Over three decades the lifelong friends that are the members of elbow have created one of the most remarkable stories in British contemporary music. Formed in Bury in the 90’s when all the members were together at sixth form college, elbow’s history now encompasses eight studio albums, a long list of awards and a place in the roll call of great British bands.
elbow’s progress is down to several factors. At their core, the four members have formed a creative partnership that balances the individual and the collective, a relationship built on mutual respect and admiration. An ability to grow and adapt with each other is a hallmark of their new album, ‘Giants of All Sizes’, which saw the band both play live in the studio together in a way that marked out their early career and depart to individual studios to develop songs in isolation. The trust and respect they share is reflected in their only coming together on a near finished individual vision of certain tunes to add their parts. This adaptability and maturity has seen elbow consistently better all the signifiers of success as their careers have progressed.
Their last two studio albums, ‘The Take Off and Landing of Everything’ (2014) and ‘Little Fictions’ (2017) have both debuted at Number One in the UK album charts demonstrating a band that are on a continual upward curve. Their ever-expanding tours now take in the likes of Mexico, where they played to an audience of 80,000 at Corona Capital in 2017, alongside the more expected likes of Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl, where their recent summer headline show drew an excitable and sold out crowd.
Such a prestigious history is packed with highlights. Their 2008 Mercury Prize win for fourth album, ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’, transformed them from respected band into household names, it’s attendant single ‘One Day Like This’ becoming the soundtrack to everything from the BBC’s Beijing Olympics coverage to the Big Brother final. Following the Mercury win, the band received the 2009 BRIT award for Best British Group and they are the recipients of three Ivor Novello songwriting awards; for ‘One Day Like This’, ‘Grounds For Divorce’ and ‘Magnificent (She Says)’ respectively.
Lead singer Guy Garvey, who also has his own BBC 6 Music radio show, was rightly commended with two awards in 2018 for his contribution to UK music. The Music Manager’s Forum and Featured Artist’s Coalition acclaimed Guy as the ‘Artist’s Artist’ at their 2018 Artist and Manager Awards whilst BASCA presented Guy with a Gold Badge award, in recognition of his long contribution to the musical and lyrical canon of British popular culture. His lyrical abilities have been recognised by the Manchester Metropolitan University where he is Visiting Professor of Songwriting.
elbow first came to national attention with the inclusion of ‘Powder Blue’ from their debut EP, ‘Noisebox’, in John Peel’s Festive 50 in 1998. Throughout the intervening years their connection to music lovers has been a recurring theme. Often cited by other artists and familiar names from popular culture including the disparate likes of Elton John, John Cale, Ian Rankin, Michael Caine and Dame Katherine Grainger, the love that the UK has for the band is possibly best demonstrated by their high standing in the all-time Desert Island Discs chart, one of only a handful of contemporary acts to be chosen by the public.
As you would expect, much has changed for the band in those decades. The young men of the Mercury nominated 2001 debut ‘Asleep In The Back’ are now fathers. Their journey to date has taken them from a rehearsal room in Bury across the globe, with band members working on side projects and solo projects in addition to elbow. Guy’s debut solo album, ‘Courting The Squall’, entered the UK charts at Number 3 in 2016 and he has found time to write and perform on film and TV soundtracks and make radio documentaries for Radio 4. Keyboardist Craig Potter has expanded his production work from elbow’s albums to ex Beta Band frontman Steve Mason’s acclaimed album ‘Meet The Humans’ and work with C Duncan. Guitarist Mark Potter formed blues band The Plumedores, who feature on ‘On Deronda Road’ from ‘Giants of All Sizes’.
Yet, at heart, elbow were, are and will be the same band, driven to create and continually better their ongoing legacy by the simple maxim that Guy proclaimed on the release of ‘Newborn’, the NME and Melody Maker single of the week that really made people start taking notice of them back in 1999:
“Honesty is a word that surfaces over and over when we are writing which is why I think the romance in our music is always balanced with realism. We are each other’s biggest influences. Basically, this is where we have been for all our adult lives.”