Each week we take a band, pull apart the threads that make them who they are and build a Spotify playlist from those influences. This week, it’s Elbow!
If you look in the dictionary under the word ‘perseverance’ it says, “steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state – especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.” All of which is utter balls because all it really needs to say is “Elbow”. Two decades ago singer and songwriter Guy Garvey was cleaning the toilets in a nightclub while bass player Pete Turner shoveled discs of ground meat in McDonald’s. They had a funk band called Soft, influenced by Sly Stone, which was going precisely nowhere, but a change of direction led to a deal with Island. Sadly, they dropped them as swiftly as they signed them. EMI came to the rescue, but only for eight weeks. Three indie singles later they were picked up by V2 who released the band’s debut, ‘Asleep In The Back’, in May 2001. Finally, they were off the starting blocks and on their way to stadium-filling enormousness. But who – and what – got them to that point?
In The Beginning
As a small child Garvey developed a deep love for the 1949 Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly film On The Town, while Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You’, from her 1971 album, ‘Blue’, was the first record he really felt like he understood. “Melancholy,” he said later, “has a real purity to it.” And there’s no one more melancholic than Leonard Cohen whose song ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, also from 1971, could well lay claim to being Garvey’s most beloved.
Get The Funk Out, Please
You’re right, a lightweight funk band from Bury calling themselves Soft doesn’t sound much like the greatest idea ever. Reader, it wasn’t. A much better idea was to allow this bear-like chap with the unique worldview to allow his love for Radiohead, The Velvet Underground and U2 (whose 1988 live album ‘Rattle & Hum’ was a huge early influence on Elbow) to shine through his songs. Dig deeper and you’ll hear echoes of the sort of classic British downcast melancholia that fired bands a generation ahead of Elbow, like Talk Talk and The Blue Nile.
Home Is Where The Art Is
Manchester, literally so much to answer for. If you line up against hometown heroes like The Fall, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, I Am Kloot, Doves, A Certain Ratio, New Order and Oasis, you had better have something worth saying. You can’t be a band from the North West without soaking up some of that history and all have made some kind of mark on Garvey.
Within Garvey’s influences are the sharp edges and rounded curves that give his songs their bite. So there are clear candidates like R.E.M. (there was a pre-Garvey version of Elbow called RPM), The National (“they crossed over without compromising, that’s special”) and PJ Harvey (“She will be mine!” the singer once declared), but there’s also Black Sabbath, who he recognised as having “a lot of genuine emotion” in their songs and super-folkies Nick Drake and Fairport Convention, as well as John Martyn who, Garvey noted, displayed “a very Manchester style of playing”. That’s bringing it all back home, right there.
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