The Persistence Of Elbow
Manchester, England is known for its great music scene: Think The Smiths, New Order, Joy Division -– and, a bit more recently, Elbow. The group has won many awards, won over many critics, performed at the London Olympics and supported U2 in concert, and has kept the same lineup together since the five members met in their teens — about 25 years ago.
"The main thing that kept us together initially was everybody's shared enthusiasm — because we didn't have an ounce of talent," lead singer and guitarist Guy Garvey jokes. "Our drummer's kit was held together with bits of chemistry sets stolen from school. My microphone stand was a broom handle. And all we could play was 12-bar blues and the introduction to a Simple Minds song — just the introduction. And I said very boldly at the end of the first rehearsal, 'We'll be signed in six months.' About eight years out, I was with that."
Elbow's latest album is called The Take Off and Landing of Everything. NPR's Scott Simon spoke with Garvey and bassist Pete Turner about the making of the album and its themes of transatlantic travel. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Manchester, you know, the one in England, is known for its great music scene. Think The Smiths, New Order, Joy Division. And of course, this band.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE")
ELBOW: (Singing) I've been working on a cocktail called Grounds for Divorce. Whoa.
SIMON: That's Elbow. They've won many awards, won over many critics. They've performed at the London Olympics and supported U2 in concert. The band got together when they were in their teens and that was about 25 years ago. The group's latest and sixth album is called "The Takeoff and Landing of Everything."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BLANKET OF NIGHT")
ELBOW: (Singing) Paper cup of the boat, even chest of the sea. Carry both of us, carry her, carry me.
SIMON: Guy Garvey and Pete Turner of the band join us from the studios of XFM in London. Gentleman, thanks so much for being with us.
GUY GARVEY: Thanks so much for having us.
PETE TURNER: Thanks.
SIMON: Tell me about this title, "The Takeoff and Landing of Everything."
GARVEY: There's a few themes on the record. One of the themes is the fact that I spent a lot of time in Greenpoint, Brooklyn while we were making this record and many of the tunes are about that transatlantic hop between Manchester and New York. Also, "The Takeoff and Landing of Everything," kind of refers as well to the end of a long-term relationship that I just come out of. I was with a lovely girl called Emma Jane Unsworth. She's a British novelist. And a lot of it was very sad and when we decided we wanted different things, there's no love lost and we're both very good friends. I wanted that to be reflected in a lot of the songs on the record.
SIMON: Oh, my gosh. I mean, I've got to tell you, I'm more accustomed to songs that are being written out of a bitter heartbreak, not such a civilized parting.
GARVEY: Well, this is it. She's writing a book which draws a lot on our mutual experiences over the last few years. There's actually one line in "New York Morning," there's a line in there that also starts one of Emma's chapters and to give you an idea of how closely we worked together, neither of us can remember who wrote it, so we have joint custody of that particular line.
SIMON: Well, I'm sure you can both hire lawyers who will make the case that you wrote it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW YORK MORNING")
ELBOW: (Singing) The first to put a simple truth in words, binds the world in a feeling all familiar. 'Cause everybody owns a great idea, and it feels like there's a big one round the corner. (Unintelligible) and out into New York, somewhere in all that talk is all in the answers.
SIMON: What did you see in New York that got to you?
GARVEY: I've come to realize that there's a fragility to New York and not just because of recent disasters it's suffered. I mean, the constant need to patch the infrastructure. And the whole place it seems to be held together with the hard work of decent, honest, hardworking New Yorkers and the sense of community on a city bus. I was quite ashamed that it doesn't exist in England in the way that it used to.
So it's people is the main thing, as well as its astounding beauty.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW YORK MORNING")
ELBOW: (Singing) And it feels like there's a big one around the corner. The way the day begins decides the shade of everything. But the way it ends depends on if you're home, for every soul, a pillow at a window please. In modern Rome where folk are nice to Yoko.
SIMON: Pete Turner, you...
SIMON: ...and Guy are very old pals, aren't you?
TURNER: Yeah, in fact I can remember the day I first met Guy. I've known Guy now for 23 years.
SIMON: What did you notice in each other? What did you hear in each other's work?
TURNER: The main thing that kept us together initially was everybody's shared enthusiasm because we didn't have an ounce of talent.
TURNER: We were so bad. Our drummer's kit was held together with bits of chemistry sets stolen from school. My microphone stand was a broom handle. And all we could play was 12-bar blues and the introduction to a Simple Mind song.
SIMON: Well, Pete Turner, what makes Manchester such a music scene?
TURNER: There's a lot of venues. You could go and see someone from just like a local band to like an arena band. There's always music everywhere. When we were kind of just coming through, we knew members of The Smiths and the Stone Roses and people kind of are happy to help and push you forward a little bit. So people come to Manchester to be in a band and to make music.
(SOUNDBITE OF A MUSIC)
ELBOW: (Singing) (Unintelligible)
SIMON: You use a lot of strings in your music. I don't think of that as being the northern sound of Manchester. I could be wrong on that.
GARVEY: I think you're right. Probably initially inspired by a record by The Verve called "The Northern Soul," which made use of orchestras very, very creatively. But also, it was once I realized that I could write string and brass arrangements despite not being able to read or write music, so I could sing the lines down and then have someone transcribe it for the instruments.
And when I realized that, we started using it more and more. And then of course our biggest hit today in Europe is called "One Day Like This," and the strings are quite integral to that song. And as we can never get away with not playing that song, we're always going to have a string section live, so there's really no reason not to use one on every record.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE DAY LIKE THIS")
ELBOW: (Singing) So throw those curtains wide, One day like this a year see me right.
SIMON: Well, I have to ask what it's like to perform at the Olympics in London in 2012. I gather there was a sign saying no alcohol backstage that you just weren't' able to decipher.
GARVEY: Well, basically we were told months in advance that we couldn't have a drink until after the performances and we were like, what? Anyway, so we solved the problem by smuggling in a load of alcohol into our dressing room, which meant the great and the good of British celebrity - rock stars, models, actors, etcetera - all knocked on our door 'cause we were the source, if you like.
So we had a wonderful day, met a lot of our heroes, and of course celebrated the great athletes of the world in fine style.
SIMON: Let me ask you both, finally, you see yourself doing this in 10 years too?
GARVEY: You know that scene, I think it's in "Alien 3," when she says to the beast: You've been in my life so long I don't know anything else.
SIMON: I don't think I saw "Alien 3." I only went through the first two. OK, but...
GARVEY: The fact of the matter is, if I've written something I'm proud of, I immediately want to share it with the boys because theirs are the most important opinions to me, and I think that's the same for all of us. Being able to work with people you really love on music you're really passionate about, to see the world, meet people, why would you give that up? Why would you stop doing that?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: Guy Garvey and Pete Turner, two of the five of Elbow. They joined us from the studios of XFM in London. Their latest album, "The Takeoff and Landing of Everything," comes out on Tuesday. Gentleman, thank you so much for being with us.
GARVEY: That was great.
GARVEY: Thank you. I really enjoyed it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY SAD CAPTAINS")
ELBOW: (Singing) I'm running out of miracles, oh my soul. And the streets are lined with one-man shows.
SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.