The majestic Guy Garvey is many things: Elbow frontman, BBC Radio 6Music presenter and former magazine columnist – he used to have regular pieces in the late lamented Manchester listings bible City Life. Above all this though, Garvey is a poet, and one of the most creative and goddamn heartbreaking wordsmiths we have in the UK. An appreciator of the craft as well as one of its main modern talents, his moving, witty and chest-swelling lyrics are influenced by the likes of 20th century American poet Robert Frost. “My favourite poetry often involves nature,” Garvey has said. “It got me into the musicality of words.” It’s a nigh on impossible task, but we’ve done our best to round up his 10 best lyrics. Get ready for an emotional trip into Elbow’s back catalogue.
“I’ll be the corpse in your bathtub/Useless” – ‘Newborn’ (Asleep In The Back, 2001)
Talk about ways to get our attention. The opening line of Elbow’s breakthrough hit was grotesque and intriguing in equal measure. Not afraid of making people sit up and take notice, this otherwise sentimental song stuck out of the crowd thanks to its alarming imagery.
“The neon is graffiti singing make a new start/So I look for a plot where I can bury my broken heart” – ‘Forget Myself’ (Leaders Of The Free World, 2005)
Taking up his usual lovelorn position, the jaunty swagger of this song belies its story of a man seeking to move on from the wreckage of another ruined relationship. ‘Forget Myself’ sees Garvey storming through the streets of Manchester, letting the city fill up his senses.
“I’m proud to be the one you hold when the shakes begin/Sallow-skinned, starry-eyed/Blessed in our sin” – ‘Powder Blue’ (Asleep In The Back, 2001)
This track marked the band’s first ever national radio play, three years before the release of their debut album, on John Peel’s Radio 1 show. Rare for Garvey, this isn’t about him being dumped, but it’s hardly a content relationship, with the object of his affections evidently going through some tough times.
“If I loose a sequin here and there/More salt than pepper in my hair/Can I rely on you when all the songs are through/To be for me the everthere?” – ‘The Everthere’ (Leaders Of The Free World, 2005)
A particularly Garv-ian take on romance, this slow-burning ballad sees him imploring his lover to stay with him, even when he’s old and a bit bonkers. She’d be a fool not to hang about, Guy.
“I have a single heartbreak/I celebrate and mourn/A single shining sister/And all the tricks of dawn” – ‘Jesus is a Rochdale Girl’ (Build A Rocket Boys!, 2011)
One of Garvey’s less florid, wordy songs, this simple number still cuts deep. Set in his beloved Manchester, ‘Jesus is a Rochdale Girl’ is a low-key, beautiful trip into domestic life in the city and the highly personal stories within it.
“Disjointed tales’/That flit between short trousers/And a full dress uniform” – ‘Scattered Black and Whites’ (Asleep In The Back, 2001)
Guy Garvey looks back on his childhood in this first album tearjerker, which sees him returning to his family home and reminiscing with a heavy heart. Proof that he isn’t just a dab hand at lyrics dealing with romantic love, but with meditative tales that focus on memory too.
“Kiss me like a final meal/Yeah, kiss me like we die tonight” – ‘One Day Like This’ (The Seldom Seen Kid, 2008)
Voted best song musically and lyrically at the 2009 Ivor Novello Awards, ‘One Day Like This’ sees Guy Garvey on top, loved-up form. If the string section wasn’t enough to get you sending flowers to your nearest and dearest, then his passionate equating of sex with death should at least get you hastily checking your Tinder messages.
“You have the time-worn shimmer of tarantella on a Tuscan plain” – ‘The Take Off and Landing of Everything’ (The Take Off and Landing of Everything, 2014)
The title track of last year’s ‘The Take Off and Landing of Everything’ kicks off with one of the loveliest descriptions Garvey’s ever penned. Hugely evocative, this outpouring of romance transports us from the wet Mancunian streets to a sun-dappled Italy.
“I’ve been working on a cocktail/Called grounds for divorce” – Grounds for Divorce’ (The Seldom Seen Kid, 2008)
Taken from Elbow’s Mercury Prize scooping third album, the opening salvo from ‘Grounds For Divorce’ is as dry as Garvey gets. If James Bond was from Bury, then this is kind of glorious one-liner he’d mutter before taking the bad guys down and then smooching a lofty Eastern European countess.
“Blinking and stoned/Rain in your hair/You only smoke/’Cause it’s something to share” – ‘Great Expectations’ (Leaders Of The Free World, 2005)
Guy Garvey’s reminisces of a former lover make for the world’s shortest novel. In 15 words he manages to conjure up a full-bodied vision of not just his ex, but the weather, the mood and the overarching importance of this hastily smoked joint. Pure perfection.