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For nigh on a decade (the whole of the 90s in fact), singer Guy Garvey and Co plugged away on the toilet circuit having played their first gig as Mr. Soft at their local Grants Arms pub in Ramsbottom, Bury. The following decade saw ELBOW shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize, installing this bittersweet collective as living proof that the Manchester music scene didn’t just comprise of arrogant guitar bands kissing the feet of major labels. That said, Garvey, guitarist Mark Potter, his brother Craig Potter (on keys), bassist Pete Turner and drummer Richard Jupp have mostly been kicked in the face by the majors: Island dropped them, as did E.M.I. Records. But thankfully, they came bounding back to astound us with their melancholic blend of (in their own words) “prog rock, without the solos”.
It began when all five members met at college and frequented local haunts before they attracted the watchful eye of Island. This in turn led to their debut EP, `The Noisebox’, its lead track `Powder Blue’ gaining a spot in John Peel’s Festive 50 late 1998. Independent record label, Ugly Man, raised the money to fund follow-ups `The Newborn EP’ and `The Any Day Now EP’, two breezy, rousing lead tracks heir to TURIN BRAKES, KINGS OF CONVENIENCE and the spiralling New Acoustic Movement. The acclaim for the tracks was phenomenal, with music journos citing ELBOW as the millennium’s answer to RADIOHEAD (if there was such a thing!).
This led to the release of their debut set, ASLEEP IN THE BACK (2001) {*8}, an album of inspired beauty and elegance. Tracks such as the aforementioned `Powder Blue’ and `Any Day Now’ plus `Can’t Stop’ made you wonder what the major labels were thinking when they gave them the proverbial elbow. The album, unsurprisingly, was nominated for a Mercury music prize, while it also managed a few weeks in the Top 20.
ELBOW would return in summer 2003 to issue the downbeat, but excellent CAST OF THOUSANDS {*7}, a record which saw the lads unrestrained and reaching new creative peaks via their complex melodies and lyrics of torn relationships; example spawned hits `Fallen Angel’, `Fugitive Motel’ and `Not A Job’. The poignancy of SPIRITUALIZED resonated somewhere in the background, especially when the large, full-on gospel choirs kicked in, but it never sounded cheesy or over-orchestrated. Predictably, the album was critically acclaimed on its release, also striking a chord with the introspective COLDPLAY crowd, as it deservedly entered the British Top 10.
Like PETER GABRIEL fronting the corpse of The BETA BAND, the anthemic `Forget Myself’ was the lead single for their third Top 20 album, LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD (2005) {*8}. `Station Approach’, `Picky Bugger’ and `The Stops’ led the way among some cool and classy tracks on show here. At times pensive and gloomy, the heart-worn `The Everthere’ and `Great Expectations’ were beautifully executed. Now a producer in his own right (I AM KLOOT, etc.), Guy Garvey’s man-of-the-people touch saw his band leading the way on the Manchester scene.
Three years in the making, the UK Top 5 and Mercury Prize winner THE SELDOM SEEN KID (2008) {*8} was worth the wait, as lead single `Grounds For Divorce’ cracked the Top 20. A classic among classics, the anthemic `One Day Like This’ spiralled upwards into the minds of the masses; it has since been used on many a TV theme and background track for sports, etc. With songs such as `Some Riot’, the TOM WAITS-meets-SPECIALS-esque `The Fix’ and `Starlings’, it was a pity America was less enthused as it bubbled under the Top 100.
Top 3 million-seller BUILD A ROCKET BOYS! (2011) {*9} went a long way to win over their Stateside cousins, but to no avail. Exploring the theme of life as imagined by the youth of today and in turn, its mundane unfulfilled adulthood conclusions, songs such as the 8-minute prog-ster `The Birds’, `Neat Little Rows’, `High Ideals’, `With Love’ and `Lippy Kids’ were anthems for the young at heart, however old one’s become.
The London Olympics 2012 provided ELBOW with the opportunity to get together with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra; the song `First Steps’ available as a download-only and with proceeds going to Children In Need and Sport Relief. The suitably-titled DEAD IN THE BOOT (2012) {*6} – a collection of flip-sides and oddities – unlocked another door to their lesser-known output and showed the dearth of ELBOW’s abstractions and ornate song structures; check out `Whisper Grass’, `McGreggor’ and `Snowball’.
Garvey subsequently split with his long-time girlfriend, and was employed as a disc-jockey for BBC 6 Music, the former mishap leading to break-up album, THE TAKE OFF AND LANDING OF EVERYTHING (2014) {*8}. Recorded at PETER GABRIEL’s Real World Studios – where else! – the man dealt with the lifecycle of birth and death, while wallowing in melancholy and introspection about recent events. Carrying on the dour mantle prised from the cold hands of RADIOHEAD, the arty ELBOW seized the number one spot – their first ever – but more importantly gained ground in the States where the set cracked the Top 100. While no immediate single fodder whispered “hit”, airplay was given to the enduring `Charge’, `Fly Boy Blue – Lunette’, `New York Morning’, `My Sad Captains’ and opener `This Blue World’.
Taking time off from ELBOW and his BBC6 radio show, the poetic genius of GUY GARVEY piped-up with his Top 3 solo debut, COURTING THE SQUALL (2015) {*7}. A slow-burner in many respects, dominated wholly by jazzy horns, tense rhythms and his unmistakable lush Mancunian brogue, intelligent songs like `Harder Edges’, `Angela’s Eyes’, `Yesterday’, `Belly Of The Whale’ and the emotive title track will hold court in any squall.
© MC Strong 2002-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Jun2012-Nov2015

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