Guy Garvey wears his heart on his sleeve – as a singer, as a songwriter and as a man. Which is why Weekend doesn’t need to tiptoe around the recent fracture in the Elbow family that saw drummer Richard Jupp departing the band after more than 25 years. On the contrary, it’s the first thing Garvey wants to talk about.
‘Jupp going was a shock and not, you know?’ says the 42-year-old in his soft Bury burr. ‘It hadn’t been quite right for him for a while. It just didn’t suit him to be in Elbow any more, and by the time he realised that, it didn’t suit us either.
‘It’s not like he and we didn’t really try to fix it. We really, really tried, because even though we knew it wasn’t right, we still had a right laugh. Which I suppose is what makes it so sad.’
Are they still mates?
‘I’d be lying if I said that was the case,’ sighs Garvey. ‘But nobody wishes him any ill. It’s just circumstances.’
The loss was all the more keenly felt because Elbow have always been such a tight gang. After getting together as teenagers in Bury, Greater Manchester, in 1990, the band – Garvey and Jupp plus bassist Pete Turner, guitarist Mark Potter and his keyboardist/producer brother Craig – spent the best part of two decades chipping away at the rock-and-roll face before finally catching a break with 2008’s last-throw-of-the-dice fourth album The Seldom Seen Kid. Within a year, they’d won the Mercury Music Prize and been named Best Band at the BRITS, while the euphoric, double Ivor Novello-winning One Day Like This became the closest thing to a new national anthem.
‘For a while, that song was everywhere,’ recalls Garvey. ‘They say when you’re in London you’re never more than six feet from a rat, and that song was kind of like that for a bit. If you surfed through the channels, you’d always find it accompanying a bell-ringing competition or a Formula 1 race or something…’
As well as a starring role in the London 2012 Olympic closing ceremony, the song was responsible for what is widely agreed to be one of the greatest moments in the history of the Glastonbury Festival, as Garvey led the Pyramid Stage crowd in a mass sing-along of its joyous, life-affirming mantra ‘Throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year would see me right’ against the backdrop of a setting sun.
Much of Elbow’s sublime new album, Little Fictions, exudes the same positive outlook, despite being written and recorded in the wake of Jupp’s departure – and in 2016, of all years.
‘Life goes on,’ shrugs Garvey, who’s also parlayed his musical passions into a second career as an award-winning TV and radio presenter. ‘We managed to make a positive record because it was important to us to do something bright and happy. As the year wore on, it felt like there’d never been a more important time to offer our particular brand of unabashed, hopeful enthusiasm.’
He’s half joking, but it’s essentially true: while much of pop music is either anguished and miserable or annoyingly perky, Elbow have charted a way through the middle with songs that say ‘life can be tough, but don’t worry kid – we’ve got your back’. Their music is like a big, beery bear hug, and Garvey is Britain’s bear-hugger in chief.
‘I’ll take that,’ he says. ‘There’s nothing like a cuddle. It’s so important to give people a squeeze if you get the opportunity. Much more important than, perhaps, a northern working class man is led to believe as a young fella.’
There’s another reason the record sounds so optimistic. ‘It was a very positive year for me personally, as I got married,’ says Garvey, who wed his actor sweetheart Rachael Stirling – star of TV’s Tipping the Velvet and The Bletchley Circle – last June.
‘It’s a really lovely thing,’ he beams. ‘She asked me to her marry her on February 29th – you know, the leap year thing? She graffitied it on a bridge in London. I should have smelled a rat because she picked me up from Euston, and it’s not very often she does that. We’d dumped the car and were walking across the bridge, by which time I’m in the middle of a big rant about the NHS, when she went, “Oh look, how romantic”. Of course I said yes.
‘It’s different, having a partner’, he muses. ‘I’ve been in the club that is my band my entire adult life, and now I’m in another little, exclusive club with my darling Rach. I love her very much.’
Garvey – an exceptional lyricist with a true romantic poet’s soul – addresses many of the songs on Little Fictions to his new bride. ‘I just don’t trust the sun to rise, when I can’t see your eyes,’ he sings on Trust the Sun, while Head for Supplies details the tender little intimacies of a shared life (‘Now I’m here at your side, we try to rhyme our stride, and head for supplies’).
So besotted is he, in fact, he’s been persuaded to live in London, at least some of the time. ‘Love is the only thing that would drag me away from my beloved Manchester,’ he says.
In the past, Garvey has admitted to indulging in too much drink and drugs in service to some cliched notion of the tortured artist in his garret and ‘the romance of the swinging lightbulb’. Has he put all that behind him now?
‘No, I still love a drink,’ he says. ‘I don’t drink like I did, but I still drink quite a lot. More than my doctor would like. It’s not the drink itself, so much as the chat that accompanies it. I like parking up with a couple of interesting folk and talking. It’s the first sort of therapy, the bar room. I love it.’
Another person of interest who’s entered his life recently is his wife’s mother, Dame Diana Rigg – a bona fide British icon in everything to The Avengers, where she played the leather-clad, karate-kicking Emma Peel, to Game of Thrones. Is it a bit weird having a legendary sex symbol (and, lest we forget, Bond girl) as a mother-in-law?
‘Nah, she’s great,’ he says. ‘She’s good fun, and we get on like a house on fire.’
So you never fancied her as a young man?
‘Well I mean…’ For once, the garrulous barfly poet is lost for words. ‘What kind of a question is that? She’s my mother-in-law!’
Little Fictions is out now. Elbow tour the UK in March – for dates, visit elbow.co.uk
Published in Waitrose Weekend, February 9, 2017
(c) Waitrose Weekend