‘My Angel’ is the theme to BBC1 drama Life. Starting tonight (September 29), it’s from Doctor Foster writer Mike Bartlett, and stars Garvey’s wife Rachael Stirling as Kelly, one of a community of neighbours in a Manchester housing development. Other actors include Alison Steadman, Peter Davison, Adrian Lester and Joshua James.
To celebrate the release, Garvey told NME about the acid-inspired single, Elbow’s “bewildered” new songs and plans for the brand new band he’s started in lockdown.
Hi Guy. How did you get involved with writing the theme song and soundtrack for Life?
“Mike Bartlett had offered Rach a role in the show. I’d admired his writing, how he finds the extraordinary in the ordinary. I met Mike through [my wife] Rach and asked him: ‘Who’s doing the music?’ Mike said, ‘i’m not even kidding, we were about to approach you’. It was a lovely meeting of minds.”
‘My Angel’ is very dark, not a song you’d associate with the theme to a primetime BBC1 drama…
“I’d submitted another song, which Mike’s co-producer Kate Hewitt told me ‘sounds a bit A Country Practice’. I’ve never seen that, but I knew it wasn’t a compliment. (Note: It’s a cheesy 80s Aussie soap). Many projects, especially for what’s essentially a domestic drama, would have said no to a song as gnarly and challenging as ‘My Angel’. But Mike and Kate recognised it as a little throne on which to set their outstanding performances with Mike’s big-hearted, hilarious and human writing. It’s got perhaps the most mawkish guitar solo ever. I imagined I was Joe Cocker on four tabs of acid for that solo.”
Why have you got so involved with soundtracks recently (Trying for Apple TV, plus the films The More You Ignore Me and Dead In A Week Or Your Money Back)?
“There are a lot of great TV programmes with shit music, or shows with great themes and then shit music. I thought, why can’t they be consistently good? Like everything else that’s been ruined, it’s down to maximising profits. You can get a guy in with a multiple keyboard who’ll order a pizza while writing a love theme. But there are also loads of musicians who are trying to find their way in the world. We have a policy of trying to use as many newcomers as possible.”
Is it different writing the soundtrack for a show starring your wife?
“Aspects of my love for Rach have already been in lots and lots of songs, but writing her character a theme was a challenge. I think I’ve done her a good ‘un, it’s particularly beautiful.”
Any plans for more acting yourself, after you appeared in Peter Kay’s Car Share?
“I’ll leave the acting career. It’s way too much work and I’m not that good at it. I’d come back for Peter, but nobody else. I’m happy with the 100% hit rate.”
Does a soundtrack project ever spark ideas for new Elbow songs?
“Well, the reverse has applied in ‘My Angel’. The opening lyric, “I’ll stand outside your window until I’m furniture for birds“, is from a long-ago Elbow song that never made the grade. It’s the romantic Sleeping Beauty image of waiting for someone for 100 years which, with the heave-ho of the music, gets darker and stalker-ish. I’ve been obsessed for a while that love and hate are very close together, particularly if you put desire and endeavour in the mix, which Mike’s writing captures.”
Are there plans for more solo music after ‘My Angel’?
“I’ve formed a band in lockdown with the guys who played on ‘Courting The Squall’. But everybody is writing this time, and we’ll get other people in to sing. It won’t be me. It’s dark, angry, mesmerising, gothic and quite theatrical. There’s a splendid noir-ish element and it feels there’s a narrative trying to find its way. It seems like it could be more of a theatre piece than a record. We’ve got loads of ideas for the singers, old and young, including actors who I know can sing. We’ll line a lot of people up and see what suits them.”
What’s next for Elbow after your isolation sessions album ‘Elbow Rooms’?
“We’ve been writing all the way through lockdown. I’m over the moon to say I’m going to Manchester next week for some socially-distanced writing with the lads. I’ve not seen their faces in ages and it’s going to be wonderful. As you can imagine, the stuff we’ve written so far has a tone of bewilderment and longing. There’s an international feeling there. We’re going to have [live drummer] Alex Reeves in the room and write as a band. Who knows what that will throw up?”
After producing all Elbow’s albums since ‘Leaders Of The Free World’ in 2005, Craig Potter has hinted you might work with an outside producer this time…
“That’s up to Craig. He’s an amazing producer, and he’s got a load of awards that say so. We’re very lucky to have him. It’s only if Craig wants to relinquish control that we’d even consider it. Craig has never been bad at anything his whole life. I had a paranoia that, in lockdown, Craig would be so good at homeschooling he’d change his career.”
Speaking of ‘Leaders Of The Free World’, how does it feel to have Elbow’s first three albums being reissued on vinyl soon?
“I’m delighted, but it’s made me realise our first album ‘Asleep In The Back’ is 20 next year. Getting into The Stone Roses, I remember how ancient [The Beatles’] ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ seemed when that had turned 20. Time flies for Elbow too, but we still love being in the band together. What’s not to love?”
How will it feel to return to Manchester’s Night And Day club for Music Venue Trust’s ‘Passport’ initiative?
“We haven’t played there in about 14 years, but there isn’t a lot I haven’t done in Night And Day over the years. There’s a really simple way through all this for live music, but it’d require some organisation and I’m not sure the current government are capable of that. Maybe they’d be capable if they cared enough, but they’d still need the civil service to implement it. Johnson has done such a good job of pissing the civil service off, I don’t think they want to work with him. The gears of government have ground to a halt. You need a can-do, forward-thinking approach, but these guys just want to get on with their Brexit gameplan. It’s playing fast and loose with people’s lives, but this government know that, no matter what happens, they’ll be fine.”
It sounds like you’re fine with wearing a mask, then?
“As I speak, I’m walking through Brixton looking like George Clooney in ER. We need to be tested, and we need to carry something on us that says so. I fought tooth and nail against ID cards when they were floated, and I understand the privacy issues. But this is about living. If you can’t get together to listen to music, watch a film and look at art, what’s the fucking point? We all need to get barcoded and get with the dystopian future.”
Elbow’s first three albums will reissued on vinyl soon, visit here for more information. The band will play Manchester’s Night And Day club on a date TBA for the Passport: Back To Our Roots series next year.