Guy Garvey: Elbow frontman on destructive relationships from his past and juggling ‘frantic’ family life in his present | Ents & Arts News

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Guy Garvey says he looked back to his “rock n’ roll years” when writing parts of his new album Audio Vertigo, drawing on “destructive,” “tumultuous,” and “toxic” relationships from his past for inspiration.

Elbow’s lead singer tells Sky News: “Nobody wants to hear about how proud of my second hand Toyota RAV4 I am. It’s like I’m going to have to write about some of the more rock n’ roll years”.

Pic: PA
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Pic: PA

Suffering for your art is a well-known trope, and having just turned 50 and with two and a half decades in the industry, Garvey knows well that “reflections on mistakes are so much more fun to listen to”.

His past pains have clearly done the trick, with their 10th studio LP earning the Mercury, Brit and Ivor Novello award-winning band – made up of Garvey, Pete Turner and Craig and Mark Potter – their fourth official number one album.

It also topped the vinyl album chart and was the most-purchased physical LP of the past seven days in independent UK record shops.

Garvey calls their achievement “amazing,” adding: “I never used to worry about such things. This time it feels different. I really wanted to make it.”

So how did he go about digging out what he dubs his “celebration of misadventures”?

Garvey explains: “I’m in a very, very happy marriage. So, I’ve drawn on some perhaps more tumultuous relationships from the past.

“There’s two songs in particular, The Picture and Poker Face, that I’ve kind of put a few things together, not just my relationships, but [also] toxic relationships that people close to me have had.

“And it’s I suppose it’s a little observation slash parable, the toxic relationship, because I think sometimes two people can be wonderful people, it’s just that chemistry brings the worst out in each other.

“It’s the closest to the brink of madness I’ve ever been, I think, to be in a destructive relationship. And thankfully, it’s been many, many years. But it’s good. It’s fertile ground for song writing, all of that.”

‘It’s been pretty frantic’

Garvey has been happily married to actress Rachel Stirling – daughter of acting icon Diana Rigg – for eight years, and the couple share one son, Jack.

(L-R) Garvey and his wife Rachel Stirling in 2021. Pic: Reuters
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(L-R) Garvey and his wife Rachel Stirling in 2021. Pic: Reuters

Garvey’s written about “the gentle highs and lows of domesticity” in some of his past work, and as all those juggling family life with work will concede, it’s almost impossible to keep the two worlds from colliding at points.

An angst-inducing schedule clash that proves the point is the fact Stirling’s new play, The Divine Mrs S, opened on the same day Elbow’s record came out.

Garvey admits, “it’s been pretty frantic,” adding, “Jack’s been passed from pillar to post a little bit between the two of us.

“We made sure that one of us is home at all times. But, that’s also down to the rest of Elbow being gentleman about it. There’s been quite a few rehearsals where I’ve been on tape”.

Matching sequinned dressing gowns?

Balking somewhat at being labelled a celebrity couple (Garvey laughingly shrugs it off, saying “I’ve never actually heard somebody describe us as a showbiz family,”) he says they are definitely not the types to be wearing “matching sequinned dressing gowns”.

He also acknowledges the very real change of gear needed within any relationship when kids come into the equation.

Garvey says: “It’s one of the decisions we made when we said, ‘Shall we have a family?’ I mean, Rachel said, ‘Shall we have a family?’

“I took some convincing. She was very convincing.

“But a lot of it was like, ‘Well, what about work?’ And the phrase was, ‘We’ll make it work’, you know?

“And of course, the priority is the lad’s happiness and well-being. And he’s actually inspired so much of the work we both do. And he’s really proud of us both already at seven.”

One song on the album, From The River, he describes as “a love letter to my son” and “our aspirations for him”.

‘Gnarly, grimy and from the heart’

With the album noted as a departure from the band’s normal style, Garvey says they decided to move away from “reflectively writing about the worries of the world,” and to offer “something a bit more fun”.

Elbow receive their Official Number 1 Album Award for Audio Vertigo. Pic: Official Charts
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Elbow receive their official number one album award for Audio Vertigo. Pic: Official Charts

Met with praise from critics, it’s been hailed “landmark” (Mojo) and their best since their 2008 Mercury Prize-winning album The Seldom Seen Kid (NME) – so does Garvey read his own press?

He admits: “Yes, against my better judgement, I do.”

He describes the collection as “gnarly, confrontational, a bit from the heart and a bit grimy, in the old sense of the word”.

With streaming now the go-to way to listen to music, has Elbow changed the way they put out their music in response?

“Streaming is marvellous… All the world’s music in your pocket… But as I said in my deposition to the Select Committee a couple of years ago on the economics of streaming, the money isn’t getting to the artist and that’s wrong…

“At the minute, it’s loaded way too heavily in favour of the business model, [but] the business model must change to protect music. Spotify are guilty. And I am guilty of having a Spotify account.”

‘Albums aren’t going anywhere’

And in a week that Sheryl Crow described making albums as a “waste of time and money” because people do not listen to them in full, does Garvey think she might have a point?

Pic: PA
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The band with their Mercury Prize in 2008. Pic: PA

“We stubbornly stick to the fact that we’re an album band and have been from the beginning,” Garvey says.

“For some outfits, the finished product is a show. For us, it’s an album”.

He goes on: “I want to be changed by a listening experience. I want my musicians to take me by the hand, album to album, and lead me creatively to where they’re going next. You can’t do that in playlists and individual songs”.

He says his old family car still has a CD player so he’s bought all the records he owns on CD, and he plays them in the back of the car on the school run, and gives him the CD sleeve of tracks to read on the way.

Garvey is adamant that reports of the death of the album are greatly exaggerated: “The album as an art form isn’t going anywhere. Everybody thought the book was going to disappear on account of digital technology. It hasn’t and it won’t, and neither will the album.”

‘We’re under real threat’

As for a recent study which found song lyrics have become angrier over last 40 years, Garvey is not surprised.

Elbow Pic: Peter Neill
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Elbow. Pic: Peter Neill

Never afraid of getting political, Garvey explains: “All art tends to reflect the society it’s made in. It’s also a litmus test of its health as well. I think we’re under a real threat. The rise of autocratic government is terrifying…

“I can understand why language is getting angry, absolutely. For every issue to become partisan, it’s just so wrong. It shouldn’t be partisan to object to mass slaughter.

“And also, if Putin’s not stopped, he’s a green light for all the rest of the world’s dictators, and then we’re really in trouble.”

Touring and Glastonbury

In May, the band will embark on a huge UK arena tour, performing in Brighton (which is already sold out), London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Nottingham, and the new Co-op Live Arena in Manchester.

In a pleasing piece of symmetry, Garvey’s mum worked for Co-op supermarket when she was a girl, to which Garvey says, “Yeah, Shirley was very proud when she found out.”

Elbow performing at Glastonbury Festival in 2017. Pic: PA
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Elbow performing at Glastonbury Festival in 2017. Pic: PA

They have played at Glastonbury around 10 times according to Garvey, with at least four of those appearances on the coveted Pyramid Stage.

He says the band have “no plans so far” to perform there this year, but adds: “If we don’t play this year, hopefully they’ll invite us next year…

“Culturally, it’s the best music festival in the world. And in terms of our history with it, [Elbow’s] timeline is pinned out by our Glastonbury performances.”

He also says there’s “something really special about this year’s line-up,” which for the first time features two women in the top slots.

The annual controversy around who is (and isn’t) on the bill – perhaps most notably in 2008 when hip hop star Jay-Z’s performance divided festival fans – is a “testimony” Garvey says “to how popular” the event is.

He explains: “Two female headliners, that’s amazing. There’s always a new frontier. There’s always a new thing to consider. And I’ll always trust the Eavis family [Michael and his daughter Emily who run the Worthy Farm event] to deliver us a party that the world envies year on year”.

So, with a number one album, and a wife working evenings for the foreseeable future, what’s he up to this Easter?

Garvey says with a wide smile that he’s visiting friends with his son, where they plan “to have a massive Easter egg hunt and drink too much wine”.

Like Glastonbury – Garvey knows how to kick back, have fun – and of course – keep putting out music that will resonate for years to come.

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