. We’re ready for anything but conflict and violence, so we’re looking forward to seeing people because it’s important to have a laugh and sing your balls off.
“We all love a singalong and the shows are a celebration of being alive.”
Released last November, Flying Dream 1 is Elbow’s most personal album yet, a contented Alpine train-journey of a record which serves as both an emotional outlet and a love letter to childhood and Lancashire. Garvey describes the act of recording it as like ‘throwing an anchor in the times and marking what we were going through as a society.’
Dripping with nostalgia, the opening track features the lines ‘Over the hills at the edge of my knowledge; Skimming the breakers, deft as a petrol; Holcombe and Pendle, Nelson and Colne; Follow the landing light, guiding me home.’ You can’t help but picture Garvey doing a lot of looking back during lockdown, most of it fondly. So, what’s it like performing again?
“I didn’t realise how much I’d missed it,” he says. “When we started back in September, every night was touch-and-go: until you had a negative test off everybody in the band and the crew, we weren’t on that night. By a miracle, we made it through. Without us playing a note, every night was a triumph. But we made sure each night was a night to remember.
“It was like coming home every night and I think it’s going to feel like that for a while,” Garvey adds. “I mean, Elbow concerts have always been about getting together anyway, but now it feels even more like we’re seeing old friends. It’s a joy every time we set foot on stage and, even now, we literally can’t believe we’re still getting away with it.
“We make music about the fascinating little personal details of life - extraordinary in ordinary - but we also tap into great big unabashed emotions like friendship, love, and childhood. As a musician, you think you’re a mirror for society but, actually, you’re the soundtrack and it’s been said grown men come to Elbow gigs to have a cry. We’re all big soft b*stards deep down.”
And so to Lytham. Set to headline on the seventh day of the now-expanded Lytham Festival, Elbow will be supported by singer-songwriter Richard Hawley in what will be an ‘emotional’ experience as per Garvey’s personal forecast. But first he wants to talk childhood holidays.
“I’m one of seven, so we used to pile into a Ford Transit converted into a campervan, play ‘first to spot the Tower gets 50p’, pee in the sink so we didn’t have to stop, have nine rounds of fish and chips, then see the Illuminations,” he says. “Back in the ‘70s, they went through a period of being quite… err, what’s the word? A bit tawdry.
“But I was short-sighted until I was eight, so I couldn’t see the loose screws and the missing bulbs and thought the Blackpool Illuminations were absolutely magic!” he adds with a chuckle. “I just loved it and it’s remained a magical part of the world for me. When we perform, with the sun going down, it’s going to be as magical as ever.
“And, with Richard Hawley on the bill, you’re getting another big soft b*stard and his particular smooth croonings for your money. Everyone should come with their loved ones and let us old romantics stir you into song as you have a bit of a cry.
“It should be amazing, we’re very proud to be part of it…” He trails off and I hear a seatbelt click. “Thank you, sir!” Garvey says, his voice directed elsewhere. In the background, I hear Basil say ‘God bless you’ to probably the most famous passenger he’ll ever have in the back of his Uber. “God bless you!” Guy says back to him, utterly delighted. “Cheers, Basil!”
He’s out the car now. “What a lovely man,” Garvey remarks to me. Our conversation at an end, I thank Guy Garvey for taking the time. “Thanks for doing this man,” he says. “Lovely talking to you.” And, just like that, he’s gone.
For more more information and to buy tickets, please go to www.lythamfestival.com