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Journeying Through Life's Changes

Apr 28, 2014 Issue #49 - February/March 2014 - Portlandia Bookmark and Share

“I had a life-affirming bus journey last week,” says Elbow singer Guy Garvey during a phone call from New York. “I’d gotten the ferry over from Brooklyn. I didn’t have change for the machine. I spoke to a guy that works for the city who was sweeping near the machine and I said, ‘How do I go about getting a bus ticket? How do I get to West 14th?’ And he said, ‘Talk to that guy.’ The bus driver came over and we had a conversation about what we needed to do. The bus driver gave me a dollar in quarters, because I didn’t have any change. I still didn’t have enough, so the guy who was sweeping lent me his Metro card so I could get a ticket. It was lovelythey really looked after me.”

Garvey is so enamored with New York City and its people that he wrote a song cycle about the city on Elbow’s sixth and latest album, The Take Off and Landing of Everything. At the beginning of the song trilogy, Garvey is desperate to escape his home city of Manchester for one of his regular sojourns in New York. But after enjoying the city to its fullestan experience depicted in the song “New York Morning”he’s had enough and yearns to return home. As its title implies, the album features a lyrical through line about beginnings and endings. Indeed, many of the songs chronicle the arc of Garvey’s relationship with his ex-partner, award-winning novelist Emma Jane Unsworth.

“The album’s a celebration of the time we did spend together,” says the singer. “It’s about love turning into a very healthy and respectful friendship.”

In its home country, Elbow has been selling out arenas ever since The Seldom Seen Kid won Britain’s Mercury Music Prize in 2008. The band, which also consists of Mark Potter (guitar), Craig Potter (keyboard), Pete Turner (bass), and Richard Jupp (drums), released Build a Rocket Boys! three years later. “It was important to us to do something gentle and introspective for the old school fansto let them know that we weren’t going to turn into stadium cock rockers,” reflects Garvey. This time around, the band had a different goal: “We just decided to please ourselves.”

You may wish to buckle your seatbelt before listening to The Take Off and Landing of Everything.

“It’s a dense first listen, but utterly rewarding,” admits Garvey. “We’ve delved into our proggier side. I don’t think there’s a song on there that’s under five minutes! But there’s not a breath wasted. The only solo on the record is a guitar twinned with an alto sax. It sounds mental in a King Crimson sort of way.”

Elbow arrived upon its fresh sound by changing its work habits. Garvey suggested that each band member take turns in having a day off so that the musicians worked in fresh configurations.

“The centerpiece of the record, which is the first thing that everyone will hear, is ‘Flyboy Blue/Lunette,’” Garvey says. “That one was Mark, Jupp, and Pete working together without Craig and me.”

Elbow is looking to tour the album in the U.S. in May. For now, though, Garvey is enjoying his latest extended break in New York. “It’s the modern day Rome or Carthage, isn’t it?” he muses. “It’s so impressive, but it is held together by the hard-working goodwill of the people of New York.”

[Note: This article first appeared in the February/March print issue (Issue 49).]


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