Elbow's Guy Garvey: 'You love the person with all their warts and bellybutton fluff'
Elbow take an egalitarian approach - but that didn’t stop drummer from Richard Jupp departing. Frontman Guy Garvey talks about rebuilding the band
Elbow: Craig Potter, Guy Garvey, Mark Potter and Pete Turner
Guy Garvey has had better mornings. When he answers the phone in the kitchen of his north Manchester home, he has some bad news: “I failed my driver theory test earlier,” he glumly reveals. Then he perks up almost immediately. “Oh well, fuck it.”
Luckily, Garvey has something positive to focus on – Elbow’s latest studio album Little Fictions. Their seventh album comes hot on the heels of his own fine solo album Courting the Squall, released in 2015.
“It’s something that I wouldn’t have done if it had in any way messed with the band,” he says. “It was a bit of an indulgence – and also healthy, I think, to go and see what it’s like to work with other people and be solely responsible for the output for a little while. It meant the lads could go and do projects that they wanted to do as well. Pete [Turner, bassist] did a lot of writing for the Elbow record in that period; Craig [Potter, keyboardist] produced Steve Mason’s album and Mark [Potter, guitarist] formed and launched the Plumedores, and they got an EP away. So we were all busy, and we all came back to the party with new and interesting ways of working.”
Now established as one of the UK’s bona fide biggest bands, Elbow’s past year has not been without its troubles. Just before heading off on a writing retreat to Scotland last January, drummer and founding member Richard Jupp announced his intention to quit.
“Without going into any detail, the situation hadn’t been right for a while,” says Garvey. “It’s not like it was an overnight thing – we did 25 years, and after 25 years, you expect that somebody maybe might have had enough. It’s better this way because he wanted it that way, and so did we.
“To be honest with ya, the ‘brotherhood’ element and the fact that we’ve been together so long probably kept us together when it shouldn’t have, for a little while. And also, everything in Elbow is shared equally among the members, and always has been. Most bands fall out over money, eventually, even if that is unspoken. When Sting turns up in a Ferrari and Andy Summers can’t buy a burger . . .”
Jupp’s departure perversely made for a more beat and groove-driven album than before, as heard on songs such as Gentle Storm and Firebrand & Angel.
“I think the fear of not having a drummer caused us to do a lot of drum work,” he says. “Craig has had a hand in the groove side of what we do from day one – him and Jupp always worked on the beats together. So it’s not like we’ve lost all of our groove machine; if anything, it was a welcome challenge. The album ends with that sample of the lads discussing forming a loop out of dropping a bag of kindling out of hitting a tambourine – that was the very, very first thing we did for the album, which is why we ended with it.”
The four remaining members decamped to Gargunnock, a small village near Stirling, after Jupp’s departure to plant the seeds of Little Fictions.
“It was good to be dismayed in one another’s company. It was freezing, and we got snowed in, and we set all our equipment up around the fire in the Great Room of Gargunnock House; my wife’s father actually owns an estate up there, and Gargunnock House is owned by ancestors of my wife. So it was really fucking weird. I was wandering around the place, saying ‘Rach, every one of these portraits looks like your brothers’. And she was like ‘Oh yeah, yeah – Chopin’s piano is up there, did you know that?’
“It was the same week that David Bowie died; so it was a cold beginning, but songs came from that and I think just two from that week ended up on the record: Head for Supplies and Kindling, and both songs are about new love. That’s where my head was at.”
Happier times, as always, also inform Little Fictions; last year, Garvey married actress Rachael Stirling (daughter of Dame Diana Rigg) in a low-key ceremony at Manchester Town Hall.
“When she hears herself in the lyric, she is of course pleased and flattered – but there is a song on there about our arguments,” he says, laughing. “The title track is going through ritualistic arguments, and why it happens: ‘We protect our little fictions when we bow to fear, little wilderness mementos only you and me hear’. But the nature of true love is that you love the person with all their warts, and spots, and bellybutton fluff and whatever. Me writing about the ugly side of being married is letting Rachael know that it’s all perfectly normal, in the hope that she doesn’t leave me for a god.”
Politics also play a role this time around, too. Garvey has dabbled in protest songs in the past (Leaders of the Free World seems more prescient that ever), but this album was written in the wake of Brexit.
“Just pre-Brexit, I was in India for the first time, and missing home and also acutely aware of what home might become – and it did,” he sighs. “So I was despairing of that, and trying to work out if it’s just my turn to despair because I’m 40-plus. Were my parents as worried as I am now about the state of things?
“The beginning of K2 starts with me in India, wondering if anybody at home actually knows where I am, because I didn’t tell my family before I went. Missing home, pondering what had happened with Jupp, pondering Brexit . . . by the end of the song, I’ve decided to fuck off to the Atacama Desert with my wife in a static caravan,” he adds, laughing. “‘That’s it, man – I’m going to South America, fuck this joint’.”
It may well be his turn to be disillusioned but middle-age, it seems, suits Guy Garvey – whether he can drive or not. “I’ve never been happier in my life – and that’s continued throughout my 20s, into my 30s and now my 40s,” he beams. “The older I get, the happier I get. Life throws new challenges at me all the time – ‘challenges’, that makes me sound like an adrenaline junkie – but I love being 40-odd.
“It’s interesting when you feel yourself being looked upon as an ‘older man’ by somebody you consider yourself the same age as. You’re like ‘This guy is 25 and he has no fuckin’ idea about any of my cultural references.’ Before I met Rachael, I dated a girl who didn’t know who The Krankies were. Imagine trying to describe that?!” he says, laughing huskily and heartily. “It serves me right for indulging in that particular cliché.”
- Elbow release Little Fictions on February 3rd and play Dublin’s Olympia Theatre on February 26th and 27th, and Live at the Marquee, Cork, on June 21st.