A pinch and a punch, it’s the first of the month! Halloween is over, it’s the start of Movember, this hustle never ends! Today we speak to Guy Garvey, who tells us all about the new Elbow record as well as supplying evidence that once upon a time, he was a fresh-faced young whippersnapper. It’s a lovely chat, and a lovely picture. Richard Dawson picks us a mind-blower, too. The month is off to a flyer. We’ll see our paying subscribers on Wednesday and Friday. Yes, they get two extra editions a week. For £5 a month, you could be in the prime TNC crew too. Mull it over, we’ll treat your inbox with the respect it deserves.
Enjoy the edition,
Ted, Niall, Chris
Start The Week With… Guy Garvey
Throughout their career, Elbow have had some cracking singalong moments, the sort of songs where you make sure your beer is finished by the second chorus so you can chuck an arm round a loved one, mate or total stranger and holler along. Of course, hugging total strangers is still a bit of a no-no and accordingly, the Bury quartet’s new record Flying Dream 1 is stripped of the band’s usual bombast. Instead, it homes in on the more intimate and melancholic sound that has always been present in the quieter corners of their albums, ten ruminative, lushly-orchestrated ballads to sit up late and pour yourself another drink to. The new material was born out of the elbowrooms sessions they put online during lockdown and, to underline the fact it was an album made in unprecedented times, Flying Dream 1 was recorded in the opulent but deserted Theatre Royal in Brighton when it was still unable to open. It’s a great record, a proper winter warmer. Frontman Guy Garvey got on the blower to Niall to tell us all about it.
Hello Guy, how’s it going?
Hello man, I’m good. I’m just at The Dairy, where my studio is in Brixton.
What’s going on in the studio today?
Well, [Guy starts singing the 2002 Aqualung tune Strange And Beautiful], “I put a spell on you, you’d go to sleep”, Matt Hales, he’s next door working with somebody. Yesterday, I was doing a tune with Peter Jobson, we’ve got a Shangri-Las-type thing going on for a new comedy coming out called Hull Raisers. See what they’ve done there? We had Olivia Dean and two other girls in doing that. And then today I’ve been talking to Grian from Fontaines D.C., I’m doing a little something or other with them.
Wow, so it’s not like you finish a record and then put a full-stop on being creative for a bit, you’re in the thick of it.
Yeah, that’s how I like it. Regular hours around the family and all that but fucking loads of it coming at me all at once.
What time do you have lunch?
Generally speaking, about 2pm.
What did you have today?
There’s a place called San Marino around the corner that does amazing Coriander Chicken wraps. And we do about 10 to The Dairy every day, and discuss the very slight variances in quality but everyone’s addicted to them, they’re gorgeous.
That sounds tasty. Congratulations on the record.
Thanks man, do you like it?
Yeah, it’s very up my street. As much as I love your big moments, I’m really into that side of Elbow too, going all the way back to the end of Asleep In The Back.
Yeah, totally. with Scattered Black & Whites. That was one of the proposals, when we did all the lockdown videos - the elbowrooms we called it. Fucking hell, I went back and looked at one of them the day before yesterday. You can see what’s going on with everybody in their faces. Everybody’s fucking strung out, particularly my own face. God, I had it all going on.
It was a pretty stressful time, wasn’t it?
Yeah, plus my mother-in-law [the late iconic British actress Diana Rigg] was with me and Rach and was on her way out, so it was wonderful and amazing and uplifting but constant. The worry was that it was affecting Rachael or [the couple’s son] Jack in any way, at the same time as making this amazing friend. It was fucking heavy, man. I think to a degree because everybody had their circumstances, right, literally everybody had this thing going on, we were kind of taking refuge in our gentler stuff. The songs we chose to do for the elbowrooms, we didn’t just do ones that leant themselves musically to the limited stuff we had access to, we were genuinely taking refuge in those old songs. And I said, “shouldn’t we be doing a record?” and we had a chat about it. I think it might have been Mark [Potter, Elbow guitarist] who said, “it should be a record like this stuff, shouldn’t it?” Because that’s our favourite side of what we do and it’s the side we all agree on. I think that’s probably the case with a lot of bands that do both, that do drama as well as subtle. I think subtler music is easier to work on and doesn’t require energy. In some ways, it’s like having a warm bath.
Does it take a collective intake of breath to actually commit to a whole record of that? It doesn’t lend itself to big singalong singles, does it?
Exactly, yeah, totally. It felt like ‘let’s do something purely to have something to show at the end of this that we’re really proud of’. And also, from my point of view, it’s always about ‘let’s write this experience’, and the idea of finishing it, we knew we’d have to get together to finish it because there’s only so much you can do over text. Because of our different schedules, that’s how we would communicate. So when everyone in my house was asleep at the end of every day, the relief was, as you can imagine, just fucking tangible every single day. I’d go to the back door, spark up a fag, pour myself a large one and listen to what the lads had sent. It was a proper lifeline.
Did you find it easy to get lyrics down about what was going on, or was it a bit of a struggle?
In the very tight specific first lockdown, we were doing the elbowrooms thing, and then it became ‘you can go outside if you’re going to exercise.’ And so I started walking down the studio - I was the only person in The Dairy most days, I had a set of keys. I’d walk the three miles down the hill, all of which was processing time. And then when I got in, I’d have what I wanted to pen. Although there’s only two songs that specifically tackle what was going on. Is It A Bird was written a couple of days after Diana died, and that’s just about that feeling, having watched what my wife went through and how amazingly she did what she did, in delivering what Diana said were the happiest months of her life.
Yeah, it’s amazing and Rachael was fucking amazing. So when Diana died peacefully having felt no pain and having us all around the whole time, there was a kind of quiet elation that we’d done the job so well at the same time as this awful sadness. I mean, for me, I’d just lost a new mate who I buzzed off but for Rachy, it was huge. What Am I Without You lyrically is about walking around behind my super woman wife, waiting for her to fall, which she didn’t. And then Is It A Bird is about that weird mixed feeling. And then After The Eclipse was this beautiful piece of Mellotron from Potter – Mark - because the music they were submitting was the only thing let me know how they were. I got Calm And Happy from Pete [Turner, bassist], he did the music for that one, and I was like, ‘Okay, Pete’s worried’. But it had this uplifting chorus.
That’s amazing that you can communicate in musical shorthand.
Oh yeah, totally, after this many years. Like when I got the music for What Am I Without You, this spiky organ and this Bolero drumbeat, I was like, ‘Okay, Craig is losing his marbles’. Hahaha! And Potts is OK, he’s feeling wistful, but he’s all right, that’s what I got off the music for After The Eclipse and Come On, Blue.
There’s a big dose of nostalgia on the record too. Were you doing a lot of looking back?
As you’ll know, when you got a little’un, you start looking at the world through their eyes again and you start remembering how a shadow becomes a picture of something or how it feels to crawl under a sofa, things like that. I’m living through my son completely when I’m with him and therefore really refreshing my links with my own childhood. Flying Dream 1… I don’t know whether it’s a memory or if it’s a memory of a memory, but I think I remember my first flying dream and it was in the house my mum still lives in. I couldn’t see her or go there and so I went there in my head.
Do you have any recurring dreams?
Do you know, I very rarely remember them. If I do, they’re very dialogue heavy, I always wake up with a phrase in my head. We all have gig anxiety dreams just before going on tour, which are fucking hilarious when you listen to Pete and Mark particularly, comparing gig anxiety dreams. My favourite one was Mark gets on stage and there’s no strings on his guitar. We get him another guitar, but his pedals have gone. He goes into the wings to shout at his guitar tech and get some pedals together, turns round and our tour manager Tom is playing guitar, and then he finally gets it together, hits the chords for the tune and looks up and everyone’s gone home.
Haha! What was it like recording the album at Brighton’s Theatre Royal?
Well, the idea to do it in the theatre was mine. I was fired up about it, absolutely. And not everyone in the organisation was! So the fact that it came out so beautifully was wonderful. And not only that, but we properly got a stag-do flat. There’s fucking loads of that kind of thing in Brighton. We were very worried about seagull interference, because the Theatre Royal has got a glass dome and they were just sat up there. We were absolutely convinced we’d have to ask our engineer Danny to remove seagulls from the tracks but mysteriously we didn’t. The empty theatre became a character on the record.
What are you proudest of on it?
Actually, the order that has been released is the order that we’re proud of them, so The Seldom Seen Kid being the first one.
Tell me about that. I’ve always been into the idea of song spin-offs or sequels, not enough people do it.
I agree, man. And it’s like, fans love that shit, and they’ll know that The Seldom Seen Kid is dedicated to my friend Brian and this song is about Brian. Craig did the music on that one, this jaunty, jazzy drumbeat he programmed initially, and then this amazing woodwind arrangement which dips in and out of dissonance. It’s exactly how things felt at the time, a note of hope, note of uncertainty, note of quiet and sort of familiar lushness, descending disquiet, it just seem to ring the bell so clearly. It was a pleasure to just sit and listen to that chord progression for a couple of days and exactly as the lyrics describe, I was in a room watching my flowers fill up with water outside and looking at pictures of my dead mates and then, like a thunderbolt, I realised what would have happened if Rachael had met Brian Glancy, because he loved a posh bird and they’re both each other’s complete cup of tea. It would have been a giggling, charming, naughty coupling. Had she met him first, I don’t think I’d have stood a chance. But then the idea of them dancing together, you know that lovely thing when the woman you love and your best mate dance. I can’t think of a more joyful thing.
Where do you think this record sits in your catalogue, is it a stepping-stone or a one-off?
I couldn’t tell you. I mean, it’s the first time we’ve invited people to perform on the record in terms of we’ve always controlled what people play or sing, we’ve always written every note between us and this was the first time we asked someone to interpret it. We did it on Is It A Bird and it really is the making the song, so there’s that. We might branch into that a bit more. What we were after making was one of those records that everybody’s got, that people recommend to one another or that you stick on when you’re with mates and every now and again dip into. That was our recreation as kids, we didn’t go clubbing, we didn’t go to festivals. We all fancied ourselves as intellectuals, but we’d get stoned and watch The Simpsons and play music and it was of extreme importance what went on and real arguments over what went on and whether or not a record had gone off. You had these staples, you had Chet Baker Sings and you had John Martyn’s Solid Air, albums that it didn’t matter what genre they came from, the mood couldn’t be denied. And we wanted to make one of them. We kind of borrowed a jazz aesthetic, but there’s nothing jazzy about the performances. You can’t really take the Celt out of our stuff, I’ve always thought. It’s just there!
Cheers for your time, Guy.
Of course, man, let’s get a shandy in! I’ll send you a selfie in a bit. I wonder if I should send you one of me as a kid, too.
Yeah, do it, we’ll end the chat with a shot of Guy Garvey as no-one has seen him, without a beard.
All right, perfect!
An Album To Blow Your Mind
As selected by experimental folk artist Richard Dawson: French electronic composer’s avant-garde masterpiece.
Songs Of Milarepa, 1998
“When you say ‘blow’ I guess you mean ‘explode’ but I think what happened to me on first listening to this album when I was 20 or so was more like being blown away on a wind - the music carried my mind far from my body. It’s particularly the 2nd disc I keep coming back to - that’s the one really long piece. It’s a sublimely slow and incredibly sparse drone composition. After around ten minutes of warm, disarming and quite unearthly hum, the voice of Lama Kunga Rinpoche breaks through the air really loud. It terrified me, I wasn’t expecting it at all.
Over the course of an hour he tells the stories and sings the songs of Milarepa, who as a young man in the 11th century was known as a murderer but went on to become one of Buddhism’s most revered yogis. What comes as an even bigger surprise is the appearance of American avant-garde opera composer Robert Ashley, a man with a voice like treacle. His droll translations of the tales into American-English are at first completely jarring and bizarre but soon make a whole lot of sense. It’s so brilliant to hear him chuckle recounting the strange placenames: ‘Horse Tooth Cave’, ‘Pung Wung’.
He consistently makes very surprising performance choices - very bold and great. The music is static, hardly shifting, throughout the piece. In many other Radigue compositions, the music seems to move through different territories, shifting comparatively speedily, maybe every six or seven minutes, almost like it’s ascending to a higher altitude each time. Radigue’s music is never ‘glacial’ as it’s so often reductively described by commentators - it’s ‘zonal’, often staying very still for a long time before segueing relatively quickly into the next section. Maybe you could call these hard-won moments ‘transitional understandings’? Here, however, the music doesn’t seem to transition much at all until the vocalists drop away. Then a great layered chorus of monks chanting rises and fills the air, a great tunnel of human sound cascading over itself before finally fading away. I found it frightening and almost overwhelming. Eliane Radigue’s music is so special. She exists out on a plain of her own. I will never forget the feeling of emerging from this album that first time. Disc 2 is still pretty much my ‘desert island disc’.”