When I worked at the Sunday Mail, one of my favourite interviewees was Elbow front man, Guy Garvey. I interviewed him on a number of occasions and he was as you would expect, full of affable good chat. One time he apologised for running a bit late and being out of breath because he was out buying “bacon butties for the lads”. The lads were Elbow bandmates, Richard Jupp, Craig Potter, Mark Potter and Pete Turnerand – and this seemed to sum him up. Front man/leader … but never too lofty to look after his mates and make sure they were well fed. Plus how can you not respect someone who often cites Glasgow band, The Blue Nile as an influence? Tune into his BBC 6Music radio show and you’ll hear his passion for great music.
I’ve also seen Elbow perform live many times, the last time I saw them they filled Glasgow’s Hydro and as usual the band formed a very tight unit.
But last year Garvey was flying solo. He launched and toured his album Courting the Squall in 2015. I went to see him at the 02ABC in Glasgow in December. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I couldn’t quite envisage him without his band mates.
However going solo for Guy Garvey isn’t quite “I’m going to lock myself in a log cabin and write an album”. It’s what Bon Iver (aka Justin Vernon), did when he wrote his stunning debut album For Emma, Forever Ago, but I can’t imagine Garvey adopting that approach. Plus we’d miss his cracking radio show on BBC 6Music. No, going solo for Garvey is an opportunity to work with other people, and explore some other musical styles.
His solo album Courting the Squall was recorded initially at Real World Studios near Bath and completed at Blueprint Studios in Salford. It features a band created by Garvey who include Pete Jobson, from I Am Kloot as lead guitarist, Nathan Sudders from The Whip on bass, Ben Christophers on keyboards, Alex Reeves on drums and Rachael Gladwin who plays harp.
Courting the Squall is a good body of work. Three Bells doesn’t stray too far from Elbow territory, while other tracks show a jazz influence, such as Electricity, a luscious torch song, which features a duet with Jolie Holland. Performed live however, the album soared to a new dimension and really shone.
The funky Belly of the Whale was brought to life by the horn section, Angela’s Eyes was a bluesy jam, Harder Edges was boosted by some big brassy instrumentation and the plaintive, lovelorn vocals of Garvey crooned perfectly over Electricity.
A particular highlight was the steady thrum of Yesterday, a swirling hypnotic melody.
Elbow are now stadium fillers, so it was good to the see Garvey in a more intimate space. The Glasgow gig was the last date of a short tour, and the mood was relaxed and loose. In typical style, the banter flowed. The band corrected Garvey when he mixed up the set list, he shook his head and confessed to getting old. And there were a lot of laughs along the way as Garvey engaged easily with the crowd. A frontman like Garvey with iconic anthems to his name such as One Day Like This, could find himself touring solo and facing audiences expecting to hear Elbow songs on the set list. It’s testament to his new work that in Glasgow, there is not one shout for his band’s much-loved tunes.
The support act was the talented Steve Mason, formerly of The Beta Band and many other guises. And to close the night, we were treated to a rare live outing of The Beta Band’s infectious Dry The Rain, performed by Garvey and Mason.
Garvey is apparently rehearsing in Scotland just now with his Elbow band mates, I hope he’s found some decent bacon butties, or a good roll and square sausage.