I loved Elbow’s first album; Asleep in the Back… But then for reasons which have disappeared into the mists of building a home and becoming a father, I didn’t particularly like the second, and sadly, completely missed their third. I personally, blame it all on their Manchester based peers; Lamb, I am Kloot and Doves, who all released sublime first albums, but then failed to deliver on the abundant promise of riches that their first releases had made.
Along rolled 2008, the unintended combination of Guy Garvey’s Radio 6 programme on a Sunday evening and hearing their new album; the seldom seen kid, made me revise my fickle abandonment of their talent.
I cherish Guy’s Sunday evening radio show on BBC 6music. It is not pretentious (unlike a fair bit of 6music’s programming). It is eclectic, inspiring, refreshing, and he has that rare John Peel like quality of not sounding like a DJ, of being able to talk directly to his audience. I also found to my surprise, and after a few plays on the way into work, that i really, really liked the seldom seen kid.
A phone call came out of the blue from Jools, my brother and a few days later, Jools and Leesa had bought me tickets for Elbow’s final concert of their UK tour, at the Apollo in Manchester on November 3rd. I was not aware at this point that Leesa has a big crush on Guy!
Time flew by, and a mercury prize later (not me, Elbow) i found myself driving along the A55 with the sun setting dramatically into my non-existent rear view mirror en route to Chorlton, Manchester, with Ernie the fastest milkman in the passenger seat. We had another middle aged fart, wozoz to pick up, and then off we went in a cab to the Apollo (BTW ta Steve and Jo for the tickets for Ernie and Woz).
The Apollo was one of the reasons that i wanted to go! I haven’t been there in a long, long time, and still suffer flashbacks from eating an appallingly strong curry somewhere in its vicinity.
Once that we had arrived and set ourselves up in a sensible position – not right at the front, a bit to the side, not that we were being pedantic or anything – and had a pint, Warren (wozoz), attentive to detail as ever, pointed out the balloons (collective noun – a festival of balloons eh? eh?) netted up in the ceiling; “OOOooooh look at the balloons!“. Ernie appeared to be still in a “What am i doing here?” dazed phase, or it could just have been an Islington resident’s overwhelming fear of Northerners.
The support act came and went she reminded me a lot of Kirstin Hersh. Guitars were tuned a number of times on stage and Ernie and i compared iPhones in order to get some reaction from Wozoz. Then in a literal flash Elbow started expectantly and theatrically. I have never been to a gig where the lead singer appeared to be dressed as a mid-1980’s chemistry teacher but Guy had it down to a tee. Roy Castle trumpeting, Chemistry teacher outfit, all appeared to be going swimmingly until….
“Raggety” Richard Hawley, ex-guitarist from The Longpigs, and now darling of the people who only get to hear new music whilst buying futons or eating lentil brioches was welcomed onto the stage. Elbow’s stage, not raggety Hawley’s stage, this was wrong, wrong, wrong (for me at least).
For deeply personal, pathetic and long standing reasons I really, really do not like Richard Hawley. So, the impromptu arrival of “raggety” richard hawley nearly ruined this evening for me. Ernie, knowing that i would rather spend a week in front of QVC than listen to Cole’s f****g Corner took great delight, and Warren offered to get his autograph for me.
What was he and his priapic perpetual whang bar doing at an Elbow gig? It would have been bad enough spotting him in the audience.. mercifully though he and his whang-bar, tremolous elbow (whatevah) left after one song.
And the music played on. In between songs, Guy’s banter with the audience and band throughout the concert could be only dimly heard in our part of the auditorium over Leesa’s plaintive shouts of “i Luv u Guy”. Guy introduced his dad to the audience (and i presume aunties or cousins, sisters) who were up in the circle above us.
The atmosphere just kept on getting better, this could just have been the fact that Richard Raggety Hawley had gone. You can watch a whole Elbow gig from this tour filmed at the Paradiso in Amsterdam.
And then, the balloons came down..
Elbow’s encore was one of the best I have been privileged to see. From a corner of the Apollo (not ours of course as this still echoed to “I luv u Guy” from an increasingly hoarse Leesa) came the chorus “One day like this a year’d see me right” within a couple of bars it felt like the whole Apollo was singing the chorus, no foot stamping or clapping, just singing.
Elbow came back on and played the song with us. By the end of the encore I literally couldn’t take any more. I just wanted to get into the car and drive home to Wales. A beautiful and inspiring band, full of melody, balls and humility. Thank you.
If you ever get an opportunity to see this band, take it.
Note: Just in case, Raggety was a foul, terrifying creepy stick/twig based character from Rupert the Bear. I really, really remember finding the TV series incarnation particularly repugnant. A bit like………