Interview (with audio) – Elbow’s Guy Garvey: ‘Love and kindness needs to be more abundant’

Elbow. Picture: Andrew Whitton.
Elbow. Picture: Andrew Whitton.
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BY Guy Garvey’s own estimation, the past 12 months have been “the craziest of years”.

“I toured the US and I toured the UK and in all that time while that was going on I got married and had a baby and moved to London,” he explains.

Add in the “bloody marvellous” honour of covering The Beatles’ Golden Slumbers for the John Lewis Christmas commercial and two top 10 albums – Little Fictions and a Best Of – and the Elbow singer can justifiably reflect: “It’s just been non-stop, it really hasn’t paused for a second but it’s great, you know.”

Selling “a lot of records” was unexpected in an era when we’d been led to believe that “people don’t buy records any more”.

“The way that people consume music’s changed so much and it can be a little bit daunting for a band that have only ever been an ‘album band’ and it’s just really lovely that people still want to hear our albums.”

Where once he found the gestation period for Elbow albums so slow that he put out a solo record to fill the gap, Garvey has latterly found himself mining a rich vein of inspiration for the band he formed with mates at Bury College more than 20 years ago.

“Yes, definitely, because of my change in situation. I still write about the same things, you can’t really change that, it moves slowly and it morphs but I’m still the same person with the same life experiences, still working with the same people,” he says.

Garvey credits Elbow’s guitarist Mark Potter with “predominantly” suggesting the list for the Best Of.

“There was still lots of arguing over what should go on in what order and of course there’s disappointed fans here and there that certain songs were omitted but you can’t have them all on, but it’s really satisfying,” he says.

“Mark has to take the credit, he made it feel like a body of work. Initially we were like ‘Is this the kind of thing you do at the end of your career?

“Is it sending the wrong message’ but then it was ‘Actually this could lead new people to the music’ and off the back of the John Lewis cover it didn’t just lead people to our music, it led people to The Beatles’ music, it was stunning how many people had never heard the original, so it felt nice that we weren’t just piggybacking Paul McCartney’s genius, we were actually giving something back there – although we definitely got the best end of the deal.”

Little Fictions was the first record Garvey and bandmates Mark and Craig Potter and Pete Turner had made without their long-time drummer Richard Jupp. The singer says the experience had been “daunting” at first.

“Richard had been in the band for 25 or 26 years, so it was losing a member who’d been there a long time. It was a bit shocking, first of all; even though it had been coming a long time it was still a surprise.

“I don’t think any of us could believe that he didn’t want to do it any more. It’s fair enough that he didn’t, he’d done it for a quarter of a century, but it was still very shocking.

Elbow. Picture: Andrew Whitton.

Elbow. Picture: Andrew Whitton.

“We talked about it a lot when we went up to Scotland writing together, none of us could believe it because [while] we’re all very much defined of course by being family men these days but [also] by what we do [as a band].

“So it was an odd one and it threw up new challenges and actually the pieces of music we did in Scotland, which was literally the week after he left the band – Kindling was one of them, and Head For Supplies and I think there was one more – they all had a cold, melancholy resignation to them.

“It was this time of year when we were writing it and Bowie died, Jupp had gone and it’s there in the music.”

For a lyricist who has never shied away from tackling political subjects, Garvey is deeply concerned that debate has become so closed-minded in recent times.

“You mean does it worry me that the bigots have found their voice?” he asks. “Yeah, it does, they should shut the f*** up and crawl back under their rock. It’s not progress, division and hatred, it takes years to undo, and it’s the province of the stupid and it’s a bloody shame when they do find their confidence every now and again.

“I don’t think that every element of what happened in America and what happened with Brexit is small-mindedness, I think it’s very much a vote of protest and it needs to be listened to.

Does it worry me that the bigots have found their voice? Yeah, it does, they should shut up and crawl back under their rock. It’s not progress, division and hatred, it takes years to undo, and it’s the province of the stupid.

Elbow’s Guy Garvey

“It’s half the country, they’re not all bigots, I’m not having that, it’s like they’re dissatisfied and I think it’s a complaint about the system, it’s a complaint about constantly being governed by a particular class, but why should most people want to be leader? It’s a s*** job, you have your whole life held up to public scrutiny – that never used to be the case but in the last 30, 40 years that has very much become the case, so it’s only people who are really hard-faced who go for the job.

“I’m not tarring everybody with the same brush but you do hear the politics of kindness used as a catchphrase here and there, but love and kindness needs to be more abundant. We know what the most important issues are – the National Health Service and our education system, our young people are in worse and worse circumstances and so are our old people and...we need to pool our resources and be nice to one another.

“It’s really short-sighted to think that you won’t be affected by it in your lifetime so why not try and sort it out?

“That’s not me doing my Bono bit,” he chuckles. “Everyone realises that probably the way to win the next election is to actually help the NHS. It’s desperate. We shouldn’t really live in a country where an old person’s afraid to go out in the snow because you don’t recover from falls when you’re elderly and frail and for someone who’s paid taxes all their life to not be able to go to the shops is disgusting. “We need to get the business out of education, we need to get the business out of the health service.”

On a happier note, Garvey very much sounds like he’s enjoying being a family man at the age of 43. Married to “a wonderful woman”, Detectorists star Rachael Stirling, they now have a 10-month-old son, Jack. “That is overwhelming and beautiful, I’ve already written about that approaching on that last record,” he says. He’s also enjoying exploring London. “Finding my feet somewhere at my age is fascinating,” he says. “I’m pretty obsessed with the Tube – where I used to see claustrophobia and bad manners I [now] see a city full of very hard working people who all move out of the way for one another to facilitate their journeys in a silent ballet.”

Next on the agenda is a UK arena tour with their friend, the US singer John Grant, who sang on the Elbow track Kindling. Garvey believes any Elbow fans who haven’t heard Grant’s music “will really connect with it”.

“He’s also very generous of spirit with his audience, he makes them laugh as well as playing them his heartfelt music, and it’s a perfect match. “And,” he adds, “he rocks a good look, I like his style.”

The Leeds date is on Garvey’s birthday. He quips: “I may break a lifelong rule and have a little drink.”

Elbow play at First Direct Arena, Leeds on March 6.