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Music Interview

Elbow

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Elbow
Chris Martin once described Elbow's Cast of Thousands LP as "the best album by anybody except Coldplay, ever". Despite this high praise, Elbow have never achieved the multi-platinum sales earned by Martin's band. Unfairly tagged as "miserable Mancunians" by lazy hacks, their ability to pen inspiring, emotionally-charged tunes has long been overlooked - and new LP The Seldom Seen Kid is perhaps their finest work to date. We caught up with lead singer Guy Garvey to have a chat about it.

Your new single 'Grounds For Divorce' is out on Monday. Can you tell us a little about the track?
"If when things go wrong you have a tendency to drink heavily to try and forget about it, you're not far away from what the song's about. Although I've never been married and can't contemplate a real divorce, it's that feeling of being sick and f***ing tired of everything around you and wanting to get out of there."

You refer to someone called 'The Seldom Seen Kid' in the song - it's also the title of your new album. Who is 'The Seldom Seen Kid'?
"The Seldom Seen Kid is Bryan Glancy, a Manchester singer-songwriter and a great friend of ours. He died tragically in January two years ago. A lot of the album deals with celebrating who he was, celebrating friendship in general and mourning his loss. I guess 'Grounds For Divorce' is about how we felt around Manchester once we had lost him."

The final track on the album, 'Friends of Ours', refers to Bryan quite directly. How difficult was it to write about such a personal subject?
"Yeah, it was difficult, but I ended up using the first thing I wrote. The end bit, when the music's swaying along, and it says: 'Salford skyline blue, and always you could fly around every corner, till you do, love you mate", that was written after about a year. The first lines, the more melancholy sounding moments, were written just after he died. It took me a long time to finish it, let's put it that way. Finishing the song and the album marks the end of a very sad period. But it was also a very joyful period - two of the boys in the band have had sons while we were writing it. There's as much light as there is shade on The Seldom Seen Kid."

You often get referred to as "miserable Mancunians". Does that annoy you?
Well, if you're the sort of person that needs Rod, Jane and Freddy to understand that something's happy then you're not welcome listening to an Elbow record anyway. If you don't see humour in some of our lyrics, how much fun in conversation are you going to be? Anybody who the humour is lost on shouldn't be listening to it anyway!"

Your last album, Leaders of The Free World, has a political edge to it. Have you carried that through on this album?
"The opening line from this album is: 'How dare the Premier ignore my invitations? He'll have to go.' I always have to put my two penneth in, and not just in a Have I Got News For You way, where you just have a stab at whoever's in power. I mean, I just want somebody to believe in, but like everybody else, I'm getting a bit lethargic waiting for them."

You duet with Richard Hawley on one track from the album. How did you guys hook up?
"Richard and me went on a trip to Tennessee and did a show with [The Pixies singer] Frank Black. It was sponsored by an enormous whiskey company that doesn't need any more advertising. It was fantastic, we had a great time and all became friends, so on the way back home we decided we should do a duet. The number of times I've said to another musician and it's not happened... but Rich proved to be a man of his word, got in touch with me and I started writing it."

It's one of the more light-hearted moments on the LP. What was the inspiration behind the lyrics?
"We decided that the best duets either descend into insult, or have a (rapid-fire US comedy duo) Abbott and Costello vibe to them. I went for the latter and wrote a song about two Northern cads that fixed a horse race and are discussing how they will spend their winnings. My favourite bit was watching Rich trying to sing 'Our pigeons have finally landed', without laughing. It was good fun."

Have you ever been disappointed when your record sales haven't matched your critical acclaim?
"It can be a bit frustrating when a band that talks about how much you've influenced them goes on and outsells you by ten-to-one. Of course, money's always an issue and there's little Elbows to feed, but not if it means compromising what we do. Then it would be f***ing pointless. If we were just doing it for money, there are easier ways to make money. I'm 100% proud of every record that we've put out - without exception. Actually, there's one B-side that I don't like, but I'm not telling you which one. That's not a bad hit rate though. I wonder if any of the bands that have outsold us can say that?"

What inspires you to stay together as a band and making records after all these years?
"It goes beyond having your face on magazines, which was maybe what started it all off. When our first record appeared on the shelves we were doing a gig in Cardiff and we all went into a music shop, looked around, shook hands and left. To be anything to do with the great big wonderful thing that is music - the thing that's helped me through so much stuff - that's reason enough to keep going for me. I'm the luckiest man in the world to just be part of it."

Elbow release 'Grounds For Divorce'on March 10. The Seldom Seen Kid follows on March 10.

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