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Getting the elbow
Epic and yarning, Elbow were the band that inspired Coldplay. So why can't they sell any records?
John Walshe, 27 Oct 2005
Elbow have enjoyed critical acclaim yet never hit the commercial heights their talent deserves. Now the Manchester quintet have released arguably their finest album to date in the shape of Leaders Of The Free World, a record filled with the kind of melodies that Chris Martin would give his eye teeth for. Unlike their previous two LPs, which were completely created in the studio, their third was primarily written on the road.
“With there being five of us writing, a tune can go down at any point because one of us doesn’t like it,” admits vocalist Guy Garvey. “With Cast Of Thousands, just getting started was the difficult thing. If you can see an album stretching out ahead of you, it can be intimidating, but if you have little odds ‘n’ sods to work on, it can be easier.”
One of the difficulties with trying to write and record on the road, he explains, is “getting into the regime of it. There’s a fridge of beer in every dressing room in the land, so it was a case of us making sure there was a portastudio in every dressing room as well.”
These hurried bouts of creativity yielded fertile results,
“Even working for 15 minutes a day, you can end up with something good," explains bassist Pete Turner. "I remember sitting down the back of the bus outside this club in Cologne and we came up with the descending chords for ‘My Very Best’. Just having these little things meant that when we got to the studio, we could get going on them.”
Indeed, sometimes the most impressive bits of recording took place at unorthodox times.
“‘Great Expectations’ was done at five in the morning, after hours of playing it, and it really captured something," Garvey resumes.
Another song that captures something is Leaders Of The Free World's title-track, which directs its raw anger at the Bush dynasty, accusing it of “passing the gun from father to feckless son”.
Despite having strong political beliefs, Guy tries to avoid writing preachy songs.
“Lyrically, I only ever write about what I know because otherwise it never sticks, and even if it does stick, you have trouble performing it after a while because you feel a travesty of a mockery of a sham. But it is something that’s on my mind a great deal, as it is with everybody, so I just felt it was important to let our opinion be known.”
Always acclaimed yet never flavour of the month, Elbow are not the most fashionable of bands. However, this hasn’t adversely affected their career to date.
“We can’t but be aware of how unfashionable we are,” Turner agrees, “because you have all these bands who posture and there’s a lot of style over content. I know it sounds cheesy but we’ve always concentrated on getting the music right and I think that’s why we’re still here and everything’s going alright.”
“And we still look like shit,” Garvey laughs.
“But we seem to be a band’s band and maybe a journalist's band,” Pete concludes. “We just do our own thing and people seem to appreciate that about us.”