Elbow’s Guy Garvey on Cork, terrorism, and his love of hometown Manchester

Guy Garvey was proud of the way his home city of Manchester came together after the terrorist attack, writes Ed Power.

Earlier this month, Elbow’s Guy Garvey walked on stage at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall and tried not to burst into tears.

He was appearing at a fund-raising evening for victims of the Ariana Grande concert bombing, in which 23 people were killed. What do you say in such circumstances?

“It was a horrible thing,” he nods. “Not a very nice reason for Manchester to be the focus of the world’s attention. The city’s reaction has been incredibly positive and remains so.”

At Bridgewater, Garvey told the audience the response to the bombing showed Manchester at its best.

Rather than surrender to fear or hate, the city had presented a united front to the world.

“Manchester made me the proudest man alive,” he had declared. “Refusing to be divided, and coming together in so many ways we hadn’t before.”

“With that sort of thing… it’s difficult to write something before hand,” he reflects. “You just have to tell the truth. I said what was on my mind.”

Garvey and Elbow are about to go back on the road, with a gig at Cork’s Live at the Marquee coming up this Wednesday.

In the increasingly bland world of guitar music, they remain a singular proposition, hits such as ‘One Day Like This’ and ‘Grounds For Divorce’ walking the line between populist and profound.

Yet though the avuncular 43 year old is characteristically chatty as he talks to the Examiner, he will agree that it has been tumultuous spell for the group.

In February, shortly after the release of their seventh studio LP, Little Fictions, Garvey became a father for the first time.

Elbow have meanwhile come through a bit of a midlife crisis, with original drummer Richard Jupp quitting in order to devote more time to the music academy he runs in Manchester.

Far from being unmoored or discommoded, this is all grist to Garvey’s muse. He is arguably unique among musicians of his generation in his facility for weaving pop gold from everyday joy and heartache.

Life happens to everyone — Garvey is one of those rare artists who can make the outwardly banal feel spectacular.

Consider that the band’s 2008 breakthrough LP, The Seldom Seen Kid, was in part a tribute to a friend of Garvey’s who passed away prematurely.

Or that the follow-up, Build a Rocket Boys, was a meditation on underclass poverty that pulsated with a feeling of universal brotherhood.

Earnestness is a cheap emotion in pop — Garvey achieves something far more impressive in speaking to our common humanity.

Elbow have been around 25 years and endured as many highs and lows as anyone. Early on they were written off as sub-Coldplay bleaters, with critics failing to recognise the subtlety of Garvey’s lyrics.

When success came, it was perceived both a surprise and long overdue (The Seldom Seen Kid was one of the least controversial winners ever of the Mercury Music Prize).

“The challenge nowadays is to decide what to include and what to leave out,” he says, reflecting on the group’s long trajectory. “The set is never quite complete.”

Garvey is clearly thrilled to be a dad. After a tumultuous personal life that included painful break-up from writer Emma James Unsworth — the split partially inspired 2014’s The Take Off And Landing Of Everything — he is happily married to actress Rachael Stirling (in a luvvy-esque departure from his man-of-the-people image, Garvey met Stirling at Benedict Cumberbatch’s wedding).

“Juppy was the first in the band to have kids, “ he says.

“That was 14 years ago. At the time I was doing a collaboration with 808 State. I said to the band’s Graham Massey that one of us had had a baby.

"He said ‘Don’t worry — nothing moves as quickly towards the tour bus as a newfather’.”

He throws his head back and laughs.

“If the way the lads have been going out on the road since having kids is any benchmark, I’ll get on the bus and open a bottle of wine — no glass, just a bottle — and four hours later be crying looking a photo of my child.”

The departure of the drummer, meanwhile, has managed not to upset the band’s delicate chemistry. Garvey had worried it might.

“I remember after Reni left the Stone Roses, it wasn’t the same,” he says.

“They did very different versions of their own songs. You have to take care of your fans — the people who have been with you forever — and not get churlish or bored with your sound.

"You present the songs they way people expect them.

“All you do when you start a band is desperately try to get people to listen to you.

"To be in another country, to have people coming to listen, that never gets old, that never gets boring.

"Today, I’m wondering how I’m going to get to get the ingredients for dinner together and pick up Jack from the babysitter.

"And in a week’s time I’ll be on a stage with loads of people singing my words back to me,” Garvey said.

Elbow will be warmly received in Cork, which has a great deal in common with Manchester.

Both are nominal “provincial” cities with a proud artistic and sporting tradition which politely decline to to see themselves as glorified adjuncts to their capital.

As it happens, Garvey knows Cork very well, as it is where his sister Sam has made home with her Waterford-born husband.

“That makes sense to me,” he says as I brief him on Cork’s idea of itself as a place apart.

“It feels that way. I love Cork. My sister lives there, she’ll be coming to the show. You know my thoughts on Irish audiences — they’re the best in the world.”

Garvey isn’t an especially political songwriter.

However, in light of current upheavals, Elbow are considering reinstating into the setlist tracks from Leaders of the Free World, their anti-George Bush LP from 2005.

“It’s ridiculous. And we thought Bush was bad. It’s like getting to the end of a computer game finding there’s an even bigger, more horrible creature to defeat.

"This ridiculous, pouty, pig-in-a-wig pornographer. The only solution with this guy is for the whole world to unfollow him on Twitter. He’s a hugely insecure very spoilt man,” he said. 

  • Elbow play Live at the Marquee Cork, tomorrow. Little Fictions is out now.

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